I’m going to discuss something now that is very personal and none of your business: I’m going to discuss my 2016 presidential vote.
I’m doing this because I feel a certain way about my vote and I think some of you may feel the same way and I want us all to feel a little less alone if that’s the case. To be clear, this is less about what my vote is, and more about why my vote is what it will be. Ultimately, no matter who or what you vote for I would hope that you’re using a similar barometer. I feel compelled to speak on it now because I think the 2016 presidential election is pointedly asking us all to make some serious self-defeating sacrifices in the interest of its self-maintenance instead of our progress.
Now, that last statement is true no matter what party you vote for. The Democratic Party is asking you to do this and so is the Republican Party: help us “help you” by maintaining the stuff we already have in place. It’s how Clinton and McCain both lost the race seven years ago to Obama: by suggesting that the way things were could still work if we just leaned a little to the left or right. As it turns out, that wasn’t the answer either, but we didn’t know that was going to play out that way. As a country we were either overflowing with hope or dealing with anger management issues for the last seven years, depending on how we voted back in 2008.
The ultimate question American politics has posed pretty much from the beginning is, “What can you live with?” The interesting thing about that question is that it has levels but we’re not really differentiating between them when we vote. It’s a pretty blunt instrument designed to get a lot for a little: all the power of the state for a little song and dance, and then it’s Clash of the Titans for 4-8 years. Lather, rinse, repeat. The level we end up voting on is “Do you want this extreme or the opposite extreme?” (Even when we discover that, in practice, the extremes tend to be a lot closer than originally sold.)
But there is another level, and usually it’s not as clear as it is now. That level is: Can you live with doing a version of the right thing?
People talk a lot about being strong enough to do what’s right, by which we mean what we think is right. We spend no small amount of bandwidth daily extolling what we feel are righteous platforms – from the guy who thinks you’re not a real musician if you won’t quit your day job to the saint whose soul is holding on by their fingernails every day in the face of a world that seems godless and needs to post those scriptures more than any of us needs to read them. Being right is easy. It’s ultimately a condition of your mind, and no one can get in there but you. Living right, however, can be tough. You don’t get to not interact with my version of right, or wrong for that matter. We live together. Our truths, rights, and wrongs get real concrete real fast outside of our heads when we make them our lifestyles. So what’s true may be true, and right may be right, but life is life. Anyone who says they live their life in constant states of truth is a liar.
And the evidence is pretty clear here: we don’t act that way as a society. We don’t live as though we are in fact unshakeable scions of truth rooted against whirlwinds of doubt. We constantly act with our doubts firmly pinned to our sleeves, even as we post pump-up memes and co-sign each other’s scriptures. We act like we are right because we sorely desire to be right. We praise and adore and latch-on because we need to not be alone in the world. We act like we want to be comfortable, not right. If we happen to be right while being comfortable, that’s awesome, but let’s be clear: comfort is our greatest American Dream. We will sacrifice any element or pretty word in every law or bill to achieve the mere illusion of comfort.
I get that. The desire to run away from discomfort is natural and pretty much true for 99% of all animal life that has ever existed. It’s the rare animal that seeks out discomfort as a lifestyle choice. And as thinking upright animals, voting for things is how we pretend to maintain what civilization we have. Even though half of the country doesn’t vote, one hundred percent of us are subjected to the half that does, not the other way around. The results of voting are, for better or worse, how we determine how the food chain will work within our species every few years.
But I don’t know if I can sleep at night anymore knowing I voted against the wrong thing but only so far as the right thing was just right enough to win when I knew there was something better, but going for it meant potentially losing everything. That’s coy, I know, so let’s get clear:
Do I want Republicans to lose? Yes. Why? Because most of their policies are anti-American when they’re not being elitist. That’s pretty easy math for me. But will I take ANY Democrat to make that happen? Will any Democrat that isn’t Hillary Clinton lose? Because I don’t really want to vote for Clinton when I have Bernie Sanders on deck.
It’d be different of Sanders weren’t in the race, which is what the DNC really wishes had been the case. He’s saying all of the things that a lot of people want to hear as Americans, and I as a Black person, a lower middle class person, and a human being who cares about other human beings in general. Clinton, by contrast, does not spend much time selling me on the idea that these things are valuable to her, and I have never been convinced that was a priority for her over winning an election or raising the money to win one. I don’t even believe it’s about winning on behalf of Democrats for her. I have always believed that her campaign – both times – has been about her legacy and being an even more significant part of history as an individual, and becoming president is about where she draws the goal line; not policies that will make my life better, but maintaining policies that, eh, MIGHT not make my life any worse. She doesn’t actually intend to address most of the things I care about. She just doesn’t make them any worse by her absence, maybe. Mind you, if we learned anything from eight years of Obama, isn’t a likely scenario either. What’s more likely – like, 99% more likely – is that the country will become as blatantly sexist as it has become blatantly racist the day after the respective avatar wins. Obama was Pandora’s Racist Box. Clinton is not the lid, lock or key to that box. She’s the Russian doll version of a box just a little smaller inside of the first box.
While a measure of personal exceptionalism is to be expected of any candidate that runs for president, I don’t ever want that to be their primary value and I’m sorry, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think that’s not Clinton’s primary value. They’re just willing to suck it up so that Republicans don’t win and destroy the country (again). This is a feeling I empathize with. I don’t want them to destroy the country either. They did it before, and in recent memory, so trust me when I say I’m not eager to relive the “Bush the Younger” years.
I used to think voting for Bernie was a losing proposition. And in the world of money face-offs and highly suspect policies, that may still be true. If he manages to become the Democratic nominee and then has to face off against an enormously funded and cutthroat Republican machine, he could lose that battle whereas Clinton almost assuredly wouldn’t. But then I had to consider what “loss” meant, and I had to think hard on what it is my vote represents. Is my vote Democratic because I want Republicans to lose or because I believe in what Democrats do? Sanders wouldn’t be running as a Democrat if he didn’t have to, and I like his platforms a lot. Most people do. They’re just too scared to lose to Republicans to risk voting against Clinton. And when your vote isn’t yours, that’s a loss.
This election puts a lot of Democrats in a position where the choice isn’t about what you actually support, but what you dislike the least. The problem is, there’s plenty to dislike on our side of the aisle in Clinton. So we’re not only voting against something we dislike (which we should); we’re voting for something we also aren’t amped about, but are willing to live with even if it means we dismiss something we very much support in theory, but never expect to realistically happen. My vote has vacillated, not between being Democrat and Republican, but between maintaining the status quo and whether or not I can sleep at night.
I’m voting for Sanders because no matter what happens, at the end of the day I want to say my vote wasn’t scared to do the right thing. If that somehow magically makes him the nominee over Clinton, great. If that means we risk losing to a Republican, I’ll suck up my resources for the next four years and try again. But I refuse to live in fear of my own vote. My vote is mine. It has to mean something to me, not you. I have to be able to sleep with that vote, to know that vote stood up for what I believed in. I have to be able to say, “Yes, I saw a candidate who said my life mattered when he didn’t have to, and wanted you to go to school for free, and wanted to dismantle political machines that chew up people like you and I and didn’t want to go to war at the drop of a hat. And you know what I did when faced with all of the things we said we wanted in a candidate? I VOTED FOR THOSE THINGS, NOT AGAINST THEM.”
As a lower middle class American, I see a lot of my values in Bernie’s platforms. I don’t see them as clearly in Clinton’s. As a Black American I see my stipulations and concerns addressed consistently and clearly by Sanders. Again, not Clinton. And yet, I am being called upon to play the game to win, not to live. Well, I want to live. My vote will stand as evidence of my will to live.
And by God I will sleep.