The last time a large number of Americans cast a ballot for a 3rd party candidate – with no chance of winning – during a critical election, 4,500 US soldiers and nearly 100,000 Iraqis got killed. I know this might sound hyperbolic, but hear me out.
Way back at the turn of the millennium, many people argued there was no real difference between the presidential candidates, Al Gore and George W. Bush, and decided to support Ralph Nader. The rationale for voting for a candidate with no chance of winning was that it would send a message about their dissatisfaction with the system or that they just couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a candidate they weren’t head-over-heels for. In the state of Florida – the state that decided the election and where Bush “won” by a mere 537 votes – Nader grabbed up nearly 200,000 votes. There is no doubt Nader played the role of spoiler in that election and delivered the presidency of the United States to Bush.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand the frustration many people back then had and still have with the horribly unappetizing offerings our two party system consistently serves up at all levels of government. And I understand that the behavior of the two major parties leads to an inescapable conclusion: both are wholly owned by Wall St. and beholden to moneyed interests. Candidates in both parties regularly promise one thing and do another and always fail to deliver on the change they promise will come with their election. Even more frustratingly, despite the fact so many of us feel this way, we keep seeing the same people getting re-elected. In 2000, these understandable complaints led many people on the far left to draw false equivalencies between Bush and Gore while failing to appreciate all the other things involved with being the leader of the free world that goes well-beyond their incestuous relationship to the upper class and big business.
Because of this cynical focus on all the things that frustrated them about American politics, they overlooked the fact that one of the people running for office was well-informed about international affairs and one couldn’t pass a middle school geography quiz. They ignored the fact that one belonged to a political philosophy that wanted to limit a woman’s right to choose, opposed gay rights, wanted to deregulate everything, cut taxes for the rich, seemingly hated the environment, and promised to appoint Supreme Court justices who felt the same, while the other stood in stark contrast to all of that.
Obviously the death of 4,500 soldiers and tremendously more Iraqis was not on the ballot that year, nor did anyone anticipate 9/11, which gave Bush an excuse to settle a personal family vendetta against Saddam Hussein. However, this is very much the point, while we can sit around and argue over policy between the candidates and argue about how likely either candidate is to deliver on all their promises, a large part of being president is about reacting to unforeseeable events. Traumatic events like 9/11 can unburden a president and allow their real character to shine through. This means their personality, their core values, their intelligence and their temperament must all be factors we take into account when choosing a leader who can have such a dramatic impact on the entire world.
Because so many people forgot this and allowed the perfect to become the enemy of the good, they helped bring to office an impressively ill-informed man who showed time and time again during his campaign that he was not up for the job and proved as much when he invaded the wrong country following 9/11. Fast forward to 2016 and I’d argue we’re looking at something similar, but with difference between the candidates that are even more consequential.
I do understand that many people’s dislike of Hillary has more to do with her personal integrity, unlike voters’ issues with Gore back in 2000. However, Trump has shown himself to be a highly provokable person with no sense of proportion and no ability to get over things. And this is to say nothing about how little he seems to know about foreign affairs, how our government works and what our country’s principles are (see his proposed Muslim ban). It is clear he would use his position of power to go after people he doesn’t like as individuals and as ethnic and racial groups. He wants to limit the freedom of the press, has no respect for women and is of a dubious ethical character, to put it mildly. The worst that can reasonably be said about Hillary is that shes as slick as just about every other politician who has come before her. But no one questions that she’s intelligent, rational, mentally balanced and hardworking, and no one fears she might attack another country if its leader jokes about the size of her hands.
So yeah, with so much on the line, by all means throw your vote away because you think Trump has no chance of winning or because your race, gender and religion don’t cause you to be fearful of him – unlike every other group in this country. And let’s just ignore the concerns of the larger world who might have to bare the brunt of our poor decision making and a President Trump. (I got nauseous writing those last two words.)
But if you still need help making up your mind, watch Seth Meyers’ comparison of the two candidates: