To Hell With Your Protest Vote

I'm watching TV right now and shaking. Are you? Guys, we're really, really close to Donald Trump becoming president. Really close. All the projections from major publications in the lead up to Election Day were wrong, as was every single thing that made us Clinton supporters feel confident in the days leading up to this — confident enough to coordinate our pantsuits, teach our daughters that women can be president, too, and have a moment of joy in the voting booth, instead of stocking up on emergency supplies, having a pit in our stomach in the voting booth, and teaching our daughters that some people think a man who jokes about grabbing women by the pussy would make a good president. Maybe we were wrong, all wrong. Maybe this is really happening.

If Trump wins, it won't be because of third party voters; it will be because of racist and sexist voters who believe that a man with zero governing experience, whose campaign promises generally hinged on keeping America free of immigrants (you know, the people who generally make America America), is a great pick to lead the United States. But third party voters: I have had to spend the past six months or year or however long hearing about how Clinton is an uncool bag of shit and how captivated you all were by impossible promises of socialism and the idea of showcasing your rugged individualism with your commitment to third party voting. I have smiled and nodded through it, because that's the American way — you smile and nod through political opinions that you think are horseshit.

So, I would appreciate it if you smiled and nodded at me for a second. We live in America, and we're entitled to do anything we want in the voting booth, up to and including burn the country to the fucking ground because we're racist sexists, an option that a lot of people apparently chose today! But casting a third party vote — to prove your convictions, to express yourself, to do whatever the hell you people are doing — does not make whatever impact you think it does. I don't necessarily believe that the 3 percent of U.S. voters who are currently going for Gary Johnson would have voted for Clinton if they hadn't embraced the idea of third party. Maybe they would have stayed home; who knows. But I would like to speak to the idea that if a presidential candidate is not your perfect ideal, your interests are best served by casting a protest vote.

Protest votes don't change or shape policy. They don't alter major party platforms, and they don't make third parties more viable, especially if you only engage with third parties during presidential election season, and don't engage with them during the rest of those four years on a local level. When you vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, you're not saying you actually believe they'll become president, or that you even think they would make a good president. I don't know what you're saying, honestly — that you're too cool to vote for boring old major party candidates? That you believe sticking the country with an awful president is better than leaving us with an imperfect president? As Bernie Sanders himself told the New York Times, “I want anybody who’s thinking about voting against Hillary Clinton, and casting a protest vote because she is not all they would like her to be, to understand what the consequences for the country and the world will be.” Sanders' candidacy in the Democratic party pushed Democratic policy to the left. Third party votes do not.

I lived through third party terror once before. The first election I voted in was Gore v Bush, in which Gore won the popular vote but Bush became president, due in part to the three percent of third party votes for Ralph Nader. We're still attempting to undo the damage Bush did in office. And Nader never developed as a politician; he was a boutique vote that allowed people, like my college freshman classmates, to express that they were too hip for mainstream politics. If Gore had won — and those third party votes would have helped — America would look really different right now.

I'm not laying this on any third party voter's feet — like I said, the people who actually voted for Trump, the people who thought that those emails were more important than having literally any government experience, need to take credit for this one. I feel guilty, I wish I had done more, I hadn't believed it could happen here, all those pathetic classic phrases that we scoff at when other people say them. I let this happen, if this is happening. We let this happen, if this is happening. But if this does happen — if we wake up tomorrow in Trump's America — I hope we can all take a second to think about the purpose of voting. Is it to express your specific personal beliefs? Or is it to protect the most vulnerable people in the country that you love? Is living in a country that reflects none of your values less important than being able to say that you were right?

Image: Shutterstock