the meme-ening

Holy shit, I’m getting tired of memes equating Secretary Clinton to Donald Trump.

One is an established politician with a  record of public service. She was born to middle class parents and attained her current wealth through the US idealized path of education, hard work, and employment. Despite decades of smear campaigns which have jump-started numerous targeted investigations, no proof of corruption has been unearthed against her. And the people who hate her have looked, really hard. These were not her friends investigating her. These were her enemies. People who wanted to take her down. People who still want to take her down.

The other is a man who has repeatedly displayed an utter lack of understanding regarding basic politics, governance, or even geopolitical boundaries. He regularly voices admiration for dictators. He shows no aptitude for the compromise necessary to politics. He was born to wealth and has mismanaged every cent since in his various attempts at businesses, yet claims to represent the interests of working class Americans. He has a proven public and legal record of language and actions which are anti-worker-rights, misogynistic, racist, tax-dodging, and just shitty business management.

Yet people act like they’re equivalent. It is madness.

Look, like a lot of people, (but not enough) I voted Bern in the primary. I complained about Hillary Clinton, a lot. I had (have?) my beef with her as a choice. Mostly, she’s too conservative for me–I lean far more left. But the situation is what it is. The Founding Fathers chose the electoral college system on purpose, and when combined with first-past-the-post voting, it prioritizes a two-party system.

That means, like it or not, voting third party means ceding my vote to the majority. The US democracy was designed it that way, on purpose. Personally, I think it’s dumb–I’m a fan of parliamentary or even sortition democracies, but it is what it is. This is where I was born, where my citizenship is, and where I live and vote. The options are pretty cut-and-dry:

1. Vote candidate A
2. Vote candidate B
3. Cede my vote to my fellow citizens by not voting OR voting third party.

I read an article recently pointing out this exact reality, and it actually convinced me away from third party voting. I was going to vote third party in “protest,” and the author of that article succinctly pointed out that a protest is only effective if someone hears the message. A protest vote is the silent message, audible only to the giver. It’s really just a salve to conscious of the individual, so they can avoid making a choice between two candidates they dislike. I know, I was there. Totally berned and hopping on the Jill Stein wagon (which is even more ridiculous, because I’m actually pro-nuclear).

Now, in some countries, a vote is invalidated if enough of the electorate stays home–for example, in Hungary, they recently voted on a referendum similar to Brexit, but over 50% of the electorate refused to vote, so the results were dismissed.

This is not the case in the US. If you don’t vote, your voice doesn’t count. The non-voting electorate isn’t even considered or reported in terms of election results. Nobody hears the no-vote “protest.” Nobody registers it. Nobody cares. All someone has chosen when  choosing not to vote is to literally abdicating their voice and representative selection to every other voter in the US.

So, protest by voting third party, right? That’s what you’re thinking. Make a choice, but flaunt the status quo! Force your voice to be heard! Right? Plus–as many argue (including, in the past, myself), voting third party is actually a means of effecting change in our democracy! It’s not wasting a vote to attempt to use it in an attempt to reform a broken system! By voting third party, we can assist party X in meeting the minimum threshold of requisite votes to qualify for federal funding/ debate participation in the next election cycle!

Wrong! On several counts, actually.

First, the spoiler effect is real, and nothing to joke about in a campaign like this. I suspect it may even be part of the reason Bernie Sanders ran as a democrat, instead of an independent like Nader–he didn’t want the spoiler effect splitting the vote and party. He chose to endorse Clinton (much to the dismay of many of his followers) because he is cognizant of the spoiler effect. When votes in a plurality voting system (first-past-the-post) are split between candidates with similar ideologies, it causes the strongest opponent to win.

It feels weird, even counterintuitive, to say that–why would voting for Jill Stein essentially count as a vote for Donald Trump? But the way it works is this: During a heated election between two candidates. One is running on a platform of chocolate, the other on a platform of alfalfa sprouts. A third, pro-carrot cake candidate presents themselves as an alternative option to both. There are 100 voters. On voting day, 85 go to the polls, and 15 decide not to vote because they’re sick of all the controversy. Of the 85 who vote, 35 vote for chocolate and 10 vote for carrot cake, which leaves alfalfa sprouts with a victory of 40 votes.

This would not happen in ranked ballot/ preferential voting system used in many parliamentary democracies, because the voters could rank their candidate choices in order of preference, eg:

  1. Chocolate Candidate
  2. Carrot Cake Candidate
  3. (write in)

But the US is not a preferential or ranked ballot, so that protection is not built into our voting system. In a sortition democracy, the names of public servants would be drawn from a lottery of registered citizens, so you might end up with the Asparagus Candidate–but you wouldn’t have a popularity-contest candidate who was actively seeking power, which I personally would argue is a key character disqualification. Those who seek positions of power rarely seem fit to wield them–but again, not a protection built into our system.

The protection the Founding Fathers saw fit to build in to our democracy was the Electoral College, which they intentionally did to limit direct democracy (ie, the popular vote), because they were concerned about what kind of person an uninformed, uneducated populace might be induced to vote into power. Looking at Trump … you can see why.

Second, with third party votes split the way they are, it minimizes the “protest” aspect of it. The majority of votes are still going to the primary candidates. It still looks, to the uninformed eye, like Chocolate’s 35 votes lost to Alfalfa Sprouts’ 40 votes. The 10 voters who “spoiled” it are barely noticed as competition by the average voter–after all, 10 is less than 35 and 40, so both Chocolate and Alfalfa easily beat Carrot Cake. It doesn’t occur to the average or downright ignorant voter to add Carrot Cake’s votes to Chocolate’s in order to see what the results would have looked like had the third candidate not entered/ spoiled the race.

In other words, voting for Carrot Cake isn’t seen by anyone else as a protest–it is seen, at best, as hopeful dreamers who wasted their vote on a no-win candidate; and at worst as spoiling the race so we all had to deal with alfalfa sprouts.

Third, as an agent to effect change, third party voting is inefficient. Even the most popular candidates aren’t polling anywhere near the requisite levels, which means a protest vote as a means of changing the system would be far less effective than, say, just hassling congressional representatives about any one of the many voting amendment legislations under consideration.

There are at least 3 major 3rd party candidates (not counting write-ins) popular enough to collectively split what seems to be about 15 percent of the electorate between them (generously)–Gary Johnson, at last polling, was said to have about 8.4 percent support, while Jill Stein polled at 3.2. I have no idea what Evan McMullin polls at, but apparently the Trump-hatred is so strong among Utah Republicans that some people are projecting a McMullin win for Utah.

I first heard of the guy from my LDS family, and honestly? If these claims are in any way accurate, I think Utah needs to check their water supply or something, because apparently most of those guys have just decided to opt out of democracy altogether in order to vote in some sort of hallucinatory parallel reality for a candidate who literally isn’t even on the ballot in most states. Like, wtf. Okay.

Even more voters have indicated they loathe both major party candidates so much they won’t vote at all. And it sucks, because at the end of the day, it’s an inescapable reality that we’re going to have either Clinton or Trump as the next President of the United States, and every voting-eligible citizen is in some way party to that choice, whether they like it or not. They can explicitly cast their vote for one of the two major-party candidates, or nope right the fuck out and abdicate their decision in some way to the same apathetic, uninformed, uninvolved electorate which landed us in this situation in the first place, but in the end it will be Clinton or Trump.

Clinton is a proven leader with a public record of service and a proven ability to compromise and work across the aisle. She’s kind of like the hard ass teacher or boss we’ve all had to deal with at least once; the one everyone complains about and hates and gossips about, but in retrospect realizes was actually pretty fair and straightforward, just a hardass with high standards who had equal expectations for everyone, and eventually you realize the only students (or employees) who actually hated them were the ones who were fucking around and making things worse for everyone else.

Trump is the American equivalent of Kim Jong Il. Irrational, egotistical, outrageous, and completely ignorant of policy or governance. Ironically, for all he’s playing on the woe-is-me of displaced white male rage, I think he’s only getting away with this shtick because he’s white and male. If an equally outrageous, unqualified, and wealthy woman, person of color, or trans* individual was in his place, they never would have gotten this level of support, or made it so far.

Go ahead, try to imagine Kanye West or Kim Kardashian running a successful outrage campaign all the way to the White House. They’ve got the same qualities Trump has brazenly staked his campaign on–wealth, bombastic personalities, outspoken opinions on matters they’re not experienced in, and apparently a larger-than-life conviction regarding their range of skills and abilities. They’re also younger, hotter, and more talented than Trump–but they wouldn’t win. Not together or separately.

Look at the amount of racism and resistance President Obama faced during his campaign(s), and he’s a light-skinned, ivy-league educated, well-spoken black man. He’s played the respectability politics game, but has still been subjected to every maligning racist slur there is, as has his family–his daughters. I mean, seriously? Wtf.

So when people insist on equating Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, especially in the various memes littering my social media or (gods forbid) emailed to me, I admit to some escalating frustration. Especially since these memes implicitly promote, by their correlation of the two candidates as equivalent, a protest or opt out vote, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s basically saying, “Ack! Can you fucking believe these awful candidates!? How about, instead of making the adult decision to ensure our nation doesn’t end up with an idiot dictator with no grasp of law, order, or basic decency, we just get everyone to abdicate responsibility altogether! Yay!”

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