Ted Grimsrud—November 4, 2016
Few of the people I know, even those who strongly supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries, are agonizing about their presidential vote next week. It is clear to just about everyone in my circles, it seems, that Donald Trump’s unacceptability as president could not be more clear. Hence, a vote for Clinton is a no-brainer.
Thinking in the context of the electoral college
I have been unsure, however. Not that I would imagine voting for Trump. Not that I don’t believe that Trump would be a complete disaster as president, a horror beyond imagining. But it seems important to me to recognize that our presidential election, given the undemocratic reality of the electoral college, is actually 50 different elections. As we learned in 2000, the winner of the national popular vote will not necessarily win the election.
So, the particular election I am voting in is the election that will determine the votes of Virginia’s members of the electoral college. This fact is important to keep in mind as I reflect on my struggle to discern how to cast my ballot. It is altogether possible that if we did go by the popular vote, I might decide to vote for Clinton—not so much as a vote for her as for a vote that would prevent Trump’s election (I made this kind of argument for voting for Obama in 2012—whereas in 2008 I happily [and naively] voted for Obama, believing at least a little in the hopey, changey stuff).
It is also altogether possible that if I lived in a state such as Ohio or Florida, where the outcome seems very much in doubt and whose electoral votes will be crucial to the outcome, I would vote for Clinton.
But those are irrelevant considerations for me as a resident of Virginia. In a stark contrast to 2000, when I voted for Ralph Nader because Virginia was in the bag for George Bush (meaning a vote for Albert Gore seemed like a wasted vote), now it seems as if Virginia is in the bag for Clinton. I am glad for this for two reasons—one is that I do want Trump to lose, the second is that I feel freer to think of my vote as one I can cast based on my ideals than simply a vote to prevent a worse evil happening.
So, I expect to vote for Jill Stein. Not because I seriously imagine her as president. And not as a “protest” vote against Clinton (or Trump). But as a tiny, quite insignificant but still real statement that our country needs to change direction quite radically. We need to commit ourselves to democracy, not plutocracy. We need to envision working for peace and not ever more warism. And we need dramatic action to counter the devastating effects of climate change. These are issues that are central for Stein’s Green Party (and not so much for Clinton’s campaign).
It is easier for me to imagine that the Green Party and other progressive forces might gain traction and move the U.S. toward genuine change than it is that Clinton would actually become a progressive president (though, should she be elected, I will work to push her in that direction).
I should also note that I do not find the idea of deciding not to vote out of some kind of faith conviction to be remotely attractive. That stance seems to me to be part of a futile quest for purity, a stance outside the corruption of our political world. At the same time, I don’t find voting in presidential elections to be very important. This year, more than ever before, we see the profound brokenness of our political system that offers such inadequate options—especially in light of the enormous problems that require attention. Voting seems like one tiny thing that we can do, but our political responsibility is much bigger and more widely encompassing than simply voting once every four years.
Clinton as part of the problem
What it comes down to for me is the conviction that in most of the key social problems that we face in our society now, Clinton has been and will continue to be part of the problem and not part of the solution.
Issues I will name include the strangling impact of big banks and big corporate influence in general (the forces that have forked over more than $200 million to Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 16 years since the end of Bill’s presidency), the epidemic of mass incarceration (fueled in part by Bill Clinton’s crime bill, supported by Hillary Clinton with her now infamous warning about “super predators”), climate change (linked with the influence of some of Clinton’s largest bankrollers in the corporate world and linked also with the practice of fracking, something she has until very recently strongly supported), the privatization of education, including higher education (I recently learned how Bill Clinton was paid $17.6 million to be the honorary “chancellor” of the for-profit college company Laureate International Universities), ever growing inequality and racial injustice (along with Bill Clinton’s crime bill, his welfare reform legislation, also strongly supported at the time by Hillary Clinton, has had a devastating effect), and the blank check the U.S. has given Israel in its efforts to crush the Palestinians (Clinton has been a strong supporter of Israel’s far-right Prime Minister Netanyahu). I could mention numerous other issues as well.
The biggest issue for me, though, is American militarism and imperialism. I suspect that Clinton’s presidency is almost certain to be a failure, and one of main reasons is her commitment to warism, to growth in an already obscenely destructive and wasteful military budget, to intensifying conflicts in various global points of tension—most frighteningly in her apparent desire to push toward a new Cold War with Russia, one that all too easily could turn hot.
Just about every other major problem in our society—the ones I mentioned above and many others—is exacerbated by our militarism. I see no way that Clinton can move us toward positive outcomes in these other areas while she also ratchets up our warism. President Obama, due I’d say to his basic human decency, his rhetorical gifts, and the contrast he offers with the extraordinary corruption of the Republican Party, will end his presidency on an uptick. And probably after a term (or possibly, though not likely, two) of Clinton as president, Obama will look even better. But in the long run, the Obama presidency will go down as a period where the biggest problems were not addressed even close to adequately. And this failure will have a lot to do with Obama’s own warism. However, compared to Clinton, Obama stands as a military moderate—the story is that during her years as Secretary of State, she generally stood in tension with Obama and sought more militaristic policies).
One of the big tragedies I perceive in the current presidential campaign is the uncritical support that so many “progressives” are giving Clinton. As I mentioned above, I could imagine voting for her if our electoral process were different or I lived in a different state. But in that case, I would feel even more bound to voice opposition to so many of these things she stands for, again most importantly her warism.
One of the biggest responsibilities progressives have is to utilize this period during the campaign season (what George W. Bush famously called the “accountability moment”) to put as much pressure on Clinton as possible to move away from that warism. However, I have seen little evidence of such pressure.
In face of our runaway militarism and imperialism, it seems much more “realistic” to me that progressives would vote for the Greens and not Clinton whenever that didn’t make it more likely Trump would win a battleground state. This is more realistic because our survival, our ability actually to make significant progress on these various social problems, requires saying no to Clinton’s warist agenda. It seems utterly unrealistic to imagine that comfortable affirmation of her candidacy without the pressure right now while she is most likely to listen will have any result other than acquiescence with more and more warism.
I have not yet referred to my convictions as a Christian. So I’ll conclude with a few “Christian” thoughts. I would say, on the one hand, that everything I have written here comes out of my faith in Jesus and his way. On the other hand, given how so many Christians right now are embarrassing themselves and their religion in their support for Trump, and given how other Christians seem to be intent on standing above the fray and seeking for some kind of peaceableness (or “niceness”) that transcends political partisanship and presents Christians faith as a “safe space” for both Republicans and Democrats, it seems best not to say too much about Christian faith in relation to the election.
I do think Christian support for Trump is an embarrassment. And I also think that the effort to place Christianity above the fray conveys a commitment to niceness over truth and justice. It seems to me that the main significance of Christian faith for our current context is that it provides a powerful impetus for followers of Jesus to engage in the midst of the fray and to seek with wholehearted commitment to struggle for genuine shalom in our broken society.
Such a struggle though, as always, is difficult and complicated. I perceive, paradoxically, that the way forward is not to link closely with a particular partisan political agenda, nor is it to avoid engagement in partisan politics. The challenge we face is to keep our core convictions about the value of all human life, the way of peace, and rejection of domination at the center. Then we support policies that are at least somewhat congruent with those convictions, but also remain always open to outside the box, on the margins, creative spaces where new things can be imagined and embodied, often independent of established state-centered politics.
So, we vote in the presidential election with a sense of perspective. It matters only a little in the context of our work for social healing. What matters much more is how we take responsibility after the election to seek “the peace of the city where we live” (Jeremiah 29:7)—a quest that almost for sure will mean resistance to the warism of either Clinton or Trump.