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That is, essentially, the Bernie Sanders or Bust approach to this election. Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, is ignorant, uniquely unqualified and a real threat to American values. And no matter how much the Bernie or Bust crowd hates her, Hillary is not those things.
Some of the Vermont senator’s proposed ideas would bring great positive change to this country. But the end goal of the movement simply isn’t happening by November, no matter how many people on your newsfeed tell you otherwise. Now that Bernie has officially been ruled out as nominee, the “bust” is the only part of that catchphrase standing, and it could mean disastrous things for the United States.
A common comparison to this situation is the Ralph Nader debacle of 2000, when the Green Party candidate snatched just enough votes away from Al Gore to hand the presidency to George W. Bush. It’s a nifty, relatively recent way of representing the damage that comes when a block of voters shifts to a third party. But the aftershocks of something similar happening this November would be much worse, which is truly saying something considering the legacy Bush left behind in his eight years.
Domestically, a Trump presidency could spell further disaster for the treatment of minorities in this country. He has condoned the beating of a Black Lives Matter activist, failed to condemn a white supremacist’s endorsement, repeatedly shown a pattern of discrimination towards black people in his real estate business and was one of the far too many bigoted conspiracists demanding Obama’s birth certificate (although, if you take his word for it, “the blacks” love him).
And then, of course, there is his immigration rhetoric, which has ranged from ridiculous to incendiary. He has proposed a total ban on Muslim immigrants and repeatedly suggested that he will build a massive wall along the Mexican border, presumably since all the people coming over the border are “rapists” and “criminals.” A man like this in the ultimate position of authority would empower racists across the country and embolden them to discriminate as they wish, turning the melting pot into a combustible, flammable mixture.
Internationally, he has threatened not to defend NATO allies, has invited Russian hackers to infiltrate government servers and has repeatedly shown a basic lack of knowledge about international relations, a subject that the possible leader of the free world should have a firm grasp on.
There are certainly aspects of the Clinton platform and campaign that are unpalatable. But a worst-case scenario under President Clinton would probably not leave us too far from where we are today. A worst-case scenario under President Trump would be a veritable dystopia, with a nation broken in half and a trail of shattered international relationships.
The reality is, one of those two candidates will assume office next January. We are a two-party system, for better or worse, and no change will come in that department in the next few months. The best way to think of this election is as a huge would-you-rather question. Would you rather have a robotic, slightly hawkish life-long politician who is too loose with confidential emails, or a verified racist, sexist, ableist and ignorant businessman who has never held any sort of office?
The frustration from the Bernie or Bust camp can’t be ignored. People are tired of the rich getting richer, they are tired of accruing thousands of dollars in debt to afford college and they are tired of a political system that is failing to hear their voices. All of those are legitimate complaints and all are problems that deserve government attention. But the way to push those wishes is through compromise and persistence, not throwing a tantrum and sitting out the election. Hillary has shown that she will at least listen to Bernie’s branch of the party, as she desperately wants a united liberal wing. At the convention she unveiled her promise of free college for anyone who wants it—a very Sanders-ian policy position—and repeatedly touched on the issue of income inequality.
So, Sanders supporters, continue being vocal, continue making noise, continue showing your unhappiness, because it’s already starting to work. What will not work is voting for a third party or abstaining outright—it’s not quite the same as a vote to Make America Great again, but it’s pretty close.
This basic tenet of democracy should be remembered: When you cast your vote on election day, you are not holding only your future in your hands. You are voting for the future you want your country to have. You are representing those who are disenfranchised and you are telling the political system which way you believe our country should go for the greater good of the people.
If you are planning on voting for a third party or abstaining, your reason is probably one (or all) of these: You feel that your vote is one of the only ways to send a message to the political establishment; you feel that supporting the “lesser of two evils” is still wrong; or you feel that no time is better to start drastic change than now. Each of those are sound ideas in a vacuum—but unfortunately, we don’t live in a vacuum.
Your third-party vote may send a message to Washington, sure. But if enough people partake in that logic, then the more likely scenario is that Trump wins in a tight race. And then, your message will fall on deaf ears. Actually, worse. It will fall on purposefully ignorant ears. With that in mind, the argument that voting for Clinton is morally corrupt doesn’t hold water either. Your conscience probably wouldn’t feel too hot when Trump is in the Oval Office, deporting immigrant families, banning refugees and torturing the families of terrorists.
And if you value that last argument—that there’s no time like the present to create change—there is only this to say: The present is an incredibly perilous time. Our country is at a crossroads, and with Trump at the helm, the results would undo years of progress that you, the progressive liberal, have fought so hard for. With Clinton in charge, there is something to work with. She has proven that she is at least capable of listening and she understands that the voice of the people is important. Trump believes with all his heart that his voice is the only one that matters. He is a unique threat one we haven’t quite seen before in our history as a nation. The only way to ensure that he doesn’t set the country 50 years back is through a collective movement against him.
Maybe you don’t like everything about Clinton, and that is just fine. Protest, yell, petition and march until she starts to change her stances. But whatever you do, don’t throw your vote away. It may feel like a personal protest, and it may even feel good for a self-congratulatory minute or two. But remember, that little warm feeling you think you’ll have? It could just be the tickle of flames as the whole ship burns.