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Whoever wins, we all lose

Three-minute read

A few weeks before the 2012 election, I was talking to a friend. “Mitt Romney scares me,” she said in a tone of voice normally reserved for talking about ebola or clowns.

“Really, Mitt Romney scares you?” I asked. The slightly right-of-center former Massachusetts governor squish who helped pass universal health care. “Really, he ‘scares’ you?”

Wouldn’t a candidate like Mitt Romney or Joe Biden be welcome breath of fresh air right about now? Flawed, yes, but basically decent folk. Barack Obama and George W. Bush, if you strip away the politics, at least seemed like decent people.

Instead we have “loudmouth at a bar 30 seconds before he gets punched in the face” running against “superintendent of a women’s prison calling lights out.” This is awful.

Americans only have one option: Don’t vote.

This sounds like cynicism, which I abound in even in the best years. Despite this, enough Pollyanna shines through that I have voted in every presidential and congressional election since I turned 18. Primaries, even.

But the ongoing shitshow of 2016 transcends mere cynicism. Voting for either major party candidate is actually wrong.

I don’t want to go into an in-depth analysis of the candidates’ various political or personal outrages. It would just end up an “I’ll see your ‘Trump University is a scam’ and raise you a ‘Clinton’s cattle futures trading.’” Their many, many, many, many corruptions are so well documented for both candidates over several decades that to argue that either is suitable for office borders on denial of simple facts.

Yet people do. Put nicely, politics causes people to lose perspective on the problems with their own candidate. Or, put less delicately, politics makes people stupid.

The American political system is at its heart transactional. The candidate gets what he or she wants by convincing a sufficient amount of people that they’ll actually get what they want. Clinton or Trump will get the power, prestige and a place in the history books by being president. Even if we get a tax break or a social program or legalized marriage between cats and dogs, it’s hard not to argue the winning candidate gets the better deal in the long run.

But someone has to win. We can’t just not have a president. Voting for the lesser of two evils is a longstanding American political tradition.1 Our vote gets lost in a vast sea of other votes that were cast with millions of different motives, so holding one’s nose and voting goes down a little easier. I’m doing my civic duty! It’s important! USA! USA!

Despite our one vote being one of a million voices, we still own that choice.

It’s important that the country have capable leadership that isn’t corrupt, or cynical, or entranced by bad ideas or whatever faults that might describe that pair. But it’s even beyond that.

A friend of mine is regularly outraged by Donald Trump antics. His argument is that Trump normalizes bad things. It’s a valid argument, to a degree. Unfortunately it’s a dependent on who gets to decide good from bad.

But the argument is correct that it important to draw a line, if only personally. Electing Trump or Clinton means that it is OK to be like Trump or Clinton in American politics. Not just OK. Great. It becomes the way to win.

Trump and Clinton are the worst pair to run for president in my lifetime – professional wrestling announcer vs. Nixon in a pantsuit. They deserve no fealty on our part. It’s not our duty or obligation to give either of them a vote. It’s binary. Either they do or do not deserve a vote.

And they do not. Not at all.

  1. The Simpsons did a brilliant parody of this notion in 1996. Aliens replace Bob Dole and Bill Clinton with obvious aliens Kang and Kodos, only to have people vote Kang into office anyway.