Vote For Me

Tomorrow you go to the polls, America, and I’m asking you to vote for me. Not as a candidate, you understand – I’m a UK citizen and I can’t run in this election, and I don’t think I’d do very well if I did. As a Brit I’d want you to immediately cede sovereignty back to the British Crown and to carpet the country with elegant tea shops. No, I’m asking you to vote on my behalf. I’m one of the more than 22 million people living in the USA who are non-citizens, and your vote affects me greatly. Even if you don’t want to vote in order to better your own situation and that of your community, i’m hoping you will consider how your vote might affect the millions of us who pay taxes, help support American businesses, and fill important positions in organizations across the country, but don’t enjoy the privilege of voting. Your vote – your little piece of political power – will affect our lives, and I’m asking you to think of us when you cast your ballot.

I know some of you want to sit this one out. This election has brought out the worst in this country. The xenophobia, racism, misogyny, and deceit of the Trump campaign has raised the specter of American neo-fascism, complete with promises to jail his political opponents and the encouragement of political violence against those who disagree with his brutish and incoherent agenda. That the Republican party has been split asunder by such a man, with major Republicans still willing to support the Trump campaign while others look on in disgust, augurs dark years ahead. Trump, and the movement he has fomented, is a genuine threat to the liberties of all Americans and, by extension, all who live in the USA. He must not become president.

The campaigns, too, have been depressing. Trump’s is, of course, a disaster: a nightmare mishmash of alt-right foghorns (dog whistles are too subtle for him) and lewd conspiracy theories which has brought literal white supremacists and neo-Nazis enthusiastically to the polls – not just to vote, but to intimidate those who would vote a different way. The Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson has run a literally risible campaign in which the only thing he has communicated clearly is his own lack of preparation. Jill Stein, while running on a genuinely laudable policy platform for the Green Party, has squandered every opportunity to harness the unprecedented surge of progressive excitement unleashed by Bernie Sanders. In a year in which a relative unknown far to the left of mainstream American politics ran a credible campaign against one of the best-connected politicians in the world, Stein’s inability to poll above 2% is a monumental testament to her lack of political skill and the electoral weakness of the Greens. Stein is simply uninspiring, and has run a campaign which was heavy on false equivalence (Clinton is as bad as or worse than Trump!) and pandering, short on hope and energy. I wish it were not so – a credible third party challenge might have changed the tenor and direction of the race for the better – but the Greens just missed the electoral opportunity of a lifetime. Third parties have a hugely unfair mountain to climb to get any political play in the USA – I support opening the debates and giving public funding to minor parties to help them compete – but most of the failure this year is their own. The have themselves to blame.

And what about Clinton? First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: were Hillary Clinton a man, she would be winning this election by a landslide. She is manifestly more qualified for the office than any of her opponents (more qualified than many previous Presidents when they took office), and her values are more in line with those of most Americans too. She has an inspiring life story and a history of commitment to public service and progressive issues. She is consistently rated as one of the most honest and most progressive politicians in public life (she is rated a “Hard-Core Liberal” by ontheissues.org, scoring the same as the left’s beloved Elizabeth Warren on social issues, and as more liberal on economic issues). She is running on an exceptional Democratic Party Platform, after masterminding a genuinely inspiring Conference. And yet she is widely despised and mocked, even by those who share most of her political opinions, and to express enthusiastic support for her in some progressive circles is to inspire outrage. Sexism is a large part of this phenomenon.

I’m not saying people hate Clinton because she is a women (although some most assuredly do). I’m saying that a decades long smear campaign, rooted in deeply sexist cultural tropes and assumptions, has besmirched the character of one of this country’s most impressive politicians since the moment she stepped into the public eye. This doesn’t mean that you have to vote for her – I accept people may have legitimate reasons to withhold their vote from Clinton – but it does mean that everybody who casts a vote must factor deep, virulent sexism into their own assessment of Clinton’s character and accomplishments. It is striking that the reservations many voice about Clinton’s candidacy are precisely those which dog successful women in any field: she is seen as ruthless and untrustworthy;power-hungry and self-absorbed; Machiavellian and uncaring; and more aggressive and “hawkish” than she should be. It is inconceivable that a male candidate with the same personal and political record as Clinton would face these same criticisms – sexism has played a huge role in this campaign. If you are not factoring sexism into your calculations, you are failing as an elector: just as if you failed to consider how racism affected Obama’s campaigns, or homophobia might affect those of an LGBTQ candidate for president.

None of this excuses Clinton’s failings as a candidate. The same criticism I leveled against Stein – an inability to harness a newly-energized US left, roused by Bernie Sanders’ candidacy – must be leveled against Clinton, too. She has not generated the sort of breathless excitement about her campaign that Sanders or Obama did. She has reinforced her own weaknesses by never finding an effective way to respond to the (ridiculously overblown) email scandal. Her decision to stay silent regarding the ongoing crisis in Standing Rock is immoral, and betrays a political caution and lack of clear leadership which many, including myself, regret. I can understand why some on the left see in Clinton more of the same, and feel that she will not bring the major changes the country needs. She is undoubtedly an establishment politician in an election upset by outsiders, in which many feel increasingly cynical about the possibility of genuine progressive change. I, too, am weary of politics as usual, and of a system which too often overlooks the desperate needs of the most marginalized in favor of the privileges of the most powerful. I desperately hoped for an election which addressed the moral issue of poverty (and not just the middle class); which spoke out forcefully against failed US interventions overseas; which reasserted the fundamental rights of immigrants to these shores; which committed the country to healthcare for all Americans and a living wage; which was conducted in a way which dignified, rather than debased, our political culture. We didn’t get that, and I mourn it.

Yet despite the dark clouds crowding this election, I don’t share the despair of those who believe America to be irrevocably broken. Hillary Clinton represents a real chance for progressive change on a host of issues. She has run a campaign which has repeatedly stressed highly liberal values, and which has put forward workable policies which would improve the lives of the poorest Americans by a great deal. She has stressed the values of diversity and inclusion, against a Trump campaign which has made racial and ethnic divisiveness a key part of its “appeal”. She has demonstrated endless poise and grace, and superhuman self-control, through three of the most despicable debates in this country’s history. Clinton represents a vision of America that is better than the America we live in now, and has a credible chance of actually enacting the policies she proposes. If this weren’t enough to secure your vote (and it should be), every American elector has the opportunity, this election, to repudiate a wannabe fascist at the ballot box. That opportunity – the opportunity to serve your country by taking a stand against that which is genuinely abhorrent, in favor of a highly qualified candidate who can bring about real progressive change – is not afforded every election. Don’t waste it: vote for me.

 

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