As this supremely tawdry election season grinds to its conclusion, I remain gripped by the fear that Donald Trump could win this thing. Not because there is some undetected population of disaffected white male birther/Trumper/NRA bigots who will rise up out of nowhere and troop in unprecedented numbers to the polls; not because people have been shamed into lying to pollsters and actually will vote for Trump in the secrecy of the ballot booth; not because Democrats will finally tire of trying to rationalize the stupidity of Hillary’s email imbroglios and turn against her; and not because the inane third-party candidates will siphon off votes that otherwise would have gone to her. Rather, I fear the outcome of this election because I think it’s distinctly possible that not enough of us will vote.
By “enough,” I mean, of course, enough to defeat Trump, who has no business being within a hundred miles of the White House (there being no casinos nearby). You either know this in your heart or you don’t, and nothing I say here will change your mind. Hillary can survive all her self-inflicted damage and the hatred of those whose best argument for their candidate is that he will blow things up. For all their frustrations, the vast majority of the American people are not, at heart, anarchists. What she can’t survive – what the republic can’t survive – is indifference, and the resulting failure of fair-minded citizens to vote.
Indifference is what, at this crucial hour, tempts many principled conservatives who see in Trump a virus of demagoguery and mean-spiritedness from which the Republican Party might never recover, but who also see Clinton as a tired, leftist hack whose time should have long ago passed.
Indifference is what tempts many loyal Democrats who could never in a million years consider voting for Trump, but who are deeply disappointed that their party could not have found a standard-bearer as symbolically uplifting as Obama once was, and without Hillary’s very real liabilities. Were it not for Director Comey, we would be re-litigating Benghazi for the hundredth time. As it is, we will hear from now till election day –and beyond– about her “damned emails,” as Bernie so pithily put it.
What’s damning about Hillary’s email flap is not that there might be some technically or retroactively classified piece of bureaucratic trivia that might have fallen into unauthorized hands. Whatever minor damage that may have caused to our national security –little or none, in all rational likelihood — has long since been done, and we even can stomach the double standard that absolves a former Secretary of State from the same infractions that could have ended the career of a lesser personage. What’s damning about it is that it puts on display a group of people, including the candidate herself, who thought that the rules don’t apply to them. These are, among others, rules of basic email protocol that any mid-level functionary in any office in America knows as well as his or her own name, and they start – merely start –with the rule that if you would be embarrassed to have it show up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, don’t put it in an email. Everyday business people know this, let alone people doing the business of the nation. Arrogance and lack of touch are the only words that begin to describe what would possess senior employees of political campaigns and the US government to ignore those rules.
But does that, or any of the other nominal scandals dredged up in the course of this awful campaign to argue for Clinton’s disqualification, begin to compare with the utter lack of preparedness or credentials of Donald J. Trump? Of course not. I’ve already voted for Hillary Clinton, and I hope you have too. But if you haven’t, or if you’re seriously considering “sitting this one out” because you think neither candidate is sufficiently deserving of the pure sweet gift that is your vote, I beg you to reconsider.
Voting is not a sacrament; it’s the grubby duty of democracy. Yes, sometimes that means voting for the lesser of two evils; but if an evil were ever lesser, it’s Hillary’s.
Your vote is not an expression of your heart-felt endorsement of everything a candidate stands for or has ever done (that, indeed, is how many Republicans will rationalize a vote for Trump); nor is your declining to vote an expression of some higher principle, the way a pacifist might decline to bear arms. It’s an abdication of our very first duty as citizens.
We’ve all been debased by this abysmal year of politics, and we’re tempted to believe that by not participating we might at least express our disdain. But disdain is not an effective stance in a representative democracy; it’s merely self-indulgent. We’re obliged to make a choice.
Please, I beg you, vote in this election. Vote early or go on election day, but vote. Vote your heart, certainly, but don’t claim that your heart demands you stay away. Take joint responsibility with your fellow citizens for the future we will all share afterwards. Vote.