Though it might seem far-fetched right now, in just a few short months both the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries will be over and the general election will have begun. Barring some unforeseen calamity, the Republicans will nominate either Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) or Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) and the Democrats will nominate either Hillary Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT). At the moment, both races are in a state of flux, and as prognostication is a field fraught with difficulty, I’m not going to make any bold predictions as to the identities of the eventual nominees. To a certain extent, it doesn’t even matter who the nominees are. No matter who emerges victorious, America will be faced with a stark choice in November, and the correct decision could not be more obvious.
The Republican Party, categorically, offers a reactionary set of policies that would strip millions of Americans of the protections and rights, both economic and social, that they have accrued over the past century. There is no such thing as a moderate Republican running for president. Trump is political demagogue whose neo-populist/authoritarian ideology appears to be made up on the fly. Ted Cruz is so repulsive and uniformly hated by even his own party and coworkers that Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-NC) once mused that you could kill him on the Senate floor and no senators would testify against you. And John Kasich, who has cultivated an image of relative moderation, has a record of conservative policies on everything from reproductive rights to union-busting to supply-side economics stretching from his tenure as governor of Ohio all the way back to his time as the hatchet-wielding chairman of the House Budget Committee. All three would be disastrous for the nation if elected to the presidency.
So why, then, do upwards of 30 percent of Bernie Sanders supporters say that if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, they will refuse to vote for her? Such a stance is foolish, misguided and incredibly harmful. If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee (and according to math, that is a likelihood) then every member of the Democratic Party, from the card-carrying socialists to the San Francisco tech entrepreneurs to the Montana farmers and everyone in between should vote for her. Likewise, if Bernie Sanders gets the nod, the party should similarly coalesce behind him. The stakes are too high to act otherwise.
When a Sanders supporter declares that Hillary is too repulsive to vote for, they leave themselves with three options. The first and easiest is to stay home. When you refuse to vote, you aren’t taking a bold or courageous stand against the system. You are willfully abdicating your responsibility as an American citizen, and you renounce any right to complain about government for the next four years. You also do a great disservice by depriving down ballot candidates of the votes they so desperately need. You want to see real change? Cast a vote for John Plumb instead of letting Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) run away with another term. You want to start a revolution? Start by electing a new state representative and state senator, such as Leslie Danks Burke, who will fight for an increased minimum wage and collective bargaining rights. Real change happens from the bottom upwards; by staying home because of an unpalatable name at the top of the ticket, you forfeit the opportunity to effect changes in other areas.
The second option is to vote for a third-party candidate, a so-called “protest vote.” There are some benefits to a protest vote. You still feel like you are fulfilling your responsibility to vote, but you get a rush from subverting the system. While I am sure that Jill Stein or Gary Johnson is grateful for your support, protest votes are incredibly destructive. Many Sanders supporters are too young to have participated in the 2000 presidential election (as am I), but its outcome alone should be more than enough to dissuade anyone from ever casting a protest vote. Had a mere 538 Floridians voted for Al Gore instead of Ralph Nader, George W. Bush (quite possibly the worst president since Herbert “Great Depression” Hoover) would never have taken office. A group of voters half the size of Intro to Oceanography could have prevented the Iraq War, further deregulation of the financial industry, an EPA that for eight years cared more about industry jobs than protecting the environment and the appointments of two incredibly conservative justices to the Supreme Court. But apparently, to enough voters, bucking the system and voting for Nader was more important to than the future of the nation. Protest votes do not work. In the case of Sanders supporters, they will only serve to help the Republican nominee.
And that brings us to the third option: simply voting for the Republican. It’s a troubling refrain that is increasingly heard across the airwaves and the Twittersphere. It goes something like, “I’d vote for Trump/Cruz/Kasich over that sack of lies Hillary,” and sometimes it sounds like a five-year-old threatening to hold their breath till they pass out unless you do what they want. It takes an incredible lack of awareness to hold this position. A Trump/Cruz/Kasich presidency would be tangibly harmful to large swathes of the American population. For those of us fortunate enough not to have been targeted (as of yet) by the Republicans, it is may be easier to stomach a Trump/Cruz/Kasich presidency. I don’t have to fear the Republicans aggressively policing my neighborhood. I don’t have a uterus to defend from government intrusion. My skin isn’t dark enough to get punched at a Trump rally and my economic situation is not such that Trump’s chaotic trade policies would wreck my livelihood. It is a privilege I have to view a Republican presidency as anything less than an imminent danger, a privilege not everyone has. So to vote for a Republican who is so markedly worse for the country than either Democrat, to refuse to vote for a Democrat not based on policy or vision but on some personal vendetta you feel against him or her, is an exercise in privilege that will only harm the nation.
The primary could still go either way. Sanders could gain steam and sweep the rest of the calendar and walk triumphantly into Philadelphia with the requisite delegates for the nomination. If that is the case, we must do everything to make sure that six months later he is delivering his first inaugural address. If Clinton continues to lead the race, then come July, the party must come together behind her. For all of his faults, Sen. Marco “Roboto” Rubio (R-FL) was right when he said that this election was especially significant. In no situation would a President Trump or Kasich or Cruz be better than a President Clinton or Sanders, and to think otherwise is dangerous. America, don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. There is too much at stake to treat this vote like a five-year-old treats his oxygen intake.
Jacob Rubashkin is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Jacobin appears alternate Mondays this semester.