By now it’s abundantly clear to anyone politically inclined and hooked into social media that there’s a very vocal swath of the American electorate that doesn’t understand politics and how our system works. These are the hardcore, do-or-die Bernie Sanders supporters, quite a few of whom are political neophytes and oh-so-many of whom can’t square the fact that all of their friends are pro-Bernie and all of their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds are nonstop Bernie memes and yet somehow Hillary Clinton is still winning the election.
Despite Clinton’s damn-near-impossible to overcome delegate lead — which she sewed up on March 15th — there are those out there still convinced that some kind of miraculous political deus ex machina is going to happen that will upend everything and give Sanders the nomination. They believe he’ll swing the Democratic superdelegates over to him, even though he’s not actually a Democrat — a substantial part of his problem in winning over the Democratic establishment — and they believe every idiotic bullshit story that comes out of USUncut.com that proclaims that Bernie is actually already on track to the nomination and Hillary’s media shills just won’t tell you that.
They believe, some of them anyway, that every delegate in New York and California is still up for grabs and that once Bernie takes them all, goodbye evil, corporatist bitch! — even though, of course, that very insurmountable problem for Sanders is that Democratic delegates are awarded proportionally. This means that Sanders can never win them all in any state and when he does win a state, Hillary still gets a bunch of delegates too. Sanders has to win by a massive margin in every state from here on out to make up his deficit; a few victories here and there, even in big states, won’t do it. That’s setting aside the fact that Clinton is predicted to win big in New York, given that it’s her current home state. She’s also polling far above Sanders in California at the moment.
But let’s set all of that aside for a minute. Instead, let’s talk about the very notion of the desperate need to never, under any circumstances do anything less on election day than “vote your conscience,” a belief often associated with Bernie Sanders. Even beyond the recent phenomenon of Sanders — and without question you can call his rise a phenomenon, though by no means the revolution Sanders claims it is — there’s always been this idea that once you get into that proverbial voting booth, what you do next is between you, your conscience and no one else. As terrific political writer Matt Osborne said recently, some, particularly on the left, “think of their vote as a kind of virginity that should only be awarded to the purest candidate.” This is nonsense. It’s exactly the wrong way to think about voting.
The reality is that voting is a selfless act rather than a selfish one. It’s a responsibility designed not to satisfy the individual — not merely to satisfy the individual, anyway — but to allow the individual to play a vital role in creating a better nation for both him or herself and everyone else. Particularly if you have a certain level of privilege within our culture — if you’re the kind of person who might be more immune to the vagaries of government and perhaps better protected from the catastrophes that can result from a terrible administration — it’s your job as a citizen to do what’s right not just for your own ideals but for those closer to the inevitable line of fire than you.
Put it this way: In the 2000 election, there were a lot of people who claimed that George W. Bush and Al Gore were flip-sides of the same coin. And so their “consciences” demanded that they vote for Ralph Nader. Their consciences demanded a protest vote, even though it was obvious their candidate wouldn’t win. Well, guess what? Nader helped to throw the election in favor of Bush, so it was a “successful” protest — but it turned out that by no fucking means were Bush and Gore the same person nor were they in any way from the same political party. And while some have used the Bush administration’s reign of terror as an example of how “we” can survive even the worst government — so why not vote your conscience? — the truth is “we” didn’t survive the Bush administration. Not all of us anyway. Thousands died on 9/11, thousands more died in Iraq and Afghanistan and thousands more than that may have died as a direct result of the near-complete collapse of the global economy that happened on Bush’s watch and partially because of his actions.
There are potentially immediate, real-world consequences for allowing America, the most powerful country on earth, to fall into the wrong hands. And if you have even two brain cells at all to rub together, you don’t need to be told how especially true that is this particular election season. There are those who can always be counted on to tell us that we should vote our hearts, but that’s absolute crap. The truth is we should vote our heads. And this year we should vote with those less able to weather the storm of, say, the administration of a dumb, megalomaniacal reality TV star turned fledgling fascist dictator — a guy who represents an unprecedented threat to the American democratic experiment — at the forefront of our minds. If you at all consider yourself a responsible, decent adult, there’s no room for selfishness or protest votes — absolutely not this year.
This election provides an especially potent example of the way that privilege and arrogance play a role in, as Osborne says, awarding your virginity/vote to the pure and only the pure because it’s just that important a gift to you. It does so simply because there’s so much at stake this year, certainly more so than during any other year in recent history. It does because despite what some may be trying to claim, the contrast between the two parties and their representatives — each and all of their representatives — is so shockingly stark. But the facts will remain well beyond 2016: Your conscience just isn’t all that important as a voter. Definitely not when placed against the greater good of the entire nation. It doesn’t matter whether you can “live with yourself.” It matters that others get to live, or at least live fulfilling lives, at all.