So here we are, the last hold outs of the Bernie Sanders political revolution. Everyone on our Facebook feeds have been telling us we have to vote for Hillary, that if we don’t we are human trash fires, narcissists, privileged pedants who are willing to sacrifice the country on the altar of our own purity.
I don’t think of it that way. We have been fighting a different battle from the people who have been haranguing us. In our battle the top prize is converting the Democratic party into a truly progressive party instead of a bunch of Wall Street toadies. Even as the specter of a Trump presidency has risen, I and a lot of my friends have been saying we will refuse to vote for Hillary, especially if we live in a safe blue or red state, where a protest vote seems like a reasonable action.
But the time has come to face the facts: we all have to vote for Hillary. Even in the safe states. Believe me, I don’t like that any more than you do, but it’s the way it has to be. The reasons overlap with what Hillary’s supporters have been telling us since March, but they are not identical to them. These aren’t Hillary’s reasons that we have to vote for her, they are our reasons.
1. Promises were made.
Bernie Sanders, after weeks of holding out, has dropped out of the race and offered a full-throated endorsement of Clinton in New Hampshire and at the Democratic convention. He did this after several meetings with top Democrats, including Obama and Clinton. We can probably safely assume there were some concessions made to him in exchange for his support.
After Hillary dropped out in 2008, Obama essentially folded her campaign into his, helped her “retire” her campaign debt, filled his administration with her cronies, and did everything he could to make sure she would follow him as president. There’s no indication that anything on that scale has been promised to Bernie, but there’s a good chance there’s more than the party platform changes we’ve seen so far. That may include better committee assignments for Bernie, promises to work with him on particular legislation, appointments for some of his staffers or other progressives of his choice, or who knows what.
Whatever it is, those promises will be worth squat if Bernie can’t deliver his supporters. That is both because he will have won nothing if Clinton loses the election, and because if she wins without us, she will have no reason to throw us a bone.
2. Voting big for Jill Stein will take the steam out of the ascendent left wing of the Democratic party.
Extrapolating from the last point: even without promises specifically to Bernie Sanders, progressives within the Democratic Party are feeling their oats right now. The Sanders campaign has shown us what may be possible in the next few decades, and we are ready to start spreading the movement beyond just the top job and into all levels of government.
We are also well placed to be a significant pressure group in the next Clinton administration. But if the Left abandons the Democratic party, all that progress within the party will end. Elizabeth Warren has a lot of power within the party now, but that goes away along with her constituency. Hillary needs us now, but if she wins without us she will know we can safely be ignored.
3. They will blame us.
I don’t necessarily think Ralph Nader was responsible for giving George W. Bush to the nation, but just about everybody else does. Now I know a lot of us are probably ok with being hated for the next four-to-eight years (or however long the world has left after Trump is elected), but that taint will cause real damage to the Left.
No one will look at a Trump presidency and think we acted in a principled manner, only that we are selfish and self absorbed (again, look at what’s happened to Nader’s reputation in the last sixteen years). That matters because lefty causes need to raise money, get air time, and have the ear of non-lefty centrist politicians. All of that will be a thousand times harder if everyone thinks we brought Trump into office.
4. They will learn all the wrong lessons.
Perhaps we nursed a secret hope that Bernie Sanders would stand up at the convention last week and, instead of endorsing Hillary, sound a clarion call for the reformation of the Democratic party as the party of social and economic justice, the party of the common person. Let us recall that in 1980 an insurgent primary candidate did exactly that. Ted Kennedy spoke powerfully at the 1980 Democratic convention, asking “to renew the commitment of the Democratic Party to economic justice,” and to embrace “the cause of the common man and the common woman.” (See what I did there?)
The candidate Kennedy refused to endorse, Jimmy Carter, went on to suffer a crushing loss at the hands of Ronald Reagan. And you know what did not happen? The Democrats did not heed Kennedy’s call. Instead, they went into their holes, did some soul-searching, and by the end of the decade they had been completely engulfed by the pro-corporate Democratic Leadership Council.
And that is what happens whenever the Democratic party gets whipped and goes into their soul-searching hole. After the antiwar protestors took over and somehow managed to nominate George McGovern in 1972, who then proceeded to lose in horrendous fashion, the Democrats responded by nominating evangelical Christian and centrist Jimmy Carter. After the debacle of the ‘80s, Democrats went full Republican-lite for two decades, only finally starting to emerge as a liberal party again in the Obama era. The fact is, if Democrats lose this time, they will not be inclined to move further to the left. That is simply never their response to crisis.
5. Trump is as bad as they say he is.
I’ll admit, during the primary I underestimated how bad Trump is. “Sure, he’s a fascist,” I said, “but so was W.” And, “Sure, he’s basing his campaign on an appeal to racists,” I said, “but so has every Republican candidate since at least 1968.” It’s not so much that I thought Trump was ok, as that I thought people were underestimating how bad previous Republicans had been. And like a lot of people, I assumed his craziest antics were put on for the Republican primary electorate, and we’d see a more sane-looking person emerge as the general election got underway.
But it’s become clear that there is no saner person underneath. Trump is exactly who he looks like he is (and I don’t just mean orange). His ghost writer for The Art of the Deal recently said, “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.” There have been a lot of jokes and hand-wringing about nuclear codes, enough that it starts to feel like hyperbole, but I am here to tell you that it is not.
As an example take Trump’s recent comments about NATO. In an interview with the New York Times he said that if Russia attacked the Baltic states, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing if those nations have “fulfilled their obligations to us.” Now here’s the thing: having said this, even if he walks it back, he has made the world immeasurably more dangerous. Russia is a terrifying tinderbox right now (not talking about the hookup app here. Take a look at this article from a few years ago, and remember that things have only gotten worse since then). Putin has declared that world war is inevitable, and that Russia is prepared to fight it. He has been testing the limits of NATO for years, and with Trump in office he would take these statements as an invitation to attempt a takeover of the states that border Russia. This is the kind of scenario that could lead to World War III. No exaggeration, no fear mongering. We have to look soberly at Trump and realize that his election could literally lead to the end of civilization as we know it.
6. A split party can throw the vote to Trump even in a deep blue state.
Just ask Maine, who are suffering through the second term of their nutbag Tea Party governor, Paul LePage. Eliot Cutler ran as an independent in both the 2010 and 2014 elections, drawing enough of the vote to throw the election to LePage both times. I had been planning to vote for Hillary in New York if it looked like the election might be close, but the fact is that the presence of a popular third party candidate can make pre-election polls unreliable. In general, polls tend to overestimate the support of third-party candidates, but if a lot of people are planning to vote Green if the state looks safe, the polls might be wrong in the other direction.
Some of us Bernie die-hards have been saying that the best outcome of this election is if Bernie supporters vote third-party, but Hillary barely scrapes out a win with a minority of the electorate. The Democratic party will have to rethink their electoral strategy going forward, and we won’t suffer through the dire consequences of a Trump presidency.
Now you can look back at point #4 and see that I don’t think this is what would happen, but even if it would, this strategy is only viable if we are willing to accept the risk that Hillary might lose. If the Republicans had nominated Kasich or Jeb Bush, that might be a risk worth taking. Their presidencies would be devastating for this country, but if you’re taking a long view and believe that the fight within the Democratic party is more important, we might bet on the knowledge that our country would eventually recover, with a new social-democratic party rising from the ashes. There is no such knowledge with Trump. Trump is a doomsday scenario.
FiveThirtyEight currently gives Trump a 49 percent chance of winning the election. We Bernie supporters are fond of saying that a vote for Jill Stein is in fact not a vote for Trump, or that voting in a safe state like New York is a protest that won’t have negative consequences. And those things may be true. But given the potential for world-destroying catastrophe, we cannot stand by and let Clinton win or lose on her own. It is the duty of every reasonable American to do everything in our power to prevent Trump from winning, and unfortunately that means we have to not only vote for Clinton — we have to campaign for her, we have to donate to her campaign, we have to speak out at every opportunity. I don’t like it any more than you do, but your children will thank you for it, because they will exist.
7. Hillary does actually believe in some things, and some of those things are important to me.
Hillary is bought and paid for, it’s true. But as far as I can tell she does truly believe in a few things. Abortion rights. Paid family leave. Yes, even universal healthcare. I’m confident she’ll sell us out on economic issues, but I’m equally confident she’ll hold the line on civil rights. These kinds of social issues have been the bread and butter of the Democratic party since the first Clinton administration, and even though the moderate Democrats will never address the underlying economic causes of a lot of these problems, they will do their best to address some of the symptoms.
If nothing else, I support Hillary’s support of the Paris Climate Accords. If global war weren’t on the table this election, global warming would be the most important issue for anyone thinking long term. Let’s get behind the things that Hillary truly believes and that we care about too.
8. Decapitation never works.
In 2003, on the literal eve of the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration launched airstrikes against a location where intelligence indicated Saddam Hussein might be hiding out. They called this a “decapitation strike,” and hoped it might end the war before it began. Obviously it didn’t work, but years of war since then have shown that it wouldn’t have worked even if they had succeeded in killing Saddam in March 2003. The real war was the gritty work of trying to unify warring factions, root out insurgents, and somehow bring stability to Iraq. Which never happened, obviously.
We can hope that Bernie’s political revolution has a better outcome than the Iraq war in the long term, but in the short term we know this: even if Bernie had managed to go all the way to the oval office, his ability to implement his agenda would have been hamstrung by hostility on all sides. It would have been great to have someone in the White House working on the issues that we care about, but let’s not fool ourselves. There would have been no single payer healthcare or free college in Bernie’s first term. In order to get that, we have years of work ahead of us, winning elections across the country in city councils, mayoralties, school boards, state houses, governorships, and upward to Congress and the Senate.
Conservatives did just that starting after their epic loss of the 1964 presidential election. They attempted a decapitation strike with Barry Goldwater, but it took decades to build majorities in elected offices at every level, and to pull the national conversation further to the right than was even imaginable fifty years ago.
I’m not saying we should adopt the ruthless, win-at-all-cost tactics of the Republicans. But if we start now, maybe by 2052 we’ll be electing a real social democrat to the White House, with real support at all levels of government. The Republicans got that chance with George W. Bush in 2000. Let’s hope we don’t make a hash of it like he did.
In order to get there we have to get serious and build a movement, not just an electoral campaign. We have to agree on what is most important to us, and set aside the differences that will tear the movement apart. And most of all, we have to make sure American liberal democracy survives past this election cycle. And that means sucking it up and voting for Hillary.
This post originally appeared on Medium.