I’ve never been in love with the presidential candidate from either major party, not in any election. That’s not, as some people assume, because I can’t tell the difference between them. It’s because I don’t care about the difference between them. On many of the issues that matter most to me, there’s very little difference between Republicans and Democrats. Even in this election, the policies of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have a lot in common from a my point of view. A few examples:
- Freedom of speech — From Trumps’ expansion of libel laws to Clinton’s attack on rap music and video games to their shared interest in shutting down parts of the internet, they both suck.
- The War on Drugs — Other than a small amount of movement on marijuana, neither one shows any interest in dialing back the war on drugs.
- Civil forfeiture abuse — Our law enforcement agencies have been ripping people off for decades in the guise of fighting crime, and it’s still not a major election issue.
- Criminal justice reform — Clinton has said a few nice things, but the Clintons have historically been part of the problem, and there’s no reason to believe Hillary will change her ways. Trump is an authoritarian who’d love to run a police state.
- Sex worker rights — This is a new issue for me, but nobody in either party cares about it.
If this were a normal election, the candidates’ agreement on my issues would leave me indifferent to which one wins, so I’d cast my vote without hesitation for the libertarian candidate — Gary Johnson this year — because that might at least send a message.
That possibility is making democrats a bit nuts this year, and they’ve been warning Johnson voters that they’ll be responsible if Trump wins because voting for Johnson could pull votes away from Hillary. I responded with an angry rant taking Democrats to task for making self-righteous demands without admitting their own enormous culpability. It attracted thousands of new visitors, and I got a bunch of comments. (It turns out that anger and swearing will get you pretty far on the internet. Who knew?)
The thing is, despite my rant at Democrats’ insulting demands, I do share their belief that Donald Trump is a uniquely bad candidate. After all, If I thought Trump and Hillary were equally bad, I wouldn’t be so angry about them trying to pin Trump on us libertarians.
It’s not that I love Hillary Clinton. But she’s a bad politician in a normal sort of way. Hillary is a standard-issue technocrat who sees a government solution for everything. College too expensive? Start a program. Terrorists killing people? Start a war. That’s a pretty awful way to govern, but it’s also a pretty common way to govern, and we know how to survive it.
As for the allegations of corruption, she’s a standard-issue influence peddler, trading her attention and influence in exchange for help achieving her political goals. I guess I’m not outraged by that because I grew up in Chicago, where everyone knows that’s just how politics works. It’s a big problem, but it’s also a very familiar problem.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, is whole different kind of threat. He’s a terrible person who’d make a terrible President. He’s a cruel narcissistic sociopath who seeks the approval of racists and instinctively tries to exert personal control over everything. He’s the kind of populist authoritarian who looms large in the history books, often in chapters with titles like “Factors Leading to War” or “How the Republic Fell.”
On the issues, although I find him and Clinton equally bad on the items I listed above, he has nevertheless raised an entirely new issue where the difference is stark. Well, it’s not really a new issue, but it’s one which I hadn’t thought of as an important factor in elections because all of the recent candidates have been pretty good about it. I’m talking about xenophobic bigotry. Trump himself seems to be an anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican, anti-Asian, and anti-immigrant bigot, and he tolerates anti-black bigotry among his supporters.
This is something we haven’t seen in a while, and it creates a bit of a dilemma for those of us who have been planning to vote for Gary Johnson to send a message, as Jennifer Abel explains:
[…] remembering that “the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data’” – here’s an interesting anecdote I’ve noticed this presidential election: of the many people who say “Trump and Clinton are equally bad, and thus the only moral voting options this year are to either vote third party or not vote at all,” they’re all white and overwhelmingly male — i.e., NOT members of any ethnic, racial, religious or gender group whom a President Trump would seek to legally discriminate against.
[…] there’s one way HRC is hands-down better than Trump: she does NOT want to, for example, deport all Muslims from the country, she has NOT said that American-born citizens of Mexican ancestry are too untrustworthy to be federal judges, and so forth.
Whatever a Trump Presidency might mean, middle aged white guys like me will probably not bear the brunt of it. It’s not that I’m guaranteed to be safe — people like Trump tend to cut a wide swath of destruction — but I probably won’t be a target.
The same cannot be said for everybody. Immigrants, Mexicans, and Muslims seem like they’ll be in for a particularly hard time. I know Muslims who are genuinely concerned for their families, and I can’t honestly tell them everything will be okay.
So if I send a message by voting for Gary Johnson and that throws the race to Trump, it will be people other than me who suffer the burden. I think it’s important to let politicians know there are voters who value libertarian ideas, but it’s not so important that I’m willing to sacrifice the welfare of minorities, immigrants, and women to send the message.
That this conflict exists is not the fault of libertarians. We didn’t create this mess, and Democrats are being total dicks by blaming us for it. But… We are, nevertheless, in this mess. It’s our responsibility to respond to it in the best way we can, and our moral calculus must be based on the reality we face, not the world as we’d like it to be. We have to play the cards we’re dealt. And for some of us Gary Johnson supporters, that might just mean voting for Hillary Clinton to block Trump.
Here in Illinois, I have it easy, because Clinton is all but certain to win the state’s 20 electoral votes. Of the 53 polls that FiveThirtyEight believes to be statistically predictive in this state, Clinton has won every single one, including the 37 polls that included Gary Johnson. So voting for Gary Johnson can’t help Trump in Illinois because nothing can help Trump in Illinois.
(I was planning to point out that libertarians in small states like Vermont have it even easier because not only does Clinton have a double-digit lead in every poll, but the state is also so small that even if it flipped to Trump it would be unlikely to change the outcome of the election. However, Clinton’s lead has recently narrowed to the point that losing Vermont could conceivably make a big difference.)
Libertarians in Tennessee also have it easy, for the opposite reason: Trump has won all 39 significant polls there, and there’s very little chance he won’t carry the state. Nothing can stop Trump in Tennessee, so Johnson supporters there might as well send a strategic message by voting their conscience.
People like Jennifer, however, don’t have that luxury. She lives in Georgia, where the candidates are much more closely matched. FiveThirtyEight still projects Trump as the most likely winner there, but it’s not a sure thing. In particular, Trump’s lead in the polls is often less than the size of the Johnson vote, which means that if all the Johnson voters switched to Hillary, they could probably block Trump from getting Georgia’s 16 electoral votes. That’s why Jennifer felt she had to bite the bullet and vote for Hillary in order to block Trump.
To be honest, even in the battleground state of Georgia, there are so many people voting that it’s very unlikely that Jennifer’s single vote will be the deciding vote in the race. That may sound like I’m arguing she might as well have voted Gary Johnson, but it’s actually an argument that she might as well have saved herself the trouble and not voted at all.
But if you, like Jennifer, are going to go through the trouble of voting, you might as well pretend it matters and do it the right way. Check the polls before going to the voting booth.