“So it turns out we really are at war — a long war, a global war, a war for our civilization. It is a war to save our democracy. Each one of us needs to enlist. We have no one to spare…”
—Naomi Wolfe, The End of America
In elementary school we learn that voting is a great privilege and responsibility. This is reinforced every election cycle by candidates who tell us that the power is in our hands to elect them. But most of us become jaded sometime along the way. We see how much money is spent getting elected. We see our favorite candidates get squeezed out of bipartisan races. Then there are things we don’t see: the income- and race-based voting gap, gerrymandering, unequal access to voting stations and lack of fact-checking about candidates in the media, to name a few. Rather than act to end the practices that threaten our democracy, most people accept business-as-usual. Maybe we are too disempowered to respond, or simply don’t see a problem to be fixed. Will this year be different?
This year’s presidential election cycle is momentous, not just because a democratic socialist and a fascist are pushing the two-party envelope on both sides: this will be the first presidential election in which Millennials make up the same proportion of the American electorate as the Baby Boomers. Surveys show that more people will be inspired to vote for the first time in this election than we have seen in over fifty years. Young people who were previously apathetic, or cynical, or fed up have been called to action by two powerful voices, telling us:
We are unsafe,
We are at war,
Our country has become degenerate at the hands of a corrupt administration!
Vote for me and I’ll “Make America Great Again!”
Vote for me and I’ll instigate a “Political Revolution!”
While I am happy to see so many of my peers suddenly interested in politics, I am deeply concerned that the movements behind Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump stem from misguided and naive faith in the Executive Branch of government and will result in the disempowerment of ourselves as agents of progress on the local level. Our democracy is dead the moment we view the president as a demigod. Revolution does not happen in the highest offices of government. We have checks and balances to ensure that. Revolution happens on the ground, in our own communities, where young voters have been woefully absent. Our vote is indeed an important privilege and responsibility in maintaining our democracy but it cannot be the apogee of our civic responsibility.
I am also worried about the future leadership styles these candidates exhibit on their campaign trails. Uniting people under the banner of frustration and hatred, as Trump and Sanders have done, will only divide us further. Bullying language and violent behavior towards people with different ideologies and agendas should not be rewarded. Grandiose, totalitarian proposals to undermine Wall Street and ban Muslims (and Mexicans, and anyone not pretty enough) does not bode well for effective leaders of the Free World.
My vote will go to the candidate who is capable of engaging with political adversaries respectfully and productively, who has a vision but is flexible enough to tweak it when reality hits, who handles uncertainty with a calm temperament, who can admit and learn from mistakes, who both listens and persuades, who problem solves creatively, and who will advance the issues I care most deeply about, namely climate change and sustainable infrastructure development, social equality, and foreign policy.
In comparing my own stances on these three issues with those of Clinton, Sanders and Trump, my decision to support Clinton has been repeatedly reaffirmed. I have read everything I could get my hands on that accurately documents the words and actions of all three candidates. Trump has no constituencies having never held office. Clinton and Sanders have both evolved as their constituencies’ needs and the cultural climate of our country have changed — and, presumably, as they have grown as people. Changing one’s opinion is not a sign of weakness or incompetence. Responsive leadership shows a willingness to listen, to learn, and to compromise to get things done.
Climate change and sustainable infrastructure development: Multiple environmental organizations have rated Sanders above Clinton for his commitment to environmental protection and mitigating climate change. The League of Conservation Voters gave Sanders a lifetime score of 95%. Comparatively, Clinton received a score of 82% and Obama a mere 72%. In their respective climate plans, both candidates support clean energy tax breaks, reject drilling offshore and in the Arctic, and oppose the (now-rejected) Keystone XL pipeline. Trump has not even given a nod to these issues. While Sander’s plans are more far-reaching and he takes a definitive position on every controversial environmental policy (including fracking), Clinton’s plan includes tangible ways to achieve her stated goals, such as her commitment to installing half a billion solar panels by the end of her first term through the re-appropriation of fossil fuel subsidies. While I am better aligned with Sanders on the importance we should place on fighting climate change and the system that allows it, I respect Clinton’s pragmatism and strategy to address these issues.
Social equality: A key component in my decision to support Clinton has to do with the discrepancy between the way she, Sanders, and Trump view the underpinnings of social inequality. Social equality is an umbrella term for the slew of important issues we’re currently tackling in our country: equal pay, paid family leave and affordable healthcare, women’s reproductive rights, increasing the minimum wage, racial justice, transgender protection, prison reform, immigration, etc. Of course these issues are all interwoven and result in compounded, chronic disadvantages for people of color, women, and other “minorities.” To Sanders, racial and gender inequalities are symptoms of economic inequality, for which reforming Wall Street and fixing unemployment is the ultimate solution. To Trump, well, he’ll welcome any kind of social discrimination as long as he ends up on top with a Jew counting his money and a number 10 in his bed.
I believe that Clinton better understands the nuanced relationship between gender, race, and class and has proposed a set of solutions to help tackle these issues from different directions. However, many people have criticized her for her seemingly newfound commitment to people of color by promising to tackle mass incarceration, gun control, and the school-to-prison pipeline. After all, she was the First Lady when her husband signed the crime bill, which authorized the expansion of the prison system. Ultimately, I don’t feel qualified to judge how well Clinton can represent people of color, but I do think she has shown responsible leadership because her positions on crime have changed. And despite some missteps, she is still the unshakeable frontrunner across all minority groups.
Foreign policy: When it comes to foreign policy, even the most active Sander’s and Trump supporters wouldn’t dare claim that they are more qualified than Clinton. Both men’s campaigns have overwhelmingly focused on economic reform and other internal issues because that is what they are most comfortable discussing. They have faltered in every debate and interview at questions around matters of war and peace, global development, terrorism and global climate change. Their lack of experience in foreign policy means that there is very little past material for people to criticize. Both Trump and Sanders have repeatedly returned to their opposition to the Iraq War at its start, which may be the only foreign policy event in which they can compare themselves to Clinton.
Even before her role as Secretary of State, Clinton was deeply engaged in foreign policy. She holds the record for most-traveled First Lady and played an important role in meeting US diplomatic objectives during the first Clinton Administration. She has been a lifelong activist for women’s rights and healthcare globally and has established close relationships with many foreign leaders. Her experience makes her an easy target on both ends of the political spectrum. Democrats condemn her talk of American exceptionalism and being even more hawkish than president Obama. Republicans criticize her for the mess in Syria, the Russian incursion in Ukraine, activists cut adrift in Venezuela, and the chaos in Yemen and Libya. In general I think most Americans (politicians included) have little to no understanding of global affairs and the complexities of foreign politics. That’s not to say we should blindly and faithfully hand power over to Clinton because she has the most experience. But I do believe America’s role on the world stage is becoming increasingly precarious and complex and will require us to gather our news from multiple sources, here and abroad, in order to choose a leader with the best capacity to represent our nation.
In the four to eight years they serve, our presidents are the brand of our nation. They do not have the power (or the time) to implement every goal. They do, however, have the power to move people to action, to restore the world’s faith in us, and our faith in ourselves.
I want the next President of the United States of America to build upon Obama’s achievements (not to tear them down), to correct his errors and rise to today’s challenges — including the divisiveness that’s undermining us all. I don’t need a president who speaks with populist clarity but doesn’t know how to listen, compromise, or grow. I don’t need a president who is going to lead a revolution: revolution, if and when it comes, shouldn’t be led by our country’s Executive Branch. I want a president who will be a real leader, who will create an inspiring vision of the future and who will motivate people to engage with that vision.
That’s why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.