My Vote for Hillary
Like so many of you, I am tired of this election season and excited for it to be over. I am frustrated and mostly want to stop hearing about it, but can’t seem to take my eyes off the train-wreck and yelling at people to get off the tracks. However, though I am unimpressed with the options, I still have to make a decision, and this article is my attempt to clarify my own thoughts about that decision. If any of you, like me, find the decision difficult, I hope my thoughts might provide some insight. I don’t believe I have any particular expertise or knowledge about American politics that makes my opinion particularly valuable, but in my current academic job I have the luxury of flexible time and resources that allow me to research in a little bit more depth than many people are able or inclined to do. I hope that my own efforts to make the best decision I can will assist others in doing the same.
There are two points I’d like to make before I share my ultimate decision. First, I am hopeful that the result of this presidential election really won’t matter much — and I mean that in the most optimistic way. I think it is important, and clearly think it matters enough to share my thoughts publicly, but there are several reasons why I don’t think it will change much about our life. The most important decisions that we make are in our own lives and families, and the most influence the government has on us is at the local level. Our country is remarkably successful in many ways not because we have consistently chosen the right people to be at the top, but because individuals, families, and local leaders have put forth great effort to make it that way. Most of us probably can’t name the people in government who really make a difference in our lives, but there are thousands of local officials from school board members to planning and zoning commissions and from local judges to water authorities that really make government work the way it should, and these are the ways that government really impacts our life. The social movements that really changed the course of human history were rarely initiated by leaders at the top, and I personally hope it remains that way. The people who influence my family’s lives are teachers, librarians, volunteers in community organizations, and the thousands of other people who do their job with few people knowing their name. Maybe the best thing that will happen in this election is that we can turn a little more attention to these local issues and people that really matter as we become more frustrated with those at the top. Maybe we will recognize that we can do more good by helping our neighbor and contributing to our community than we can by cheering for a particular political party. National level policy can of course affect us deeply in many ways, but we must remember how limited the president’s influence is, and that it is designed to be so. The most common and likely predictions for the outcome of this election are a Republican majority in the House that is narrower than it is now, a very narrow Democratic majority in the Senate, and a Democratic president. The likelihood of any major sweeping legislation with divided government is extremely low. The Republicans are almost certainly going to retain a majority in the House and maintain the ability to filibuster in the Senate and will oppose much of Hillary’s agenda if she wins. It is possible, though unlikely, that Republicans will maintain the Senate and win the presidency to avoid a divided government, but I have some hope that if this were to happen the discomfort with Trump among much of the Republican party and the slim majority in the Senate would make it difficult for him to enact his most controversial policies. In short, as much as I and everyone else thinks this election is terrible, it probably won’t change much of anything.
My second major point is that we must stop believing that there is a right and wrong side in politics or that anyone who is voting for a particular candidate or party is at fault, is wrong, or embodies some negative stereotype. I hope you can find someone whom you admire and respect who is voting for a candidate that you don’t. If you can’t, please try harder. There are around 60 million people who are planning to vote from Trump another 60 million for Hillary along with at least eight million who plan to vote for another candidate, and the vast majority of all those groups aren’t crazy, but are good people more like you than you probably think. If you don’t know someone personally who you admire with a different political opinion, please consider the fact that you are insulated from competing viewpoints and make an effort to search for those viewpoints until you find some you respect, in news or social media if not in person. As I have made clear and will reiterate, I am fiercely opposed to Trump and want to exercise whatever limited influence I have to persuade people not to vote for him, but I know and respect many good people who feel otherwise. Some have always been Trump supporters, and though I am extremely frustrated that he is representing the Republican party, I refuse to stereotype the millions who helped him attain that position — I think it is more valuable to understand why many good people felt that Trump was the best available candidate and encourage you to do the same. It is also important to realize that millions of people are supporting Hillary not because they feel she is the lesser of two evils, but because they think she would be a good president. It is counterproductive to dismiss supporters of Hillary (or anyone else) as ignorant, corrupt, immoral, or levy any of the other accusations that I have seen good people make. If we are tired of leaders who we feel don’t have the values we want, we must recognize that they represent and mirror us, and we must learn to put our own values of human decency and respect and our willingness to find compromise ahead of our political opinions about policy. We can share our opinions and attempt to persuade others to accept them while maintaining respect for those who reject them and refusing to attack those of a different opinion — and I hope I can do that in this article.
This brings me to a quick discussion about third party or independent candidates. From the above statements, it should be clear that I think attacking people for wasting their vote on a non-viable candidate or attacking people for voting for the ‘lesser of evils’ are both inappropriate. Some may choose to vote strategically based on a candidate’s likelihood of success, some will choose to vote for the candidate that most aligns with their preferences and values in hopes that others will do the same, but no one can claim that one decision has more moral or ethical value than the other. Unless I change my mind in the next 48 hours, I have decided to vote for Hillary for reasons I will discuss below, but have strongly considered Evan McMullin. Though he is less known, he is more likely to win the presidency than Gary Johnson or Jill Stein because unlike them, he has a small but reasonable chance (about 12% probability) of actually winning electoral votes and thus being voted in by the House if no one reaches the 270 electoral vote majority (read the link if you want more details, but it gives him an optimistic 1–3% of winning versus an effective 0% chance for Johnson/Stein). I have considered all these candidates both on their own merits and with strategic considerations that I would be happy to discuss with anyone who is interested. Like many others, my vote choice is as much about the current election as hoping to influence the future of a Republican party that I will not currently support in any way, and is partly influenced by where I vote (Pennsylvania — which is usually a swing state, though it looks pretty blue this year, where Trump would probably have to stage a major unlikely comeback to have any chance of winning and where McMullin is allowed as a write-in but not on the ballot).
With that foundation, let me explain why I am voting for Hillary despite some reservations. As I have stated before, character and policy are both important considerations to me in a president, with more emphasis on character. As I mentioned above, a president’t influence over policy is limited, but I believe they can have a very positive impact with good character. Unfortunately, one of the hardest things to do when forming an opinion is accepting unknowns and uncertainty, particularly in regards to a person’s character. Many people have concluded that Hillary or Trump are decidedly evil people, but it seems obvious that we can never know someone’s true intentions, desires, or character (though I will argue below that there is less uncertainty with Trump’s character and more with his policy). I have listened carefully to the many criticisms of Hillary and will say I am not fully confident in her character. Some days (usually when I listen to her directly) I feel that she is genuinely and passionately working to improve this country despite huge obstacles, and some days (usually when I listen to what other people say about her) I feel like she is interested in her own gain above all else. I honestly don’t know which assessment is closer to reality, though I believe that her true character — like mine and probably everyone else’s — is somewhere in between pure self-interest and true altruism.
Two conclusions lead me to vote for her despite this uncertainty. The first is that I recognize that some of my distrust towards her is based in conscious or unconscious bias within myself and others. I am generally drawn towards conservative presidents as I mentioned previously, and thus know that my political bias leads me to think more negatively about those with whom I have policy disagreements. It is also obvious that millions of people who are extremely biased are producing information about her. I have researched diligently the many criticisms of her, and though she has been the most scrutinized candidate I have ever seen I found it very difficult to find considerate, rational criticisms that provided clear evidence of major character flaws. However, irrational criticisms filled with obvious bias, misrepresentation, misogyny, and hatred were ubiquitous. This all leads me to believe that my assessment of her character is probably a little harsher than the actual truth. I (as someone who has held a Top Secret clearance for many years) have carefully studied the investigations into her handling of classified material, her role in Benghazi, and various other accusations against her competence and character, trying my best to read source documents rather than biased opinions when possible. I can say that with my very limited information I honestly agree with the official and professional reports by the FBI and others that concluded she made some careless mistakes, but has never shown gross negligence or done anything worthy of criminal charges. I am frustrated by Trump’s willingness to disregard the ability and character of law enforcement agencies (while hypocritically claiming to be so supportive of law enforcement) by calling into question their professionalism and independence in these decisions. Trump calling Hillary a criminal is not just an insult to her, but to the law enforcement and judicial officials and agencies that determined such accusations to be unfounded. I wish we had a candidate who had not made Hillary’s mistakes, but also believe equal lapses in judgement could probably be found in anyone under such scrutiny with such a long history of public service. In fact, other leaders whom I respect have had similar behaviors with much less consequence and criticism.
My second and strongest conclusion is simply that I do not believe that her character is any worse than other candidates, including the third-party candidates, nor do I believe it is worse than previous presidents or politicians whom I have supported. All politicians are self-interested, ambitious, and full of character flaws, and those we consider the greatest leaders are in no way exempt. Our system of government is designed with that assumption, and though I believe it is important to maintain the highest expectation of character possible, we must trust that some ambition and self-interest will not destroy our democracy so long as it is contained by the checks and balances of government. My assessment of Hillary is simply that she is the most ‘politiciany’ of politicians, having many of the character traits that we find frustrating, but are ultimately necessary to succeed in politics and have been shared with some of our greatest leaders. She hides her true emotions, feelings, or goals and puts on a public face out of fear of opposition, and thus it seems difficult to trust her. She is forced to build consensus and gain support from people of drastically different opinions, and thus at times seems two-faced or willing to bend to people of influence. She has had to change or abandon her personal preferences or ideals when there was not majority support for them, and thus at times seems politically expedient. She has tried to enact change and get difficult jobs done with high levels of bureaucracy, scrutiny, and opposition, and thus at times seems to have little regard for rules and transparency. She has wanted to return loyalty to those who offered it to her, and thus at times seems to display favoritism or overlook mistakes. The same things could be said of most effective politicians. Hillary seems to exemplify this stereotype, though I think she has had to be this way more than others because of her gender and her long association with politics. Ultimately, I have come to the conclusion that Hillary, for better or worse, is no different from many other politicians that I have supported without major concern for their character (including past Republican presidential candidates), and that she is an extremely capable and qualified leader who is committed to a predictable set of policies (some of which I disagree with and some I firmly support), though I have some uncertainty in that conclusion.
I have little uncertainty, however, about Trump’s true character. He has consistently revealed it to be below the level we can accept for a president. The video of his comments bragging about sexual assault confirms without doubt the lack of character he has shown throughout his campaign and his life. I think Trump’s character flaws are generally accepted, and that is why so many people say their vote for him is a vote against someone else, while Hillary has a much larger percentage of people actually affirmatively supporting her. Most people support Trump despite his flaws because of some combination of the beliefs that Hillary’s character or policies (to include Supreme Court nominees) are worse than Trump’s, and that he is the only person that can keep her from winning. I respect these beliefs, though I clearly disagree, and will try to respectfully dissuade you from voting for Trump if you are in this camp (if you have expressed your intention to vote for Trump, please know that I am not trying to single anyone out but am writing this because we probably share a concern for the welfare and character of our country and you are one of many people whose opinion I value enough to share my opposing viewpoint with careful consideration).
If you believe Hillary is just as bad as Trump I probably won’t convince you otherwise, but would encourage you to consider a third-party candidate instead, knowing that such a choice may make it more likely that Hillary will win. Hillary is probably going to win anyway, but even if Trump wins this time, it is important to remember that he will be running again in four years and would probably lose to any other Democratic candidate. I believe that rebuilding a Republican party that can get broader support in the future should be a higher priority for conservatives than trying to salvage an election that was probably lost the day Trump won the nomination. The more Independents (people like me that now are a significantly larger group than either major party) see Trump getting support the less likely they will be to ever support the Republican party again. Trump’s success reinforces negative ideas of bigotry and xenophobia that the party already struggles with, and nothing will do more for it’s long-term success than a definitive rejection of Trump. I personally have always been a fence-sitter that is easily drawn toward the Republican party, but Trump is not only pushing me to vote for a Democrat for president, but is pushing me to vote for Democrats down-ballot to a much greater extent than I ever have before and to question any future support for the Republican party. I believe both parties have elements of great value with some drawbacks, and Trump is simply the manifestation, not the source, of the downsides of the Republican party that are becoming obvious and unbearable. I have frustrations and disagreements with the Democratic party as well, but am increasingly finding it to be more capable of reasonable compromise. The willingness of some Republicans to withdraw support for Trump even if it means they lose the election is the only thing that makes me consider future support for that party. Also, as I already mentioned, the Republicans will still have control over the House and maybe the Senate, so any world-changing policy that you are worried about Hillary enacting probably won’t happen. Please consider rejecting Trump but supporting the Republicans in Congress that actually make the laws if you feel an allegiance to the party. If you believe in the Republican party, I think it’s more important to make a statement about what it should stand for than ensuring it wins at all costs. If you think both Trump and Hillary are unfit to be president, then vote for someone who is (third party/write-in) even if they won’t win so you help define the kind of leaders we get in the future. I think McMullin is a good choice, and would probably write in his name even if it didn’t count if I personally had more allegiance to the Republican party or its agenda. I am choosing Hillary over McMullin out of a combination of how little we know about McMullin, how important it is to me that Trump not win Pennsylvania, and how much my personal policy preferences aren’t really closer to one than the other. (I personally just don’t agree with, though I respect, the small government/lower taxes mantra, hesitation toward more open immigration, and increased military spending that McMullin and traditional Republicans embody, though I generally support the focus on business growth, free trade, and traditional families.) I personally am not interested in Stein, Johnson, or others because I believe Hillary is more capable, has just as strong as character, and has much more reasonable policy proposals, but I would encourage you to choose one of the alternatives to Trump if you like their policy and truly believe Hillary shouldn’t be president.
The strongest argument I have consistently heard from conservatives who don’t like Trump but are voting for him anyway is the Supreme Court. I understand this fear and have been very frustrated with Hillary’s discussion of appointing justices to achieve certain policy goals rather than at least maintaining the rhetoric of impartiality, but also want to put it in perspective. First, Obama appointed the most centrist judge that he could find, and the Republican Senate was absolutely absurd in their refusal to vote on him. The most likely outcome is now that Hillary will win, withdraw the centrist and appoint a much more liberal judge to be confirmed by a Democrat-controlled Senate (though I have hope that Hillary will renominate Garland in an effort to build consensus and compromise). The Republican refusal to even hold hearings for Judge Garland is another reason I am withdrawing my support from Republicans this cycle. Second, presidents have an average of 1.8 justices confirmed in their first term, not the five that Trump has predicted, so there is not likely to be much change. Also, of the three justices in their 80’s during the next term, two are liberal, meaning that even if all three retired and Hillary appointed four judges (including the current vacant seat) it would only be a net gain of two liberal judges. Once again, from a practical standpoint Republicans are better off playing the long-game, soundly rejecting Trump to build a better chance of winning future presidential elections. More important, in my mind, is the moral argument. Many conservatives are concerned about the Supreme Court because of its role in influencing traditional social values. I personally cannot understand the desire to elect someone with undeniably unethical behavior in order to uphold our social values. If we support someone who continually and blatantly disrespects women, insults minorities, and challenges non-majority religions because we are concerned about social values, the social conservative movement will lose all credibility and hope for traction in a world where it is already under attack.
If you are worried about the Second Amendment, I must confess I am a gun owner who does not sympathize. Hillary does support more comprehensive background checks (of the same kind that already exist) and some other moderate restrictions in an effort to reduce violence (they may or may not do that), but neither she, nor any major candidate in the history of our country has threatened to take away the right of people to own guns, nor would such a policy ever have a remote chance of being successful. I have enjoyed guns ever since my grandmother taught me to shoot off her back deck, and believe without doubt that there is no chance that any president will ever infringe upon the right of people to own guns with reasonable precautions (like not having a criminal background or mental health condition). I believe that restrictions on purchasing certain kinds of weapons and carrying them in certain places are possible or even likely as gun violence continues to be an issue, but no one is challenging the right for people to own a typical firearm in normal circumstances. I certainly am not willing to vote for a misogynist with authoritarian tendencies that fuels xenophobia (I chose each of those words carefully and believe they are supported by clear evidence) because of the small likelihood that high-capacity magazines or AR-15s may become more difficult to purchase in some places.
If you are not particularly concerned about the moral or character arguments, but just believe Trump has better policy or will be a better leader for any reason, I probably won’t convince you otherwise, but I have to try. (This will by my ‘why Trump is terrible’ rant, feel free to skip it if you desire but I feel compelled to write it because the thought of Trump leading my country and military is very alarming.) I am hopeful that if Trump wins he will get nothing accomplished or get impeached relatively quickly, but believe there is a small chance he could do serious/catastrophic damage to our country and the world, especially in the off chance Republicans maintain control of both houses and fall in line behind him (the final reason why I am probably voting straight-ticket Democrat for the first time in my life). There are two reasons for this fear, though I hope it is blown out of proportion. The first is that many of Trump’s ideas are dangerously absurd. Most presidents don’t enact a fraction of their ideas, but generally can get some progress with their key priority, which for Trump is physically and economically walling us off from the rest of the world. I think his wall is unnecessary and his plan to make Mexico pay for it is farcical (I actually know something about this, his ill-defined plan centers around remittances — the topic of my doctoral dissertation), but it wouldn’t really cause any damage other than symbolically. However, his desire to cancel free trade agreements, raise tariffs, and willingness to engage in trade wars with China and Mexico will undoubtedly make everyone in America poorer and increase global poverty. People can of course argue with these conclusions, but there is more consensus on these economic issues that almost anything else is social science. I sympathize with the challenges an open world economy brings, but we must deal with those challenges rather than fight the entire idea of free trade. Trump’s proposed policies will not bring manufacturing jobs back to America, but they will lower the standard of living for every American and put many exporting companies out of business. His ideas about foreign policy are so scattered that it is hard to gauge exactly what their consequences would be, but he has shown throughout his campaign a willingness to throw out dangerous rhetoric and ideas then either stubbornly defend them or blatantly deny them when their terrible consequences become obvious (this is why there is so much uncertainty about his policy but not his character). I fear such a temperament would lead us into a foreign policy nightmare. His claim that we should target terrorists’ families and that our military would carry out such unthinkable policies under his orders makes me wonder if he will put me and other military officers in the position of having to choose between disobeying orders or doing something morally deplorable. I am in the particular career field that would be most likely involved in literally pulling the trigger on such policies, so I take his words quite seriously, I can’t imagine voting for a president advocating war crimes. Perhaps these are just words, but voting for someone who uses them is the first step towards making them a reality. You may not trust Hillary, but she does not advocate for the horrible things people accuse her of or the horrible things Trump endorses like torture, religious scrutiny, mass deportation, and sexual assault. Every politician has an incentive to live up to their rhetoric, and thus I believe a vote for Hillary is encouragement for thoughtful, honest policy making (what she advocates for) while a vote for Trump is encouragement for unconscionable foreign and immigration policy and disastrous trade confrontations (what he advocate for). I cannot vote for someone and hope they won’t do what they say they want to do, and would warn you against it.
My second reason to fear Trump is because of his authoritarian tendencies. Hillary is easy to deplore because she has a lifetime of having to compromise, but that is how politics must work — painfully building consensus among people and groups with different interests. Trump, on the other hand, has always been able to accomplish his goals by dictate. He, from his first loan from his father, held the capital and could demand that everyone enact his ideas without regard to their own opinions. When his ideas failed, he could file bankruptcy and still have capital to control his other ventures. Some people support Trump because they believe he knows how to get things done or make things efficient, but the process of efficiently accomplishing a task in a democratic government that requires majority support is much different than for a boss with unlimited control choosing whom to fire. Throughout the campaign and debates his fallback has always been that we need him, the outsider, because he can do it better than other people. He will renegotiate our trade deals and defense agreements, he will defeat ISIS with his secret plan after he consults the generals he says don’t know anything, he will bring manufacturing back to America and he will do it all without any specific policy proposals just because he knows how to run a business he bought more than built. He never speaks of how he will build the consensus necessary to enact policy, how he will get allies or adversaries to agree to terms that are only in our favor, or how he will deal with the fierce opposition even in his own party. He is quick to find excuses and even target scapegoats (immigrants, the media, Obama/Clinton, China, the rigged elections, critics within his own party, etc.) whenever there is a problem and ignores the consequences of his own ideas and words. He is remarkably similar to authoritarian leaders throughout the world who make a mockery of supposed democracy (another area where I have some expertise). I believe, or at least hope, that our democracy is consolidated enough to withstand the challenges of someone who threatens to ignore election results, imprison political opponents, strip rights from journalists, and single out particular religions for scrutiny, but there is no doubt Trump is challenging the very foundations of successful democracy and acting more like the developing world dictators I study than an American president. Strong leaders have plunged democracies back into authoritarian rule in other places, and while I think the likelihood of Trump doing so here is extremely small, the comparisons to Hitler are not unfounded and I have never seen someone more likely to start us down that ugly path.
Those who oppose Hillary’s agenda are better off rejecting Trump and building a Republican party that can defeat her in four years. Our fundamental values must be more important than our political opinions and policy preferences. If you believe Hillary is truly unfit to be president, please vote for a third-party candidate. Trump’s character, policies, and authoritarian tendencies can do nothing but damage the economic and political foundations of our country. If Hillary is truly as bad or worse than Trump (I don’t think that’s close to true), then we must find some way to alter the election process by giving support to other candidates and non-major parties, adjusting campaign finance rules, or fundamentally changing the election system. For those with reservations about Hillary winning, I hope you will at least consider my opinion, shared by many others, that she is just a politician like every other in both parties, one that will at most make incremental policy changes that we may or may not agree with but will not drastically alter the course of our nation. She will predictably stick to the agenda she has consistently advocated for while trying to build consensus and compromise when necessary. She will carefully consider all the consequences of her words, ideas, and actions as she has always done, and whether out of regard for the public or her private interest will do what she believes benefits our nation and is in alignment with the public perception of her party that is supported by most Americans. I do not see any plausible way that Hillary’s election can lead to significant damage to our nation, and expect that her presidency will galvanize the Republican party to support a much more acceptable candidate (so long as they resoundingly reject Trump) to challenge her in four years with a high likelihood of success. If Trump wins, I think it is likely he will accomplish little to none of his scattered agenda, and the Democrats will overwhelmingly gain strength in coming elections as Independents and moderates like me abandon association with the Republican party. (Remember, if he wins this year, he’ll be running again in 2020, and only one incumbent president has ever lost the nomination of his party — in 1852.) Trump will hopefully only cause minimal damage to the nation while tearing apart the Republican party, but there is a small chance he will cause serious or catastrophic damage to the security, economy, and freedom of our nation and the world. Any disagreements about partisan policies are not worth that risk, and there is no reason to suspect that Hillary, despite any reservations we may have about her character, will do any damage to the foundational institutions of our country.
Originally published at The Road Well Traveled.