Please let me help you.
By Malcolm Harris
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders campaigning at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, New Hampshire, on September 28th, 2016 . (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
I am under 30, living in Pennsylvania, and have not yet publicly committed to voting for Hillary Clinton. That combination makes me the implied target for a lot of Democrat hectoring as we move into the final weeks of the presidential election. With the rapid approach of the day Donald Trump might just become president, they’re getting nervous. And unenthused Millennials — whether it’s disaffected Bernie Sanders dead-enders, Gary Johnson stoners, Jill Stein’s relatives, or the Colin Kaepernicks who think the whole thing is corrupt — are being blamed in advance.
But it doesn’t have to be this way: You can convince me, and people like me, to vote for Clinton. I want to tell you how.
First of all, Clinton supporters need to get off their high horse. Or, rather, they need to realize they’re not sitting on a high horse at all. At best, they’re riding a medium horse, and that’s a low platform from which to lecture. Insisting on the moral importance of electing Clinton might make Democrats feel better about the whole situation, but it’s not going to convince many of the rest of us. There’s an ethical obligation to release millions of Americans from prison and to confiscate energy companies’ undeveloped assets and to end the unconscionable war on Yemen and to legalize marijuana — those are priorities. Not electing Donald Trump is the lowest-hanging fruit on the tree of righteousness. What distinguishes voting from the rest of these pressing questions is that it’s easy.
We don’t want our votes to be confused with our voice. Recognize that when we’re asked to choose between two evils, it means our political system is profoundly broken, and evil isn’t going to fix itself. And then ask us to vote anyway.
This may sound counterintuitive, but if you want to convince the (justifiably!) cynical Millennials in your life to show up for Clinton, don’t play up the importance: The more Democrats talk about the significance of every individual vote, the more naive they sound. Marginal votes in most states won’t matter; that’s how the Electoral College works. Be honest about your motivations: If you’re trying to convince a Millennial in a safe state, just say, “I’m scared, and it would make me feel better if you took an hour and did this small thing.” That is a good way to appeal to Millennials, who are renowned for our sensitivity.
Although older Americans might feel most comfortable directing their “You don’t have to like it” admonitions toward the younger, we don’t bear any particular responsibility for Trump. In fact, if liberals want to lecture someone, they should drag themselves down to bingo night at the old folks’ home and talk to the age cohort that actually supports his campaign. Millennials (including the few young Republicans) have shown historically low support for the Donald. That’s why Democrats need us to vote: to rescue everyone from our grandparents. (Or at least the white ones.)
This helps explain why some Democrats are harping on Millennial conservatives who say they plan to support Johnson’s inane candidacy instead of voting for Trump: The Dems think of every young person as a Clinton voter. But convincing a Trump voter to go for Johnson is just as good. If you do find one, try telling them about Trump’s C+ rating from the Marijuana Policy Project, the lowest among all four candidates.
Convincing Millennials is not about getting them to make the right call between idealism and realism. Even if that is your analysis, it’s not ours, and the framing doesn’t do you any favors. Young Democrats voted for Sanders— I did not; I am not a Democrat — because he has a substantially different policy vision than Clinton and the rest of the Party. Single-payer health care and tuition-free higher education are not utopian fantasies — they are eminently achievable, as we see from Cuba to Germany. A substantial number of young Americans favor socialist policies because they favor some form of socialism. It’s not that complicated. The Democratic Party is not a socialist party, and you can tell because Sanders is a distant outlier. You don’t need to sugarcoat this difference; Millennials might even appreciate your attempts to understand the coherence of their beliefs. But no one involved in a political system that is twiddling its thumbs while things go into a slow-motion version of The Day After Tomorrowhas any business talking about pragmatism. It makes it hard for us to take you seriously.
It’s not false equivalence to have standards.
Trotting out Clinton’s newfound opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership or her newfound passion for a $15 minimum wage probably won’t convince many of us either. In one survey, 77 percent of Millennials said they didn’t find Clinton honest or trustworthy. That obviously won’t prevent many of us for voting for her anyway, but you don’t have to convince us to like it, and trying isn’t likely to help. Every time you bring up Trump’s reckless militarism, it makes us think of Clinton’s documented enthusiasm for ground invasions. Bringing up Clinton’s race-baiting in the context of Trump’s race-baiting drives liberals up a wall, but the desire for a candidate who never threw black kids under the bus is reasonable. It’s not false equivalence to have standards.
Clinton is, as she told campaign donors, “occupying from the center-left to the center-right.” That’s not where young Democrats and independents are. Unfortunately for us (and I mean all of us), what we want isn’t on the ballot. But I haven’t heard anyone claim that there is actually no difference between Clinton and Trump. The problem is that this lesser-evilism conflicts with our ostensible democratic ideals. We’re supposed to vote for politicians to represent us. We don’t want to endorse the Clinton agenda for the next four years, and we don’t want our votes to be confused with our voice. Recognize that when we’re asked to choose between two evils, it means our political system is profoundly broken, and evil isn’t going to fix itself. And then ask us to vote anyway.
I can understand how it might be irksome to have to ask anyone to come out and vote against Trump. If things worked the way you think they should, some simple berating would do the trick. But this is an American presidential election; what we want and deserve has nothing to do with it. Calling Millennials narcissists isn’t going to change anything. Like voting for Stein, it may make you feel correct and help you mentally organize the chaos, but it won’t work. If doing everything you can to elect Clinton is more important than anyone’s pride, you have to be willing to ask nicely.