Sunday, November 20, 2016

Please avoid vague, ambiguous, inflammatory buzzwords

There’s been a lot of talk recently about why our country is so divided and what we can do to create a healthier political climate.  I have lots of ideas on this, many of which I have written about before on this blog (even long before Trump began his ugly campaign). Today, I will expand on just one of those topics in particular: how to avoid talking past one another.

Part of the challenge of discussing politics with people who disagree with you is that in addition to differences in values, information and experiences, people also have different mental dictionaries.  Certain words in our political discourse can mean vastly different things to different people, which makes it difficult to find an agreeable starting point from which any conversation could proceed. My advice for those hoping to have productive conversations with the other side is to spot such words, refrain from using them as much as possible, and clarify which meaning is intended if they are used.  This is especially important for words that can be perceived as insults and spark defensive reactions in others.

A few examples: “socialist,” “isolationist,” “radical,” “corrupt”.  These words each have a vaguely negative association.  But they’re also very broad; each could describe a wide range of different beliefs and behaviors, some of which are much more offensive to the average American than others.  Most Americans would reject full-blown Soviet or Marxist style socialism – but they rather like certain programs (like Social Security) that have socialist elements. Most Americans think we should trade with the world and sign international treaties and conduct diplomacy and defend our allies when they are attacked, but far fewer would object to scaling back our interventions abroad.  Almost all Americans abhor corruption in principle, but if campaign finance disputes are any indication, they don’t always agree on what it looks like in practice.

For decades, hyper-partisan people have strategically used words like these to describe the other side, without specifying which severity-level of the insult they are alleging, nor even acknowledging that there’s any nuance to the terms at all. The strategy essentially allows the speaker to spread misinformation and hyperbole without technically having said anything demonstrably false. By exploiting the ambiguity of such broad terms, partisans can rally people who feel angered or threatened by the most severe meaning, and then piggyback off the moral outrage produced by such offensive connotations to advance their political aims.  And of course, our increasingly sensationalist media eats it right up.  Over the short term, it can be quite an effective strategy. (Socrates might have called this “sophistry”: a method of argumentation that deceptive and unhelpful towards the pursuit of truth, but nevertheless carries great rhetorical effect with a crowd.)

Over the long term, though, using these buzzwords so flippantly has catastrophic consequences for the constructiveness of our discourse.  First, it causes confusion and anger on both sides, which hampers our ability to truly listen to and understand people with different opinions.  Second, overusing these words makes them almost meaningless, which eventually causes people to tune-out; this deprives activists of the lexicon they need to draw attention to important underlying issues.  And thirdly, this mass indifference in turn creates a “boy who cried wolf” syndrome, where cases that actually ARE the most-severe-possible version of the buzzword, and actually DO warrant moral outrage, are met with a shrug and a yawn.

Nowhere is this clearer than it is with perhaps the most ambiguous and widespread political attack word of modern times: racist.

I have called Donald Trump racist on several occasions. I do not retract it; it seems clear to me that Trump and most his supporters are driven in part by white resentment towards minorities, or at least by a statistically unfounded distrust of them.  It also seems abundantly clear to me that whatever his motivation, and however innocuous his intent, his policies will worsen the de facto conditions of racial oppression.  By my understanding of the word, that’s enough to qualify him as a racist man.

And yet, I found myself feverishly nodding along with every word of this fantastic post by Scott Alexander. It is long but worth it; a meticulous, compelling, 8,000 word smackdown of the apoplectic racial hyperbole that surrounded Donald Trump from the moment he announced his candidacy.  If you read nothing else about politics this week, follow that hyperlink; conservatives, because you will want to stand up and applaud, and liberals because you might just need a reality check.  In case you don't follow my advice, here's a one-sentence summary: the exaggeration of Donald Trump’s racism over the past year has been absolutely unreal, and almost completely unchecked. Too many people (myself included) let it slide because it was an election year, and he was the bad guy, and we didn’t want to make it seem as if we were at all sympathetic to him or his policies.  That was cowardly of us.

You can call me privileged until you’re blue in the face, but it won’t change the truth that not all racism is equally horrid.  The preference for a tougher criminal justice system is not akin to the explicit belief that some races are superior to others.  Anxiety about immigrants from certain Muslim majority nations, in which we have been fighting wars for decades, is less reprehensible than Nazi-style anti-Semitism.  If you’re going to define racism so broadly as the left has chosen to define it, the tradeoff to that is you can no longer demand people respond to the entire, growing list of things you call racist with the same level of outrage they formerly reserved for Klansmen lynch mobs.  The larger and larger your conception of institutional racism becomes, the more ethically distinct behaviors it encompasses.  Those distinctions matter, and glossing over them is counterproductive.

This doesn’t mean you can’t call racism racism.  Just like economics and foreign policy and corruption, racism is important and needs to be talked about.  Sometimes you can’t discuss these topics without using the overused word in question, and I’m not suggesting we forego those conversations just to prevent confusion or offense.  Just remember that for the conversation to be worth having in the first place, for it to be at all constructive, the parties to the conversation need to settle on a fixed, mutual understanding of the terms they use before they go on using them.  

Don’t be a sophist.  Be a responsible steward of the American political lexicon, and isolate the thing you are referencing from whatever additional baggage its label might imply.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A heartfelt message from a swing-state third-party voter who preferred Clinton to Trump

I’d like to begin this post with a pretty sobering confession.  I am a college graduate whose home-of-record is in swing-state Pennsylvania. I have been politically active for my entire adult life.  This year, like most educated, politically active people, I recognized that Hillary Clinton would make a better president than Donald Trump – and then I voted for Gary Johnson anyway. 

At the time, I reckoned this was a pretty safe gamble.  The polls had Clinton leading Pennsylvania pretty comfortably, and most experts I read online expected Clinton to win the presidency in a landslide.  Why not vote my conscience, I thought?  It probably wouldn't matter anyway.

To my horror, the polls were wrong.  As it turned out, Trump won Pennsylvania by a narrow margin (about 68,000 votes, compared to the 142,000 Johnson received in PA) and it was this very state which (chronologically) nudged him over the 270 Electoral College voters he needed to win the presidency.

Having glumly reflected on my role in all this for almost a week now, I’d like to own up and say a few words to Hillary Clinton and her supporters.  They come from the heart, and while I cannot speak for everyone who voted for Gary Johnson (we libertarians are notoriously resistant to being collectivized) I do suspect that most of those four-million Americans would say the same to you, if they could:

You’re welcome.

You’re WELCOME, Clinton fans, that our joint efforts to get Gary Johnson on the ballot in all 50 states allowed you and your corrupt, warmongering, universally despised candidate to save face by winning the popular vote.

Now, thanks all the votes we drew away from Trump, you can continue to lie to yourselves and the world in asserting that Hillary Clinton was the true “people’s choice.” Now, thanks to us, you can assuage your troubled heart with the consolation prize of feeling slighted by an antiquated system.  Now, thanks to us, you can attack a tired scapegoat for a little while longer before being made to confront the deep-rooted failings in both your 2016 candidate and your long-term strategy for enacting social change.

Oh - was that not what the message you were expecting?

If not, perhaps you read Jezebel’s headlines the morning after election day – “Fuck Gary Johnson” followed by “Oh, and Fuck Jill Stein too” – and in your anger, eagerly surmised from this that they had crunched the numbers and determined third-parties cost Hillary Clinton the election.  If so, fret not: your truth-seeking skills are no worse than those of the inquiring journalists at CNN, whose headlines reported this same finding as fact (leaving it to the reader to fill in the F-bomb implications). 

Or perhaps you listened to Rachel Maddow – who basically brought libertarian VP nominee Bill Weld on her show for the explicit purpose of getting him to convince his own supporters not to vote for him – when she lashed out at those who ignored her advice on election night. True to form, a dude on her NBC blog followed up with an argument that “third-party voters had an enormous, Nader-like impact” on the 2016 election” on the logic if 100% of Stein and 50% of Johnson’s voters had voted for Clinton without ANY Johnson voters voting for Trump! – it would have been enough for her to take the presidency. Within hours, this faulty reasoning had become “proof” that Jill Stein and Gary Johnson made the difference, and by the following day Vanity Fair was so certain of this that they called it “undeniable that third-party voters cost Clinton the election.

With all this talk of undeniable proof, you’d be forgiven for declining to check the numbers yourself.  That would be time-consuming, and surely our media wouldn’t dare report it if it weren’t true, right? Surely they’re much too invested in their sterling reputation as dispassionate fact-finders to risk whipping-up unfounded partisan mud-slinging at such a time as this.  That would be irresponsible of them, especially at a moment of fierce national tension, when everybody’s looking for something or someone to blame!

But for whatever reason, a nagging voice in my head told me to go check it out with my own two eyes.  So I did.  And because I’m a nerd who gets excited by Excel, I made a nice little color-coded project out of it that took up my entire afternoon.  You can see my full handiwork here. If you’re short on time, though, I’ll save you the hassle: it’s all bullshit.  Third-party voters might have swung Michigan from Clinton to Trump, and they might have swung New Hampshire from Trump to Clinton, but no other states would likely have been flipped in a world with neither Johnson nor Stein on the ballot.  In order for Clinton to have won the election in that world, even assuming 100% voter turnout among those disillusioned third-party voters (which is preposterous), she’d have needed 100% of would-be Stein voters to prefer her (unlikely) and 57% of would-be Johnson voters to prefer her (absurd).  In fact, when you isolate the effects of my candidate, you find that Donald Trump would probably have won the popular vote too had there been no Libertarian on the ballot.  So again, you’re welcome.

Listen, the left is right to be angry by what happened on Tuesday.  I sure as hell am.  But that doesn’t make this recurring myth of a scapegoat any less pathetic.  It is the height of illogic to blame Gary Johnson or Jill Stein for who won the White House last week. Period.  Even supposing Johnson drew evenly from both sides (an eyebrow-raising assumption for anyone familiar with the conservative tendencies of most libertarians) there was simply no plausible mechanism by which to peel off half of Gary Johnson’s supporters towards Clinton without sending the other half scurrying to Trump.  Maddow tried, to be sure, but that blew up in Weld’s face. You can’t implore an entire class of people to abandon their preferred candidate for one with a chance to win, unless they would otherwise prefer the opposite candidate from you, in which case they should totally stick with the guy with no chance to win. There is no actual world in which your strategic voting could have been applied by only that half of Johnson supporters who preferred your candidate.

Many commentators wouldn’t even settle for half, anyway.  I am sincerely amazed by how many imbeciles on my timeline are simply looking at the margin of victory in battleground states, noting that third-party vote totals exceeded that margin, and then literally just ADDING that figure to Clinton’s totals to conclude that third-parties cost Clinton the White House.  Since when has libertarianism EVER been a left-wing ideology?  Since when has the left EVER been expecting our votes?  And if they were hoping for our vote this time around, when did they EVER indicate that to us beforehand?

My hypothetical conversation with any Democrat frustrated by libertarians voting for the libertarian candidate would go something like this:

Democrats: “God, why didn’t libertarians grow-up and vote for Clinton???”

Me: “Did you ever try to draw them into your coalition?”

Democrats: “No, I called them all assholes, but they should have got the message!”

Hillary Clinton’s vote was never mine to lose.  I would not have bothered to request, fill out and mail-in an absentee ballot from halfway across the world had she been the best option on that ballot, and I won’t be guilt-tripped into regretting that based on faulty logic.  I, on an individual level, could not have changed the outcome by strategically voting for my preferred major party candidate.  And we, as both Johnson voters and third-party voters on a collective level, could also not have changed the outcome by strategically voting for our preferred major party candidates.  There’s no story here.

I started off this post by confessing that a week ago today, I never expected my vote would make a difference.  Sure enough, it fucking didn’t.

Friday, November 11, 2016

It doesn't matter who won the popular vote

For these four reasons:

1. The Electoral College suppresses voter turnout in non-swing states, such that we can’t know if the popular vote outcome would have been the same without the Electoral College.  Voting is a pretty irrational waste of time to begin with from any one individual’s perspective (even in swing states, your vote is essentially meaningless, and has less chance of swinging the election than you do of dying in a car crash on the way to the polling place) but this is especially true in states whose electoral college votes are essentially already allocated.  As such, many politically engaged people in “safe states” like Texas and California nevertheless stay home during presidential elections, because practically every pundit and news station gives them daily reminders that their state’s outcome is a foregone conclusion. If they had known the president would be elected by popular vote, however, many of these people would have voted after all, and perhaps their input would have flipped the popular vote winner.

2. Both candidates knew the Electoral College was all that mattered from the outset, and they campaigned accordingly.  Had the campaign season begun under a different set of rules, the entire strategy of both campaigns would have shifted.  Both would have spent more time in urban areas and less time in rural areas.  Both would have adjusted their policy pitches and perhaps even their policy positions.  All of this would have influenced who voted, in what numbers, and for whom. They might not have even been the same candidates!  The current system of state-by-state primaries and caucuses only developed in response to the reality of the Electoral College. Who knows who the Republican and Democratic parties would have nominated, or what rules they would use to do so, if the name of the game were switched to popular vote victory?  You can’t claim the right to rule because your candidate won by a metric that neither candidate was trying to win by.  It would be equivalent to Arsenal complaining that they deserve to be the TRUE Premier League champions from last season, because the off-sides rule is stupid, and Leicester City only had such successful defense by playing the offside trap. Even if the off-sides rule is stupid, obviously the teams would have used different strategies all along had they know they were playing without it, and obviously that would have influenced the outcome in ways hindsight will never know.

3. The opinions of voters are not more morally significant than the opinions of non-voters.  As I’ve explained above, voting is so irrational that nobody can be rightfully blamed for not doing it. Whatever it was these people were doing instead of voting was almost definitely more productive and helpful to the world than what you and I were doing standing in line to vote.  Imagine: if everyone who voted this week had instead spent 5 minutes online donating $5 to a charity of their choosing, they would each have saved a lot of time and frustration, and we collectively have done a lot more good for the world to the tune of some $650 million.  In fact, by choosing to spend an hour or so of your day voting INSTEAD of spending it volunteering at a local charity, we rather selfishly prioritized out own personal feelings of civic pride over the wellbeing of all those we might have helped!  Why should us selfish ones be the only Americans whose “consent” is taken into account by our government?  I’m partly joking, of course, but in all seriousness, a government’s legitimacy cannot solely be measured through elections. There’s no way to tell which of the two candidates the 46.9% of American adults who rationally decided to stay home would have preferred and by what numbers, and only 25.6% of American adults voted for Clinton. That’s not enough to unequivocally claim she is the people’s champion.

4. The disparity in vote totals is so puny as to be completely morally irrelevant.  Democracy is the least bad form of choosing leaders I know of, but it’s still a completely arbitrary and subjective method. I’ve said before on this blog that I don’t think majority rule is morally authoritative EVEN in cases of a landslide; even if Donald Trump had got 70% of the vote and Hillary Clinton only 30%, from my view he would have no greater right to impose his will on those 30% than he does now.  But when one candidate gets 47.7% of the vote and the other gets 47.5%, neither even securing a majority, it’s just preposterous to claim that either of them has a clear “public mandate” to foist their will on the rest of the country!  121 million people voted, and the top two vote getters were separated by less than 400,000. That’s as close to a tie as you can get. For all intents and purposes, their supporters voted at a 1:1 ratio. If the people’s voice was truly “heard” in this election, it came out pretty garbled. Under such conditions, a society needs a set of rules in place to determine who the winner is, and merely counting who has more is no less crude nor arbitrary a method than the Electoral College.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Two thoughts after election day

1. I used to have sincere confidence in the safeguards of the U.S. constitution, and a naïve trust that my countrymen would never render me an agent of oppression. The past six years have made me more cynical, and yesterday was a dismaying wake-up call that this trust was misplaced.

It’s going to be an embarrassing few years for an American living abroad.  I know not what is about to come, but whatever it is, I’m so sorry.

2. Donald Trump is many things.  He is racist.  He is misogynistic.  He is hateful – callous and meanspirited towards the plight of those less fortunate than he.  He is narcissistic beyond measure. He is a pompous douchebag and lots of other unsavory adjectives.

But let it never again be scoffed that Donald Trump is an idiot, because he proved last night that he is smarter than most of us.  He is a marketing genius. He understands brand control better than anyone.  He understands human nature, and for the past 18 months has had his finger on the pulse of this nation more closely than any pollster or pundit. Practically every major newspaper, website, politician, polling agency, government official, political party, celebrity and foreign government the world over pulled out the works to stop this guy, and he outsmarted all of them.

You don’t have to like the guy to acknowledge and remark upon the enormity of that accomplishment. Donald Trump may be an asshole, but he’s also a fucking badass.

Monday, November 7, 2016

If you want to vote, vote third-party (even in 2016)

Four years ago I wrote an article in the JHU News-Letter titled “Cast your vote for a third-party candidate.”  In that article, I lamented what I thought was wrong with American politics – and warned that unless people started voting for third-party candidates, these problems would only grow worse.

What were those problems? First, that “American politics have become a joke” due to “the complete absence of relevant, substantive discourse in modern political campaigns.” Second, there was “a pervasive lack of public confidence that our elected officials will be able to solve” the nations problems. And third, that “many Americans are so utterly uninspired by either candidate,” but are “told they should choose one of them anyway,” eroding the public’s belief that they have any meaningful say in how they are governed. I elaborated:
"The two-party system has proven itself incapable of presenting Americans with distinct, adaptive, varied choices that respond to their evolving demands in a timely manner. Instead, it creates duopoly on the services government offers, which is used to prevent any alternate choice from serious consideration…. Americans are beginning to recognize that contrary to mainstream rhetoric, the problem isn’t that one side is right while the other side is wrong. It’s more accurate to say they’re both wrong. It has become abundantly clear that whatever ails our nation cannot be fixed by either of these two parties as they currently operate. Although we claim to live in a democracy in which the people decide how they’re governed, there is a significant discord between what the voters want and what their government gives them. This is the deep-rooted problem that citizens have detected with American democracy.”

So, you tell me: have these problems gotten worse?

I hate to toot my own horn, but it seems to me they have. Over a million Americans followed my advice in 2012.  Roughly 125 million did not.  I warned those 125 million that voting for candidates “even though you don’t really like them sends parties the message that they can nominate whoever they please without jeopardizing your support, so long as they abuse you less than the other guy.” Four years later, that seems prescient. If the 2016 presidential election has proven anything, it’s that Americans hate both candidates more than ever before.

Now tell me another thing. If you were unsatisfied with your choices in 2012, and are even less satisfied with your choices today, how unsatisfied must you get before you stand up and reject those choices?  What would it take for you to do that? Where do you draw the line, and is there any good reason you haven’t drawn it already?

My aim today is to convince you there is not.  Contrary to the dominant popular narrative and endless apathy-shaming peer pressure that accompanies this day, it is not "so important" that you go vote, and the 2016 election is not the most important of your lifetime. Although the differences between the two major candidates are starker than they were four years ago, the logic of voting for a third-party candidate still applies, and it goes something like this:
  1. Your vote won’t change a damn thing.
  2. Knowing that, the only reason to vote is if it makes you feel good.
  3. Voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump should not make you feel good.
  4. Voting for a third-party candidate who shares your values might make you feel good, and in any case is the most productive and meaningful vote you can cast.

    Therefore, if you want to vote, you should vote for a third party candidate.

Let's explore all four of these contentions in greater detail.

1. Your vote won’t change a damn thing.

It’s at this part of the argument that I should clarify something: I don’t really care if you vote for a third-party candidate.  It would be awesome if you do, but I won’t be upset with you or think less of you as a person if I learn you didn’t.

This is because voting, from the perspective of any individual deciding how to vote, is an unimportant waste of time.  It simply does not matter. No vote you have ever cast for any political office in your entire life – and especially for President – has changed the outcome of that election.  Anyone who believes otherwise is in desperate need of a math lesson. Consider the following:
  • Two-thirds of our country reside in non-swing states, whose Electoral College vote allocation is already certain.
  • Even in swing states, your vote has a 0.0% chance of changing which candidate gets your states votes.  No qualifying adverb, like “essentially” or “practically” 0%, is necessary; the decimal stretches so far beyond the number of significant figures our society commonly employs that 0% is the statistically accurate representation of that probability.  You are likelier to be struck by lightning on a sunny day while standing in line at the polling place.  You are likelier to be electrocuted by the voting machine.  You are FAR likelier to die in a car crash on the way to vote or on the way back from voting. It has never happened before, and never will in the future, that one vote has swung the outcome of an entire state. Your voice is simply not that important. Sorry if that makes you feel unheard, but if you're of voting age it’s high time someone ripped off the Band-Aid.
  • Even if your local advocacy were so persuasive that you convinced 100 additional people to vote for your candidate, it still will almost certainly not matter.  The smallest margin of victory in any state in any presidential election in the modern era was New Mexico in 2000, which Al Gore won by 366 votes.  Not that many people read your shit on Facebook, and even if they did, you’re not that persuasive anyway.
  • All Gore still lost that election, you’ll recall, which reminds us that even if your vote and voice were to miraculously swing the result in your state, you’d only have an 18% chance of changing the outcome of the election as a whole – if you live in Florida.  That’s according to Real Clear Politics, which calculates that the outcome in Florida has an 18% chance of determining the outcome of the election at large.  That’s the highest chance of any state.  Only three states have more than a 10% chance; only nine have more than a 2% chance. Most Americans live in states with less than a 1% chance of determining the election. So for you to actually “choose” the next president, you’d have to multiply your infinitesimal, statistically zero-percent chance of swinging your state by ANOTHER super low percentage.

To hear some people tell it, if you don’t like those odds, you are a selfish vain spoiled unpatriotic asshole who hates our troops,  disrespects our veterans' sacrifice, and doesn’t appreciate just how good you have it. You have also, if they are to be believed, forfeited your right to complain.  As George Carlin famously noted, that is complete hogwash.

Voting is a right – not an obligation. The only people who forfeit the right to complain about the President are the people who DO vote, and do so for the winning candidate. They got their way; if things don’t turn out, they have nobody to blame but themselves.  But nobody else in society played any role in creating the lamentable conditions, and as such have every right to complain as loudly as they please. There is no civic duty to spend hours in line awaiting an opportunity to kiss the state’s ass – which is all voting is, once you realize your vote doesn’t matter. There are no moral implications at play, and you shouldn’t feel guilty if you choose not to involve yourself.  There has never been a better time to not vote, nor a time when your vote was less statistically important than it is now.

2. Knowing that, the only reason to vote is if it makes you feel good.

Not everything you do needs to accomplish something. For example, many Christians attend church every Christmas Eve, even if they don’t particularly like church, and don’t ordinarily attend at other times of the year. This is not because they believe attendance on that one day a year will actually make the difference between their going to heaven and their going to hell; it’s just something they feel obliged to do, in concert with others in their community, at the designated date. They do it in part to pay respect to a social custom they’ve been taught from an early age is venerable and sacred and bigger than themselves. They also do it in part because they leave the service feeling fulfilled and connected to their community through a shared experience.

So it is with voting: it’s mostly something we do to make ourselves feel good. Voting is a ritual we perform out of tradition, out of respect for certain hallowed institutions, because we’ve been taught from an early age that it’s the socially expected way to honor the lofty principles of democracy. It’s akin to the thrill of buying a lottery ticket: in the back of your mind, you know it’s a silly and inefficient expenditure of resources, but the drama of it provides a certain fleeting excitement anyway.

This is why I vote: for purely symbolic purposes, it makes me feel better to know I’m doing what little I can to nudge our country’s policy in the direction I think it should go. It’s not especially productive, but neither is playing video games, and Lord knows I do plenty of that. If it makes you feel good too, and you know what you’re talking about, why not?

Not everyone is like me, though. If you don’t leave the ballot box feeling fulfilled by having performed this ritual, or don’t know enough about the election to feel qualified picking one over the other, my advice is to stay home and spare yourself the hassle. Don’t feel guilty about it either. Spend five minutes donating to an online charity instead, and you will have done more good for the world than any condescending blowhard who tries to shame you for it. There are over 13 million things you could do with your time that will make more of a difference, and you can rest assured that your decision won’t change the outcome of the election anyway.

But whether you do or don’t, the main point is this: once you understand that voting is just a ritual you perform to make yourself feel good, there’s no point in voting for anybody who doesn’t make you feel good.  It makes zero rational sense to “vote strategically”, as the strategically sensible move is always to do something else besides vote.

The realization that your vote won’t change a thing is depressing at first, but eventually it’s liberating: it means you can afford to indulge your conscience.  No matter how much is at stake, you can rest assured that you won’t be responsible for whatever happens.

As I said above, the whole glorified process of ceremoniously adding your drop to the bucket is sort of silly, even when you really believe in the person you’re voting for. When you don’t, it’s downright sad! I suppose there’s a certain patriotic symbolism in sacrificing your time to stand up for your principles, whether or not it makes a difference.  But there’s nothing more tragic than standing in the cold for hours on end just to halfheartedly signal your inaudible support for someone you detest!  That’s not responsible citizenship, that’s just being a sucker.

You can’t romanticize about the importance of “making your voice heard” in one breath, and then in the next implore people to vote for the lesser evil – against their voice’s true preference – out of cold, calculating strategic cynicism.  If voting for a third-party candidate is throwing your vote away, it’s only because voting for ANYBODY is throwing your vote away.  And if voting really matters and works, then how can it be meaningless to vote for what you believe in?  You can’t straddle both sides of the argument. Either elections are a noble solicitation of the popular will, or they’re a sham you have no obligation to take part in.  Whichever you choose to believe, voting for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is a bad answer, for reasons I will now enumerate.

3. Voting for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton should not make you feel good.

I mentioned earlier that I don’t really care if you vote for a third-party candidate.  That’s true.  What I care most about is that you NOT vote for a major-party candidate. For your sake, I would much rather you stay home.

You should not vote for a major party candidate in 2016 because those candidates are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  Hillary Clinton embodies everything that’s wrong with American politics.  Donald Trump embodies everything that’s wrong with the Nazi politics.  This means voting for Donald Trump is inexcusable, and voting for Hillary Clinton is a waste of time.

For brevity’s sake, I have decided to house the justifications for point #3 on a separate page, accessible below via hyperlink.  Unfortunately, the list of reasons why voting for these candidates should not make you feel good is rather extensive, and it disrupted the flow of my overall argument to include another six pages of text on this page.  Besides, if you’re like most Americans, I’m already preaching to the choir here, so it seemed wasteful to interrupt the larger point by beating a dead horse. On the slim chance you don't already know this, here is why you shouldn’t feel good about voting for Donald Trump.

And, on the slightly larger chance you don't already know this, here is why you shouldn’t feel good about voting for Hillary Clinton either.

4. Voting for a third-party candidate who shares your values might make you feel good, and in any case is the most productive and statistically meaningful vote you can cast. Therefore, if you want to vote, you should vote for a third party candidate.

I’ll begin this final salvo by again referencing my frustration back in 2012:

“Each election seasons brings a fresh batch of meaningless, infantile banter about irrelevant distractor issues. Each campaign speech seems designed only to rile up a target audience instead of addressing the nation’s actual problems. Each party blames the other for all the nation’s woes, and yet no matter which party wins things only ever seem to get worse. Time and time again, bold promises become bald-faced lies, and Americans lose faith in their leaders’ competence and motives. With so much misplaced trust in prior politicians, it’s no wonder that so many Americans are so utterly uninspired by either candidate this year.

What they’ve been told over and over again is that they should choose one of them anyway. The importance of that “choice” is constantly stressed by the media and by politicians from both major parties. “The outcome of this election”, they tell us, “is too important to waste your vote on anyone else.”

If this was evident in the 2012 election, the 2016 election has proven it to the point of parody.  Most Republicans hate Trump, but they will vote for him anyway on the laughable pretense that “a vote for a third-party is a vote for Hillary!” Most Democrats detest Clinton, but they will vote for her anyway on the plainly false belief that “a vote for third-party is a vote for Trump!” Both parties face fierce internal tumult and dissention, but the one thing holding them together is an overwhelming fear of the other side.  They reflexively regurgitate the tired trope that voting 3rd Party is "throwing your vote away" because those parties cannot win - as if it were written into the code of the universe that two broken, corrupt, unprincipled, fear-mongering, power-hungry parties are the only conceivable options to govern human affairs.

Fuck em. Don’t cave to their fear-mongering.  Don’t give them what they want from you. South Park’s parody of this absurdity is over-quoted, but I’m going to quote it again: it isn’t your patriotic duty to choose between a Giant Douche and a Turd Sandwich.  The emotion which drives you to spend your afternoon at the ballot box on November 8th should not be fear.  The fact that it will be, for millions of Americans this year, proves only that over the long term our enemy is not Trump and it is not Clinton.  The enemy holding this country back is the myth that we have to pick one of them.

Voting for a major party candidate exacerbates that problem, even if only by a puny margin.  An anarchist friend of mine has a t-shirt that reads “Don’t vote – it only encourages them.”  He’s largely right.  Buying into the false dichotomy of entrenched power brokers strengthens their belief that they can do whatever they want and govern however they please without fear of losing your support, so long as they remain the second worst option. Prove them wrong.

Voting third-party is not merely the most idealistic choice, but also the most pragmatic. Gary Johnson doesn’t have a very good chance of winning – at all – but he has a much, much better chance of winning than your vote has of influencing the outcome of the election.  And unlike the major party candidates, casting a vote for Johnson sends a productive and important message even if he loses.

If Johnson gets more than 5% of the popular vote (which your vote has a much higher statistical chance of ensuring than it does of flipping the victor, considering he’s currently polling at 4.6%) the Libertarian Party will get guaranteed ballot access and qualify for matching federal funds in the 2020 election.  That is incredibly significant. At present, over 90% of the efforts of third-party campaigns are consumed by just trying to win ballot access in all 50 states. Clearing that hurdle would allow them to set their sights on inclusion in the Presidential debates next year.

If you like Johnson the most of the three, but you’re still nervous about your least-preferred evil winning the election, try this.  Go to, click on what state you’re from and which major party candidate you’d vote for were there no third-party option, and they will use your Facebook profile to literally find you a match from the other side.  So if you’d otherwise vote Clinton but would prefer Johnson, they will link you with a Republican who would otherwise vote Trump but also prefers Johnson, and let you chat.  If you both agree to vote Johnson instead, Johnson’s tally will go up by two and neither of the two evils will be advantaged nor disadvantaged by your actions.

If you don’t want to vote, don’t bother. But if you do want to vote, cast a vote that actually matters to you, instead of wasting it on someone you don’t believe in.  My 2012 closing argument still applies:
“If [either major nominee] is everything you’ve ever dreamed of in a candidate, then by all means vote for them. But if not, I urge you to look at the bigger picture this November. Ask yourself if you’re really satisfied with the amount of choice you have in how you are governed. Set aside any lukewarm tolerance for the side that annoys you the least, and objectively ask yourself whether either of these two candidates truly deserve your vote. If the answer is no, don’t give it to them. Halfheartedly picking the lesser of two evils will do little to truly alter our nation’s course. Instead, vote for real change, and send a message that you expect a real choice in the future. Vote for a third party candidate.”

Don't vote for Hillary Clinton

To explain who Hillary Clinton is, I’d like to borrow an analogy from a comedian acquaintance of mine named Jeremy McClellan (btw, Jeremy is hilarious, libertarian, and sensitive about other people stealing his work without credit, so you should all totally follow him on his various social media platforms).  Anyway, Jeremy’s observation was this: Hillary is like the creepy youth pastor you had as a kid, whose job was to expand the church’s appeal to the younger generation.  She’s the guy in his late 20’s, early 30’s who would sit backwards on a chair with a guitar, shoot the shit for a while to prove he could talk about normal teen things, and then casually slip in something like “You know, Jesus was the REAL O.G.,” followed by a 15 second Bible lesson and “anyway, here’s Wonderwall.”

Millennials hated this guy, and they hate Hillary for the same reason.

When people who like Trump call him a “straight shooter” and call Hillary a liar, they’re not referring to the literal factualness of the words which come out of their mouths.  Many proud beltway “fact checkers” have crunched the numbers and declared that Hillary emerges as the more truthful of the two on that crude measure.  But those journalists are completely tone-deaf to the sort of truthfulness Trump’s fans rightly see so much of in Trump, and so little of in Clinton: sincerity.

Donald Trump is often wrong, but only because he doesn’t realize he’s wrong; it isn’t often that he intends to deceive. Trump says what he means and means what he says, and says it all with such an aimless, rambling, candor that it couldn’t possibly be scripted. He doesn’t pander to anybody, and he doesn’t care who he offends.  His stream-of-consciousness speaking style gives his audience a crystal clear view of exactly what’s on his mind, which – although often horrifying – is oddly refreshing at the same time.

Nobody offers a better contrast to that sincerity than Hillary Clinton. Nobody is more shameless a panderer.  Nobody in politics (and I don’t say that lightly, because politics has a lot of frauds) is more transparently phony in everything she says and does. Like, really – it’s wince-inducing.

I would know. I’m a millennial, and if there’s one thing us millennials can smell from a mile away, its insincerity.  Our opinions and preferences and votes and dollars are all so sought after as harbingers of the future that we’ve become experts at people trying to appeal to us for ulterior motives. That’s why we saw right through the creepy youth pastor trying to prove that that Jesus Christ could be our “main man.” And it’s why we millennials simply cannot stand Hillary Clinton.

I disagree with Mrs. Clinton on a lot and I’ll get into that later, but that’s not why I hate her.  Unlike Trump, none of Hillary’s policy positions are so outrageous as to make me angry.  The most intense hatred I've ever felt for Hillary was when some balloons dropped after her speech at the Democratic National Convention, and she made this face:

The Democratic and Republican National Conventions during presidential election years are a full week of unabashed, non-stop propaganda.  Nothing occurs on that stage which isn’t meticulously scripted and planned out for weeks beforehand. Hillary Clinton almost certainly knew in advance that there would be balloons released from the ceiling once she finished her speech.  Even if she didn’t know....there is just not a chance in hell that she gave a flying fuck about them!!  She is the former Secretary of State! She went toe-to-toe with Putin and China and Gaddaffi. She made life and death decisions every day. She was in the Situation Room with President Obama, where she watched a live helmet-cam of Navy Seals blowing up terrorists and shooting Osama bin Laden in the head.  She is a grisled, hardened, tough woman who’s been in politics for 40 years and SHE DOESN’T GET SHOCKED AND EXCITED BY BALLOONS! Much less THAT shocked and excited!  Holy shit, woman – would you stop pretending for five minutes?

This is why people hate Hillary Clinton – that gif right there. It’s not because she’s a woman; Elizabeth Warren, Condoleezza Rice, and even Sarah Palin have been much less hated than Hillary, by the left and right alike.  People hate Hillary Clinton for the same reason they’ve grown to hate American politics altogether: even people dumb enough and gullible enough to like Donald Trump can tell it’s all a show! It’s all fake!  They’re all acting, and it’s all so meaningless, and she’s been in the game so long that she can barely muster the pretense of hiding it. 

All of it, from the primaries to the conventions to the debates to the advertisements, is a big loud flashy distraction designed to play on your emotions, rile you up and divert you from the elevated, intricate, mundane discourse of actual policy. That angers people. You can only watch so many square-jawed men with full heads of fake hair strolling through a cornfield in jeans, behind a beautiful sunset, while a resolute voice murmurs patriotic clichés over patriotic music, before you catch wise that the people who make such ads are trying to manipulate you – not listen to you. There is nothing so patronizing.  There is nothing so infuriating as being talked down to by people who claim to serve and represent you.

Hillary Clinton does not give a wet fart for the ideals of popular governance.  She doesn’t want your input, she doesn’t value your opinion, and she doesn’t respect you as an intellectual.  How can you watch that gif, or her standard stump speech, and tell me otherwise? It’s almost as if she’s just as annoyed by the whole charade as I am, and barely has the energy to fake investment in any of it.  Her “beliefs” may skew vaguely center-left, but after 25 years in Washington they change with the wind.  Clearly, she believes nothing so passionately as she believes she ought to be president, and she’s willing to tell you whatever the hell you want to hear to make it so.

When she gets her way tomorrow, it will ensure that 24 of the 32 years from 1988-2020 will have featured a Bush or a Clinton in the White House. That’s not a good look for a democracy.  Democracies are supposed to be meritocracies, wherein those elected to the Chief Executive position are the most qualified and popular people around.  Are we to believe that four of the past five most “qualified and popular people” in the country, out of 300 million options, just so happened to come from the same immediate families by coincidence? Because our critics abroad sure won’t. Quite the contrary, a rotation of royal families reeks of a nation that is democratic in name only, and all about who you know – rather closer to Russia and its “elected” leader than we’ve become accustomed to imagining ourselves.

If the thought of Trump winning the election frightens me, the thought of Hillary winning just makes my skin crawl.  I can just picture her big, phony, trademark “smile” on Election Night as she delivers her acceptance speech.  I can just hear her trill pitch, calculated by her advisors to be the closest imitation of sincere human exuberance she can muster, saying something like “Tonight, the American people have SPOKEN!” (a pause for applause, as she reverts to her canned smile until it subsides). “They have spoken LOUD and CLEAR, and they have spoken out for EQUALITY, FAIRNESS, and PROGRESS!” Then she’ll blather on about how “in America, anyone has a chance to get ahead,” and “what unites us as Americans is far stronger than what divides us,” and we can “work together to solve this nation’s problems and take us FORWARD into the 21st Century,” and blah di blah di blah di fucking blah, until eventually she’s rattled off enough clichés to claim she has a damn “popular mandate” to make the government do whatever she wants it to do.  She will claim the right – nay, the duty! – to foist her will on 100% of the inhabitants of this country, and even the world, because some 48 percent of the 60 some-odd percent who voted at all will have signaled they hated her less than the least qualified man in the world. It takes a special type of delusion to believe that’s true.

So, yeah – that’s why voting for Hillary shouldn’t make you feel good.  She is Professor Umbridge with a dash of Nurse Ratchet mixed in for good measure: perhaps the slimiest person to ever hold a position of authority for so long. She embodies everything that’s wrong with our political system: cronyism, corruption, deceit, lack of principle, and the deeply entrenched establishment of career politicians in safe, gerrymandered districts who promulgate the status quo and insulate it from any possible alternative.

But what about actual policy, you wonder? That's an important point - perhaps more important than everything I've brought up so far. Maybe you can look past the acting and insincerity if you’ll “feel good” about the policy direction in which she’ll nudge the country.  Should you?

Only if you feel good about war. Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy track record is indistinguishable from that of Dick Cheney (and he supported gay marriage sooner than she did!)  As first Lady, she urged her husband to bomb Kosovo, and supported a coup in Guatemala that had disastrous consequences for that country. As Senator, she voted for the Iraq War, vote for the Patriot Act, and declined to say either were a bad idea until after they cost her the 2008 Election – which had disastrous consequences for that country and ours.  As Secretary of State, she supported another coup in Honduras, and pushed hard for Obama to bomb Moammar Gaddaffi out of power in Libya – which both had disastrous consequences for that country and ours.

Did Hillary Clinton learn her lessons from these failures? Hell no! She doubled down on them, and continues to advocate the most aggressive role for American military intervention of any major candidate in either party. Now she wants to do it again in Syria, which is even more of a tangled and unwinnable mess than any of the previous interventions were at the start. Face the music, so-called “progressives”: Hillary Clinton is an unrepentant warmonger. Barring the far-fetched and exaggerated possibility of Trump going completely off the deep end with nukes, a Clinton Administration would almost definitely kill more people than a Trump Administration – and almost definitely make neither America nor the world any safer in the process.

You probably disagree with her on many social and economic reasons too, but it's 2:37AM and I’ve written too much already.  Either you and I have completely incompatible values of governing legitimacy and human decency, or Hillary Clinton is not a woman you should feel personally fulfilled to have voted for.  No matter how much you prefer her to Trump, Clinton does not deserve your vote, which means there’s no rational reason to give it to her. 

Don't vote for Donald Trump

Back in January I went on a pretty scathing rant about Donald Trump.  Some highlights:

  • Donald Trump…is the candidate of idiocracy, and he’s convinced the nation’s idiots that this is a selling point rather than a liability. Accordingly, his popularity is the biggest argument against democracy you can possibly make.
  • Maybe the voters have been watching too much House of Cards, because multiple Republican candidates seem to have convinced them that the sum of foreign relations is who flinches first in some Hollywood stare-down with Putin.
  • Trump is perhaps tied with Kanye West as the most conceited person I have ever known to exist. Everything he says and does is geared exclusively towards his own self-promotion. His speeches can be summed up in a few short sentences: “I am a winner, they are all losers. I am brilliant, they are all stupid. I make great deals, they only fail.” In the absence of any discernable governing ideology or any specific policy proposals, this is all his campaign rests upon. His only belief is that he is awesome and can do whatever he wants. His only tone of voice is condescension.  He has nurtured a cult of personality, and that personality is ‘pompous, egocentric asshole.’
  • If this is what he says over the course of six months of scripted campaigning, can you even imagine what he’d say over the course of four unscripted years as president? The man is a buffoon, a stooge, a dancing rodeo clown out to make American politics into more of a reality TV show than it already was.
  • We have the stereotypical college graduate on one side, and the stereotypical high school bully on the other, with the most powerful office on earth in the balance, and most Republicans would seemingly rather elect the bully. This should be horrifying to any thinking person. There’s a word for those who select most violent and aggressive male in the group as their leader: animals. Cave-men, to be generous. Evolved human beings are supposed to have developed a level of intellect and sensitivity and foresight which lets them choose leaders with more noble qualities than brutishness – or better yet, a level of humility to admit when they are not informed enough on the topic at hand to agitate for one candidate or another.
  • Trump is the candidate for stupid, cowardly or bigoted people who prefer the faked certainty of aggressive sound-bytes to the cognitive dissonance of reasoned exchange.

And, finally, the thesis of that rant:

“If Donald Trump becomes the next president of the United States, it would so rattle my faith in our country’s system of government that I could no longer go to war for that government in good conscience… The uniform I wear so proudly now would come to symbolize something completely different were Trump the man in charge of the Armed Forces: gullibility. To fair-minded people of the world, Trump’s soldiers would symbolize blind, unthinking obedience to orders, no matter how preposterous the man giving them happened to be….

How could I travel, and meet people from other countries, and not be ashamed? How could I swear solemn, stony-faced vows to obey the every order of such a cartoonish character? How could I watch serious world leaders converge in the UN to discuss the important issues of the day, and not be struck by how absurd it is that the most powerful among them is the douchebag from The Apprentice? How could I pretend that the fire-hose of thoughtless misogyny and narcissism and stupidity that spurts out of his mouth gave me legitimate moral authority to kill people?

He is one hair’s breadth more qualified to be president than Kim Kardashian, and that may be unfair to her. I signed up to defend my country, not to be a henchman for some self-obsessed circus clown.”

The ten months of campaigning which followed that entry have proved I went too easy on him.  Over that time, Trump used the forum of a presidential debate to remark on the size of his penis. He was caught on tape saying “you gotta treat women like shit,” and “when you’re a star, they let you…grab em’ by the pussy.” He joked that Carly Fiorina couldn’t be president because her face was too ugly. He said respected Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly should be discredited because “she had blood coming out of her wherever.” He said husbands who change diapers are “acting like the wife.” He called Hillary Clinton disgusting for needing to pee; he called Rosie O’Donnell disgusting for being fat; he called an attorney disgusting for needing to breastfeed.

12 women have come forward accusing him of sexual assault, and many others of sexual harassment. In conjunction with his comments above, this means he is almost definitely a serial sexual predator. He blamed sexual assault in the military on “putting men and women together.” Almost every account of his treatment of women – from Miss America pageant competitors, to The Apprentice competitors, to work colleagues, to even his own daughters – corroborates his misogynistic obsession with their physical appearance. He once said “it doesn’t really matter what they write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”

He disparaged John McCain for being captured during the Vietnam War. He said a judge should recuse himself from a case about Trump University because of his Mexican heritage. He responded to the Orlando nightclub shooting with a Tweet that read “Appreciate the congrats for being right on Islamic terrorism.” He made up inflated statistics about the rate at which blacks kill whites and relayed them as fact. Actually, he has lied hundreds of times, not with minor hyperbolic exaggerations, but with plainly disprovable falsities he simply made up. He has proven his racist and misogynist tendencies beyond doubt. His Twitter account is its own parody.

His campaign is almost completely devoid of substance, and what substance there is – on immigration, trade, fiscal policy and counterterrorism – is horrifying without exception.  He has enthusiastically endorsed torture and killing the families of terror suspects, both obvious war crimes under the Geneva Convention.  He wants to ban all Muslims – 1.6 billion members of an entire religion – from entering the country, shut down Mosques, and create a database to track all Muslims currently in the country. He wants to deport two million people, including some who are already citizens. He has repeatedly praised tyrannical regimes for their “strength” in violently suppressing dissent, from Putin to Assad to Kim Jong Il to Saddam Hussein to China’s Communist Party. He defended FDR’s internment of Japanese citizens in WWII. He described global warming as a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.  He threatened to shut down the Washington Post once elected for their negative coverage of him.  He threatened to jail his opponent as well.

I could go on, but it's 2:21 AM and I simply don't have the time.  Donald Trump is the hemorrhoid on the ass-cheek of humanity.  Don't vote for him.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A ranked list of the most productive things to do on November 8th, 2016:

  1. Vote for Gary Johnson.
  2.  Vote for Jill Stein or another third party candidate.
  3. Donate to charity.
  4. Go to work.
  5. Go to the gym.
  6. Go for a run.
  7. Go for a hike.
  8. Fly a kite.
  9. Play a sport.
  10. Play a yard game, like bocce or Kan-Jam.
  11. Remind your loved-ones that you love them.
  12. Try out skydiving. You’ve always wanted to!
  13. Plan a vacation.
  14. Review your finances.
  15. Learn how to knit.
  16. Try out a new recipe.
  17. Clean and organize your room or work area.
  18. Heck, clean the whole house while you’re at it.
  19. Watch football highlights from all the college and NFL action that took place from November 5th-7th, 2016.
  20. Re-read all 7 Harry Potter Books for the 14th time.
  21. Re-watch all six seasons of Game of Thrones.
  22. Re-watch Breaking Bad, also.
  23.  Get ripshit drunk.
  24.  Get a tattoo.

Et cetera, et cetera, until eventually we get to...

13,749,275. Watch grass grow.
13,749,276. Watch paint dry.
13,749,277. Vote for Hillary Clinton.
13,749,278. Hang yourself.
13,749,279. Vote for Donald Trump.