This year, I’ll vote for Hillary and, having said that, won’t tell you how to vote but will tell you about the first time I voted for president.
That was 1968, a year in which I was angry about the Vietnam War, jeered Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to run for re-election, worked for Gene McCarthy in Oregon, was shocked and numbed by Bobby Kennedy’s murder in LA and Martin Luther King Jr.’s in Memphis, and watched on TV the Chicago police riot and Hubert Humphrey become the presidential nominee.
I was 21, idealistic, angry and disillusioned. I was registered to vote in Hawaii (yes, I was born there, too, not Kenya) and Hawaii’s open ballot allowed me to vote for Eldridge Cleaver, a vote in protest. Hawaii’s then-three electoral votes went to Humphrey so my vote didn’t help elect Crooked Richard.
I continued to protest the war but figured out that a vote in protest was a dead end. I stayed engaged enough at least to vote for George McGovern against Richard Nixon in 1972. I got more engaged in energy and local land use issues and vote for Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Over the years I’ve come to understand that the truly scary thing about the Republican Party’s national strategy has been to foster fear among constituencies as a way to build its coalitions. Fear of blacks, fear of Hispanics, fear of communists, fear of terrorists, fear of unions, fear of abortions, fear of godlessness, fear of crime, fear of government... Cultivating and organizing that fearfulness has worked ever since the modern version of the Southern strategy emerged 50 years ago and spread to the nation’s suburbs and rural areas.
In the 1980 election my father, a lifelong Democrat who was retiring, voted for Ronald Reagan because he was afraid for his Social Security and believed Reagan would protect it. I told him that was a terrible reason— but he was afraid.
Fear has been used against the presidency of Barack Obama and it characterizes how the Republican presidential candidate and his party this year conducted their campaigns. It doesn’t have to be that way. Bernie Sanders touched a wellspring of progressive sentiment without using fear. Should I be afraid of Hillary taking my gun away, socializing my medical care (oh, Medicare), and opening our borders to immigrant terrorists?-- No.
As hard a slog as the last eight years have been, the Obama presidency has remained positive and inclusive. So has Hillary’s and Bernie’s despite a bruising primary and ugly final months before November 8. Nevertheless, some of my colleagues and readers may feel like I did in 1968 so they will cast a protest vote or not vote at all.
But like I said, I’ll vote for Hillary. Because what’s different since the first time I voted in 1968 isn’t opposing political visions (we’ve always had that); what’s different is that Donald Trump is a culmination of Republican strategy, the grotesque embodiment of resentment and fear— about gun control, socialized medicine, immigration, terrorism, globalization-- and the prospect of salvation by the singular solution of a “strong man” in power.
You will decide how you will vote. For me, no candidate is perfect in all the policies and positions he or she takes or has taken; those birds all bear careful watching. But to fan the flames of resentment and fear is a poison that blights our civil society. Compassion and inclusion moves us forward, fear and resentment do not.
The real work of governing begins the morning after the election and it will be hard work. I will vote for compassion and inclusion, moving forward together, no matter how difficult. And I hope many, many others do, too.
How about you?