COMMENTARY: I first paid attention to presidential politics in 1996. I couldn’t vote because I turned 18 about five weeks after the election. But we held a mock election at St. Michael’s High School in Santa Fe and I had to pick a candidate.
I didn’t want to. Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, in my view, were part of an oppressive system. I was learning about conditions in Nike factories in other countries and an African government’s use of helicopters provided by an American oil company to slaughter people. I was feeling angry and rebellious.
I discovered Ralph Nader, who ran an insurgent campaign that year. I didn’t know what Nader believed. I didn’t really care. My support for him was a protest of the system.
Twenty years later, I’m still a frustrated voter. Sometimes I vote for Democrats, sometimes Republicans, sometimes third-party candidates. It’s not uncommon for me to refuse to vote in a particular race when I don’t believe any candidate deserves my support.
This year is especially challenging. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are two of the most disliked candidates in history. As the publisher of a news website I try to facilitate respectful discourse and encourage people to empathize with each other, and Trump works hard to do pretty much the opposite. I also fight for government transparency. Clinton, with her email use as secretary of state, her uber-polished image, and the dark-money super PACs supporting her, doesn’t win any points with me on that front.
Gary Johnson, the lead third-party candidate, falls way short on foreign policy. And he stooped to Trump’s level by repeatedly calling the GOP candidate a pussy. Given the 2005 video in which Trump describes sexually assaulting women, this should be clear: Using that word degrades women.
Clinton, too, stooped to Trump’s level when she described half his supporters as “deplorables” – by which she meant racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic. Never mind that, based on the polling Clinton was citing, nearly a third of her supporters would fit into the same category.
I feel like I’m back in high school.
Nader didn’t win my high school’s mock election, but he finished a close second behind Clinton. And, weeks before the election, we convinced Nader to travel to Santa Fe to meet with us. With me and another student at his side, he held a news conference at the Roundhouse to talk about the importance of the next generation.
Before the news conference, Nader pulled the two of us aside. He praised our involvement in the election and urged us to stay engaged. I took his words to heart.
Voting matters. I know it’s frustrating sometimes, and there’s no shame in leaving a race on your ballot blank if you can’t support the choices.
I’m not in the business of telling people who to support. I believe you should vote your conscience. If you like Trump, vote for him. If you’re inspired by Clinton, great. If you’re inclined to support someone else, do it.
Or you can refuse to vote in the presidential race. But there are other local, state, and federal races on the ballot that matter immensely. Show up and vote.
As frustrated as I am, I remember Nader’s words and I refuse to give up on our system. Staying involved is the only hope we have for creating a better society for ourselves and future generations.