How to Lose Friends and Influence No One
I deserve it, really. My chickens are coming home to roost.
Back in 2016 I couldn’t understand how anyone not predisposed to voting for Trump could possibly “throw away” their vote on a third party. Didn’t those Never Hillary people get it? If they didn’t vote for her, they were voting for racism, misogyny, greed. Evil in a red necktie. What privilege they must have, being immune to the consequences. No matter how they hated her, didn’t they see that they had to vote for her to save others from those same consequences?
Fast forward to 2020, where I now find myself the outcast among some of my Democrat and liberal friends. Former friends, apparently. Because I said aloud what I was thinking: I don’t know if I can bring myself to cast a vote for Joe Biden.
How dare I even think it? Don’t I know this is THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION OF MY LIFETIME (just like the last one was)? If I don’t vote for Biden I am voting for racism, misogyny, greed. Evil in a red necktie. There is no perfect candidate, and anything is better than Trump. Any other vote means I don’t care about immigrants, or the LGBTQ+ community, or BIPOCs, or the environment, or women.
Then I tell them that I don’t support Biden because I believed Tara Reade.
“THAT crazy lying slut?”
I am chagrined at the response, but it is an eye-opener. I owe apologies to those I judged silently four years ago, and in particular a Facebook friend of mine with five sons. Her oldest were draft or enlistment age, and her biggest concern then was the fear of ongoing war. She viewed Hillary Clinton as “banging the drums of war” and could not, in good conscience, vote for her. I didn’t see the validity of her concerns and I shook my head at her unwillingness to do her part to keep that horrible orange man out of the White House. It seemed so selfish to me.
But what I didn’t do was call her out on it. I did not argue with her, berate her, or “unfriend” her. I don’t actually enjoy conflict in my interpersonal relationships despite my love of debate, and I had no desire to challenge her on her stance. But I did silently nod along as others did so. Because, HOW? HOW could she not SEE the consequences of her choice? How could she possibly not see that Hillary, no matter her faults, was an exponentially better option than Trump? And since it was, in actuality, a binary choice — the winner would be either Trump or Clinton — how could she justify not doing her part to make sure the obviously lesser evil won?
The thought did not occur to me, or if it did, I dismissed as absurd, that anyone could think there was no lesser evil in the race.
I admit that I don’t think this election is the same, on balance. Having lived through four miserable years of the Trump administration, I can’t say the country won’t be better off with Biden in office. This should make things easy for me, in theory. And yet, I struggle. If I vote for Biden, I am voting to elevate a man I believe sexually violated a subordinate to the highest position in my country. A venerated position that I feel has been sullied, contaminated, and debased for the last four years. But I give no quarter to sexual violators.
It is true that this belief I cannot shake is the main thing stopping me from offering my vote and support to the Biden ticket. Don’t bother explaining to me why I’m dumb for believing Reade; I have actively tried to convince myself she made the whole thing up, and I simply can’t get there. It leaves me in a position of voting for a man who nauseates me, or voting for a man who nauseates me. I understand the inclination to yell at me about the greater good, about what election results mean on a scale much grander than my queasy stomach over rewarding a man I think is a terrible person. It’s either unjustly rewarding him, or let the whole country continue to flounder. Either way, I go home on election night knowing I helped to elevate a man I believe to be a sexual offender (because make no mistake, I believe the same of Trump.) The question is whether I can make myself do so under the belief that one of these two terrible men will help more people than the other.
I do have a privilege that gives me the luxury of voting my conscience, even at the expense of the Democratic ticket, but it is not my position in life as a straight, white, middle class professional. It is my position as a resident of the state of West Virginia, where Trump won with nearly 70% of the vote in 2016 and will surely sweep all 55 counties again this November. I can say with extreme confidence that he has not lost any measurable amount of support here. My vote does not matter in the slightest, except to my own conscience.
I pointed that out to my angry accusers on Twitter, alluding to the possibility that I’d perhaps feel differently if I lived in a swing state, but it wasn’t good enough. I must be all in, no matter what, or I must be completely shut out. In fact, the tweet that set the torches aflame and sent folks to fetch their pitchforks was my musing that his choice of VP has added another layer to my contemplation:
I wrote a while back about why I wouldn’t vote for Biden. But since then I’ve become convinced that even if Biden wins, he will not be able to serve long. So now I have to decide whether I find the idea of President Harris acceptable.
— Em Carpenter, Justician (@wvEsquiress) August 11, 2020
At first, I ignored the gaffes and thought the accusations of senility were mean and unwarranted. But as time as time has gone on and Biden has continued to seem confused, I have developed genuine concerns about his mental acuity and fitness for office. It is not my dislike for him; in fact, I have felt sorry for him, wondering if maybe people who love him should intervene for his own good. I remain mindful, however, that I only see snippets of a likely tired 77 year old man that don’t paint a complete picture and I am in no position to offer even an armchair diagnosis. But I’ve seen enough to be skeptical about his ability to withstand the rigors, physical and mental, of the office of the presidency. For that reason, his choice of running mate became a crucial consideration for me. I think I would likely be casting a vote for that person’s presidency.
I do not hate Kamala Harris, especially not for the reasons so many others proffer. Her history as a prosecutor seems to give a lot of heartburn1, but while I admit that she made mistakes in that capacity, I also understand, as a prosecutor turned defense attorney myself, the dynamics of that work. It is not a deal breaker for me. I am actually more likely to vote for the Biden ticket now than I was a week ago. I still have to wrestle with it, but the point of my tweet is that I have not ruled it out.
Not good enough, though. I must unhesitatingly and enthusiastically proclaim my unwavering loyalty to Joe goddamn Biden or I’m a fascist who deserves to be shunned by all who love me.
I am sorry that I am not shitting myself with excitement over the prospect of a Biden presidency, but no amount of shaming or attempts to “reason” with me are going to win me over. I’m not a stupid person, or an ill-informed person. There is nothing you are going to be able to say to me that hasn’t already factored into my analysis. Save your breath; you aren’t going to convince me or shame me into anything.
However, if you feel the need to disassociate yourself from anyone who is, for whatever reason, unable to fall into lockstep with you, not only in action but also in level of zeal, well then, remember me fondly and think of me often.
Someone on my Twitter feed quipped that my excommunication was another example of “the tolerant left.” I hate the sarcastic use of that phrase because it is normally used to suggest tolerance means being willing to countenance truly hateful expression. The usual response is that there is no need to tolerate intolerance. I am angry that in this situation I am forced to acknowledge that there is validity to the accusation, to use a favored phrase of a friend.
I am not asking or expecting anyone to tolerate vitriolic, racist or hateful words or actions. I’m not asking anyone to tolerate anything, really; I’m asking that they not concern themselves with my (totally irrelevant and ineffectual) vote. By all means, extol your candidate’s virtues. Sing his praises in hopes of breaking through my so-far-impenetrable block against him. That’s a healthy exercise of the workings of our system. But those of you who insist on self-righteously and condescendingly scolding me or dramatically washing your hands of me are accomplishing nothing except proving our shared critics correct in their very worst opinions of us.
Have I questioned just what the hell any of my Trump-voting friends and family were thinking? You betcha. I’m utterly perplexed by their choice. How could people I know for sure to be good, kind people throw their support behind a ridiculous, racist, sexist, narcissistic intellectual lightweight like Donald J Trump? I shake my head, but I have not disowned or cut off anyone for it. I have done so for specific, abhorrent opinions and statements, some of which are undeniably common to many Trump voters. Others I have directly challenged: what do you have to say about This Awful Thing Trump Did/Said? I’ve discussed it with them, argued the merits, tried to understand. I have some inkling of how or why someone could look past the flaws I find insurmountable in pursuit of some grander vision they believe his presidency will achieve. But I can’t do it. I can’t do it for Trump, and I have as yet been unable to do it for Biden.
In the end, it will be me and my conscience in that voting booth. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but there are three months left for me to figure it out. Honestly, a lot rides on how I’m feeling about Kamala Harris at that point. One thing is for sure: my decision will not be influenced by brow-beatings from my liberal friends.
To my friends four years ago who never knew I was silently judging them, my apologies. I get it now. Sometimes the lesser of the evils is being able to live with one’s self.
- As bad as Harris’ history with criminal justice is, it’s not as far-reachingly devastating as Joe “Lock the SOBs Up” Biden’s Law and Violent Crime Enforcement Act of 1994 was.