I didn't vote in my first presidential election.
It was 2000. I'd just turned twenty-one. I'd voted in the primary, for former NBA star and New Jersey senator Bill Bradley, whose Northeastern cerebral style appealed to me, sort of like Jed Bartlet from The West Wing. But he lost. Al Gore won, and I just wasn't all that into him.
I was a college student in Florida but registered several hours away, at my parents' home. So I needed to vote absentee or switch over my registration. I was politically engaged—a poli sci minor and newbie political reporter, in fact—but the whole thing seemed like a lot of work. Too much work, given my middling feelings toward Gore and my gut certainty that America wouldn't be so stupid as to elect that bumbling fool from Texas. Besides, what's one vote in a state of millions?
Across Florida, 537 other Democrats didn't vote in that election, either. That, along with Republicans' post-election chicanery, was enough to push George W. Bush over the top in Florida and give him the White House. Another ninety-seven thousand progressives voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader—again, more than enough to alter the course of humanity. One calamitous terrorist attack, two wars, economic collapse, and the drowning of a major American city followed, along with a host of smaller but no less egregious offenses, things like Abu Ghraib and radical Supreme Court appointments and tax cuts for the rich.
All of that because I and a few hundred other progressive minded-folks decided our votes weren't all that important, or that Gore was too unexciting, or that we would stand up to the corporate political duopoly and throw in with Nader even though we knew he had no chance of winning.
Needless to say, I've voted in every election since. Sometimes I've written checks or knocked on doors, too. Because the 2000 election seared into my brain that these things have consequences, that staying home or pissing away a protest vote could actually matter. We have an imperfect system, granted. But it's the one we've got.
This is a fact: come January 20, one of two people will take the oath of office. That person will not be Gary Johnson. That person will not be Jill Stein. That person may very well be Donald Trump, who could sneak into office—like Bush, despite not having a majority or even a plurality—if enough voters in North Carolina and other battleground states stay home or cast protest votes. This is especially true of younger voters; a third of those under the age of thirty, according to recent Quinnipiac and New York Times national polls, are planning to vote third party.
Not coincidentally, these voters were all in middle school—or younger—when apathy and Nader gave us Bush.
The same thing could happen this year. In North Carolina, according to an Upshot/Siena College poll out last week, Clinton edges Trump in a two-way race but ties him when Johnson is thrown into the mix.
More than even Bush sixteen years ago, Trump's election—to say the least—poses a clear and present danger to world stability, democratic institutions, and our very way of life. If you care more about the future than a nostalgia for a simpler, whiter past, it's your duty to defeat him, and, more than that, to drive the ideological scourge he represents into the dustbins of history.
Gary Johnson won't do that. Sorry.
You don't have to like Hillary Clinton. God knows she has her faults (though, you try spending two decades in an unrelenting partisan meat grinder and see if you emerge unscathed). She tends toward secrecy and interventionist foreign policy and, like Gore, very much embodies the Democratic establishment. She—also like Gore—is wooden and uninspiring on the stump.
But she at least acknowledges that climate change is real and that we can remake immigration laws without ripping families apart. She would maintain and expand the Affordable Care Act and has proposed an aggressive college-affordability plan. Most important, she would appoint Supreme Court justices more in the mold of Ruth Bader Ginsburg than Antonin Scalia, which means your vote in November will shape decisions on civil rights and just about everything else for decades to come.
Had I and 536 other progressive Floridians not given in to cynicism sixteen years ago, the world would almost certainly be a better place today. Don't repeat our mistake.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Don't Nader Us"