By YOUSUF ALI, Opinions Editor
Allow me to be crystal clear. I haven’t supported nor do I intend to support Hillary Clinton. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the Michigan primary earlier this year. In fact, even before I was eligible to vote, I was advocating that people vote for the little-known congressman, Dennis Kucinich, in the 2008 Democratic primary who shares many of the same views as Bernie Sanders. In other words, I “felt the Bern” long before most Bernie Sanders supporters knew anything, let alone cared, about politics. That said, I cannot, in good conscience, vote for a third party candidate in this year’s presidential election.
I have no delusions of Hillary Clinton being the panacea for all of the issues that this country faces. In fact, the majority of the country views her negatively. This is not without reason. In many respects, she has come to represent everything that ordinary people hate about politics. She voted for the disastrous war in Iraq, consistently supported Israel’s occupation of Palestine, received massive donations Wall Street, amongst many other blights on her record. That said, it is important that voters, of all political views, understand that one of two people will be elected president in two weeks: Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
Many voters reflexively dismiss both candidates as essentially the same and will vote for a third party like the Greens instead. If enough people act on such impulses, the consequences could be disastrous. To begin, even if we are to assume that the differences between Donald Trump and HIllary Clinton are insubstantial, we cannot ignore the fact that rhetoric actually does matter. To illustrate this, we should consider the case of 9/11. To the surprise of no one, Islamophobic hate crimes spiked following the destruction of the Twin Towers; however, there was a rather curious drop in the numbers not too long after this rise. One of the contributing factors to this drop was then president George W. Bush’s repeated declarations that Islam was a peaceful religion and the United States is not at war with the vast-majority of Muslims. Imagine a scenario in which George W. Bush, instead of pushing back against the anti-Muslim sentiments, had exploited them. Despite the disastrous invasion of Iraq, attack on civil liberties in the patriot act, torture of detainees in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay under the Bush administration, it is fair to say his decision to adopt a positive tone on Islam and Muslims probably saved lives, and that is not a small thing.
When we consider the effect of Trump’s rhetoric, it becomes all the more important that he is defeated decisively on election day. I have massive doubts whether or not Donald Trump believes half of the things coming out of his mouth, but regardless of his sincerity, his words are having an effect on people’s lives. Following Donald Trump’s infamous proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, several organizations documented a spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes. If this is the effect that he is having merely as a candidate, imagine what the result would be if he is actually elected. In fact, there is an interesting case study that analyzes the results of the United Kingdom’s referendum to leave the European Union. Since the U.K. voted for leave, xenophobic hate crimes have been on the rise in that country. Keep in mind, this was despite the fact that not all of the rhetoric by the “Brexiters” was anti-immigrant. When it comes to Donald Trump, I have no doubt that the most bigoted elements in this country would feel empowered to commit hate crimes should he be elected President. Furthermore, with Trump only guaranteeing to accept a clear result against him, it is all the more important that we make that happen.
One of the perennial challenges that progressives face is the process by which they attain the power with which they can implement their lofty goals. As unlikely as this scenario seems at the moment, it will become infinitely more unlikely should Donald Trump become president due to their failure to support Clinton. I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton. I never have been. That said, it is naive to in any way equate a candidate who has called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, wants to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, denies anthropogenic climate change, is open to using nuclear weapons, etc. with her. If Trump becomes president because of left-wingers, self-righteously, casting a protest vote for a third party, the damage dealt to their movement will be catastrophic. They would rightfully be blamed for the inevitable harm that will come to the groups that they claim to defend. Any progress that their movement has made with the rise Bernie Sanders would be in vain. For this reason, it is essential that voters who genuinely care for the well-being of the oppressed and marginalized, vote for the only candidate with any realistic chance of defeating their greatest threat.
Despite Hillary Clinton’s many flaws, she has the merit of not being half as outrageous in her statements as her opponent. In a world where the hateful rhetoric of politicians leads people to commit hate crimes, it is important for voters to decisively reject such rhetoric. I am under no delusions that Hillary Clinton will be an agent for positive change; however, at the present moment, she is the only thing standing in the way of change for the worse. Those wanting genuine democratic change will have to put consistent pressure on her when she is elected, but their prospects would be far greater under her as president than Trump.