02 Oct An Open Letter to Millennial Voters
Dear Millennial Voter,
For starters, how nonsensical is the label “Millennials” to describe a group of people ranging in age from 18 to 30. Seriously?
Still, I have to break through a personal barrier of fear writing this, because of my horror at you maybe thinking I’m that parent or grandparent wheezing “I had to walk 6 miles to school in the snow without shoes so listen to me because I know what you should do.” I don’t know what you should do—only you can discover that.
But I do know it feels really crappy to see people whose intelligence one respects possibly make a mistake one made oneself once. It’s like having learned a simple skill or trick and being excited to pass it on so others won’t have to learn it all over again in their lives. And that’s not just bullshit manipulation. It’s how civilization progresses.
So I’ve got to crash through my fear of your disapproval or dismissal, and write to you as frankly as I would to my contemporary adults.
By now you may suspect I want to lobby those of you who plan to vote for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson or Greens candidate Jill Stein, or who are considering not voting at all, because you became convinced there’s little or no difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Maybe, since the first debate, you’ve already changed your mind, though some Millennials apparently even feel compelled to vote for Trump on the grounds that things should get much worse because then “the people” will rise up in a revolution. I doubt anything I could say or write would convince those people to change their attitude, including reminding them that their strategy is identical to the one adopted by the German Communist Party as Hitler was coming to power: “Let it get worse!” How’d that work out?
So rather than presume to tell you what you should do, I’ll share some reasons why I’m doing what I’m doing. Full disclosure: this comes from a woman who learned her politics in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s and ’70s, a writer who’s been a social justice activist and feminist activist in particular for almost 50 years. (See how hard not wanting to sound like a geezer is? Damn. Sorry.)
Anyway. Everyone knows the spoiler argument—how Nader helped get us Bush instead of Gore, when, surprise! it turned out there was a lot of difference between Bush and Gore. I’m having a deja-vu Groundhog Day-dread right now.
Jill Stein, while denying she’s a spoiler who might help elect Trump, is at least honest enough to say, in an interview with Politico’s Glen Thrush, “The point is not necessarily to win, but to begin building our power.” Wait. We should risk a Trump presidency so any political party can begin building power? Really? What makes her think there’ll be much of a country or world left after a Trump presidency in which to build anything? In the same interview, Stein disses Bernie Sanders for having endorsed Hillary, saying, “I’ve tried to talk with Bernie, but, you know, he’s been in Washington too long,” and later, same interview, says, “Trump, I think, will have a lot of trouble moving things through Congress. Hillary, on the other hand, won’t. So, you could say that Hillary has the potential to do a whole lot more damage.” This, in one breath, concedes that Hillary would actually be more effective, while ignoring a Mariana-Trench-size chasm of policy differences between Clinton and Trump.
I’m concerned about other aspects of Stein’s candidacy. There’s her ambivalence about vaccination and statements about “the dangers of Wi-Fi waves”—and she’s a scientist who should know better! Her economic plans have been ridiculed even by leftist economists. Her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, has called President Obama an “Uncle Tom,” claims Bernie “supports empire building,” and has been known to hang with conspiracy theorists and Holocaust deniers. Stein applauded the Brexit vote—until the UK Green Party went ballistic and educated her; then she changed her position and tried to delete her previous stance, displaying an apparent naïveté about erasing anything once it’s online. About immigration, her answer is, “Abolish all national borders.” (Ohhhhhhhkay, but that’s kinda more of a long-term aim, doncha’ think?) She said she agreed it’s time to elect a woman president––”But I want that president to reflect the values of being a mother.” When an avalanche of furious tweets lambasted her for discriminating against women who aren’t mothers, or aren’t mothers yet, or never intend to be mothers, she said she hadn’t meant mothers, she meant warmongers. Wha’?
Simplistic infatuation with abstractions, however idealistic, no longer moves me—though I once agreed with the cry “Level everything, then we’ll talk politics.” That, selfishly, made us wannabe revolutionaries feel great about ourselves, but did nothing to further the change we passionately desired. Secretly, we suspected as much, yet we were ready to die for the cause. It’s harder to live for it.
So let’s look at the Libertarian ticket. Let’s mercifully leave aside whether it was ignorance or a brain freeze when Gary Johnson couldn’t identify what Aleppo was. Johnson’s an affable guy, a cheerfully frank pothead who’s against the Supreme Court Citizens United decision—as is Hillary—but he’s no alternative for progressives or liberals (or radicals). He was for a revenue-neutral carbon tax to combat climate change––but then totally reversed himself. He claims to be supportive of the Black Lives Matter Movement but look closer and you find he’s against affirmative action. He’s “pro-Second Amendment” (meaning . . .?); he’s against the death penalty in practice but says that politically he’s for it (I don’t even know what that contorted position means, except that it’s expedient). His vice presidential candidate, Bill Weld, is reported to be seriously considering leaving the ticket out of concern that running will help Trump prevail. But unlike Stein, Johnson believes he can win—a belief that might have more to do with his being happily stoned than with reality.
Reality, in this case, is a binary: Hillary vs. Trump.
But what if I were to decide that voting for my principles was more important than what would happen to the country, and in ripple effect, the world? What if I convinced myself it wouldn’t be so bad, and one vote makes no difference anyway, and whatever Trump does won’t affect me directly, after all, right?
Well then, when Trump wins, I, as a Millennial voter drowning in college debt, could wave goodbye to the Sanders-Clinton plan that would have rescued me. If I were a Millennial woman planning on a career in business, I’d say goodbye to that, since Trump’s own words reinstitute glass ceilings, ranging from his chuckling that a woman’s place in the boardroom–on her knees—would be such a pretty sight, to pregnancy being an “inconvenience for business.” If I were a woman in the military or considering a career there, goodbye to that: Trump doesn’t think women belong in the military, except as typists and nurses, and has even blamed victims for having been sexually harassed and assaulted: “What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?”
What if I found myself with an unwanted pregnancy? Trump believes that Roe v Wade should be overturned and individual states allowed to outlaw abortion outright; he’s said women should be punished, even imprisoned, for having had abortions (though his campaign tried to maneuver that one backward), and has pledged to protect the Hyde Amendment that prohibits Medicaid funding to poor women for abortions. If, as a Millennial woman, I believed in my right to control my body and reproductive life, I’d get pretty anxious, since the next president will make at least one and probably three lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court.
If my primary issue as a Millennial voter was climate change, then I would have to face responsibility for the toxic fall-out from my third-party vote or non-vote. Checking the box for Libertarian or Green as an act of virtue might make me feel righteous, but will in fact harm the planet by throwing the election to a man who believes climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. Trump has already locked in a notorious oil executive to serve as his Secretary of the Interior: Forrest Lucas of Lucas Oil (an outspoken opponent of animal rights, to boot).
Meanwhile, Stephen Moore, a Trump adviser and senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, has said, “The left doesn’t really understand about executive orders. The next president can overturn them. We want to identify 25 executive orders that Trump could sign literally the first day in office.” Their targets for this First Day Project? Trump would renounce the Paris Agreement on greenhouse-gas emissions, re-start exploration of the Keystone pipeline, suspend the Syrian refugee program, direct the Commerce Department to bring trade cases against China, relax background checks on gun sales, and fulfill his promise on immigration: “Anyone who has entered the United States illegally will be subject to instant deportation.” As for foreign policy, between wall building and bromances with dictators, he’s found time to say stuff like: “To me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”
But what about his opponent? What about the wicked witch of the west?
Let’s say I, as a Millennial voter saturated by accusations about HRC’s dishonesty (despite contrary findings by PolitiFact and every other nonpartisan, independent fact-finding organization), and steeped in the relentless criticism and smears (from her having bad hairstyles to blaming her for Bill’s misdeeds to claiming she’s a lesbian murderer who should also “smile more”), let’s say I, as that Millennial voter, just don’t trust her. And let’s say I think sexism has nothing to do with creating my mistrust.
Well, the October issue of The Atlantic lists some of the Trump slogans and buttons: DON’T BE A PUSSY—VOTE FOR TRUMP. TRUMP 2016: FINALLY SOMEONE WITH BALLS. TRUMP THAT BITCH. HILLARY SUCKS BUT NOT LIKE MONICA. LIFE’S A BITCH: DON’T VOTE FOR ONE. KFC HILLARY SPECIAL—2 FAT THIGHS, 2 SMALL BREASTS, LEFT WING.
Goodbye to all that. There’s a human being under those pantsuits, who’s been punished over and over for being a public embodiment of the transitional woman. Feminists used to say, “We are becoming the men we wanted to marry”—and she did, has, and is. It’s taken time for her to grow into that, but she touched her capacities early.
Hillary—I call her Wonder Wonk—was the first student ever to address Wellesley’s commencement ceremony, by unanimous demand of the student body, because they knew she would speak with their voice. And she did (Commencement Remarks of Hillary D. Rodham, President of Wellesley College Government Association, Class of 1969). She might be a Millennial speaking today: “We are, all of us,… searching for a more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating mode of living . . . [for the] integrity, the courage to be whole, living in relation to one another in the full poetry of existence. Fear is always with us, but we just don’t have time for it.” She ended with the commitment “to practice, with all the skill of our being: the art of making the impossible possible.”
Back then she wore coke-bottle-thick glasses, frizzy hair, and bell-bottom jeans. Decades later, she reverted to her, ahem, “authenticity” when she put the glasses back on because 22 hours of continuous flying parches your eyes way too much for contacts, plus she often dropped makeup entirely and wore a plain ponytail and a Don’t Mess With Me I’m the Goddamned Secretary of State Trying to Save the Fucking World expression.
This was still that same woman who as “First Lady,” had defied the U.S. State Department and the Chinese Government at the 1995 UN World Conference on Women in Beijing (look below for the full, stunning speech, or read the full transcript here): “Women’s rights are human rights. Among those rights are the right to speak freely—and the right to be heard.”
This was the same woman who’d said, during Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, “You know, I’m not sitting here, some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette.” And: “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.”
Such attitudes—along with deciding to keep her own name, though later ground down by pressure to adopt his—are commonplace today, easily recognizable to young women who now have a sense of self. But back when she said those things, the villagers came at her with pitchforks.
“Some of Hillary’s biggest mistakes began as rather inconsequential errors in judgment and exaggerations. When they were seized on by her critics, Hillary followed—and continues to follow—the same pattern: She dug in because she feared that admitting a mistake would arm her enemies. Growing paranoid is easy when, because of your gender, people really are out to get you.” Two guys wrote that: former New York Times reporters Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr., both Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, in their book, Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Another guy (it gives a feminist hope!), Todd Purdham, wrote a fascinating piece about her enduring but hidden idealism and her bitterly learned need for privacy, even when counterproductive.
So sure, she’s made mistakes. D’uh. She’s been a public servant, and before that, a social justice activist, a long time—and a target all that time. But really. Do her forced or even unforced errors co-exist in the same dimension with what Donald Trump has said and done, and pledges to do?
Then there’s the woman thing.
Soon after Hillary became the nominee, the Pew Research Center reported that 60 percent of voters said it would be very or somewhat important historically for the country to elect a woman president. I agree—but it depends on the woman. HRC is no Carly Fiorina. This is the most qualified person to run for the presidency in the history of this country—and I’m quoting President Obama.
Yet white men form the largest bloc opposing her, largely due to what social psychologists call the “precarious manhood” theory—that while womanhood is typically viewed as natural and permanent, manhood must be “earned and maintained.” Because it’s winnable, it can also be lost. Scholars at the University of South Florida and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reported that when asked how someone might lose his manhood, college students rattled off social failures like “losing a job.” When asked how someone might lose her womanhood, they came up with physical changes: “a sex-change operation” or “having a hysterectomy.” Meanwhile, University of British Columbia found that women who “deviated from traditional gender roles—by occupying a ‘man’s’ job—were disproportionately targeted for sexual attack.”
This is relevant because Americans who dislike HRC most are those who most fear emasculation, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. And the candidate whose supporters were most likely to believe America is becoming feminized—”feminized” meaning health care and environmental concerns—was Trump. Or, as Obama put it recently, “There’s a reason why we haven’t had a woman president. As a society, we still grapple with what it means to see powerful women.” He attributed the closeness of the race to this. (By the way, if polls showed Trump way behind, there might be room for “strategic voting,” since a voter could indulge her/his ideals without fear of negative impact. But the race is terrifying close, so that’s not an option.)
But what if the “first woman president thing” matters little to me because as a Millennial voter I think I have lots of time and will see one during my life anyway? Maybe I might take a minute and think of my mother, and my aunt, and that teacher who changed my life in third grade, and even my grandmothers. (I confess I’m shamelessly trying to wring your heartstrings.)
But see, the truth is that they—we—don’t have plenty of time.
And here I’ll step out of imagining myself as a Millennial voter and speak for myself.
I don’t have to agree with every detail of what Hillary says and does, because real life’s not like that. And I’m voting for her not because she’s a woman—but because I am.
Those mothers and grandmothers are my generation. And I have the audacity to speak for them, saying proudly:
We are the women who brought this country equal credit, better pay, affirmative action, the concept of a family-focused workplace; the women who established rape-crisis centers and battery shelters, marital-rape and date-rape laws; the women who fought for lesbian custody rights, and for prison reform; who founded the peace and environmental movements, insisted that medical research include female anatomy, inspired men to become more nurturing parents, created women’s studies, and pushed through Title IX so today we all can cheer the medal-sweeping US women Olympians at Rio. We are the women who reclaimed sexuality from violent pornography, who challenged prostitution’s being “just another job,” who put childcare on the national agenda, who tackled ageism even before we needed to, who transformed demographics, visual arts, music, film, literature, language itself. We are the proud successors of women who fought for a century to win us the vote. We are the women who forged a worldwide movement. We are the women who changed the reality of the United States—and the world.
We are also the Republican women who battled against the takeover of their party by fanatics and the religious right, who are now defiantly backing the one person who can stop Donald Trump. And we are Hillary Diane Rodham, who is one of our own.
Dear Millennial voter, we are, in fact, your imperfect mothers and grandmothers and third grade teachers who right this minute across this country are running phone banks and making calls and stuffing envelopes and staffing storefronts and ringing doorbells and registering voters and making get-out-the-vote lists and arguing with husbands and neighbors and sometimes with you.
We know that you’ll have to live with the results of this election longer than we will.
And we know that the only thing standing between authoritarianism and us is a small, nerdy, workaholic woman with a bawdy laugh. She’s not perfect, either. But she is a serious, superbly qualified, highly intelligent, deeply informed, uniquely experienced, practical idealist—who’s a badass when she needs to be. Plus she speaks in coherent sentences, which is helpful.
This is no time for terminal purity, strategic-voting delusions, or opting out.
Everything you really care about is on the ballot, dear Millennial voter—from Charlotte and Flint to sustainable energy, from corporate wrongs to reproductive rights, from stopping rape to starting sane immigration law reform, from lowering gun sales to raising the minimum wage, from Middle East crises to Midwest droughts.
The small blue marble we all cluster on and cling to—it’s on the ballot. The planet needs your vote.
With respect and in hope,