Eira Tansey

Posts Tagged ‘politics’

The long game of slow violence

The other night I did the one thing before bed you are DEFINITELY NOT SUPPOSED TO DO which was to watch a terrifying news clip:

I had been off the grid a couple weeks ago when the original editorial ran in the Washington Post. The News Hour guest and editorial writer is a Department of Interior employee named Joel Clement, who was working at a high level with Alaskan Native villages on adaptation issues, and was reassigned by his supervisors to an office that collected oil and gas royalties. He believes this was retaliation against his climate adaptation work, and filed whistleblower complaints. The PBS News Hour reporter asked Clement what we were all thinking: “Don’t you think it’s a little ironic you’re now in an office receiving fossil fuel payments when your previous work was exacerbated by the use of fossil fuels in the first place?”

One of the major things that has always horrified me in addition to the unfettered racism, misogyny, bigotry, and incompetence of Donald Trump, was that I do not trust this man to protect the safety of the people who live here on the most minimal public safety measures. One of the examples I pointed to was Trump’s castigation of fire department officials for enforcing fire safety limits at his rallies. A man that would disregard the safety of his own supporters by trying to bully his way out of fire safety codes was the clearest sign to me that this guy transgressed all normal definitions of sinister, that he was a fucking madman, that the potential body count of Americans on his watch – even those on his side – did not factor in to his outlook.

From disregarding fire safety codes – one of the most important public health measures that keep people alive – it’s not a far leap to shrugging off loss of health care for millions of Americans – another public health measure that keeps people alive. Millions losing their health care would result in many preventable deaths. We know this. Everyone knows this. Stop pretending anyone doesn’t understand this. Anyone who claims cuts to healthcare won’t result in thousands of preventable deaths is getting a paycheck that would frame a GoFundMe for chemo as the ultimate expression of liberty. Today we’re at the point where knowingly putting one’s supporters into a position where they may die is the standard operating principle not just of Donald Trump, but the entire Republican Party.

Republican leadership and Trump can claim until they’re blue in the face that of course they don’t want people to die, and basically folks, you know the drill from here: what terribly offensive liberal paranoia! How dare you claim that the Republican Party is seemingly okay with letting folks die in the streets, this is just more evidence that leftists are the real fascists! This is where looking at the concept of slow violence is critical. Slow violence means reconceiving of the speed at which violence is inflicted, particularly violence that may not register right away or is less visible than, say, a terrorist attack. In the words of author Rob Nixon:

We are accustomed to conceiving violence as immediate and explosive, erupting into instant, concentrated visibility. But we need to revisit our assumptions and consider the relative invisibility of slow violence. I mean a violence that is neither spectacular nor instantaneous but instead incremental, whose calamitous repercussions are postponed for years or decades or centuries. I want, then, to complicate conventional perceptions of violence as a highly visible act that is newsworthy because it is focused around an event, bounded by time, and aimed at a specific body or bodies. Emphasizing the temporal dispersion of slow violence can change the way we perceive and respond to a variety of social crises, like domestic abuse or post-traumatic stress, but it is particularly pertinent to the strategic challenges of environmental calamities.

So sure, if the GOP ultimately succeeds in repealing the ACA, bodies won’t be dropping in the streets overnight. But by associating violence with the short-term and the visible, we let those who would let people die in the long-term disassociate themselves from any form of violence and long-term accountability. And here is the problem: these assholes are really fucking good at playing the long game.

Where playing the long game with slow violence gets really scary, like, planetary-millenia level scary, is climate change. To state the facts in case anyone has missed Al Gore 1.0 or 2.0, climate change is real, climate change is primarily caused by consumption of fossil fuels, climate change is already wreaking havoc on plant and animal systems and the people who depend on these resources, and the folks who have contributed the least emissions historically speaking are the ones poised to suffer the most. Slow violence is sort of the defining experience of climate change – if you’re honest with yourself, the warning signs are everywhere around you, particularly if you live near a pole or near a coast. But because there isn’t a stark “before” and “after” timeline, climate change manifests itself as a slow violence, aided and abetted by those who benefit from fossil fuel extraction.

Upton Sinclair once said “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” And of course, this is the only logical explanation for why the right-wing is committed to not just inaction on climate change, but doubling down on fossil fuel extraction and shifting from denial of climate change’s human basis to handwaving away the effects under the guise of “well, if it’s really happening, we’ll figure it out! Or build a colony on another planet!”

For those of you who aren’t up on your climate change policy definitions, what you’ll often hear are two words – mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation is about reducing the use of fossil fuels, adaptation is about building infrastructure and creating policy to help people deal with the inevitable effects of climate change – a certain level of environmental disruption which is already assured, even if we dramatically reduced our fossil fuel consumption immediately. For many people – myself included – these aren’t two opposing paths but joint paths we need to quickly make progress on.

When Trump took office, I was prepared for and expecting that he would go after mitigation efforts – especially the Obama administration Clean Power Plan and Waters rule, and the Paris Agreement. Capitalists gonna capitalist, and these fuckers worship money more than they value the survival of their children. However, I must admit I was not really prepared for the idea that adaptation efforts are now a target. Adaptation efforts don’t really register in the national conversations the brainwashed GOP has on climate change – because how can you adapt to something if you deny the problem’s existence in the first place?

Recall that one of the major objections of the Republican Party to the Paris Agreement was their opposition to contributing money to international adaptation efforts – money that would assist Pacific Island nations who are quite literally threatened by drowning. They are open and upfront about this, as you can see from this Heritage Foundation quote:

One step that Congress should take is to refuse to authorize or appropriate any funds to implement the Agreement, including the tens of billions of American taxpayer dollars in adaptation funding to which the U.S. will commit itself annually.

On the domestic front, a major thing adaptation efforts have going for them is the requirement of serious infrastructure upgrades. Ah, infrastructure! One of those things that always sounds good on paper, but no Republican can seem to find the moral courage to actually fund. Infrastructure is like cute babies, extremely useful during campaign season, but coming in with a lifetime budget for care that no one really wants to fund 100%. Add to the fact that many of the US communities on the frontlines of climate change are Native communities, and this becomes not just a matter of budgetary kicking the can down the road, but yet another example of blatant environmental racism.

Right now, domestic climate change adaptation efforts across the federal government are fragmented, and unlike many European countries, the US does not have a national adaptation strategy (and even before Trump was elected, the federal government admitted it was unable to support total relocation of endangered communities). Much of this is because so much responsibility for planning and infrastructure decisions are at the state and local levels. But a lot of it is because no one really forced the federal government to think about what adaptation efforts should look like until the Obama administration required every federal agency to incorporate adaptation efforts into their climate change response plans – requirements which Trump’s administration has begun to rollback (Text of Trump’s EO here).

When I watched that clip above, I realized that this administration’s indifference to climate change isn’t just surface-level, it isn’t just photo ops exploiting coal miners as we pull out of the Paris agreement, it isn’t just denial that allows the Republican Party leadership to keep chowing down at the fossil fuel capitalism trough, and it isn’t just attacks on Pacific Island nations’ adaptation efforts. It goes very, very, disturbingly and systematically deep to parts of our government the vast majority of us – even people tuned in to climate change policy – can’t comprehend.

To attack domestic adaptation efforts transcends even the normal expectations one would have of American capitalist climate change denialism. One can see how adaptation can actually be embraced fairly cynically to serve fossil fuel interests – “well, maybe the sea will rise, but we don’t have to reduce our extraction as long as we build a giant sea wall one day!”

Instead, attacking adaptation efforts is from the same slow violence playbook as attacking people’s healthcare: we know that this will result in deaths. And the Republican Party is going down this path anyway, fully aware of the consequences, not giving a damn. The long game of slow violence may teach discipline and persistence, but it is based in the purest forms of evil ever wrought upon the world.

Citizenship for our sanity and safety, Part 1

During college, I spent a semester abroad in Britain, attending the University of Sheffield, and living in an old house full of students from England and Wales. I was the only American, and it was in 2006, when the Bush administration followed every American abroad with an embarrassing shadow. I will forever be grateful for my time in Sheffield, for the many things I learned inside and outside the classroom. Perhaps one of the most curious things that living for several months in Britain taught me was a new appreciation for America and my American citizenship, something that was often hard to feel in the throes of the Bush administration’s “You’re either with us or against us” calumny that denied the creative imagination that patriotism could be about love for something that can never be tried in a court of law or legislated away. Being the proxy for endless questions about the insanity of the Bush administration during my time abroad helped me discover that my patriotism is a deep and abiding love for the diverse peoples of America, the food of America, the music of America.

I am still in Facebook contact with a handful of my old housemates. When Brexit came down the pike, many of them were devastated, because their work and career plans were dependent on the assumption of continuing close ties with the EU. It was awful and I felt helpless to watch their reactions online. Several months later, it was my turn. I asked a friend of mine who works for the Guardian if he could give any post-Brexit advice for us terrified Americans, and he said he was hoping we wouldn’t screw up our election. Well, fuck.

Last year, two major cases went to the Supreme Court that made me realize how quickly I felt like my rights were being held hostage above a massive federal abyss: the Friedrichs case and the Whole Women’s Health case. This was also happening against the backdrop of the death of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. The former could have potentially gutted public sector unions across the country. The latter would have been yet another blow against abortion rights by legitimizing the shenanigans of the Texas state legislature.

As someone who has been committed to abortion access since I was a teenager, and as a public sector union member, these cases terrified the shit out of me. It felt like my rights were hanging on by the thinnest of threads, and the truth is… they were. They still are. They probably will be for as long as I inhabit my female body and live in a society in which the presence of capitalism is so ever present it becomes invisible. I was able to catch my breath when Friedrichs tied the court, and the Whole Women’s Health case was decisively reversed, but those feelings have always felt like temporary victories rather than long-term assurances, even when I had hope that Clinton would win (for the record, I thought she would win, but if she did, it would be by the slimmest of margins – which I guess is a kinda sorta true, but painfully absurd, version of how it played out).

I have been trying for weeks to write follow-ups to my immediate post-election post, and I have several half-finished drafts waiting in the wings. Indeed, I think it’s safe to say the majority of the US, if not the world, now has their own version of standing at the edge of the abyss, wondering how far and how devastating the drop will be.

The thing that concerns me above everything else about this new administration is I do not, for one second, trust the new President to protect us from threats foreign and domestic. We know at some point a terrible tragedy will take place during Trump’s administration. If it lasts as long as 4 years, we’ll likely have several. It could be something predictable that the United States seems desperately in denial about ever doing anything about, such as a school shooting with a gun that was more easy to obtain than healthcare, or a devastating hurricane that breaches infrastructure we have deferred maintenance on for far too long because billionaires have more right to shelter their income than pay their fair share to public works. Or the tragedy may take the form of something that will be used as an excuse to erode our civil liberties even further under the guise of protection. We only have to look at the many ways the language of patriotism was coopted by the Bush administration in the wake of 9/11 to justify erosion of American civil liberties.

Even in the total absence of any tragedies, we know going forward over the next 4 years that the onslaught on the rights and liberties of those who call America home will be relentless. Before inauguration day, the GOP signaled that they will not take seriously the safety and security of the American people, by setting the stage to repeal the ACA before an adequate replacement has been shown to the public, and by supporting the nomination of a man who is grossly unfamiliar with the dangers of lead contamination. These are just two examples of dozens, but let’s be clear: these examples alone have the potential to gravely affect the health and mortality of millions of American women, men, and children.

Perhaps the most noxious preview we received of how little the new administration gives a shit about basic safety was the under-discussed example of Trump whining about fire code requirements and disgracefully calling into question the competence of fire safety officials that restricted attendance at his rallies because of safety codes. Building safety code requirements only exist because of tragedies in which far too many people have died needless deaths. At the time, many people laughed about Trump just whining because that’s what he does, right? For me, knowing my Cincinnati-area history of local fire and crowd control tragedies, it sent a chill down my spine. That Trump would compromise even the safety of his own supporters during a rally says everything about his regard for the safety and security of the rest of the American public he is now charged to protect.

Tons of people since 11/8 have written numerous guides about how to fight back, how to resist, how to continue fighting against the enormous odds. These are good resources, and I recommend that every patriotic American take inspiration and more importantly, action from these resources. I will continue to do all of these things as well. I also want us to be real: no adults are left in the building who are coming to save us. The Democratic party will not save us, Silicon Valley won’t save us, universities won’t save us. If we’re lucky, local and state governments will do what they can, but even this remains to be seen. We have to rely on ourselves to be patriotic citizens that protect each other from whatever comes that almost no elected leaders or public figures have shown the courage to do so far.

Swing State Voter Report: Some warmed-over hot takes

In recent days, there have been a spate of broadcasts and articles on “here is what historical precedent/constitutional law/the Magic-8 ball on my desk tells us about what to expect from a Trump presidency.” I understand this, and for a minute I was consuming this media as desperately as I refreshed 538 through the campaign. But the problem is we are in truly uncharted territory, where the historical past can only tell us so much about what to expect from the future.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about how we can learn from the Earth, and in particular, what Americans can learn from our relationship with the American landscape. And I had a pretty epic realization the other day, the kind that immediately made me look for the beer with the highest ABV in the fridge: Donald Trump is a lot like climate change itself. Historical data only gives us a baseline to measure how radical things are getting, but it can no longer provide us accurate predictions of the future because what has taken place is so unprecedented. This is why flood insurance maps/flood predictions get so politicized – they are based on historical flooding data, but historical data is no longer predictive of a world with a 2C temperature increase. But regardless of how unthinkable and terrible Trump and climate change is, this is really happening, and as things get underway, it seems to have a scary effect of accelerating things faster than we thought. We can predict things will be bad, but the timing of when shit will hit the fan and how bad it will be, or if we’ll only actually realize it hit the fan in retrospect, is part of what makes all of this so gut-wrenching.

I have a lot of thoughts about the many directions of fallout from this election. I don’t think I’m going to do a good job of unpacking all of them in one go, but here are my hot takes on everyone else’s hot takes, and I won’t even make you pay a subscription for my blog (but I always welcome a beer next time you see me if you like what I write).

First, a quick word on hot takes in general: A diagnosis is not a cure. A diagnosis is not a cure. A DIAGNOSIS IS NOT A CURE. Right now, I’m seeing too many postmortems and not enough “…and here’s how we win elections again and fight like hell in the mean time.”  I don’t know about y’all, but nihilism is not a solution (and it sure as hell ain’t a cure). In fact, I strongly believe nihilism is one of the most weaponized forms of oppression that people internalize far too much. Fuck nihilism, do whatever you need to do to be rested and ready for the road ahead. I’ll be back with more writing in the coming weeks.

Back to the title of this post:

How I’m Handling Existence At The Moment:

I don’t think it’s an accident that the vast majority of people who were checking in on me within the first couple of days after the election were women. Women know how to do emotional labor, and lord did the women in my life deliver it over and over as soon as it became clear what was going on. It really sucked to go from feeling like I was serving democracy by working the polls on Election Day (I definitely now feel entitled to my strong opinions about how elections are administered), to taking the express rocket into the post-election hell mouth. For the first 36 hours or so after the results I was dealing with physical symptoms of something (panic? shock? not totally sure but my blood literally felt cold and I felt like the skin on the back of my arms was going to peel off). I also had to drive up to Pittsburgh the morning after the election for a conference, and mostly made it there safely thanks to distracting podcasts and a long phone call with my best friend.

For friends and colleagues who reached out to me: thank you, thank you, thank you.

Why are we obsessed about the white working class and not the white McMansion suburbanites?

Ask yourself why coastal media outlets are so obsessed with profiling the poor white people who voted for Trump and not the similar numbers of middle- and upper-class white people who did the same. I have some theories, they involve two things: 1. White people acting like a six-figure salary and a college-degree makes them immune from racism and related dubious-political choices, 2. These same media outlets don’t want to piss off their subscriber base.

A word for those who want this election to be permission to write off the Midwest and South forever: you’re telling me that women, people of color, and LGBTQ folks who live in the middle of the country don’t matter.

You want some progress from flyover country? Send the folks in the South and the Midwest who are DOING. THE. DAMN. WORK. some help, money, or prayers, or STFU. I really, really, really need the national Democratic party leadership to not abandon the Midwest right now, because my reproductive rights will literally depend on it the second Roe is overturned at the federal level and bullshit trigger laws start taking effect. I don’t want to have to get on an airplane if I ever need an abortion (something that is already a reality for a lot of women in this country).

Do you know how hard people in places like Texas and Ohio work on things like reproductive access? Harder than you can possibly imagine. We work our tails off because it’s not abstract, it’s not theoretical, it’s very, very real. I’ve been a part of a supporters’ group affiliated with Planned Parenthood for a couple of years now, and people who do not spend time in this area have not a damn clue how bad things already have been for years now.

I don’t need condescension right now from Midwest ex-pats who live in coastal areas that say things like “Ugh, I’m so glad I don’t live there anymore.” I don’t need people to engage in narratives that erase the diversity of the Midwest by trying to say we’re all homogeneous and parochial white people. I REALLY don’t need bullshit secession fantasies

For those of us fighting the good fight right here at home, we need your money, we need your organizing strategies, and if you’ve ever thought about moving, or boomeranging back, to the Midwest, I can’t think of a better time to come here and help us. We need all the help we can get. And assuming we don’t all perish first in nuclear war, you know you’re going to want to be in a state that has access to some of the best freshwater sources on Earth when climate change really fucks things up.

Where are the geographers? 

I really need some good, county-by-county breakdown on WTF happened in Midwestern counties that went Obama-Obama-Trump by the political geographers out there. I’ve read probably a dozen theories by now, but much of it is highly speculative (as well as lazy, uncritical, and self-serving), and there has been precious little comparison of in-migration/out-migration demographics (i.e., did the eligible voter population change in the last 4 years in a way that favored Trump), how voter restrictions might have affected the populations in those particular areas, how gerrymandered legislative districts might have affected turnout for the national ticket, etc etc.

Because I haven’t seen any articles from anyone who seems to know what the hell they’re talking about when it comes to Ohio political geographic analysis, I went and looked at the counties that Democrats have carried in the last several elections (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, disclaimer: I have not verified wikipedia’s sourcing of county return data against official state elections sources). While this is very quick and dirty, non-scientific, non-rigorous analysis, here is what I found. Basically from 2000-2012, Dems consistently carried an average of 17 counties per general election – in other words, most of these were reliable Democratic counties that we won despite whether it was Bush or Obama who won the White House. This year? We only got 7 counties (out of 88). I wish a political geographer would dig into this, but this is why I am losing my goddamn mind lately about the state of the state party.

We have been asking too many “why” questions during this election. In my opinion, going forward, we need to be asking more questions that start with “where.” The where matters, because as we all learned the hard way, a national election is not won by “how many votes did someone get?”, it’s won by “where are the states that deliver us 270 electoral votes.” I think the electoral college is horse shit as much as the next lefty, but until that changes, we need a geographic analysis for every single aspect of our organizing. We need to start asking questions like, “where are the counties that we can flip back from Trump? where are the precincts that suffered the most disenfranchisement, and how do we prioritize those precincts for voter registration the next election? where are the most brazenly gerrymandered districts? where are the union halls that we need to make sure the candidate actually shows up to visit if they give a damn about winning labor’s vote?”

The GOP has been building their party up for 40 years and we were asleep at the wheel

We have so much ground to make up because of breathtakingly incompetent leadership who walked away from the 50 State Strategy to concentrate on easy wins or galas or whatever else makes the Democratic leadership confuse schmoozing donors for actual organizing. Meanwhile, not only was the GOP doubling down on the Gospel of the 1%, they rarely left a contest uncontested, turned gerrymandering up to 11 following the 2008 election, all while marinating in decades worth of propaganda from Lee Atwater to Jerry Falwell to Karl Rove.

Maybe the Democrats haven’t completely lost their moral compass, but I sure as hell wish we’d figured out how to win more races in the meantime. Because right now the GOP has an unbelievable lock on both state and federal governance.

Right here in Ohio, we have a habit of throwing promising leaders, who are often young, under the bus. We did it a few years ago. Then the Party came back for more humble pie  this year, outdoing itself by cutting down P.G. Sittenfeld in order to back a candidate who had a compelling millennial outreach strategy that involved telling his younger opponent that politics isn’t like playing Little League. Meanwhile, the “it’s their turn” establishment Democrats get their asses kicked at election-time, and people freak out about who the next generation of leaders will be. Sound familiar?

No matter where they are in life, people feel like their vote doesn’t matter and that’s a problem

Look, I tried to warn y’all about this idea that voting is an individual act of conscience, and how dangerous this ideology is, especially when it comes to turning out the vote. And what’s happened is because we keep acting like voting is this individual declaration of intent or some personal branding signal, then of course when you’re on the losing side, it’s going to feel like your vote didn’t matter.

Some of you may know that I did some voter registration and canvassing for Clinton in the area near where I live. I also served as a poll worker on election day. The areas I canvassed for the Clinton campaign were mostly low-income neighborhoods, and the residents are predominantly people of color. One day when I was doing voter registration, a young black man told me he doesn’t vote because he doesn’t believe it matters. The area where I served as a poll worker was in an area that was middle to upper-class, with predominantly white residents. During my very long day checking people in to the voter registration book and issuing ballots, some older white people also grumbled and said “None of this matters anyway, our votes won’t count.”So folks, this is where we’re at: no matter where they’re at in life, tons of people in my own corner of Ohio feel like their vote doesn’t matter. This is true across the country.  How do we get people to recognize that their vote does matter, at least in the herd immunity position I’ve argued from? Do we highlight stories where razor-thin margins show just how much one’s vote counts? We have these stories in abundance from local and state elections. Again, I feel like the focus on the top of the ticket has really hurt politics overall – of course in a national election, your vote has less “weight” simply because of volume. On the other hand, local elections mean your vote has much greater weight.

When my husband and I were encountering friends during this election season who simply couldn’t be convinced to turn out for Clinton, we at least implored them to still show up to vote, and vote for the down-ballot tickets. But this is never a message that official get out the vote machinery will say – it starts with “Vote for (Presidential Candidate) and oh, also, by the way, for these down ballot issues and candidates”. I suspect people’s brains click off after they decide “well I’m not voting for the President, so why bother showing up at all?” This would have to be confirmed by comparing overall turnout numbers with how many people voted a blank race at the top of the ticket. I hope someone does it.

Either way: even though this election has global implications that I fear will reverberate for decades, nothing has brought home for me how much local politics matters than this one. And that’s where I plan to put an enormous amount of my work in over the coming years.

Swing state voter report: Voting for herd immunity

As America’s longest presidential election finally gets underway (particularly in the 34 states that have early voting), and as a voter in the great swing state of Ohio, I have started to think that the best metaphor for voting in this election is that of the social responsibility of mass vaccination. In order to be clear about my personal views, I believe this election is between an experienced politician with profound shortcomings [1], but who fundamentally understands the three branches of government, the interrelationships between local, state, and federal governance, and what the Constitution does and does not allow a President to do. In contrast, her opponent is a man who has never been elected to public office before, or ever served in any civilian or military public service, who exploits frightening bigotry, and who has shown very little understanding of the functions of governance or the Constitution.[2]

During this election cycle, and particularly in Ohio, there has been a lot of grumbling along the lines of “Both candidates are terrible, so I am going to stay home or vote third-party, because neither one reflects my views.” I am distressed by this idea, because it suggests that voting is a personal act, or a personal expression of one’s views. From where I stand, we need to think of voting as a collective action, because it is not an individual act for which one reaps individually allocated benefits or drawbacks (note: this may have been different during Gilded Age machine politics when you could literally get paid for voting for a particular candidate or party). And like any collective action, whether it’s union membership approving a new contract, or an activist group deciding strategies for protest, there is inevitably an evaluation that comes down to: “this contract or action is not going to meet the needs of everyone, but do we think the larger gains that could be realized outweigh the parts that we have discomfort with?”

In the 2016 general election, a terrifying amount is on the line.[3] We have now gone over 8 months without any visible movement towards confirming a new Supreme Court justice, leaving the court with only 8 members. Of the current membership, three of the members are currently over the age of 75 (Kennedy, Breyer and Ginsburg), which means that the chances are pretty good that a second, or even third court vacancy will occur during the next presidential term. Few decisions at the federal level have the potential to shape the American experience more than what comes out of the Supreme Court – Plessy v. Ferguson, which institutionalized racial discrimination, was the law of the land for 58 years before being overturned by Brown v. Board of Education. And this is precisely why the top brass of the GOP keeps gritting their teeth and has taken only the feeblest steps to publicly disavow Trump – because they know that if they are able to control the Supreme Court membership, this is likely their last chance to embed right-wing values into the country’s long-term legal infrastructure, even as the rest of the country is in the midst of a massive political realignment.

To return to my original metaphor – voting is best thought of as not a personal expression of your values, but as a collective action you take on behalf of a larger group. And I think an apt comparison is that of mass vaccination.[4]

Mass vaccination has been one of the most breathtakingly successful ways in which we’ve reduced devastating disease and illnesses that used to routinely strike fear into populations – even within well-developed countries like the US (if you’re young and have never asked an older person what it was like before the polio vaccine – ask. You’ll probably hear some heartbreaking stories about kids they knew who were paralyzed or died). Mass vaccination works because of what is known as herd immunity. In any given population, there are members of the population who cannot receive vaccines, because they may be immunocompromised, or have a potentially deadly allergic reaction to the vaccine ingredients. Therefore, they rely on the rest of us to close off potential entry points for the disease to get into the population. When diseases that were long-thought eradicated pop back up, it’s often because vaccination levels have dropped below a certain threshold. This is dangerous not only for those who could be vaccinated but were not, but especially for those who cannot get vaccinated at all.

Part of the problem with those who decide not to vaccinate against all the advice of the medical and public health communities is that they view this as a personal choice, and not a critical thing they must do for the benefit and health of all. Those who choose not to vaccinate for personal reasons (anti-vaxxers) because of a perceived risk of vaccination are not entirely wrong – any vaccination does have a non-zero risk of side effects. However, the benefits (individually and collectively) of participating in mass vaccination is so overwhelming compared to the risks, that when an increasing number of people prioritize the infinitesimal unlikely personal risk over the overwhelmingly certain public benefit, everyone suffers.

As long as herd immunity thresholds are high enough, anti-vaxxers effectively become free riders. They get to have their cake (benefit from herd immunity) and eat it too (continue to indulge their personal beliefs about vaccination risks). It’s here that I see the most parallels to those who would rather sit this election out, or cast a vote for a third-party candidate, than to grit their teeth and vote for Hillary Clinton.

Like a single vote, a single vaccination is not sufficient to protect one against illness – a disease may mutate and still infect you, or the vaccine may only cover the most common strains of a disease, or you may experience side effects of immunization. However, you incur a major risk by choosing not to vaccinate: you’re rolling the dice that your participation is so marginal that it won’t affect herd immunity, and that the risks of your actions won’t bring about something far worse than you could have imagined, particularly for those who cannot receive a vaccination because of medical reasons.

Let’s look first at the effects of individual actions on a collective decision, because that’s effectively what both vaccination and voting are. If a certain number of people don’t get vaccinated, the herd immunity drops below a certain threshold, and a disease can re-enter the population. Likewise, if enough people don’t vote for a candidate, another candidate will win. And unless you live somewhere with instant runoff voting or alternative voting mechanisms, it’s generally going to be the candidate who is “first past the post.”

Now let’s take a look at some of Ohio’s recent 4-way polls:

Ohio 2016 GE polling

According to my back of the envelope calculations, the combined Johnson and Stein margins are anywhere from 1.4 times (the Baldwin Wallace poll) to 13 times (the NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll) the margin of difference between Trump and Clinton. This means that if even a small number of third-party voters switched their allegiance to Clinton, it would make her election far more of a sure thing than the extremely tight race depicted above. By choosing to stick with third-party candidates, these voters are effectively withholding a contribution to the only collective action that can prevent a Donald Trump presidency – a vote for Hillary Clinton. Until we have an alternative voting method like instant-runoff voting or proportional voting, a third-party vote, especially in an extremely competitive state like Ohio, is an individual contribution to a collective action that signals “I am OK with the possibility of a Trump presidency.”

Let’s return to the second set of risks when you choose to sit out voting for president, or voting third-party: that the risks of your actions won’t bring about something far worse than you could have imagined. As outlined above, I assume that those voting third-party or sitting this out are indicating by their actions that “both sides are as bad as the other” and that therefore, they truly believe the actual presidencies of each candidate would be indistinguishable. Going back to the vaccination metaphor and herd immunity (which protects those who cannot be immunized), what does this mean for those who cannot vote?

In the American electorate, there are three large populations that are disenfranchised from voting in federal elections. These include children, non-US citizens, and depending on the state, those currently incarcerated or with a felony conviction. Since childhood is a much more straightforward trajectory than citizenship or carceral status, this is why some political scientists distinguish between voting-age population and voting-eligible population.

Many voters in the 2016 general election appear to have become so disgusted by the idea of “voting for two terrible candidates” or “always having to vote for the lesser of two evils” that they plan to vote third-party, or forego voting altogether to register their dissatisfaction. But if we accept the reality that only one of two candidates (Clinton or Trump) will win the election on November 8, we have a moral imperative to select for the least amount of harm for the greatest number of people. I firmly believe that a Trump presidency would be far more devastating for those who are shut out of voting, and therefore the only moral choice is to set aside my political differences with Clinton and vote for her.

Let’s look at this through the lens of climate change. Children have no voice in this election, and yet the actions that the United States takes – or doesn’t take – on climate change in the next few years could make the difference between a grim but adaptable future, and complete horror. These changes are already taking place, and will only accelerate by the time today’s children become part of the voting-eligible population and can legally vote their intent. Until then, we have a moral obligation to ensure that one of only two possible scenarios (Clinton or Trump) is the one that will inflict less damage than the other alternative. Clinton is nowhere near as visionary as she should be on climate change, however she accepts that it is a reality the US must address in cooperation with the rest of the world. Trump, on the other hand, believes that it is a fiction. Which viewpoint has the greater danger of harm for those who cannot currently cast their own vote?

If you truly cannot abide the idea of a Trump presidency, if the idea of Trump governing the United States fills you with horror, then there is only one rational choice you can make if you have voting rights: to vote for Hillary Clinton. Because if you can’t countenance a Trump presidency but you rely on other people to cast the ballot for Clinton you somehow aren’t willing to commit yourself to, you are contributing to a free rider problem: you want to vote your conscience, and let other people do the work of making sure Trump gets nowhere near the levers of power. Which then begs the question: how can you be sure that there aren’t too many others operating on the same mindset as yourself, which could then give Trump the number of votes he needs to be first past the post? Like anti-vaxxers who suddenly find their own children getting measles because too many other parents made the choice not to contribute to herd immunity, those who sit out or cast a third-party vote while fearing a Trump presidency are putting their own interests over the collective good of all.

Perhaps as a voter, you truly believe both a Clinton and Trump presidency would be equally reprehensible. You’re OK with either outcome. You’re willing to roll those dice. In that case, let me reframe the moral question as, “Who would you rather have as your political enemy?” In one of the smartest political commentaries I’ve yet seen on this totally appalling election, British writer Laurie Penny explored this exact question:

I do not expect a president of the United States —or any government leader, for that matter — to be radical. It is not capitulation to be realistic about what can be achieved at the ballot box in a modern democracy, particularly in a presidential election. It is not defeatist to understand that the very most you can hope for is to stop things getting worse as fast as they might otherwise have done. […]

A general election is about nothing more or less than choosing your enemy. Any government leader must be considered an enemy to those who believe in radical change. Hillary Clinton is not yet that enemy but by damn. I hope she gets to be. Hillary Clinton is the sort of enemy I’ve been dreaming of over ten years of political work. She’s the kind of enemy you can respect. I look forward to fighting her on her commitment to climate protection, on workers’ rights, on welfare, on foreign policy. Bring that shit on. That’s the sort of fight I relish. I want to argue over how the state can best serve the interests of women and minorities, not whether it should. That’s the sort of fight that makes me better. Four more years of fighting Donald Trump and his foaming acolytes would demean everyone involved.

My values are such that even though I disagree with Clinton on much, as a politician she is still playing by the same basic principles I expect from a President of the United States: to seek specialist knowledge from diverse experts, to wholly reject exploitation of racial, ethnic, and religious grievances for political gain, and to have previous experience on which to draw. On all of those counts, Donald Trump is an utter and spectacular failure. He routinely rejects the advice of specialists on domestic and foreign affairs. He exploits racial, ethnic, and religious grievances to an alarming degree. Finally, a person who has never served a day in public service, whether political, civil or military, is unfit to become a head of state, which requires an entirely different set of skills from running a for-profit entity.

Every day, normal people suck it up, grit their teeth, and roll up their sleeves for a vaccine. They might not like it, it might hurt for a while, but in the grand scheme of things, they are contributing to collective action that ensures the general well-being of those around us. If you are undecided, thinking about staying home, voting third-party, or a Republican who is leaning towards Trump even if he makes you sick to your stomach, on the eve of this election, I implore you to contribute to our electoral herd immunity. Suck it up, grit your teeth, and vote for Clinton for the general well-being of those around us.

[1] To me, these drawbacks are the standard left-wing criticisms of Clinton. She is too cozy with the wealthy, her climate change proposals are not nearly aggressive enough for what we should have started doing 20 years ago, her record on fracking is not good, and as someone whose job involves public records issues, the private server email business is totally appalling. Finally, my baptism into leftist politics was through protesting the invasion of Iraq in 2003, before I could even vote. If I knew Colin Powell was lying to the UN as a teenager, if I managed to get my slightly conservative Episcopalian church to help fund me to go protest in DC, there is still a part of me that can never quite move on from the fact that Clinton authorized the use of military force in one of the worst follies that has ever taken the lives of thousands of American servicemen and women, and countless lives of Iraqis. All this said, and despite my misgivings, I am early-voting for Clinton soon and even volunteering here and there for her campaign when I have a free hour in my schedule. The alternative of a Trump presidency is simply too horrifying to contemplate.

[2] And it goes without saying, but whose encouragement of his supporters to express and act on similarly bigoted views is beyond the pale.

[3] To be clear, every election is important, and local and state elections often affect your daily life as much, or if not more, than presidential elections. Failure to recognize this on the broad part of the electorate (and the get out the vote efforts of liberal/left political infrastructure) is how we have ended up with Republican-dominated governorships and state legislatures across the United States.

[4] To give credit where it’s due, the herd immunity parallel has popped up a couple times in the epic MetaFilter election threads. I think this might have been the comment that originally lit up this light bulb for me.