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In 2015, I asserted quite confidently that Hillary Clinton was the "presumptive" Democratic nominee and would coast to the convention without a fight.
I was wrong.
And to be honest, I was initially happy that I was wrong, because Senator Bernie Sanders drove a conversation that would not have happened otherwise. He brought some new ideas and discussions into the primary process, which is a big part of why he entered the race — he and his team have demonstrated time and time again that they weren't at all prepared to do as well as they did.
Over time, though, things have gone from lively discussion to acrimonious, and with #NeverHillary trending, we are reaching a breaking point.
I expect #NeverHillary from hardline Republicans and Trump supporters, and they're certainly taking to it with zeal. For conservative extremists, the thought of any Democrat in the White House, let alone a woman, is akin to heresy. Whether they actually support Trump or are willing to tolerate him as a bit of a wildcard that at least won't be a Democrat, they're on board with working against Secretary Clinton.
What I did not expect was the sheer amount of venom coming from the left. Independent voters — of which I am one — may have turned out in force to support Senator Sanders, and may feel, as it were, Berned that things are not turning out well. Some bitterness might be expected there. But Democrats are turning against Secretary Clinton as well, illustrating both the diversity and split in the party, and how the aggressiveness of some Sanders supporters has polarized the Democrats.
Secretary Clinton is certainly no stranger to being hounded, smeared, and abused through the media. Decades of conservative commentators have attacked her almost as though they were priming for this moment, creating ample ammunition for the right to use in its war on Secretary Clinton.
What's astounding, though, is that the left has bought these lies hook, line, and sinker as well — despite claiming that it stands against the establishment, that it's proudly independent, that it won't bow to conservatism. #NeverHillary is catnip to the right, whether it's members of their own media and political elite using it, or petulant Democratic voters organizing en masse under the hashtag.
When faced with the alternative of a Trump presidency, though, it seems better to embrace Secretary Clinton and start mobilizing for her if she takes the nomination, to focus on unifying the party before it fractures any more. For some, that might feel like settling or choking on the devil you know rather than the devil you don't, and I respect that, though I don't share those opinions. The thing I definitely do not support is the disturbingly growing #NeverHillary movement and what it could mean for November.
Senator Sanders' supporters would also do well to consider the risks of amping up acrimonious rhetoric in advance of the convention. If the Democrats nominate Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders concedes and pushes for unity on the left, it may be too late, because people could already be so prejudiced against Secretary Clinton that it doesn't matter. People tend to take what they hear first as gospel, clinging to their initial impressions like dogs with bones, and continuing to whip up a fervor against Secretary Clinton could have catastrophic consequences.
Many on the left seem to be under the impression that someone else will turn out to vote so they don't need to do the work — it's a problem that has certainly happened in states where Senator Sanders thought he would take the primary and didn't, because his supporters never bothered to hit the polling place come election day. That's a gamble that some #NeverHillary people may be taking as well — sustaining their grand principled stand when it comes to voting for anyone other than Senator Sanders, while assuming that others will grudgingly turn out to the polls to make sure Donald Trump is not elected.
They can wash their hands of actual participation in the election in the mistaken belief that they aren't taking any real risks. Some are even claiming that not going to the polls is a brave stand for democracy and justice.
But they're contributing to the profile of a movement that is vicious, aggressive, and capable of catching like a wildfire. The more people hear #NeverHillary, the more it makes them question whether they want to turn out for the election or vote for Secretary Clinton. This is how people like Donald Trump win elections.
At Quartz, Melissa Hillman pointed out the huge level of privilege involved in #NeverHillary — and it's worth noting that the most aggressive of Senator Sanders' supporters do indeed tend to occupy positions of considerable social privilege. It's not trans women taking up the banner, or young Black men, or queer people of color, or disabled people. It's a white, largely male community.
How privileged do you need to be to imagine that it’s a good idea to risk the actual lives of vulnerable Americans because you “hate” Clinton so much that you vow to stay home if Sanders doesn’t get the nomination? How protected from the consequences of a Trump presidency do you need to be to think your hatred of Clinton constitutes, as I saw someone say earlier this week, an “inviolable principle,” meaning that it’s more important than the lives of vulnerable Americans? That all applies equally to any Clinton supporters saying the same about Sanders. (We have yet to see the full weight of American anti-Semitism aimed at Sanders, and if he wins the nomination, we most certainly will.)
Some Berners are participating in a federal election for the first time this year, illustrative of their age. They didn't live, as Hillman notes, through the Reagan and Bush Sr. years, or if they did, they were very, very young. If they thought President George W. Bush was bad, they have no idea how much worse it could be.
Those of us living in states that have yet to hold their primaries should vote our conscience. What happens in a polling booth is between you and your ballot, and it's no one's business to tell you how to vote, though carefully weighing available information and arguments can help you make a thoughtful decision. I have no interest in knowing how you plan to vote, though, and I certainly won't be sharing which candidate I'm casting my vote behind come June 7.
But in November, I can tell you this: I will be turning out to vote, because I haven't missed an election yet, and I will be voting for whichever Democrat is on that ballot, because by November, the question isn't going to be who is running, but who they are running against. You don't have to do the same — indeed, your decisions about voting remain a personal matter and this should be a cornerstone of democracy in America — but if you are on the #NeverHillary bus, I urge you to consider why that is.
I ask you to think about the tremendous misogynistic engine that has assaulted Secretary Clinton from right and left alike before you choose to abstain from voting. I suggest that you weigh the very concrete, real-world consequences of a Trump presidency, particularly given that even some of the Republican establishment — sometimes even hardline Republicans — has signed up for #NeverTrump. He's a man that even Republicans are afraid of, and you have to choose between keeping him from office or making an idealized stand in the belief that compromising is a fundamental betrayal of your values.
I respect that belief — I am an extremely uncompromising person, which infuriates many of my friends — but you should think back on other compromises you may have made in your life, and ask yourself whether this is really the hill you want to die on.
Particularly because for some of us, a Trump presidency will be the hill that kills us.
Photo: US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan/Creative Commons