Enough of the "Us vs. Them" binary: Why I'm writing in Bernie Sanders on election day

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump strike me as dishonest and untrustworthy, so I refuse to vote for either of them

Published July 17, 2016 2:30PM (EDT)

Bernie Sanders   (Reuters/Jim Urquhart)
Bernie Sanders (Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

On Nov. 8, 2016, approximately 54 percent of all eligible U.S. voters will flex their Constitutional right to vote in the general election. In case you aren’t aware of how Americans prioritize their politics, here’s a glimpse: 74 percent of this same demographic tuned in to watch the Super Bowl last year.

Most of us were taught from kindergarten on that our government is a Democracy and that America is the freest country on Earth. Perhaps the reason so few of us vote is that the benefits of all this democratic freedom don’t always measure up to all the hype. For example, instead of having one presidential candidate to choose from – like in a dictatorship – we get two.

It’s a recipe for division if there ever was one. Pit Team A against Team B with the task of solving problems that effect all sides and just watch how little progress can be made. The greater good loses every time.

“Groupthink” – a hallmark of political parties – suppresses independent thought, creativity and dissent and encourages bias and irrational decision making in the “in-group” while any “out-group” is discounted as inferior and scorned.  These aspects are intensified when only two groups are powerful enough to achieve a desired goal – in this case, winning an election – and people are forced to choose between them. The human mind shifts to binary mode when presented with only two choices, an evolutionary leftover from times when a snap judgment of “Us vs. Them” could determine our survival. The tendency nowadays is to identify with one and repudiate the other. Normally, it’s not until a third or fourth option is presented that critical thinking is engaged.

If anything ought to be grounds for critical thinking it’s the selection of our government officials who vote on our laws and decide on whether our sons and daughters are sent off to war overseas. Instead, most of us vote to promote our party’s victory or to thwart the other party’s.

The two main strategies for instilling and sustaining an “Us vs. Them” mentality within the larger culture are: A) propagating “fear” of the “other” and  B) appealing to the basic human urge of “belonging” to a like-minded group.

An email I received from “Hillary” recently employs both tactics.

“Donald Trump is not a normal candidate, and if he beats us, it will be more than a defeat at the ballot box — it will be a once-in-a-generation setback for our values and our shared idea of what America means.”

Here, Trump is the big bad wolf standing at the doorway of democracy threatening to blow the whole house down and destroy our way of life. We’re admonished to fear him and everything he represents. But, thankfully, all is not lost.

“Chip in before tonight’s midnight deadline, get a free sticker, and let’s show Trump exactly who he’s up against — the strongest team in this election.”

By coughing up some dough we can help Hillary stop the big bad wolf from ruining America and can congratulate ourselves on belonging to the strongest team. Never mind that the $360 million her campaign has already raised isn’t enough, purportedly, to ensure Hillary’s victory.

The “Us vs. Them” mentality and the constant money grubbing that result from bipartisanism are two of the biggest reasons I’m politically unaffiliated. Other reasons have to do with an early love affair I had with the writings of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and John Adams, who each disapproved of political parties in general, especially a system built around two major parties.

In his Farewell Address, Washington referred to “The alternate domination of one faction over another …” as a “frightful despotism.” While Adams had this to say: “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties … This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

More than “dislike” political parties, Jefferson held them in contempt: “If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”

As an independent voter, I’ve naturally grown accustomed to compromise when deciding whom to vote for. In the past, when there hasn’t been a candidate who’s inspired my support, I’ve voted for whoever seems the less likely to cause much damage, the candidate who seems most trustworthy and honest.

Since both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are dishonest and untrustworthy, I can’t, in good conscience, vote for either of them.

Instead, this election I plan to do something I haven’t done before. I plan to write-in my candidate of choice: Bernie Sanders. And I’m not alone. Millions of others fed up with divisive Establishment politics plan to do the same – if not write in Bernie Sanders, then vote for a third-party candidate.

When Senator Bernie Sanders announced his presidential bid I’ll admit that, as much as I liked him, I thought he wouldn’t stand a chance. The rolling media blackout that darkened the start of his campaign coupled with a majority of superdelegates pledging their support to Clinton eight months before the first ballot was cast made him a long-shot at best.

Nevertheless, in a short amount of time millions of Americans were feeling the Bern, creating a schism in the Democratic Party. Since then, Hillary has called for “party unity” and, to try to draw Sanders’ voters her way, has attempted to come across as much more progressive than she actually is. This isn’t just disingenuous. It’s transparently manipulative and has only succeeded in pushing true Progressives farther from her reach.

Somehow it seems to be lost on her and many other Democratic leaders that Sanders’ political revolution is founded in principles that oppose nearly everything Hillary’s neoliberal brand of democracy consists of – corporatized government, crony capitalism, limitless campaign contributions, increasingly deregulated global trade and control by the wealthiest few.

The Republican Party faces a similar rift among party members. If the absurdity of the 2016 election has revealed anything it’s that voters want more than change – they want something completely different – and will vote for almost anyone who isn’t a figurehead of the Establishment.

Regardless of who’s been president over the past 30 years, median household incomes have either stagnated or steadily declined. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer as the middle class is diminishing altogether and neither Democratic or Republican incumbents seem to do a damn thing but make it worse. Should Hillary get elected, 4 of 5 presidents in the last 30 years will have been a Clinton or a Bush.

It’s no wonder that Hillary and Trump have respectively earned the highest “unfavorable” ratings of any Democratic or Republican presidential candidate in history, which might have something to do with a couple other things they have in common: a history of outright lying to the public and hundreds of millions of dollars amassed through surreptitious means.

While both parties push for unity, members who aren’t “with her” or with him are being urged to vote against the other party by voting for their party’s nominee. This twisted logic implies that at least you’ll be doing your part as a member to help your party win.

Voting for someone you dislike to block someone you despise is commonly known as choosing between “the lesser of two evils.” This phrase has seen prolific usage as of late. It’s apropos if a little misleading since I don’t think most Americans perceive either candidate as literally evil. But, for the sake of argument, let’s suppose for a minute they are.

Evil’s most prevalent, recognizable trait is a lack of empathy for others’ pain and suffering. If I had to decide if Hillary or Trump were the lesser of two evils based solely on how empathetic each comes across, I’d probably end up voting for Trump.

Many Democrats are genuinely fearful of what a Trump incumbency might mean for the future of America. But I just can’t bring myself to fear him. For one, his more ridiculous and dangerous ideas would be held in check by Congress – he is, after all, only one man. And though he’s made a sweeping array of insensitive comments mainly about certain ethnic groups and women, they were so stereotypical as to sound like drunken rants from a Southern Uncle at a down-home barbeque. Ignorant and inflammatory? Yes. Lacking in empathy? I’m not so sure.

Hillary gave an interview to Diane Sawyer in 2011 in which she joked, then gleefully guffawed about her role in the assassination of Libyan ex-Prime Minister Muammar Gaddafi. Some people take pleasure in an enemy’s death, I suppose. But the mission also entailed the deaths of dozens of innocent women and children, which Hillary surely knew about.

More recently, she was criticized for donning a $12,000 jacket while giving a speech on income inequality. A staggering 46.7 million people in the U.S. live beneath the poverty line, a family of four earning roughly $24,000 a year – twice the amount of Hillary’s jacket. 

By pointing out a few times when Hillary seemed empathy-deficient I’m not implying she’s evil, only that these instances cause me to question how committed she really is to protecting and fighting for children’s and women’s rights and to alleviating poverty.

And then we have Bernie Sanders, not a nominee but still an important player who will be taking his political revolution to Philadelphia for the Democratic Convention on July 25th. He’s been fighting for the same issues since the Sixties, not vacillating once. His whole platform is built on empathy for others, on mitigating others’ suffering by working toward social justice in the realms of economy, public education, healthcare, gender and race.

By informing the public of things previously not widely understood – like the meaning of Democratic Socialism and superdelegates’ superhuman sway – he called attention to the ways corporate politics mislead and manipulate the public. In doing so, he made enemies of prominent leaders of the DNC. 

The DNC needed Bernie Sanders, at least in the beginning. Here’s why: Trump entered the RNC race as one of 19 contestants. But Hillary had only one viable opponent, Bernie Sanders – unless you count the 4 unknowns who never appeared in a national poll or participated in a debate.

Her nomination would have been a coronation had she not faced any competition. Some argue it was a coronation and that her title had been decided from the start. If Hillary did have any competition in Sanders, she never seemed to think so. 

Two months before her nomination was official and on the heels of losing 20 states to Sanders, she announced to CNN, “I will be the nominee for my party. There is no way that I won’t be.” Considering hard data alone, the race was too close for anyone to call at the time.  How could she have been so certain of the outcome if the nomination process wasn’t, to some degree… I don’t know, “rigged”? 

Conspiracy or not, the DNC’s scheme to force their Establishment Darling on the public provoked the resistance instead. The RNC’s nomination of someone with zero political experience has had similar effects. If Trump or Hillary wins, it’s America who loses.

Whenever we stand against something instead of for something, we’ve already been defeated by negativity. Our position, rooted in groupthink dynamics, leads to reactionary decision-making and irrationality, is always founded in fear and is thoroughly non-progressive.

I won’t hear that my decision to opt out of the lesser-of-two-evils paradigm and vote for a candidate who isn’t on the ballot means I’m casting a vote for the “other” side or throwing my vote away.  This kind of party-line propaganda is a self-perpetuating cycle, one that has played an influential role in landing our great nation in the mess it’s in today. If we keep settling for what we’re given – in this case two candidates disliked by most Americans – nothing can change for the better. The progressive and patriotic move is to reverse this regressive way of thinking by refusing to vote for anyone unworthy of the Office of President.

Fear is a powerful contagion. To stop it from spreading, we must become immune. The only way to do this is to stand together against those who would divide us, believing that the American dream of “liberty and justice for all” can still be realized and that, when it is, every one of us will reap its benefits.

By Carmela D'Amico

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