Rethinking attitudes about voting in democracies

“Voting is a chess move, not a Valentine.”

-Rebecca Solnit

So there’s still a lot of postmortems popping up concerning the US Election and one theme that is quite common among all of them is this notion that Clinton was unlikable. Setting aside the hazy malaise that expelled such conspiracy theories as “Clinton is a lesbian” or “Clinton kills kittens” (quoi?), we still see a few criticisms consistently popping up: Her corporate affiliations and Wall Street backers (“The Establishment”), her foreign policy, the emails she “lost” (which were but a fraction in volume compared to, say, Bush Jr.), and Benghazi.

Thing is, I have never once in my life seen a politician that I would want to have as a friend. I’ve definitely never seen a politician I would want as a parent (looking at you, Milo Yiannopoulos). To illustrate why, I present Trump’s shortlist for Cabinet: Corporatists, Wall Street bankers, his own kids*, Evangelicals, and war hawks.

You know, The Motherfucking Establishment.

If the claim that Clinton was unlikable was the reason you didn’t vote for her, I’ve got bad news for you: Everything you hated about her** is going to be worse at least ten-fold under Trump.

It’s not a politician’s job to be your fucking drinking buddy. It’s not a politician’s job to be a weird-creepy-Freudian-surrogate-parent. It’s not a politican’s job to avoid smiling too much or not enough or wave with just the right amount of enthusiasm. All these analyses of Clinton’s likability are so god damn shallow. I don’t care! She could show up to a rally and smear cat shit on her face, I would still vote for her if she said she’d implement single-payer healthcare!

It’s a politician’s job to make policy, and since we (ostensibly) hire them, it’s our job to make sure that policy is both fair and effective.

Hence, Solnit’s quote: “Voting is a chess move, not a Valentine.”

I don’t care how likable someone is or is not. And I wish more of us thought that way. Maybe if we did, policy would’ve made more than 32 god damn minutes of news in an 18-month long election cycle. If two amorphous blobs ran for that election, I still would be sobbing uncontrollably at Republo-blob’s victory because their policy planks were fucking rat poison.

Here’s what I would like to see instead.

We ask ourselves:

  1. What is their policy in any given area of government?
  2. What is the goal of this policy? If I dis/agree with this goal, why?
  3. Will this policy be effective in implementing its goal? If it’s ineffective, what are the consequences?
  4. Of my disagreements, which platform(s) are most likely to be receptive to changing in my direction i.e. can we lobby to have this interest represented in this party?

Guess what, you’re a Marxist or a Socialist? So am I. Within achieving realistic goals outside of violent revolution, I vote in every election not for the candidate I actually want (because that candidate doesn’t exist and never will), I vote for the candidate who is most likely going to inch public policy closer to something I consider an improvement.

Not perfect. No such policy exists. Just better.

Drop this naive idealism that Sanders could’ve fixed everything and play the pieces you actually have. You’re playing a game of chess which means you need to make many moves. Nobody wins a chess game closing their eyes and hoping for different pieces. They win by playing what’s on the board.

Republicans already get this. They’ve been working overtime for the past 8 years to secure every arm in government, and now that they’ve succeeded they get to set the agenda. You may post your “we’ll survive” platitudes but frankly if you genuinely believe that you never had cause to be scared to begin with***.

I don’t know what it’ll take to light a fire under your ass but dear dog I hope I don’t have to start a frickin church to get there.



*Because the correct response to North Korea is “yeah, more of that.”

**Aside from Trump not being a woman, but I’ve noticed any analyses that attempt to incorporate this observation tend to get shouted down. Not like way too many of y’all just elected a self-confessed rapist or anything NOPENOMISOGYNYHERE

***The Family Research Council is on Trump’s shortlist for cabinet. I hope we appreciate what it means if these policies are enacted.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    I voted for her. I put her/Kaine’s sign out at the end of my driveway (not an easy task, as her local office was only open about an hour a week, and the Dem Party office hardly had any Clinton-Kaine signs). I talked her up, and feel fairly sure I switched at least one local vote.

    I know full well the Benghazi/email/Whitewater/Vince Foster/travelgate/etc lies are just that.

    But I still contemplated Hillary Rodham Clinton with utter fear and loathing. (Now that her elective/appointive political career is clearly over, mostly just the latter at this point.) To the list of her substantive war crimes and crimes against humanity (summarized briefly as Honduras, Syria, Libya), we can add the ineptitude and corruption that have saddled us with Trump/Pence and all their impending atrocities.

    We do need to understand what went wrong in order to fix mitigate the damage, and I agree entirely with all your points above. It doesn’t really matter whether we first point fingers at all those could have voted and didn’t, or the losing candidate who arrogantly failed to motivate pissed on them, so long as we find ways to get both sets to do better (and better enough) in the future.

  2. anat says

    There is still a part of me that wants to be adopted by Bernie Sanders. But I caucused for him for his policies, not his cute grandpa appeal.

  3. cartomancer says

    Sadly that awful Yiannopoulos’s statements are even more creepy. He’s not using the word “daddy” in its usual parental sense, he’s using it in its creepy gay slang sense for an older man who sleeps with younger men. Even more Freudian.

    As a gay man in his thirties whose preference is for gay men in their twenties, the term makes me shudder. Implied incest is never sexy. Bringing that horrible orange sack of poison into the equation just makes me want to vomit until there’s nothing left to throw up.

  4. cartomancer says

    On that note too, it’s worth reiterating what Dan Savage said during the campaign – Trump has benefitted from heterosexual privilege something chronic in getting away with his incredibly creepy sexual behaviour. If a gay candidate for president went around saying that he liked to grope pretty young men and shouted after ten year old boys that he’d be dating them in ten years, he would be roundly vilified and thrown out of the race faster than you could blink.

  5. says

    Guess what, you’re a Marxist or a Socialist? So am I. Within achieving realistic goals outside of violent revolution, I vote in every election not for the candidate I actually want (because that candidate doesn’t exist and never will), I vote for the candidate who is most likely going to inch public policy closer to something I consider an improvement.

    I have voted “invalid” in the past. Since that is a move here that is closely linked to the left it sends labour a message that they could have gotten that vote but didn’t. Saying that, it was not an election where so much was at stake. Hell, if we had that kind of election and it was between Merkel and some AfD bastard I’d vote Merkel and tell everybody to go and do the same because when you can prevent fascism from gaining power that is your fucking job.
    If you say “oh, but I can’t vote for XYZ” in an election with only two candidates (and realistically there were only two) then you’re OK with the other one winning. If your “clean conscience” is more important to you than preventing fascism then you’re OK with fascism and you’Re putting your own “clean bill” above the lives of others*. If you’re that kind of person, I hope you sleep well at night.

    *I have the feeling that this is a white people speciality. You know, the kind of person who won’t have to fear violent attacks or being deported or being sexually assaulted.

  6. Siobhan says


    Isn’t Germany proportional rep, too? There’s a lot of factors that can change one’s political calculus and first past the post makes it effectively impossible to stand for much you actually want.

  7. says

    It is, for the most part (we have some odd combination of proportional representation and first past the post in the Bundestag, but for the rest it’s proportional)
    That’s why I can occasionally vote “invalid” or cast my vote with a small opposition party. It allows for more strategic voting.