Thinking of a Protest Vote?

[This post was first put up on October 2, 2020, shortly before the Biden/Trump presidential election]

I have an acquaintance in the poker community with whom I’ve been communicating for the past year or so. I hope we’ll be friends soon enough, but for now, Covid means that I can’t travel to Las Vegas to meet him. But we’ve had some good discussions and he’s taught me a bunch about poker – I’m happy with that.

Anyway, we got onto politics pretty early on, and quickly discovered that we were politically congruent. At least, I thought we were until a few days ago. Then we had the following exchange:

Me: [Responding to his most proximate email] “Wait. Are you thinking about not voting?

Him: “Strongly considering Green Party.” 

I had to sit with that for a day. Finally a couple of days ago, I sat with my coffee in the dawn hours and wrote to him. I didn’t hear back from him, but two days later, I heard back – from his wife:

My name is [Debbie] – I’m [Rob’s] wife. I wanted to reach out because he shared with me the contents of your email re: the stakes of the 2020 election. I have also been trying to convince him to vote for Biden/Harris rather than the Green Party ticket, and I found your reasoning both eloquent and moving. Would it be alright if I shared it with family and on social media, crediting you as the author? Since the correspondence was private, I wanted to check with you personally to be sure.

I rarely get told I’m eloquent, but more importantly, if she thinks my little email could move one vote from anybody else to Biden, she’s welcome to take out a billboard on Tropicana Avenue. I figured I’d go ahead and publish my email here (with her permission, of course). Maybe it’ll move you to vote for Biden. Maybe it’ll move somebody else to vote for Biden. Like I said, if it moves one vote to Biden from anywhere else (including “no vote at all”) I’ll be ecstatic. 

Here’s my email to “Rob,” minimally edited and cleaned up. 

Hi Rob,

So, you’re an intelligent, thoughtful guy. I’ll give you my speech and be done  – either it persuades you or it doesn’t. As you know from our conversations, I can get long-winded. I will attempt to be concise – forgive me if I’m not and don’t let that cloud my point.

The meta-theme: “An election is not a marriage, it’s a bus.” [1] That is, you are not looking for a decades-long relationship with a candidate – you are looking for a bus that takes you in the general direction of your destination, the closer the better. 

Here are my key points:

  1. If we don’t win this election, there may not be an election in 2024. The damage to our institutions, indeed, our very democracy, may be such that we are spiraling toward failed-state status rather than working to improve our lives, those of people in our communities, and the people of the world around us. [2]
  2. The people who will be most affected by a Trump victory are the most vulnerable members of our community. You and I will (probably) be okay, even if things go very badly. You’re skilled, talented, and have resources to provide for yourself. Further, perhaps most importantly, you’re a straight white male. I’m a straight white male. I argue that sitting on the sidelines, or using our vote as a protest, is leveraging our white male privilege. The stakes are not so high for us as they are for many others. If you want to be on the side of the weaker, more vulnerable, marginalized members of our community, then use the one bullet in your gun to aim for the key target – not fire it into the air.
  3. One very specific issue: climate change. You know the clock is ticking. If Trump is reelected, the American political and industrial bus will go in the opposite direction from where it needs to go. If Biden is elected, it will go in the right direction – I hope you will stipulate that. Will it go fast enough? Probably not. Will it go dead on course to what you believe is the right destination? Almost certainly not. But it will go in the right direction. The climate change activists will have a seat at the table. In a Trump administration, they will be actively battled. 

I’ll wrap this up with a perspective. I’m 63 years old, and have had an absurdly good life. As I’ve told many people, if a doctor were to say to me tomorrow, “You have three months to live,” I would be sad, but I wouldn’t feel cheated. I’ve had more joy and grand experiences in my life than any one human should expect. I’m on a life freeroll at this point. But Rob, I’ve got a 5-year-old granddaughter. She’s an amazing little girl who spent 90 minutes yesterday in her wetsuit at the beach playing in the surf. She’s asked me when I’m taking her scuba diving so she can see the sharks. She deserves a shot at a decent life, but I don’t like her odds for that, not least because of climate change.

Sadly, I disagree with your belief/hope that a meltdown this year would lead to a progressive wave in 2024 that would send a bus in the exact right direction at light speed. Indeed, I fear it could lead to a complete societal breakdown.

Nevada is purple, and will probably go for Biden, but that’s not a given. Please, go vote for Joe Biden and the congressional Democrats. Don’t do it for me – I’m going to be okay either way, and if I’m not, fair enough. But do it for my granddaughter and for the guy who makes the tortillas at your favorite taqueria. Those people need your vote.

Thanks for reading.

Best, Lee

[1] Editor’s note: I didn’t mention this in the email, but I am far from the first person to use this analogy. But I’m a sucker for a good analogy and this is a great one.

[2] Remember, I wrote this before the election, and crucially, before January 6, 2021. I had no idea of how close we’d come to a successful coup d’etat.