On November 8, 2016, I had a heart attack.
That’s not a metaphor.
I went to vote. I went to the doctor. I was sent to the hospital.
How much of that was a result of the Presidential election? I will never know.
But whenever I think back on that day, I am filled with a sense of bone-deep sadness.
After only a little more than a year in office, Donald Trump is already the worst President of my lifetime – and that’s saying something after the disaster that was George W. Bush.
Yet today our country is separating parents and children seeking asylum on the border and locking them away in detention centers. Nearly every cabinet secretary is an incompetent plutocrat put in office to dismantle the department in which they’re in charge. Meanwhile, Trump insults traditional allies and consorts with dictators all over the globe. And nationwide white supremacists of all stripes are emboldened, on the rise, and openly running for office.
I wish there is something I could do to go back in time and change the results of that day. I wish there was something I could do to stop Donald Trump from being elected President. And though I did not vote for her, I would do anything to have Hillary Clinton defeat him.
On that day, though, I voted for Jill Stein.
There’s nothing I can do about that now.
I imagine going back in time and telling myself not to do it. “Go vote for Hillary,” I imagine Future Me telling an ailing younger version.
Yet even now, I’m not sure if I’d say that to myself.
Go vote for Hillary? Would it have made a difference?
Factually, no. One more vote wouldn’t have put her over the top in my home state of Pennsylvania.
But I wrote articles advising readers to do like me and vote Jill Stein. Does that mean I’m responsible for every Stein vote cast in the Keystone state?
No, not really. I may have influenced some people. But I certainly didn’t influence them all.
I suppose the bigger question is this: did Stein spoil the 2016 election for Clinton?
Let’s look at some numbers.
In Pennsylvania, the results went like this:
Trump got 2,970,733 votes.
Clinton got 2,926,441 votes.
So he won the state by 44,292 votes.
Stein got 49,941 votes – 5,649 more than Trump’s margin of victory.
So if every Stein voter had cast a ballot for Clinton, she would have won the state – though she’d still lose the Presidency by 10 electoral votes.
But if the same process were repeated even in a few other swing states Clinton lost, the result would change. Clinton would have won and be sitting in the Oval Office right now.
Those are just facts. Or at least they’re facts manipulated in a game with counterfactuals.
If this had happened, then this other thing would have happened, too.
However, it is rarely so clear even with numbers.
For instance, Stein ran in 2012, too. She ran against Obama and Romney. She got 20,710 votes in Pennsylvania.
That’s tens of thousands of Green voters who didn’t cast a ballot for centrist Obama. I don’t think it’s fair to assume they would have voted for centrist Clinton, either.
So if we subtract that 20,000 from Stein’s 2016 totals, (49,941 – 20,710) you get 29,231 new people who voted Green who didn’t do so in 2012.
That’s less than Trump’s margin of victory (44,292).
So even if every NEW Stein voter cast a ballot for Clinton, Trump still would have won the state.
I don’t think it’s factual or fair to assume Stein or Stein voters gave Trump the election.
If I had voted for Clinton, even if I had advised my readers to vote for her, the end result probably would have been the same.
These are the things I think about in the middle of the night when sleep won’t come.
Is there anything I could have done to change things? In trying to make things better, did I make things worse?
I don’t assume I have that much power – either way.
I’m just a school teacher with a blog.
And that’s why I voted for Stein.
Hillary Clinton made her name politically going against teachers unions. She and her husband have done quite a lot to weaken my profession and the school my daughter attends.
The national teachers unions may have supported her run for President, but they did so without fairly polling members. Her entire nomination process was marred by unfair and undemocratic practices by the Democratic Party that left many progressive voters who favored Bernie Sanders feeling left out and silenced.
I still think THAT more than any scribbling on my blog contributed to her loss.
Compared to Trump, Barack Obama was one of the best Presidents we’ve ever had. But compared to Trump, so was George W. Bush. So would be an inanimate carbon rod!
However, Obama was not particularly good for education. He and the corporate Democrats favored every anti-union, pro-privatization scheme they could. What a missed opportunity!
You’d think our first African American President might do something about school segregation – which has been on the rise in the last few decades. Instead, he helped make it worse by promoting charter schools. You’d think he might do something to stop the school-to-prison pipeline. Instead he helped lubricate it by championing high stakes standardized tests.
I think that’s another reason Clinton lost. Many of us were fed up with Obama’s neoliberal policies and wanted a candidate who might change course. Clinton promised only more of the same.
Don’t get me wrong. In retrospect, more of the same sounds lovely. Give me that old time Obama neoliberalism over Trump’s neo-fascism, any day!
But back in 2016 I thought we had a chance for something more – real hope and change. Was I wrong to vote for a candidate who promised to end high stakes testing and school privatization? Was I wrong to vote for a candidate who promised to fairly fund public schools, provide free college for all and end all student debt?
I suppose I should have been more frightened of Trump back then. But my anger at the Democrats who continually stabbed me and other progressives in the back outweighed my fear of this buffoon.
Perhaps I was wrong in that.
I don’t think it’s too much of an assumption to say we all underestimated Trump. We all underestimated how many people in this country would vote for him.
So was I wrong to vote for Jill Stein?
I still don’t know.
I’m sure many people will criticize me for this article. They’ll blame me for every horrible thing Trump does. If I have any point here, it’s that there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Perhaps we’d do better fighting against Trump than fighting amongst ourselves.
I still believe there is a silent majority of Americans for whom the status quo is unacceptable. Most of us don’t want a wall on our border – we want healthcare for all. Most of us don’t want families separated and undocumented immigrants scapegoated and rounded up – we want a path toward citizenship. Most of us don’t want our democracy subverted and the wealthy to have a greater say in our policies – we want freedom and justice for all.
We just need a way to find each other again. We need to find a way to look past any political, social, racial, gender or cultural differences and find a common humanity.
What better way to do that than in a common cause?
I hope you’ll join me by stopping the recriminations and take on the fight.
We may never fully solve the riddle that was the 2016 election.
There are political and social lessons to be had. But the most important thing is to remember the value of unity and to hold on to each other tight.
We’re all we’ve got.
Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!
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