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The Carletonian

Why not voting in this election would be unconscionable

Mary Lewis Grow is a Northfield resident and a long-time member of the extended Carleton community. She was Associate Director of the Carleton Career Center in the early 80’s and wife of the late international relations professor Roy Grow, with whom she helped lead eight off-campus programs in Beijing.  She has been a devoted admirer of Carleton students, past and present. Before coming to MN, she was on the faculty of Smith College and Tufts University.

Perhaps you supported Bernie Sanders as the only candidate you thought capable of bringing about the profound societal changes our country needs.  You may have lumped all the other Democrats into “hopelessly establishment” and unlikely to promote greater social equity. You may have vowed that if the Democrats ignored your generation’s aspirational goals, you would ignore them and sit this election out.

 I sympathize with your wish to see significant systemic change.  You didn’t get the candidate you supported enthusiastically.  How to respond to the choices available to you, given that neither Trump nor Biden fills you with enthusiasm?  A young political scientist in Boston sends me a helpful reminder, adapted slightly from Rebecca Solnit: “A vote is not a valentine.  You’re not confessing your love for a candidate.  It is a chess move for the world we want to live in.” In this case, you are playing for the chance to keep future options open since Trump has put democratic institutions themselves under threat.

 I believe that you have one, and only one, ethical choice to make and that not voting is a cop-out that you will regret for the rest of your lives. Here are the consequences you will have to live with if Trump wins:

The Environment:

It is 100% certain that another four years of a Trump administration will endanger our planet—perhaps beyond repair.  He and his administration would continue to repeal and/or undermine all existing environmental regulations, accelerating climate change and putting your generation at risk of living on an increasingly uninhabitable planet.

There is a huge difference between the policies supported by Biden and those instigated by Trump.  Biden believes in science; he knows that the climate crisis is real and, that to save the planet, we will need environmental 

regulations even stronger than those gutted by Trump. He’ll rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and ramp up investment in clean energy.

Social Justice: 

Trump governs through threats and fear-mongering.  He came to power by frightening white voters into thinking that prosperity is a zero-sum game and that their opportunities will shrink as opportunities for racial minorities and immigrants increase.  He tells suburban voters that their communities will be ruined by the Democrats’ expansion of housing options for low-income families.  He makes racial slurs, has foreclosed a path to citizenship for “Dreamers,” and signals his support for white supremacists and right-wing militia groups.  Biden’s primary goal as president would be to heal, not exacerbate our divisions.  That is a fundamental distinction. 

The Pandemic:

As bad as it is right now, the pandemic will only get worse with the magical thinking and lack of coherent planning under Trump.  When asked for a response to a given crisis, Trump often answers “We’ll see what happens”—a stunning abdication of responsibility.

The Economy:

Trump claims to have created the world’s greatest economy, interrupted only by “the plague from China.”  But that claim focuses only on the stock market, which benefits only the top ten percent in this country who own 84% of the total shares owned by Americans. Almost half of all Americans have no share in the stock market at all.  

The tariffs resulting from his trade war with China have hurt consumers and producers (due to the resulting higher prices of goods) as well as exporters, notably farmers, and, ironically, have not improved our balance of trade with China but, in fact, worsened it!  His tax cuts have disproportionately benefited the wealthy while reducing revenues and dramatically increasing our fiscal deficit.

To gauge the health of an economy, we must look at metrics such as income inequality, which was growing under this president even before the pandemic.  We are now witnessing record-breaking homelessness, hunger, and unemployment.  

A country whose minimum wage is insufficient to support families even with two wage-earning parents can hardly be deemed equitable or just and shouldn’t be labeled “thriving.” 

Biden understands in a way that Trump never could the view articulated by Paul Wellstone: “We all do better when we all do better.”

International Relations:

At a time when our biggest problems are global, and international cooperation is essential for addressing them, Trump is an unapologetic America-first-er.  He has insulted our allies and threatened to leave NATO while cultivating relationships with dictators such as Putin, Kim Jong-Un, Erdogan, Bolsonaro and Duterte.  He has demonstrated that the U.S can’t be counted on to keep our agreements and honor our treaties.  He pulled us out of the jurisdiction of the World Criminal Court; withdrew from UNESCO, the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accord; and he broke the Iran nuclear deal.

My late husband, Roy Grow, taught international relations at Carleton for thirty-two years. One of his often-expressed “truths” was that no government, even in an autocracy, is monolithic and that there is always a push-pull going on behind the scenes between progressives and hard-liners, even in countries like China.  For example, many IR analysts saw the Iran nuclear deal as a way not only to reduce their nuclear threat but also as a means for giving “face” and standing to the reform elements in Iran and bringing the country back to the world table. By breaking that deal, Trump has made us less safe since Iran is now progressing rapidly towards becoming a nuclear power, and the cause of Iranian reform has been set back in ways that are disastrous both for the Iranians and for world stability. 

Biden understands the importance of global cooperation on global problems and would honor our treaties.

The Importance of Social Modeling:

LMst year, when my granddaughter was three, I said, “Grammy has done something stupid.”  I don’t remember what it was that I was confessing to; what is memorable was my granddaughter’s emphatic response: “Grammy, you just said a bad word!”  Even at three, she knew that you weren’t supposed to call people names, though she wasn’t quite old enough to know that the rules change a bit when the negatives are applied to oneself.

But the U.S. president name-calls multiple times a day. People he doesn’t agree with are “slimeballs,” “monsters,” “idiots,” “suckers” and “losers.”  He cheats on his taxes and his wives, lies as easily as he breathes, and lacks all empathy.  High-level staff members, in record numbers, have left their positions for either criminal behavior or disgust with their boss. 

A Republican pro-life evangelical pastor recently explained that Trump needs to be defeated since he is “an immoral, amoral sociopathic liar who functions from a core of insecure malignant narcissism.”  

What message would we be sending children if we reward such behavior by elevating this man again to the highest office in the country now that we have ample evidence of who he really is?

If you care about social justice, the environment or international stability, you cannot in good conscience say that there is no significant difference between a vote for Trump or a vote for Biden. Voting is one of the greatest rights you have: “Use it or lose it!” (This could be literally true if Trump gains four more years in which to expand his voter suppression tactics.) Not voting will increase the odds of a Trump victory.  As Harvey Cox famously said in the 1960s, “Not to decide is to decide.”

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