“How dare you!” – The U.S. elections and why vote-shaming backfires

For the internationals and expats in Groningen following the U.S. Presidential elections, things are getting real. In little more than two week’s time, we will will either be faced with four more years of obnoxious Twitter sloganeering in capital letters, or a return to what is by some considered normality. Though I do often have full-fledged debates on politics overseas out in the open, a recent encounter at a pub characterized what warped turns these conversations can take. On vote-shaming and the (in)validity of thinking in a two party system.

Honestly, voting has always been important to me, and I can say that it has held crucial value in my social circles growing up in Germany. It sometimes felt like a luxury to be able to choose between so many parties, to critically assess which fraction best represents my values and hopes for the future.

With this experience, it then became harder for me to take a glance and consider what it would be like to vote in the U.S., as well as the hurdles you need to clear to even enter the process. You see, the first time I was eligible to vote in the Presidential elections was in 2016. After a ballot request for my registered state of California, I felt compelled to do anything in my power to prevent Trump from taking office – even if this meant voting for an unpromising Hillary Clinton. I was extremely happy to take a look at my voting ballot and inform myself about the choices every citizen has. Unfortunately, this monster of a paper stack only made it to my doorstep five days after the election had already taken place, making the entire process educational, at best.

Four years later. Change?

Ironically, it’s a bit like groundhog day, if it’s ever been different. This time I am in Groningen, contemplating how 2020 has shaped my desires for the U.S. and their representation in a political arena. The Democratic party is relying on moderate liberalism to unite the country, while Trump is slipping further behind in national polls. But for many left-leaning young voters, a return to a more “Presidential” candidate alone does not suffice to fix the problems we are faced with.

In fact, progressive platforms within the House of Representatives intend to pressure Biden to push his planned policies left, signaling a clear condition for their support that won’t shift to a centrist platform. Though the “Squad” around Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is in this way trying to hold the former Vice President accountable, the distrust among voters is also growing larger. Especially on social media platforms such as Twitter, it often seems like the younger generation feels left behind, again weighing options of which candidate poses the lesser of two evils, or if any of the two even deserve a vote.

Mind you, this is by no means is this an endorsement for Trump, but a rejection of black and white thinking. What should be asked, however, goes further than bipartisan approaches: How much longer can an antiquated two party system cater to voters when the trust in it is crumbling?

As I was about to witness on a night out, the conversation can get stiff when someone supposedly wanting the same for your country tries to guilt trip you for your decision to vote a third party. I was casually chatting about the state of the elections and what their outcome may signify for the future when an acquaintance of mine expressed his spite for those questioning whom to vote for this year.

“You cannot decide to give your vote to a third party, not even in swing states. You are putting my life in danger and you should be ashamed of yourself. Everyone claims to be so forward-thinking but you can never change the system, so accept it and vote Democrat”

Ouch, I thought, what a smooth handling of an originally ideologically-centered debate. For one thing, it is useful to be able to have rational conversations about one’s values and understandings of voter intention. Running into this statement, however, felt like a ridiculing slap on the wrist from someone who clearly knows better.

Democrat or Republican – and what about the rest?

Indeed, there are many discussions whether a choice for political groups such as the Green Party is justified. Coming from an angle of the two centrist parties, the argument of swing states of course holds traction, as those blue Democrat votes would then be lost. In my case, California does not, nor has it ever, leaned towards a Republican electoral majority. This also didn’t seem to convince Ben* of my choice, since he then uttered he was Californian as well, and how my thinking would not ever bear any fruit.

It is clear to me that the United States are far off from having a political system similar to Germany. Yet this doesn’t mean I can not make my own decision to vote for a party that actually represents my interests. Especially when the state in question will accomplish the goal of winning a Democrat majority.

What is much more important here is the implication of why vote-shaming simply makes your argument look ridiculous. Would you like to be schooled on why your opinion doesn’t matter and should simply be sucked up? For me, this election feels more like a burst of frustration with societal problems the actions of our two main parties have contributed to.

Because the status quo of the U.S. system makes big money and partisan identity politics a condition for success in electoral races. Because racial hate crimes are not a partisan yay-or-nay topic to be debated in order to score votes. Because the climate crisis will not patiently take a back seat and wait for the implementation of urgent environmental policies. Because deplatforming other viewpoints or parties based on their financial resources stands for capitalist struggles more than for how democratic this country is. Because I want my vote to address these issues on paper and in practice. Because movements grow and Biden’s platform needs a push away from moderatism.

So yes, Ben*, I am voting third party even though I would prefer a Democrat to win in the end. And though I did not want to support a return to moderate conservatism, had I gotten to making my point back at the pub, I would have said your decision to vote for Biden is fine, too. But if we want to grow better as a collective and learn from our discussions, we should stop vilifying anything that transcends thinking in a binary system. Most definitely if your discussion partner is technically on your side.

*Note: name changed.

Alex Loeb

I am a student of Journalism at the RUG and a hopeless music fanatic. Whenever I can, I use my time to discuss music, culture and politics, both on- and offline. At Studentenkrant, you will find me covering cultural events and lifestyle through the lens of sheer curiosity. When I am not typing my fingertips away, I can be found playing street music in downtown Groningen or writing songs at Noorderplantsoen.