“When you vote for someone who isn’t going to win...you’re saying you don’t care who becomes president.” —Rachel Maddow
Rachel Maddow was all of us last night, whether you want to admit it or not. Throughout MSNBC’s election coverage, Maddow grew paler and paler, making coat after coat of fresh makeup just slightly the wrong color. She looked about as far from physical illness as I was, which is to say so close to vomiting that an abortive trip to the toilet was had at some point after Florida flipped for the third time. After Pennsylvania couldn’t be called by midnight, I fought the second wave of nausea and just went to sleep for an hour or two. The damage had already been done, as far as I was concerned, when Gary Johnson’s vote total in Florida first covered the difference between Secretary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s.
Now, as Maddow noted—I assume between breathing into a brown paper bag whenever the cameras cut to Chris Matthews—there is no way of knowing whether Johnson voters were protesting against Trump or against Clinton, but the fact remains that millions of voters cast their ballots while not caring, as Maddow rightly points out, about who actually became president. As I’ve mentioned before, there is a time and a place for using the protest vote, much like the filibuster. When facing the rebirth of the authoritarian right wing, the protest vote is a weak tool at best. We’ll never know, but it’s entirely possible that Johnson’s vote totals came enough from formerly democratic voters. The what-ifs are not comforting.
But the real problem is that this election was ever allowed to become a choice between corrupt neo-liberalism and sociopathic crypto-fascism. The most worrying thing about last night isn’t that Johnson took 4,000,000 from one side of the tally or the other, it’s that a candidate whose policies were so openly and unabashedly repugnant not just to American politics but to the very American experiment conned this many millions in the first place.