Meyer ’17: Protest Trump, don’t protest vote

Staff Columnist
Wednesday, October 5, 2016

One of the most pervasive frameworks for discussing the presidential election is as a choice between two bad options. “Roughly four-in-ten voters say it is difficult to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton because neither would make a good president — as high as at any point since 2000,” Pew Research found. The attitude is most common among college-age individuals. According to the polling outlet, only 23 percent of voters under 30 are satisfied with their choices. The cohort most likely to vote for a third party is men between 18 and 34.

The protest vote is a product of this framing. Voting for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson might feel like a middle finger to a system that produced an uninspiring answer to Trump. It could feel like a rebuke to Clinton for her support of the 1994 crime bill and her foreign policy mishaps. To students and voters most concerned with racial justice, I sympathize. During the segment of last week’s debate dedicated to race and policing reform, Clinton didn’t show that she was a strong advocate, just that Trump was a strong racist. Then there is the protest non-vote, the highest statement of disaffection — or sloth. If the protest vote is a middle finger, the non-vote is the middle schooler’s talk-to-the-hand comeback. It’s a refusal to participate at all in a failing system. I’ve heard both options endorsed by Brown students in dining halls and on social media.

Our generation’s dissatisfaction with its choices in November has been evident on campus. I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more anti-Trump activism at Brown. There are more Trump bumpers stickers on Thayer Street than Clinton signs in dorm windows. Outside of a voter registration table in the Ratty, there hasn’t been much visible engagement with the election. Plenty of Facebook posts, maybe. But nothing like the groundswell of campus energy I remember surrounding other issues. The Brown Divest Coal movement had more visibility than any anti-Trump effort I’ve seen on campus. When Ray Kelly came to defend his unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policies, the outcry was tremendous. I remember the incident as the defining welcome-to-Brown moment of my freshman year. Not so when Trump called for a national stop-and-frisk policy.

The reach of the two-evils framework is a success of the Republican Party — possibly its only one during this election cycle. When fielding an unimpressive slate of mainstream-ish candidates and a crazy demagogue, tarnishing the Democratic nominee was the only way to be competitive. Even without a courtroom success, the Benghazi commission, email investigations and dogged opposition research on the Clinton Foundation have taken a toll. The problem is compounded by Clinton’s tendency to defend, not transcend.

I doubt most Brown students are listening to right-wing talk radio or reading Breitbart. But the dominant conversations about a candidate can seep through Ivy walls. According to Gallup, the first word most Americans associate with Clinton right now is “email.” “Lie”, “health” and “scandal” are also in the top five. I don’t think Brown students are susceptible to conspiracy theories or scandal-mongering. Still, the depressed energy toward her makes the election an unsexy activist cause.

On campus, disaffection is more visible through memes and Saturday Night Live clips. Satire is supposed to have teeth, though. If we treat the debates as a chance to play drinking games and laugh at Kate McKinnon, our engagement with the election numbs us to its tremendous stakes.

Though it might be emotionally satisfying, a protest vote or non-vote is incoherent. It protests to deaf ears. A silent action in a private voting booth is only heard if it engages with our real choices. To those who say that change isn’t possible within the system, I am inclined to agree. While you work on that, don’t make the system even worse by participating in a Trump victory.

Dan Meyer ’17 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinions to and other op-eds to

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