The 2016 Election: An Open Letter to Penn Students

Originally published for The Penn Spectrum


Dear Fellow Penn Students,

The words in this letter are going to be uncomfortable for a number of people. They speak to some painful truths about the presidential election, and they’re not going to be easy to read.

To preface my remarks, I want to express my gratitude that I’m part of such an inclusive university as Penn. I’m endlessly grateful to the student body for engaging in so many controversial and thought-provocative debates

However, with that said, I am troubled – and even disturbed – by the cavalier manner in which we, as Penn students, often discuss the November election. We often talk about the election like it’s a joke worthy of a drinking game, ignoring its serious real-world consequences.

In this election, we are not just making a symbolic gesture in electing the president. We are electing a commander in chief, responsible for our unparalleled military might and frighteningly large nuclear stockpile. We are also electing a chief legislator, trusted with enacting tax and spending plans. Furthermore, we are electing a chief citizen, who represents our country in times of tragedy as much as in times of calm.

This election is not a joke. It has never been a joke. And it has deadly serious consequences.

That brings me to my second point. An unprecedented number of students have opted to vote for third party candidates, namely Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, who have no hope whatsoever of winning the election. If we had a proportional representation system, such voting would be justified. However, the situation here in the United States is quite different.

We have a first-past-the-post system, meaning that whomever gets the most votes wins the election. Donald Trump – a man whom most of you consider to be a dangerous demagogue – could easily win the election with a mere plurality if too many of us vote for third parties. And already, polls suggest that Trump has a staggering 45% chance of winning the election.

Many of you acknowledge that Clinton would be a better candidate than Trump, but you can’t get yourselves to vote for her. And you even acknowledge that your chosen candidate has no hope whatsoever of winning Pennsylvania. I’m sorry for being brutally honest, but the fact that you can afford to take such a position rests on a position of privilege.

At all costs, Donald Trump needs to be stopped, and doing so necessitates voting for Hillary Clinton. Outside of his bluster and bravado, Trump has no serious plans to bring this country forward. In fact, he has already divided this country by insulting every conceivable minority group: women, immigrants, Muslims, prisoners of war, the disabled, Mexicans, and African Americans, among others.

His tax plans are incredibly reckless and would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest Americans. Meanwhile, his foreign policy would weaken long-lasting military alliances, giving the upper hand to Vladimir Putin and terrorist networks. In fact, Kim Jung Un and members of ISIS clearly want Trump to be elected.

Trump has given voice to fringe voices that have no place in American politics, chiefly white supremacist movements. He has broken every convention of public life. He has tried his hardest to discredit the media, scientists, economists, and leading world experts, all of whom warn of the dangers of a Trump presidency. And perhaps most troublingly for someone who would control America’s nuclear stockpile, Trump is frighteningly easy to provoke.

I’m sorry to have to be the bringer of bad news, but we need to find a better way of contextualizing the presidential election. As Jeb Bush once said, Trump is a “chaos candidate.” He would actively endanger this country.

This country could survive a Clinton presidency. In fact, she may surprise us and become a well-respected president. Her long commitment to women, children, veterans, and 9-11 first responders could be at the center of her presidency.

However, this country has never had a candidate remotely like Donald Trump. And to be totally clear, if a demagogue ever took control of my party, the Democratic Party, I would not hesitate to vote for the Republican candidate, for love of country.

Come November, please vote wisely.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.  They should not be construed as representative of The Penn Spectrum, its staff, or The Penn Government and Politics Association.  Throughout this election season, both The Penn Spectrum and The Penn Government and Politics Association will remain nonpartisan.