Most people would agree that the 2016 election cycle has been incredibly nasty.  Yet, it goes deeper than the bigotry and bullshit-spewing of Donald Trump.  It’s been a historical progression of the longstanding hostility against American voters who identify as Independents – perpetuated by Republican and Democratic partisans alike.  Whenever political activists hope to persuade someone onto their side, positive statements of solidarity are going to work a lot more effectively than scare tactics; after all, no one appreciates being attacked or insulted, and when we’re on the receiving end of that behavior, our attacker’s desire to persuade will ultimately be fruitless.

Last week, more than 20,000 emails were released on WikiLeaks implicating various DNC members in coordinated efforts to attack Bernie Sanders on last spring’s campaign trail.  Included in these damaging contents were discussions of how Sanders could be tarnished by misrepresenting his religious background and emphasizing his past Independent political affiliation (despite Sanders caucusing with the Democrats) to loyal Democratic voters.  Hilary Clinton’s campaign manager, Robbie Mook, has stated a belief that Russian hackers were behind it.

It doesn’t matter who was behind it.  Are the Democratic operatives who were implicated in these emails denying their actions?  Are they making claims that the emails were fabricated?

Earlier this month, Seattle reporter Ansel Herz reported on a tirade released by LGBT activist Dan Savage during his weekly Savage Love podcast.  The controversial sex advice columnist interrupted a Green Party member who’d called into his show expressing support for third-party presidential candidate Jill Stein; in short order, Savage berated the caller (and other likeminded people) with an obscenity-laced rant where he accused Independent voters of being opportunistic attention-seekers.  He concluded by imploring his listeners not to “throw your vote away” by voting for Stein.

Never mind how Savage’s classist, biphobic, and transphobic commentary, in my view, completely undermines his credibility when it comes to American political discourse.

Then there was comedienne Sarah Silverman’s standoffish posturing when she spoke at this past week’s Democratic National Convention.  Silverman is a former Sanders supporter who has now endorsed Clinton.  While I agree the jeering and booing that came from many Sanders delegates on the convention floor was childish and counterproductive – to have Silverman talk down to them and tell them they were being “ridiculous” just epitomizes the “limousine liberalism” of Hollywood celebrities.

Silverman, much like Dan Savage, is a comedic personality who appears to regard herself as far more clever than she actually is.  When Sarah Silverman puts forth, say, a twelve-point plan for water sustainability to battle the West Coast drought – then she can talk about skeptics being “ridiculous.”

Even retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has publicly acknowledged the DNC bias in favor of Clinton against Sanders.  Too bad Reid himself chose not to remain neutral in the Chris Van Hollen / Donna Edwards senatorial primary, earlier this year.

But then the partisan Democrats trot out the chill-inducing specter of Ralph Nader’s role in “spoiling” the 2000 Presidential Election for Al Gore against George W. Bush.  And, sixteen years later, that poltergeist has returned – now brandishing the added banshee-esque caterwaul of challenging people’s “privilege.”

It’s like a backhanded compliment that’s become mutilated.  Partisan Democrats screamed at Sanders (and his supporters) that they weren’t *real* Democrats.  They accused us of idealism, stupidity, and every other derogatory invective in the book (even though they were many of the same people who’d asserted, following Bush’s rise to power, that Nader should have worked within the Democratic Party to change it from within).

Now, when former Sanders supporters (along with those who were turned off by the Democratic primary process altogether) refuse to fall in line and vote for Clinton, they blame “the Bernie Bros” for preventing unity.

They’re engaging in a naked endeavor to hijack the entire narrative.  They want the masses to believe that we (political Independents) are the ones who are purportedly smug, arrogant, self-righteous, condescending, and trying to portray Americans who vote for major party candidates as “sheep.”

Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung wrote extensively about the theory of psychological projection.  Perhaps these partisan Democrats need to read up on that.

The partisans have a nasty habit of insulting third-party voters for our voting choices…and then, turning right around and accusing us of being too “oversensitive.”  They claim elections are about our civic duty to the general public – and not about having our feelings hurt.  So, they insist, we should put aside our hurt feelings and vote for the candidate whom they attest is in the best interest of the citizenry as a whole (conveniently, *their* candidate).

Allow me to highlight a couple of glaring examples.

In her op-ed from last March, theatre/culture blogger Melissa Hillman decries what she deems to be “coded misogyny” from progressives and moderates.  Hillman maintains that people are specifically targeting Hillary Clinton for past actions such as opposing same-sex marriage, supporting the 1994 crime bill, and making insensitive comments about the AIDS epidemic.  She complains that it’s supposedly a double standard by which politicians such as Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders aren’t likewise being reviled or taken to task for their own similar positions or past statements.

Hillman then suggests that this “sexism” is “unconscious” due to the outside influence of conservative media outlets.  She expresses disheartened concern that this tone is coming from her own side (fellow progressives), while making the assertion that those who decline to vote for Clinton are “privileged” by supposedly allowing Trump to win based on their irrational “hatred” of Clinton.

I’ll concede that many of Clinton’s critics make unfounded allegations.  I believe there are progressives or leftists who are too quick to assume that Clinton, as president, would automatically be a stooge for Wall Street, Big Agriculture, or the military industrial complex.  It’s certainly unfair to single out Hillary Clinton for her Iraq War Resolution vote when John Kerry voted the exact same way (and Al Gore or Barack Obama may very well have done the same, had they been sitting U.S. Senators at the time).

But the other extreme would be to excuse any flawed action made by Hillary Clinton during her career as some inevitable byproduct of her “having to play the game” in order to “make it” within the male-dominated world of politics.  By coupling that talking point with accusations of “privilege,” Hillman is falling victim to the same flavor of enablement of which she accuses those who won’t to give their votes directly to Clinton.

Attorney and Huffington Post commentator Paul Richardson echoes the Hillman Doctrine by expanding this canned guilt trip.  Richardson expresses that Clinton is nowhere near as bad as Trump…and this year’s election is too close for people to “waste” their votes on Johnson, Stein, or by simply refraining from voting altogether.

It should be noted that Richardson at least bothers to express support for the scenario of third-party candidates building a downticket base by fielding more candidates locally and statewide.  But he approaches it, as do many others of his ilk, as though it’s somehow an “either/or” proposition.  If candidates from minor third parties are categorically discouraged from running in presidential races, that fosters a climate where only two political figures are empowered with framing the entire discourse on a national scale.

Richard Moser of CounterPunch magazine challenges these types of talking points.  He posits that Republicans and Democrats from their respective partisan establishments have been perpetuating the myth – one election cycle after the next – that there’s some artificial scarcity of voters plaguing our country.  In fact, Moser estimates, somewhere between 70-90 million potential voters who habitually choose to sit out local/state/national elections aren’t being appropriately courted.

As Moser describes it, the allegation of third-party candidates being spoilers is an allegory that “functions to scapegoat dissenters and limit political engagement and competition, when we really need more democracy, more choices, more voices.”

He reminds us how Democratic partisans keep harping on the 500-600 Nader voters in Florida who “should have” given their votes to Gore during the 2000 Presidential Election; yet, they don’t look at all of the borderline-purple battleground states (Ohio, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Missouri, Nevada) that Gore, theoretically, could have won if abnormally-high numbers of women and union members hadn’t broken away from the Democratic base to directly vote for George W. Bush that year.

Add to that how the Third Way faction (formerly the DLC) has attacked working-class voters for the past six or seven presidential election cycles, as a way of overcompensating to avoid a scenario of sustaining more McGovern-like or Mondale-like losses.  By challenging this faction of the Democratic Party that embraces political correctness and paves the way for economic volatility, a critical mass of activists found temporary solace in the Sanders movement, this past year.  If anything, Moser suggests, the message of Bernie Sanders has raised the standards for what we should hope to expect out of Democrats and Republicans alike.

Author/editorial writer Shane Ryan echoes Moser’s sentiment, exposing this false narrative as hyperbole that seeks to tarnish the Sanders movement as a bunch of white guys who don’t care about obstacles faced by minority groups.  This is where many of the people campaigning for Clinton will insert the suggestion that those who refuse to vote for Clinton need to be “privilege-checked”…in other words, we allegedly can’t see past our “whiteness” or “maleness” for long enough to recognize that it’s everyone’s “moral duty” to give our votes to Clinton, unequivocally and unchallenged.

In framing this election as some existential imperative for every eligible voter to do everything we can to prevent a Trump presidency, Ryan exposes the motives of Democratic partisans by revealing, “the idea is to bully you into toeing the centrist, corporate line that has helped decimate the American middle class.”

But, as Ryan points out, it’s the spin-doctors perpetuating this deceitful narrative who are actually the privileged class; THEY are the ones who feel fine with the status quo – and stand to benefit from it, personally and professionally.  San Francisco-based writer/engineer Tony Brasunas elaborates on this idea – specifying how working-class Americans of all colors and gender groups can’t afford business-as-usual when it comes to health care, college affordability, or police reform.

Now, I agree that white male privilege exists; but just because someone doesn’t vote for a specific Democratic candidate, that doesn’t mean we aren’t looking at the broader picture.  Ryan, for his part, fears that a Hillary Clinton presidency would harm the long-term goals of progressivism in the same way he believes a Donald Trump presidency would harm the long-term goals of conservatism.  He specifies that it’s dishonest, condescending, and wrong to paint everyone who refuses to vote for Clinton with the same brush of “privilege.”

I would add:  it’s sleazy, opportunistic, and all-around shitty.

Online blogger Rob Cotton identifies this “privilege-shaming” technique as a psychological ploy – similar to what people in the advertising industry use for brand association.  And isn’t that, at their very core, what marketers are trying to achieve within a capitalism – the narrow objective of getting us to have blind faith in their message, no matter what its veracity or credibility may entail?

Now I, like many others of my generation, voted for Obama in 2008 (and again, in 2012).  I didn’t give Barack Obama my vote because of Obama’s party affiliation, or because he made me “feel good,” or because he had a “hip” image.  I voted for Obama because I didn’t like the messages of John McCain, Bob Barr, Ralph Nader, Chuck Baldwin, or Cynthia McKinney; none of them spoke to me, as a voter.

I wasn’t expecting perfection from a President Barack Obama – but after seeing the mistakes he’s made with his party’s implementation of the ACA, his hasty Middle Eastern withdrawal, and his flawed Treasury Department appointments – in hindsight, I would have (as a citizen activist) put more pressure on him, from the get-go.

MUCH MORE pressure.  Alas, we don’t get to travel back to 2009 for a do-over.

Refocusing on the DNC lackeys and their emails:  they got caught with their pants down.  Some hackers exposed their corruption for the entire world.  And now, as a defense mechanism, Democratic partisans are trying to portray us (meaning those of us who call out that corruption) as thin-skinned whiners who are supposedly stomping our feet because we think the people who exchanged those emails are a bunch of “meanies.”

Wasn’t it Anne Koedt (while advocating institutional and social equality for women) who indicated how the personal is political?  If DNC operatives truly possessed some moral high ground, they wouldn’t have been emailing such playground-style rhetoric back and forth in the first place.  And the “privilege-checkers” wouldn’t be making excuses for them.

I don’t find it surprising when liberal-minded voters declare their intention to support Hillary Clinton…the same way it should be no surprise when conservative-minded voters declare their intention to support Donald Trump.  But, by that same token, if a voter disapproves of Clinton’s conduct, one shouldn’t be raked over the coals for choosing to give their vote to Jill Stein.  Similarly, a voter who disapproves of Trump’s conduct shouldn’t be raked over the coals for choosing to give their vote to Gary Johnson.

I’m going to vote for the person who I believe has done the best job of speaking to the issues that I find to be most critical to our nation as a whole.  In my eyes, those issues are economic stability and national water sustainability.  I will apply that same formula up and down the ballot, regardless of whether it’s for the presidency, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, my state assemblyperson, or a city council member.

You can vote according to whatever criteria you feel is prudent to get your favored policies implemented…short-term or long-term.  I won’t criticize your voting choices, either; just don’t criticize mine.  And calling me names, questioning my motives, invoking white male privilege in an attempt to socially-shame me, or scoffing about how I’m “wasting” my vote are, quite frankly, the truly ridiculous tactics that will NOT convince me to change my mind.  In fact, they are likelier to do the opposite.

Meanwhile, there are millions of other potential voters who are either on-the-fence or inclined to stay home because they don’t believe their votes will count.  Those are really the people from whom you should be trying to sway additional votes, on your candidate’s behalf.  Generally, you’ll be most effective in doing this if you highlight your candidate’s positive qualities and the more innovative features of their platform.

Ultimately, whoever is elected to the presidency in November will need to own their leadership qualities and accountability for their decision-making.  Their successes or failures will be on them.  Not me.  Not you.  Not their donors.  Not the party’s leaders.  Them.

What we can do, as grassroots activists or engaged citizens, is be vocal by demanding good policy and good government.  It’s up to us to articulate which policies we believe will benefit (or, conversely, sabotage) the American people.  It’s up to us to insist that the next president – along with their cabinet members and advisors – be held to the same standards we’d expect from judicial officeholders or members of Congress.  We must do this continuously…not just during those chunks of time when the people canvassing door-to-door happen to crave our votes.

Our failure to do so, at that point – that’s on us.  So, in the meantime, don’t berate us for standing up for our principles and convictions during these months leading up to this presidential election.  Don’t try to slander us as “privileged whites” or “privileged males” or “self-loathing members of minority groups” just because we’re not voting for all of the exact same candidates on the ballot whom you want to see elected.

That smacks of autocracy, not democracy.

The unprecedented amount of bullying and “privilege-shaming” that I’ve witnessed during this particular election cycle is, in the words of Judge Judy:  OUTRAGEOUS.  It’s also presumptuous, self-serving, and downright pathetic.  In that spirit, I’ll leave you with a quotation from my good buddy and bro, Travis, which he recently posted on his Facebook timeline:

Living in an Us-vs-Them reality generates so much unnecessary resentment.  It dictates what movies you’ll allow yourself to enjoy, what comics you’ll read, what news networks you’ll watch.  Creating arbitrary lines does nothing but divide you and your neighbor.  It turns every walk of life into a heated competition – not debate and compromise, but right vs. wrong.  It spawns fruitless battles over which political party has all the right answers, which lives matter more – black or blue.  It creates a cognitive dissonance and forces you to adhere to an entire ideology, even when the individual ideas therein may not be consistent.  It moves you to block friends and hide family members and write off acquaintances who likely have a lot to offer.