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Sorry, Charlie — this election is no time to sit on the sidelines

Simply withholding his support again from Trump does not go far enough. Baker should fully repudiate the president with a vote for Joe Biden.

Governor Charlie Baker at his press conference on Wednesday.Nancy Lane

Governor Charlie Baker’s decision to forgo voting for president four years ago was a flimsy response to Donald Trump’s aberrant campaign. This time, it would be a blow to democracy.

That Baker “cannot support” Trump for president is hardly breaking news. He’s been critical of President Trump’s sadistic response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed about 220,000 American lives, more than 9,500 of them in Massachusetts. After Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he is defeated, Baker called the president’s behavior “appalling and outrageous.”

As Trump and Senate Republicans rushed to nominate a replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Baker tweeted that they should "allow the American people to cast their ballots for President before a new justice is nominated or confirmed.”


Yet simply withholding his support does not go far enough this time. Baker should fully repudiate Trump, with a vote for Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, and be explicit about that choice. Instead, it’s a typical Baker two-step between principles and defending his flank. That might be enough to protect his status as one of the nation’s most popular governors, but it earns him zero points for political courage.

Voting for Biden shouldn’t be a stretch for anyone concerned about the disturbing state of current affairs. (Even Trump is trying to distance himself from his own failed presidency.) Many on the left who may still feel that Biden is too moderate have committed to vote for the former vice president. As Bayard Rustin, the late, legendary civil rights activist and architect of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, once said, ″In protest, there must never be compromise. In politics, there is always compromise." That’s also the case in elections. Even the most robust ad campaigns and war chests can’t mask the fact that every candidate falls short of glory.


“When it comes to electoral politics, we have to make decisions that aren’t always feasible decisions,” Angela Davis, the renowned activist and scholar, said during an event I attended last year at Brandeis University, Davis’s alma mater. That’s how she explained her vote for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“The last time around I was trying to encourage people who were saying that they didn’t want to have anything to do with electoral politics because they are revolutionaries and they wanted to change the world,” Davis said. “And I was attacked on social media when I suggested that people should vote for Hillary Clinton. I [responded] with something like, ‘I’m not so narcissistic to say that I can’t bring myself to vote for Hillary Clinton.’”

This year, Davis is supporting Biden. “The election will ask us not so much to vote for the best candidate, but to vote for or against ourselves,” she said in July. "And to vote for ourselves I think means that we will have to campaign for and vote for Biden.”

That’s because this isn’t just a political race between the 74-year-old white guy and the 77-year-old white guy. It’s a vote for or against democracy. Trump’s erratic, anything-goes authoritarian behavior is an existential threat to our lives and world order. No foreign enemy presents a greater menace to this nation than the man who wants four more years in the White House to inflict even more punishment.


Other Republicans — from Cindy McCain, the widow of Senator John McCain, and former Ohio Governor John Kasich to several former Trump administration officials — have publicly denounced Trump and endorsed Biden. Baker knows the danger a second Trump term portends for this country but has shown no inclination to join his fellow Republicans.

Last week, a young woman tweeted, “I just voted green party. Biden has been very explicit that he doesn’t need the left, so no one should have a problem with this. Have fun.” She ended it with a wave emoji. A middle finger would have been more apt. Baker’s half-measure against Trump feels similar.

Of course, that’s a luxury Baker can afford. A dire election outcome might not affect him, but it would endanger Black, brown, and indigenous lives. It would jeopardize women’s reproductive rights and hard-won gains by the LGBTQ community. It would perpetuate the medieval treatment of immigrants and the continued destruction of the environment, and it would add fuel to a pandemic killing hundreds every day.

Our democracy, as incomplete as it is, is being shoved toward the abyss. With the stakes immeasurably high next month, Baker’s shrug of a response is incomprehensible. His feelings about Trump are clear. Now’s the time for the governor to stand up instead of sitting out his second consecutive presidential election. Anything less, to use Baker’s own words, would be appalling and outrageous.


Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.