I did not vote in the 2016 US presidential election.
It is my most shameful secret. I am politically engaged and I care deeply about democracy. But last election, I let all of that slide because of one big factor: I simply could not bring myself to vote for Hillary Clinton.
So I lied to myself. As an American citizen who had lived abroad my entire adult life, I told myself it was too complicated to vote by mail. In previous elections, especially in 2008 and 2012, I flew back to the US to cast my vote for Barack Obama. But his policies (at the time of the ballot, anyway) closely aligned with my own.
In 2016, however, I made silly excuses. I was too busy to stand in line at French post offices to send voting forms by registered mail. My home state of New Jersey is considered a Democratic Party stronghold, so my vote for Ms Clinton would not matter anyway. I lied to myself all the way to Tuesday, November 8, 2016, when the last of the results came in and Donald Trump was declared president-elect.
Like many Americans, I spent that year blinded by faith that there was no way Americans could elect a reality TV star to the White House. This was a man who stood for everything I fought against: racism, bigotry, Islamophobia, ignorance and hateful rhetoric. I was sure that Ms Clinton, with her vast intelligence and history of politics, would win.
I just did not want to vote for her.
I was not alone. An informal poll of female friends and family – educated, urbane women – assured me that many were quietly taking the same path. People did not like Ms Clinton, even if we recognised her as a stable, mature and experienced leader. Why did we feel that way? Personally, I felt bullied and manipulated by her to vote for a woman because I am a woman.
I am also suspicious of the Clinton family political machine and its lack of transparency, as well as Bill Clinton’s stalled foreign policy in Bosnia, where I spent many years reporting. I know it makes no more sense to vote against a woman because of her husband than it does to vote for a woman because she is a woman. But voting is often gut-wrenchingly emotional.
And faith in the broader population makes it easier to deflect personal responsibility. “I was sure she would win without my vote,” one of my friends, a banker in Manhattan, told me. “I just didn’t want to sully myself voting for her.”
We were wrong. I moved back to an America under a Trump presidency in 2018, and witnessed my country in the throes of white nativism and "America First" unilateral foreign policy. And unless we work hard now, he will win again in November. Four more years of Make America Great Again.
This time, I am backing Elizabeth Warren, a candidate I truly admire. This week, in the middle of Mr Trump’s impeachment trial, she stayed in Washington rather than go out on the campaign trail “because some things are more important than politics", she said. That is the kind of person she is – the kind who believes in her constitutional duty.
Ms Warren has built a grass roots movement. She is not a corrupt, cynical politician. She is a hardworking, smart academic. She is a former single mum who put herself through law school by paying $50 a week. She believes in curtailing the influence of Wall Street; the super-rich should pay their share of taxes, or more. University education and healthcare should be available to everyone. Our society should invest more in clean energy. Most importantly, Ms Warren believes in fighting corruption and reforming the fundamental structures of government.
In a rare break with convention, the editorial board of The New York Times recently endorsed two Democratic candidates – Ms Warren and Amy Klobuchar – instead of one. While I am sticking by Ms Warren, both are candidates I could vote for with genuine conviction. Looking back at the Clinton debacle, conviction – or a lack thereof – was at the heart of the matter.
So this time, I am getting out there and leaning in. I am publicly backing Ms Warren. We are a week away from the February 3 Iowa caucuses, the first vote of the 2020 season.
When Ms Clinton gave her concession speech during the 2008 Democratic primaries, when she ran against Mr Obama, she poignantly evoked the glass ceiling. So many of us have struggled to get there, and she acknowledged it while also conceding her stunning defeat. “I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling,” she said. “But someday, someone will – and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.”
That ceiling might be shattered in 2020 with Ms Warren, or Ms Klobuchar – both smart women who can truly make American great again using the principles the country was founded on.
They want to rebuild a democracy and this time, I am not putting my head in the sand.
Janine di Giovanni is a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and the author of The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria