Susan Sarandon's Endorsement of Dr. Jill Stein Only Helps Donald Trump

The actor and activist Susan Sarandon. Brian Snyder/Reuters

At the end of Thelma & Louise, the 1991 film for which Susan Sarandon is probably most famous, the two titular characters drive off a cliff instead of surrendering to law enforcement. The decision is lethal, but principled. The film's final frame shows their blue Ford Thunderbird flying with slow, deadly grace into the Grand Canyon.

Recently, though, Sarandon's activism has eclipsed her acting. Her latest political statement—an endorsement of Green Party candidate Jill Stein that could rob Hillary Clinton of crucial votes—is just as reckless as the Thelma & Louise denouement. And the consequences are far more real.

Sarandon has never been a Clinton fan. A vociferous supporter of socialist Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, Sarandon refused to accept that he wasn't going to be the Democratic Party's nominee for president. After the Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren—nobody's idea of a compromised centrist—endorsed Clinton, Sarandon baited Warren on Twitter, suggesting that Clinton is the "candidate who represents everything [Warren] has fought against." In August, Sarandon rejected the historical significance of Clinton becoming the nation's first female president. "I go by issues. I don't vote with my vagina," she said.

It is now November, and you'd think Donald Trump's performance throughout the fall would have made clear to Sarandon that the orange demagogue is a serious peril to American democracy. Not so. On Tuesday, she endorsed Stein in an open letter that said, in part, "Fear of Donald Trump is not enough for me to support Clinton, with her record of corruption." She lists 11 reasons why she won't vote for Clinton. The first is her refusal to support a $15 minimum wage (Clinton's at $12). The second is her apparent inaction on legal marijuana.

Sarandon does raise some valid concerns about Clinton, such as her incoherent (and unconvincing) vacillation on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and, more broadly, the feeling that she cannot be wholly be trusted on any position that hasn't been polled 37 different ways.

"Now that Trump is self-destructing," Sarandon says in the letter, "I feel even those in swing states have the opportunity to vote their conscience."

Not only is this statement dangerous, it is wrong.

Trump is anything but self-destructing. At his rallies, he misrepresents the perplexingly resurrected investigation into Clinton's private email server as a Watergate-sized scandal, when even those involved in Watergate have called any such comparison preposterous. Meanwhile, his henchmen are apparently busy suppressing the black vote in North Carolina, already at work making American "great" again.

My anguish at Sarandon's endorsement, which appears aimed at younger voters, comes with an admission. Back in 2000, I voted for Green candidate Ralph Nader in New Hampshire, entranced by many of the same promises Stein makes today. Nader got 4 percent in the Granite State, all votes taken away from Democratic nominee Al Gore. Perhaps as a result, the White House was effectively handed to perhaps the most incompetent president of the modern era—though I am confident a President Trump would be a disaster nonpareil.

Several months ago, I interviewed Jill Stein, who was gracious with her time. She is extremely intelligent and passionate—and as thoroughly unsuited for the presidency as Trump. When I asked her to explain her position on corporate governance, she accused me of being a Mitt Romney stooge. Her "100 percent clean renewable energy by 2030" plan is neither politically nor technologically feasible. Her desire to close military bases, end poverty and cure social ills all neglect the inconvenient existence of Congress and the Supreme Court, which are rarely if ever swayed by idealism.

But like Trump, Stein sells a vision that, while unrealistic, is utterly enchanting to those already disposed to believe in it. Also like Trump, she is ideologically rigid and, as far as I can tell, entirely incurious about views that don't accord with her own. A Stein presidency would be as much of a debacle as a Trump one.

Sarandon is essentially asking people to cast protest votes against Clinton for Stein. But instates like Nevada, North Carolina and New Hampshire, all of which are vital to Clinton's chances of victory, a vote for Stein is a vote for Trump.

The problematic aspects of protest voting may not matter to Sarandon, who will continue to live comfortably regardless of who wins the election. She will never face deportation to El Salvador or Yemen; as a white American, she has nothing to fear from the onerous law-and-order regime Trump has promised. Worth an estimated $50 million, she will not suffer much from the havoc Trump is sure to wreak on the American economy. Susan Sarandon can spend the Trump presidency tweeting outrage from her Manhattan penthouse. But not all of us are eager to follow her off the cliff.