Disclaimer: This post is written by a liberal for a liberal audience.
I didn’t vote in the 2016 presidential election, and I won’t be voting in this one either. This is of great consternation to a number of fellow liberals. I’ve already outlined my reasoning before, so I won’t repeat myself here. However I find the line of argumentation of those who think I should vote is interesting and worthy of examination.
Their argument goes thusly: Yes, neither candidate is good, but one is far worse than the other. We must make sure the less bad one wins. To be moral, you must not only vote, but vote only for the not-as-bad candidate of the two main parties. This is because elections are consequential and materially effect the lives of everyone, but especially marginalized Americans. Thus, you must vote for the correct candidate or you do not care about marginalized Americans and are a bad person. If everyone voted, things would be different/better.
First I want to acknowledge the truth in this argument. I absolutely agree that who sits as President is consequential. I further agree that it has an outsized impact on marginalized Americans. However I do not grant that this truth morally necessitates voting for a particular candidate.
My critics and I come to different solutions to the same problem because we hold differing assumptions. Let’s unpack them.
First, we view the process of voting in fundamentally different ways. They view voting as a way to nudge the behemoth that is the US government one way or another. I don’t disagree with this, because it’s true. Again, I agree that the Presidency is consequential and is even more so for the marginalized. Where we diverge is that I don’t think this is the only role that voting plays.
To be accurate, it’s not voting itself that I see as problematic, but rather the entire edifice of American politics. It is the very structure of the American political system that makes voting in it problematic. To illustrate what I mean let’s look at this century’s Presidencies.
21st Century Presidencies
I was a Freshman in highschool when Bush was elected and had little understanding of the true ways of power at the time. Thus I have a rather simple impression of his Presidency, but I think that’s actually to the benefit of this current discussion. Growing up in the Blue State of New Jersey I had essentially a mainstream, American liberal, opinion. Bush was dumb, couldn’t speak well, and lied to the American people about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as a pretense to invade them for their oil. He passed regressive tax cuts on the wealthy and didn’t care about the marginalized. Bush was an embarrassment to the country.
My simplistic view of his presidency is sufficient for our current purposes because it mirrors the standard liberal narrative: Bush bad.
And then we were saved by Obama! His poise, articulation, and ethnicity redeemed us from the embarrassment of Bush! He even won the Nobel Peace prize just for being elected! I hear many people even today touting Obama as an exemplary President.
Was he better than Bush? Absolutely. Would I take him over Trump? Hands down. But being better than is not that same as being good enough.
Even before he was elected he flip-flopped on the FISA amendment (H.R.6304).
In doing so he voted to give telecommunication providers immunity against civil damages that they might incur in the course of enabling the government to execute wiretaps and other types of electronic surveillance. He did so, after an amendment to the bill that would have stripped out the immunity provision, S.Amdt. 5064, was defeated 32-66. In voting for the bill, Obama acted in direct contradiction to his earlier statements. In 2007 Bill Burton, an Obama campaign spokesman, said “To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies.”
The original F.I.S.A statute was passed in 1978 in order to protect civil liberties against overly expansive government surveillance, and had clear penalties of $100 per person, per day, plus punitive damages, for telecommunications companies that conducted electronic surveillance without judicial oversight. Given that each day tens of millions of people have their data go across the networks of some of the larger telcos, the risk that these companies faced by working with the government on extra-judicial wiretaps was extreme. In giving companies that work with the government immunity from these penalties, H.R. 6304, and Barack Obama who voted for it, just took away the only reason stopping AT&T, Verizon, and others from helping the government use extra-judicial wiretaps. In voting for the bill, Obama not only helped the telco’s, but also broke his promise to protect the American people from expansive government surveillance.Dan Kimerling
If you don’t think supporting the Surveillance State is a big deal, you might want to do a little more research.
And then there’s his war record.
Before he took office in 2008, Barack Obama vowed to end America’s grueling conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his second term, he pledged to take the country off what he called a permanent war footing.” But Obama left a very different legacy “U.S. military forces were at war for all eight years of Obama’s tenure, the first two-term president with that distinction. He launched airstrikes or military raids in at least seven countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.CHRISTI PARSONS AND W.J. HENNIGAN
He even outspent Bush on war; $866 billion to $811 billion.
Obama has also embraced special-operations forces. In fiscal year 2014, U.S. special-operations forces deployed to 133 countries, or roughly 70 percent of the entire world, The Nation reports. General Joseph Votel, the commander of SOCOM, has said, “The command is at its absolute zenith. And it is indeed a golden age for special operations.” The size of SOCOM has expanded by almost 25 percent since Obama took office, increasing from 55,800 people to 69,700, according to McGraw at SOCOM.EDWARD DELMAN
He vastly expanded our nation’s Drone Striking program, launching more than 10 times as many drone strikes as his bad predecessor.
The US’s [official] estimate of the number of civilians killed between January 2009 and the end of 2015 – between 64 and 116 – contrasted strongly with the number recorded by the Bureau [of Investigative Journalism], which at 380 to 801 was six times higher.
That figure does not include deaths in active battlefields including Afghanistan – where US air attacks have shot up since Obama withdrew the majority of his troops at the end of 2014. The country has since come under frequent US bombardment, in an unreported war that saw 1,337 weapons dropped last year alone – a 40% rise on 2015.
Afghan civilian casualties have been high, with the United Nations (UN) reporting at least 85 deaths in 2016. The Bureau recorded 65 to 105 civilian deaths during this period. We did not start collecting data on Afghanistan until 2015.Jessica Purkiss , Jack Serle
During the [2009 to 2015 period], the Obama Administration did count all military-age males in strike zones as combatants unless explicit intelligence exonerated them posthumously.Wikipedia
Despite the Nobel Peace Prize laureate outspending his bad predecessor on war, the Anti-War Left – so vocal during Bush’s term – virtually disappeared during the Obama presidency and has yet to be seen since.
Obama also failed to introduce universal public healthcare despite the Democrats controlling both Houses and the Presidency for two years.
This brings us to the 2016 Presidential race and the eventual Trump presidency. But before we get to the Presidential race itself, it’s worthwhile to look at the Democratic Primary.
Of particular note is early 2016, before the July 25th Democratic Convention nominated Clinton. Polling clearly demonstrated that Sanders would beat Trump. This May 14th Aljazeera article both speak to Sanders’ much higher chances.
Recent polls have demonstrated that Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders holds a much higher potential to defeat Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, in an election than Hillary Clinton, although the latter is the Democratic party’s frontrunner.
RealClearPolitics showed on Tuesday that Sanders had a 13 percent advantage over Trump, while Clinton had five more points than Trump. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday signalled a tight coin-toss race between Clinton and Trump, without reporting on Sanders.
Dustin Woodard, an analytics expert who played a major part in the discovery of the Reuters poll trend, told Al Jazeera that a significant reason for Sanders’ advantage was due to disproportional support from independent voters – a group that he says other polls failed to factor in. “Independents are the largest voting population in the US. Gallup reports that independents are 42 percent of the voting population, while Democrats are only 29 percent and Republicans are only 26 percent.”
Sanders and Trump have been the favourites of independent voters, he noted, adding how their voice changes the outcome of polls.
“When I look at other head-to-head polling sources, the 10 most recent polls show Clinton only beats Trump in eight of them and her margin of win averages 4.6 percent, but most, if not all, of the polls do not have their independent numbers correct.”
This would suggest Clinton v Trump is a really tight battle, possibly in Trump’s favour. However, on Bernie Sanders side, he beats Trump in every single poll and by an average margin of 14.1 percent. Again, if independents were adjusted, his margin might be even larger.Ryan Rifai
This prediction was confirmed a year later by Trump’s own pollster, Tony Fabrizio, who “stated flatly at a recent Harvard University Institute of Politics event that Sanders would have beaten Trump. He said Sanders would have run stronger than Clinton with lower-educated and lower-income white voters.”
But of course we’ll never know for sure if Bernie would have beat Trump because the DNC chose Clinton instead. And that choosing itself was very problematic.
The core facts are straightforward: As Barack Obama’s presidency drew to a close, the DNC was deep in debt. In return for a bailout, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz gave Hillary Clinton’s campaign more potential control over its operations and hiring decisions than was either ethical or wise. But those operations were mostly irrelevant to the primary and couldn’t have been used to rig the process even if anyone had wanted to use them that way; the primary schedule, debate schedule, and rules were set well in advance of these agreements.
But there’s a larger context that is more important than what happened at the DNC and is getting lost in the back and forth over joint fundraising agreements and staffing power. The Democratic Party — which is a different and more complex entity than the Democratic National Committee, and which includes elected officials and funders and activists and interest groups who are not expected to be neutral in primaries — really did favor Hillary Clinton from early in the campaign, and really did shape the race in consequential ways.
Democratic elites, defined broadly, shaped the primary before voters ever got a chance to weigh in, and the way they tried to shape it was by uniting behind Clinton early in the hopes of avoiding a bruising, raucous race.
The harder question in the larger one: What role should party elites play in primaries? It wasn’t that long ago, after all, that they fully decided primaries, meeting in smoky back rooms during the political conventions to hash out the next nominee. Before 2016, the reigning political science theory of primaries was called “the party decides,” and it argued that political elites still largely decided party primaries, albeit through influencing voters rather than controlling convention delegates.
“Nominations define parties, so of course party actors are going to fight hard to define it how they want it to be,” writes Jonathan Bernstein. “As they should.”Ezra Klein
Thus, Democratic elites chose Clinton over Sanders and handed the Presidency to Trump, who obviously is very, very bad.
But Clinton would also have been bad, just not as bad as Trump. She was Obama’s Secretary of State, and thus had a hand in shaping his foreign policy including his use of the military.
This overview of recent political history gives us enough context to flesh out my stance.
According to Wikipedia, “Politics is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations between individuals, such as the distribution of resources or status.” Put more bluntly, politics is about power.
This brings us back to my assertion that the entirety of the US political system is irredeemably broken, and calls for a broader framing of what constitutes moral political action.
My position is simple. Our nation’s (and almost all others’ to boot) decision making process is shit. Any process that determines that out of all 330 million Americans, the two best choices to lead this country are Donald Trump and Joe Biden is obviously a terrible process.
The thing that gets me is that my liberal critics agree with the above sentiment. They recognize that our political process is deeply flawed. They don’t support Biden because of what Biden stands for (which is what exactly?) but instead support him because he’s not Trump.
The thing is though, is that we don’t have to accept that our only choice is deciding between two out of touch old white men.
Admittedly, the alternative to the old white men is not easy. It’s not easy because the only other option is revolution and rebellion.
I’m told to vote for Biden because he’s not Trump. He’s the lesser of two evils. But instead of asking what a vote for Biden is against, what happens if we ask what a vote for Biden is for?
A vote for Biden is a vote for the status quo. The very oppressive, world-threatening, status quo. A vote for the return to the Obama era.
Now many people see this as a desirable thing. But I don’t. A return to the status quo is a return to complacence with American imperialism. Complacence with 9 million people dying from hunger every year. Complacence with one in four American children going hungry. Complacence with government agricultural subsidies so that American farmers can undercut the rest of the world’s farmers so that they have no food security. Complacence with child miners and women sweatshop workers. Complacence with millions of people living in slums. Complacence with climate change.
This is because the US political system, like all political systems, has been captured by those with a vested interest in keeping things the way they are. They have power in the current system, and use that power to maintain and grow their power in it.
By voting, you are implicitly agreeing that our system is just. It is a tacit agreement that the Way Things Are is acceptable, it is condoning the status quo. By participating in this upcoming election, you are saying that it is a good way to choose our leaders. That Biden and Trump are the two best people in this country to lead this country. When you vote in a broken system, you are handing that broken system your power. Furthermore, I feel that believing your vote has meaning actually dis-empowers you. By believing that your vote matters, you are less likely to engage in political action that does actually have an impact.
Instead of voting, I say rebel.
I also see voting play a far more insidious role in American politics, that of capturing and dissipating dissent.
Our elections consume a tremendous amount of time, attention, energy, and money to produce an objectively terrible result. I submit that those resources could be far better spent in other avenues. All of the energy and money spent supporting Bernie and Warren? It’s gone, wasted. Our elections process cause those who try to make meaningful change to blow all of their energy with no result.
Thus, our political process channels time, energy, and money that could be spent on things that actually make a difference and dissipates it.
The Lesser of Two Evils
I grant that Biden would be a better president than Trump, but that’s quite faint praise indeed, and doesn’t qualify him to lead the country. It’s a classic sales technique that I learned as the “alternate of choice.”
The Alternate of Choice is a closing technique in the form of a question with two answers — and either answer is an agreement. The key is to give two solutions that both lead toward the sale. By giving two choices, one or the other is usually chosen. This is much better than what happens when you give one choice and the only other option is “no.” Here’s an example: “The way I see it, Mary, the only real decision we need to make today is how soon you can start reaping the benefits of our fine service. Shall we schedule our people out here tomorrow, or would the next day be better for you?” Once it’s scheduled, it’s sold.Tom Hopkins
“So Citizen, which will it be, the blue asshole or the red asshole?”
I submit that the illusion of choice is no choice at all.
And heaven forbid you vote for a third party candidate, that’s throwing away your ever so meaningful vote!
Another belief I hold is that the differences between the two main parties are very small compared to what they have in common. Yes, there are some important differences such as abortion, but such issues pale in comparison to what both parties have in common.
In a better world the largest issues we would face would be social justice issues such as systemic racism and women’s reproductive freedoms, but unfortunately this is not the case. According to the Washington Post, 1,337 black people were fatally shot by police since Jan, 1, 2015. However, every single year, 9 million people die of hunger. That’s almost 7,000 times more, clearly a much larger issue. But neither party talks about the evils of capitalism, and the singular role that our country plays in maintaining it. Neither party talks about the Fed, and the injustice of our debt-based money system. Neither party talks about the dangers of industrial agriculture. Neither party has plans to address climate change in any meaningful way.
Climate change could be the end of this country, and is barely addressed by either of the two ruling parties.
Our political system has been captured and irredeemably broken by our economic system. Our economic system is killing our planet and us while it’s at it. Meaningful change is not possible within it. Thus, change must come from without. Sure, vote if you want. But if the only political action you take is within our political system, that is not enough.
Want to create real change? Stop being part of the problem: Meet as many of your needs outside the money system as possible. Reduce your ecological footprint as much as possible. Stop paying your taxes and supporting the American empire. Start being part of the solution: grow as much of your own food as possible. Engage in bioregional trade.
The lesser of two evils is still evil. The French Revolution proved once and for all that the power lies in the people. It’s time to take our power back.