As dedicated as I am to left-wing, liberal, and progressive politics, it is obvious that the extremism of some on the left has in turn enabled right-wing extremists under Donald Trump to take over America and start running it into the ground. We simple cannot afford a repeat of what happened in 2016……EVER! And therefore, we must defeat those who have unrealistic and even treacherous positions and tactics among the American left.
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Electoral Politics and the Absurdity of the Puritanical Left
Don’t vote. It only encourages them.
The lesser of two evils is still evil.
You hear these kinds of things often when you reside on the left of the political spectrum in America, especially in the run-up to a national election. Or else you see them emblazoned on bumper stickers: slogans suggesting that truly progressive folks should never be willing to vote for, say, a clearly less-than-ideal Democrat, given how removed they often are from our own views.
According to this line of thought, we should either vote for someone whose views comport more closely with our own, like whomever the Green Party nominates this time around, or else abstain so as to send a message that we won’t be tricked into compromising our principles.
In 2020 we’ll no doubt be hearing these again, or perhaps a variation on the theme favored by at least some Bernie Sanders acolytes: namely, that it’s Bernie or Bust, and that they will not, under any circumstances, vote for anyone but Sanders for president.
Oh, and if you do, you’re a sell-out and a capitalist shill, who obviously isn’t sufficiently troubled by the milyanehhhhhhhhhs and the bilyanehhhhhhhhhs.
Or, alternately, that one will vote for anyone but Sanders because of his votes on gun issues or some other area where he fails the left/progressive purity test.
It seems like almost a rite of passage for progressives to counsel abstention from exercising the franchise. So too, to advocate voting third party, not because such a candidate would have any chance of winning or because by voting for them we’ll actually help build that third party into a viable political force, but only so that our consciences can be clear.
Yes indeed, we can vote for that radical alternative, and then drive back to our homes from the polling station in our fuel-burning vehicles, take off our shoes manufactured in a sweatshop somewhere, and then send out a tweet on our virtual-slave-labor-produced technology, telling everyone, completely un-ironically, how awesome it feels not to have contributed to evil today.
There’s something cathartic (in a juvenile, angst-driven, anarchy-tatted kinda way) about preening as a moral superior because you didn’t give in to the two-party “duopoly,” or whatever Ralph Nader’s calling it nowadays. Maintaining one’s ascetic sense of unsullied purity feels good. So does fentanyl, I’m told (at least in small doses), but I’m not sure the indulgence of either is one’s best bet for safety.
And I say this as someone who has both abstained and voted third party as a protest before, but also managed to take note of the fact that doing so — along with lots of other people who did the same — didn’t actually seem to change shit. At least not for the better.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that voting is the key to political change; it obviously is not. But to think that it means nothing (or at least so little as to not recommend the activity or accept the need to sometimes hold one’s nose and make a far-from-perfect choice) is to engage a dangerous moral conceit. Because there appear to be others, every bit as committed to their worldview as we are to ours, who feel no qualms about pulling that lever, or pushing that button on the touch-screen, even though I figure they also know it isn’t the sum total of political engagement.
See, some things are pretty easy to understand, and this is one of them.
If voting doesn’t matter, precious revolutionaries, then riddle me this:
Why are some people trying so hard to keep other people from doing it?
‘Cuz when you graffiti that line about how, If voting changed anything it would be illegal (which you attribute inaccurately to Emma Goldman because it sounds better if you can put it in the mouth of a true revolutionary) you’re sorta missing the fact that some people are trying hard to make it precisely that for millions.
I mean, if voting doesn’t matter then why would they waste time restricting early voting, disproportionately engaged in by folks of color and working class folks who have less flexibility on election day?
Why would they push for photo ID requirements, despite the utter lack of evidence as to an actual in-person voter fraud problem? For one reason only: because they know that the folks less likely to have such ID (because they are less likely to drive), will be poor and of color, and the fewer votes cast by such folks, the better for them.
Why make voter registration drives more difficult by threatening organizers with fines and jail time, even for innocent mistakes on forms, as has just happened in Tennessee?
Why go to all that trouble if the game is so unalterably rigged that the elite will get their way no matter who wins? Why spend all that money — like the tens of millions raised so far for Trump’s re-election — if it doesn’t matter who sits in the Oval Office?
Maybe they know something that the puritanical, self-satisfied left doesn’t.
Maybe they do these things because they expect them to pay off.
They apparently aren’t satisfied with the degree to which the Democratic Party is solicitous of the wealthy, or the extent to which they support U.S. intervention around the world.
They apparently aren’t satisfied with the Democratic Party’s cautious stances on immigration, or their court nominees.
They want more. Because they know, even if we do not, that who gets elected does matter.
The Voting Rights Act really would have had a much harder time passing, as with the Fair Housing Act, had Barry Goldwater been president, rather than Lyndon Johnson. Nixon really did, in all likelihood, kill more Southeast Asians after becoming President in 1969 than Hubert Humphrey would have. Reagan really did ramp up the awful beyond anything Carter could have imagined.
And if John McCain and Sarah Palin had been running things, the courts really would be worse, and there would have been no health care reform at all against which we on the left could spend our time railing on behalf of a better alternative.
And yes, I know: some of the Supreme Court Justices appointed by Republicans in the past turned out to be more progressive than some of those appointed by Democrats. But in case you hadn’t noticed, the Republicans of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s are gone now. They have been replaced by people who make St. Ronnie of Dementia appear moderate by comparison.
Remember, in 2015, Bernie stan H.A. Goodman insisted that fears of a right-wing Supreme Court were no reason to vote for Hillary Clinton because none of the Justices were going to retire anyway and you were an idiot if you thought otherwise.
Then two months after he penned those words, Scalia died, the GOP held the seat hostage until Trump took over, then Anthony Kennedy retired, and Trump got to fill both seats.
Oh, and H.A. Goodman became a Trump supporter.
So yeah, fuck these people.
Look, voting is a tactic: nothing more and nothing less. Is it the be-all-end-all? Of course not. No self-respecting member of the nation’s elite would be satisfied to vote every few years and leave the rest up to chance, and neither should we. But those elites damned sure don’t sit out the elections either, smug in their conceit that either way, everything will work out alright.
They take no chances; they play every hand; they never fold — not even once.
And please, before someone does it, no frivolous and reflexive quoting of Audre Lorde here, about how “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” The misuse of such a genius as she for purposes other than those to which she dedicated her life is all-too-common but nonetheless enraging for its ubiquity.
First off, Lorde was not talking about voting when she issued this famous phrase, and you can’t just take a quote, the sound of which you like, and deploy it for any purpose you damned well please. Well you can, but not while claiming even a modicum of intellectual honesty. To do so signifies a maddening lack of originality, and indicates how quick some are to rely on slogans and aphorisms, however insightful, rather than strategic and tactical thought.
And second — and it’s embarrassing to have to point this out — voting was never one of the master’s tools.
The master, the manor-born, or the King didn’t want people to vote, and especially not the slaves, the peasants, or the commoners. The master would always prefer dictatorship and no elections at all.
To miss this point is to spit in the face of Fannie Lou Hamer and suggest that she was naive, just playing foolishly with the master’s tools when she was fighting for the right to vote. So too it is to disrespect John Lewis, and martyrs like Jonathan Daniels, James Reeb, Medgar Evers, and Vernon Dahmer, and so many others, all of whom fought and occasionally died for, among other things, the right to vote.
But here we are, fifty-plus years after the Voting Rights Act, and we’re still dealing with the occasional self-proclaimed radical who thinks they’re imbued with more profound political insight than any of those, even as they haven’t done half as much as they, or paid a fraction of the price, for the sake of their convictions.
Frankly, it’s grotesque.
What it comes down to is this: Voting is harm reduction; just like giving clean needles to addicts. Voting doesn’t solve our problems, just like clean needles won’t solve the problems posed by intravenous drug use. But harm reduction matters.
I make no pretense to having the answers, but that said, I’m reasonably confident that whatever the best strategies for moving this country to a place of justice might be, none of them involve greasing the skids for reactionary Christian supremacists, rabid nativists, implicit (if not explicit) white nationalists, and puerile homophobes.
I’m quite certain that anything that makes Ted Nugent happy or Michelle Bachmann joyous is bad for the world, and anything that helps Sean Hannity sleep well at night is something terrifying and to be resisted at all costs.
For those of us on the left then, wondering whether or not it’s worth voting for yet another compromised Democrat, may I suggest a relatively easy way to answer that question? It’s not that hard.
On election day, ask yourself:
“What would Ben Shapiro want me to do?”
And then do the opposite.
In 2016, I supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries and then when Hillary Clinton got the party’s nomination, I voted for her. And Bernie herself supported her, rather than be a sore loser. Anyone on the left who did NOT vote for Hillary in 2016 enabled Trump to win and therefore betrayed the actually causes of the left. The Green Party was useless and even Bernie knew that, which is why he ran as a Democrat.
I will NEVER vote for the Green Party again, unless and until the two-party duopoly is broken first. And that can only happen if we pass several Constitutional Amendments to change how elections are done.
Those reforms can enable a true multiparty democracy to emerge. Voting for third party candidates before such reforms are made is putting the cart before the horse.