Among progressive circles in the United States a debate has started about the issue of “lesser evil voting” in regards to the upcoming Presidential elections.
While the prospect of having to choose between two very similar candidates is the norm in the US, this year’s elections are somewhat different, in the sense that Republican candidate Donald Trump is out of the traditional political spectrum, pending towards far right authoritarianism.
In November, Americans are called to choose between a neoliberal and a neofascist. The anomaly of the profile of Donald Trump should urge progressives to make some considerations in regards to the strategy to adopt during the campaign and at the ballot box.
I do not agree with Green Party leader Jill Stein’s argument that a Trump and a Clinton presidency would ultimately “both lead to the same place”. She is certainly correct however, when she says “the lesser evil paves the way for the greater evil”; Hillary Clinton represents total continuity with past administrations, made of economic policies benefitting big corporations and financial institutions and a highly militaristic approach to foreign policy, in line with neocon hawks. It is policies like those that generated the precarity and the discontent which led to the rise of Trump.
A presidency under Clinton would temporarily delay but at the same time create the fertile ground for the emergence of similar political phenomena to enter American politics with even more insistence. Hillary Clinton is part of the problem at least as much as Donald Trump is; the record of her career, a “US horror story”, speaks for itself.
It has been said that the Democratic Party’s platform has been pushed to the left thanks to the pressure brought by Bernie Sanders’ campaign. However, as Josh On argues on Truthout, the platform is “far less progressive than Sanders delegates argued for”. Josh On also examines the extent to which “the Democratic Party platform affects actual policy” by confronting the statements and promises in Obama’s 2008 platform with the factual record of his presidency. On concludes that Democratic platform’s promises are nonbinding “fake platitudes”, often marked by “setbacks” and “major compromises”.
The rhetorical declarations and commitments made by Hillary Clinton and her team during the Convention should therefore be taken with a high degree of skepticism, and cannot be considered as a sign of the Democratic Party adopting a more progressive agenda.
Whatever strategy one adopts at the ballots, Hillary Clinton has to be subject to the same amount of scrutiny, monitoring and criticism than Trump. Also, organizing and working with the best forces of civil society to pressure for change from below can and must continue, regardless of electoral deadlines or choices.
It is well known that the US’ political system is rigged by corporate money, and offers no genuine alternatives; in this sense, voting is a relatively marginal issue. Most of the energy has to be focused on grassroots organizing and campaigning, outside the illusory framework of elections. Still, as Prof. Noam Chomsky correctly says, “small differences in a system of great power can have enormous consequences”. Trump is a misogynist, xenophobic, narcissistic candidate. His campaign has been marked by blatant lies. A presidency under his name would be totally unpredictable and a dangerous prospect the world cannot afford.
As Chomsky says, “voting should not be viewed as a form of personal self-expression or moral judgment” but rather as “an act to be judged on its likely consequences”. He goes on by stating “the left should also recognize that, should Trump win based on its failure to support Clinton [in swing states], it will repeatedly face the accusation (based in fact), that it lacks concern for those sure to be most victimized by a Trump administration”. Moreover, a Trump presidency would reinforce the moderate “establishment center”, which could posture itself as “the “reasonable” alternative”.
Also, Chomsky argues the harm on the “marginalized and already oppressed” would very likely be “significantly greater” under Trump than Clinton: Trump is a climate change denier, a supporter of fracking, he has called for the deportation of millions of immigrants and for a ban on all Muslims entering the US, and his economic policies would almost certainly reduce even more what remains of social security and benefit the top 1%, of which he is part (along with Hillary Clinton).
The few percentage points that would be lost in swing states by pursuing a “lesser evil strategy” would cause far less damage than the destructive policies that would hit the poorest groups of society and the political consequences for the radical left that would occur with Trump in the White House.
Leftists should acknowledge that the chances to build a mass movement that could fight for the presidency around the Green Party, the most progressive and radical national political organization of the United States, is, at this time, virtually impossible.
Nevertheless, Bernie Sanders’ campaign and activists working on the ground have opened a space to introduce new voices previously marginalized in the political discourse, to inject “radical politics into the machinery”; this could be part of a long term process of change that can only occur, for the moment, beyond and outside the framework of elections.
Avoiding a Trump presidency would be an act of far sightedness and the wisest strategic choice to achieve transformational change in the future. To disregard the consequences of ignoring “lesser evil voting” in the upcoming presidential elections is, even if in good faith, an irresponsible stance and a self-defeating strategy for all those concerned in bringing about radical change.
© Tommaso Segantini