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Answering David Swanson


 

In “Explaining the Problem with Lesser Evilism,” David Swanson proposes a way for people to enlighten voters like myself. First, he says, “get your lesser evilist friend to believe you understand what they are saying,” “that you grasp their way of thinking.”

Okay, but isn’t our way of thinking the same as Swanson’s way? Doesn’t everyone consider options and choose what seems to have better overall implications?

Swanson adds, “Explain to them that you would much rather have a world of lesser evilists who care passionately about making the world evil at as slow a pace as possible, than a world of people who just don’t care at what speed the world becomes more evil.”

Someone advocating strategic voting says in contested states we should vote Clinton, despite her being horrendous, to help stop the still worse Trump. Elsewhere, we should vote Green or whatever we prefer. He or she says, Trump winning and all that he would bring with him would be so much worse than Clinton winning and all that she would bring with her that it is worth voting Clinton in contested states for the ten minutes it takes away from preparing to organize against her administration. Nothing about “lesser evilism” says we are resigned merely to slowing the pace of evilness.

Swanson says about “50% of advocates” of lesser evil voting do “not actually believe in lesser evilism.” I would be curious who that is. In contrast, I would guess that virtually everyone believes in lesser evil voting in some situations. More, does anyone actually say Clinton is less evil but mean Clinton is pretty good? David, do you think I do that? Do you think Chomsky does that? Do you think any serious leftist who says vote strategically does that? Who do you have in mind, because I agree that that would be a poor position to take.

Swanson continues, “Only after you’ve convinced your lesser evilist friend that you are aware of differences between the two candidates, then you should begin to suggest the possibility that a less evil candidate might still be too evil.”

There then follows a string of extreme hypotheticals that have zero to do with this election. It is like me asking Swanson, if Clinton was running against David Duke, would you vote for the lesser evil? What about Clinton versus Hitler? Presumably Swanson would vote Clinton, so we would have determined that he sometimes favors lesser evil voting just as I of course sometimes think lesser evil voting is overruled by a minimal gap in evilness or by a better alternative to pursue.

So, after some fine writing which, however, to my perceptions didn’t bear on the case, Swanson says, “we’ve arrived at the heart of the matter. You must now try to explain to your friend the real damage that lesser evilism does.”

And, Swanson tries to do so. He says, “There is a reason that many lesser evilists turn out to actually think their candidate is good, and that many others resist acknowledging the full extent of their candidate’s evil.”

I agree that psychological pressure, peer pressure, and the like can cause that type devolution of awareness. Swanson says, “If you volunteer for a candidate, you encounter nothing but praise for them and denunciations of their opponent. Even if you never leave your house, your web searches gradually begin finding only news sources that slant everything in favor of your candidate. Millions of people put up yard signs and bumper stickers promoting their candidate, and virtually nobody puts a second sign beside the first one protesting some of that candidate’s evil agenda. You can claim that lesser evilism leaves you independent and uncompromised, but you can’t actually protest your evil candidate’s evil in their local office – you’ll be off the team instantly.”

The argument would apply except that strategic voting for a lesser evil candidate doesn’t urge anyone to volunteer for that candidate, display her sign, extoll her non existent virtues, become her supporter, or become her team member. It instead says, don’t do any of that. Just spend ten minutes voting for the candidate, and, if you have energy for it, it would be good to also tell others to do likewise even as you spend most time explaining why the candidate is horribly flawed and why you and your friends will need to continue seeking social justice by gearing up to fight her new administration. Go to the voting booth wearing a Bernie button or get a shirt that says “I can’t stand Hilary but Trump is so much worse I have to vote for her,” or whatever more clever formulation you might prefer. Better yet, organize everyone you know to do likewise.

Swanson says, “many lesser evilists claim to flip a switch within themselves after a particular period of time.” Really? Who claims that? Indeed, why would a “lesser evilist” have to “flip a switch”? There is no call to be an advocate and thus no need to flip to become a critic. A “lesser evilist” should be a critic all the time.

I have no problem railing against the ills of Clinton and the Democratic Party when I vote to stop Trump, just like I have no problem railing against Pharmaceutical companies when I take a pill that keeps me alive, or railing against banks when I make a withdrawal. We are all capable of that much subtlety, aren’t we?

Swanson summarizes his main argument, “It’s not that lesser evilism isn’t logical in a voting booth. It’s that it never ever stays within a voting booth. It poisons political activity every day of every year.”

Does it? I don’t feel poisoned. Nor does anyone I know. I think Swanson is blaming strategic lesser evil voting for the left lacking coherent vision, effective organization, mutual aid, and so on – despite that there is no correlation whatsoever between those problems and whether someone strategically voted lesser evil in some election.

When all is said and done, unless I am missing something, Swanson’s claim is that voting for Clinton in a contested state will inexorably degrade the future of that voter away from radical activism and toward liberal passivity, and that the cost of that transition for that voter will outweigh the gain of one more vote against Trump in a close race in a state on which the election may hinge.

Well, wait a minute. Why is degradation of future involvements considered inevitable? Can’t we can agree that a half a million more votes for Clinton in a contested state, where each of the half million voters actually favors Sanders or Stein, or whoever else, but votes for Clinton to help stop Trump despite despising what Clinton stands for, and who will also not lose a moment in continuing to fight for social justice after Clinton is elected, is better than the same half million not voting for Clinton, Trump thereby getting elected, and then the half million fighting on, but now in context of Trump in office?

If you don’t see the former possibility as vastly better than the latter, okay, I guess we should just agree to disagree. But if you agree about that, then shouldn’t we pursue the better dynamic rather than assume it is impossible?

Why should we believe that people who would like to vote Stein or Sanders because they understand how bad not only Trump but also Clinton is, and who would also fight on if they did so – would not be able to vote Clinton while excoriating her and then fight on just as hard? I can do that. I bet Swanson can do it. I agree that some pressures work against this marginally complex stance, but if the message of writers like Swanson and many many others was that we should vote strategically for Clinton in contested states and then fight on, couldn’t we all could do that with no loss in our subsequent radicalism?

The psychological pressures Swanson identifies can be resisted. Why claim they are all powerful? What’s more, they aren’t even the only pressures operating. How many people who feel a drive to avoid voting for Clinton start to argue that Trump isn’t all that bad, which is the flip side of Swanson’s feared slippery slope?

Of course Swanson’s list of criticisms of Clinton is true and greatly expandable. But even so the gap between her and what she says, which is more of the same, and Trump and what he says, which is off the rails of anything we have seen in a half century, is huge. More, I think beyond the individuals, Swanson may be glossing a central point. The coming election is not simply about two people. It is about the whole array of actors who will compose a new administration, the constituencies the new administration will serve, and also the various constituencies its rhetoric and policies will empower to seek more gains.

Swanson writes, “when you elect a less evil candidate and do little else to improve your politics, the result is another election with a worse pair of candidates, both of them more evil than was the less evil candidate before.”

Well, not always, but it certainly may happen, and more to the point, things certainly won’t get better if we do little aside from voting. But that just means if we assume a person will continue as a social activist due to not voting for Clinton, but that the same person will become silent about injustice due to voting for Clinton, then we assume a strong case against voting for Clinton. But why the assumption?

Swanson says if we don’t vote strategically “we actually can swing this or some future election to an actually good candidate, if we put our minds to it.” This election? Really? And as for the next election, a whole lot of people voted strategically for Obama, I daresay, and that was followed by almost getting a good candidate, Sanders. And during Obama’s term, despite the notion that all radicalism would disappear, didn’t Occupy, Black Lives Matter, LGBT movements, and many others emerge?

Swanson writes, “we don’t have a lot of time to play around with. While neither Clinton nor Trump has promised immediate nuclear war, both are eager to risk it and to exacerbate the crisis in the earth’s climate.”

I would say both are interested in pursuing U.S. global supremacy and neither has evidenced prioritizing global warming as much as needed. But would Swanson really prefer Trump’s fingers on a nuclear trigger? And as to climate, Trump says let’s end regulations. Let’s build more coal plants. Let’s use more fossil fuels. He and everyone he is likely to put in his administration are cheerleaders for a race to disaster. Clinton says we should go well beyond what Obama has proposed which at least offers room for hope and activism. And the people Clinton would populate her administration with may be quite a bit better than her on climate policy. In any case, the idea that either Trump or Clinton is running with the actual intent of blowing up or melting down the world seems to me a bit exaggerated, even for Trump.

Swanson continues, “If we elect one of them, followed by someone else worse, we’re pretty well doomed.”

Really? Come November if one of them is President will Swanson tell everyone we are doomed, rather than that we can win a better future, but to do so we must organize and struggle more effectively than we have until now?

Swanson continues: “If we elect someone actually good either now or next time, who knows?”

Does Swanson think we can elect someone other than Clinton or Trump to the Presidency this November? If so, I hope he will make that case. If it was true, of course it would be the thing to do. It was why people supported Sanders. I wish I thought electing someone good this time was actually an option.

Swanson writes, “But 60% of the public cannot stand either Clinton or Trump. If a significant portion of those people back Jill Stein, she could mount a serious challenge and even win.”

Does Sanders believe that that has any chance at all of happening? I wish I believed it, but I don’t. I wish I thought Stein could win even one state, even the most liberal or most Green state, but I don’t.

Swanson writes, “Just saying you support her now while planning to turn against her in November would put her into televised debates with Clinton and Trump, thereby requiring both of them to speak to all kinds of critical issues they’d rather avoid.”

First, an advocate of strategic voting says in all but a relatively few states one should support Stein now and right through the election. In contested states, there would be no problem answering pollsters by indicating support for Stein, and then voting later, if need be, for Clinton. What I tell a pollster about who I like and what I tell someone I am chatting with about who I will vote for need not be the same. I doubt this would yield Stein an invitation to the debates, but it might help Green organizing for the future, which is excellent to do. But if it did get Stein into debates and then gained her so much support that it became plausible she could win, fantastic. One could then assess one’s strategic vote in that new light. What isn’t strategic is to decide now that we simply should not vote lesser evil later regardless of conditions.

Swanson finished, “So we arrive at two basic questions for your friend the former lesser evilist.” Not so fast, David. Not former yet, though maybe your final questions will do the trick.

Swanson asks: “First, do you see that non-electoral activism can be more important than elections?” My answer is yes.

He continues, “If so, are you willing to put your energies there?” Yes, of course.

And he adds, “if you stay focused on this election, would you support Jill Stein if you cast the only vote and effectively selected the winner by yourself?” Well, ignoring that that would be dictatorship, I get the point, and yes, of course I would.

Swanson adds, “What about if she only needed a few more votes to win?” Then I would vote and help get those votes as best I could.

And he continues, “What about if she had a slim chance?” It would depend how slim, at least in contested states. In safe states, it doesn’t matter if she has a chance or not – there is no reason not to vote for Stein.

And finally Swanson asks, “What about if a decent showing might help elect a good candidate next time around?” Yes, in non contested states, of course, since that would be the best option always in such states. But the premise is mistaken, I think, for contested states.

Here is why, and here also are some questions for Swanson or anyone arguing against strategic voting.

Do you think Trump winning, and his appointments occupying the White House, and the impact his victory would have on the national culture and mood would make it more likely that movements would seek substantive structural change during his term in office, and that, for that matter, his successor would be a really good candidate?

Or do you think that during Trump’s term in office activism would face severe restraints and also be largely about getting back toward something sane, albeit in our eyes still horrible, so that his successor would be a mainstream Democrat, leaving us where we would be if Clinton was elected now – but four or eight years later?

Do you agree that with Clinton in office dissent will be about getting beyond corporate domination, political misrepresentation, sexism, racism, etc. – but with Trump in office, dissent will forget about pursuing new social relations, revolution, or even just radicalism, while trying, instead, to hold the line against a drift toward fascism so as to get back to having a liberal in office, to then move on from there?

And that is if Trump doesn’t usher in, instead, a long reign of racist, homophobic, corporatist, and authoritarian devolution, dwarfing the ills of the past.

30 Comments

  1. Morton k. Brussel July 31, 2016 3:36 am 

    I find this debate stultifying! Albert makes all kinds of unsubstantiated assertions about how Trump will destroy society. Do we really know what he will do? In fact he has enunciated some positions better than those of Clinton, with respect to war and peace in Uraine and Syria, for exmple. It is no wonder that the neocons flock to her side. But Albert does not flinch at the horrors already on the record of Clinton—supporting the Iraq war, more troops in Afghanistan, supporting Isreal in its persecutions of Palestinians and its murderous aggression against Gaza and earlier Lebanon. Then there is Honduras and Libya. He is willng to ignore all that simply saying that he believes Trump will be extremely bad. I find this unsupportable! It may be OK for people with few humanitarian impulses or feelings for justice, but I find it horrifying. Quoting Chomsky helps nothing. Clinton has an established record. Trump’s is at best ambiguous—a wild card.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert July 31, 2016 6:26 pm 

      Of course I don’t dismiss criticisms of Clinton, or minimize them, or of Obama, et. al. And at least no one I know favoring contested state lesser evil voting does. Saying I am willing to ignore her history because I say I believe Trump would be far worse is either confused or manipulative. It simply does not follow. Her culpability and inclinations are a given. The issue is, as hard as it may be for some to conceive, would a Trump victory be much worse? It seems utterly obvious to me – but I have another piece coming…shortly…

      As to saying Clinton is a more known entity – well, in some ways yes, of course that is true. So? Does this mean if David Duke was running, since we don’t know what he would do based on past experience of him being in national power, we should prefer him to Clinton? I haven’t understood this formulation from the beginning, I have to admit.

      I don’t know what you find horrifying…but perhaps you can comment on the piece that will appear tomorrow, I believe, or Tuesday latest, and tell me where you think the reasoning, or evidence, is off.

  2. michael dittmar July 27, 2016 10:20 am 

    Hi from Europe,
    Perhaps i am missing something, but here are my points:
    1) a serious analysis about the coming voting the lesser evil should start with the missing debatte about the
    2000 bush election and why the nader voters were right or wrong. Michael Albert what did you advocate in 2000 and the years after?
    2) don’t you create an illusion in the voting issue?
    In other words, isn’t the decision for the next president made outside of the voting day? Or as Emma Goldman said: if voting would change anything it would be forbidden.
    3) for outside of the usa… It looks like the best would be a break up of the usa empire and it followers.
    Thus if one imagines the slow unstoppable advance towards global system collapse, the collapse with trump and the resulting end of globalisation might be good

    • avatar
      Michael Albert July 27, 2016 8:33 pm 

      1. Same thing as now – strategic lesser evil voting… I am not sure people know that Gore would have beaten Bush with merely 600 more votes in Florida – the Greens got over 90,000 there, I think it was.

      2. The idea that elections change nothing is, well, honestly, just wrong. That we don’t get to vote for a new kind of society such as you or I might want – is true. But that it doesn’t matter who wins is typically false, but sometimes very false. This is one of those times.
      Finally, the idea that wore is better has never gotten any realistic verification. Think – has any labor movement ever asked owners to make things worse, to they could get way better? Do we ever ask for a new war, to end all war? Do we say lets have child labor to get better work conditions? And so on.

      • michael dittmar July 27, 2016 9:31 pm 

        Hi again,

        First of all, what might be good in
        The short term for people in the usa might not be good
        For people elsewhere. In the long term is another question. Strategy and tactics if you want to call it like that.
        I believe that overall the collapse of Soviet union was good, for people in the ex republics and in the eastern block. But, people failed unfortunately to use the opportunity.
        Concerning the end of the usa empire..
        It will be potentially good for most people and the health of the planet, if a nuclear war can be avoided.
        Not likely to be good for usa people.

        But, if empire is unsustainable anyway it might be better to face reality now and by creating a real resistance
        Movement now instead of hoping finally for a successful like sanders candidate.
        In my view what is called free country in the usa
        Is nothing else than an illusion.

  3. Gregory Koenderman July 27, 2016 4:25 am 

    I am enjoying this debate – not just this string, but the LEV debate in general – thanks Michael.

    For the most part, I support the LEV principle. But an unresolved issue for me is highlighted by Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton, to which her response (actions, not words) is a continued disregard of the Sanders base. Is there not a risk that pragmatic compromise can become a reliable tool in the hands of the likes of Clinton to undercut any leaning towards progress? Would a Trump victory, particularly one resulting from a Sandernista electoral no-show not signal to the democrats that they need to field a genuinely more left-leaning candidate in future?

    That said, a real Trump victory would probably outweigh a hypothetical future benefit as a deciding factor, One could argue we already have a case study in the Bush-Gore-Nader election, and not a lot of soul-searching appears to have followed that. Things may be a little different now, however – a Sanders candidate would never have done so well back then.

    I think the problem with compromise is that by favoring knowable results, it tends to close the door on the unimaginable outcomes – the Occupies, BLM’s, even the Sanders campaign. Then again, Trump was also once unimaginable. This to me is sort of the ‘dark matter’ of the argument.

    Still LEV, but with a nagging doubt.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert July 27, 2016 8:40 pm 

      Hi Gregory…

      I have to tell you, I am hating the debate and very much wish it was completely unnecessary. I think much it the debate has been rather nasty, aimed at weakest positions, and so on. NAme calling seems to be increasing, not diminishing. But it is important, and I am at least glad you are benefiting.

      Actually, a Trump victory, particularly due to abstentions and Green votes, and so on, would not only severely hurt diverse constituencies at the very list, and at most be catastrophic regarding climate and civil rights, and so on – at best it would means years of Trump and then massive effort to get back to, what – not something Sanders like, but far more likely, something Clinton like. Opposition to Trump will, if we have to go through it, be about trying to stave off regression, not about trying to win new gains.

    • Gregory Koenderman July 28, 2016 5:11 am 

      Hi Michael, sometimes you have to write down the argument to see it’s shortcomings. After writing mine, it became almost instantly clear how the vast destructiveness of a Trump victory cannot possibly be balanced by some hypothetical. But it has clarified my thoughts.

      My enjoyment of the discussion is based on the fact that the issue is really getting well vented, which surely benefits any stronger argument. I was also focusing on the healthier interchanges, but you are right- there have certainly been some nasty and disrespectful contributions. I think for eg of Moser’s reply to Halle / Chomsky (published in Counterpunch). Disagreeing is fine, but construct your argument with the same care taken to construct the one you are opposing. And condescending phrases like ‘Despite the highly rational style of writing the authors use…’ Really?

      I should add that here in South Africa, the effects of climate change are very apparent. And Africa in general certainly doesn’t have the wiggle room that the global north has. A Trump victory would of course be another huge setback (perhaps more accurately a death blow) on this front.

      As I said, sometimes you have to write it down to see how insane it is.

      • avatar
        Michael Albert July 28, 2016 3:30 pm 

        Perhaps the issue is well vented here on znet – but I am not so sure about other places. For example, consider that the piece you are reacting to appears nowhere other than here, at least to my knowledge…and Swanson hasn’t replied.

  4. Chris Reed July 26, 2016 1:42 pm 

    The first thing I would like to say is that I would not be the human being that I am today without the writings of Noam Chomsky. Secondly, along with Counterpunch, Znet is the first place I turn to for political inspiration. I think Counterpunch does a better job representing the out of the way places where I live-West Virginia, while Znet does a better job at building an alternative community of activists.
    What Znet misses is the dynamic of the forgotten areas of America. West Virginia is truly the land that time forgot. We have been a dreaded Red state since 2000, but it should be remembered we gave a resounding no to Reagan in 1980.
    The inch deep mile wide multi-culturalism that undergirds much of the political left, leaves our rural brethren no where to go in a general election. It is no coincidence that Obama drew the line in the sand when he castigated small town Pennsylvanians for their backward values. Both political parties engage in divide and rule tactics. As far as PC multiculturalism goes, Bush played this at least as well as Obama. So come Election Day, take a closer look at those Red states like West Virginia and Oklahoma which voted roundly in favor of Sanders.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert July 27, 2016 8:45 pm 

      Hi Chris.
      Remember, votes in primaries, are, well, votes in primaries – without the main opposition. I think Sanders is vastly better than Clinton at addressing working people of all kinds, and, indeed, that is why Trump versus Clinton is likely to be close. And, yes, it is despicable without limit that the Democrats and media and the rest subverted Sanders even at risk of Trump winning, but then again, that is who they are. There is no reason for us, in anger at them, to allow Trump to win…and hopefully we will see that, and we will act accordingly. Even as we also try to build third party, revolutionary organization, and more….

  5. Phil Smith July 26, 2016 1:08 am 

    I am fairly certain that this whole argument has no end. Maybe the debate is just a fun philosophical exercise?

    There is no such thing as “non-strategic” voting. The only truly non-strategic vote would be a totally random vote. Walk into the voting booth, close your eyes (and hold your nose at the same time, if you wish), and pull a lever randomly. Any other method involves a “strategy”.

    That is, “strategic voting” is a given, an unavoidable fact. I’m sure both Michael and David can agree on that point. The debate would then be about what strategy is best to employ given a specific set of circumstances and goals; but good luck defining those circumstances and goals in a way that applies broadly across the population!

    Everyone’s going to decide who they’re going to vote for based on any number of considerations and any number of things that may happen between now and November. My advice? Trust people to decide how to vote on their own, given their own particular circumstances. If you have facts and opinions you want to share, please do. If you want to share your own strategy, go for it. But don’t ARGUE over strategy. It’s unavoidably antagonistic and unproductive.

    However, I do find this all very interesting to think about. And to the extent that this is all for the joy of philosphical exercise, rather than practical debate, here are some interesting hypotheticals (thought experiments) that may or may not call for a change in “strategy”:

    Imagine that, somehow, Bernie Sanders emerges as the Democratic nominee at the convention this week. Do you vote for Jill, or vote for Bernie?

    Imagine that, in a contested state, it becomes clear that the only way that Clinton will beat Trump is if you actually volunteer for the Clinton camp, make phone calls, knock on doors, etc. Do you “hold your nose” and volunteer?

    Imagine that over the next few months, Trump continues to say “crazy” things, but crazy along the lines of “I promise that all troops everywhere are coming home, and we’re closing down the bases, because it’s all too expensive and it’s the only way I can afford to give a generous tax break to the wealthy.” Who do you vote for?

    Imagine that over the next few months, Hillary continues to say “crazy” things, but crazy along the lines of “If I’m elected president, I can (and will) use my own private email server for all communications, because I want to be able to hide my email from the public, and if the president does it, that means that it’s not illegal.” Who do you vote for?

    • avatar
      Michael Albert July 27, 2016 8:59 pm 

      Hi Phil.

      The issue at hand is not everyone. It is progressives, People who share a considerable level of agreement both about society and aims. Sanders supporters, Green supporters, etc. And the issue is very very serious. It could easily turn out that the decisions of just that constituency, in just a few states, decides the whole affair. Which means it could easily turn out that the tone taken and cases made by diverse writers and speakers, and over meals and at events, could affect that constituency, and turn the election.

      I will answer your questions, though. If it was Sanders and Trump – I think Stein would support Sanders and not run. Or the Greens would have him on their ticket as well.

      If I believed that my state was contested and that Clinton had to win it to win, and that I had to make calls for her to win, I would have to do it, yes. That is how large I think the gap is, and how important Trump not winning, is. And you might be interested to know I am 69, and I have never voted for a mainstream candidate in any national election, and there are only a few in which I would have voted if I wasn’t in Massachusetts..

      Trump promising things that would have good implications if implemented, but that run totally contrary to what we can confidently predict he will and will not do, not least because he comes from a particular background, has particular interests, answers to particular constituencies, and will be operating in a particular milieu, would not affect me.

      Your last question, is, honestly, more than a little weird. This is not a game. Real lives, thousands and thousands of them, indeed, millions and millions of them, Indeed billions of them, are going to be seriously affected by what happens. If there was any justice at all, people all over the world would be able to vote.

      • Phil Smith July 28, 2016 11:10 pm 

        I’m not sure why the last question is any weirder than the rest. They’re all weird. And the current reality of this year’s election is weird. We have one particular version of weird that’s currently happening, but it could easily be or become a different version of weird. I posed those questions not because they need to be answered. (They don’t!) I just find that thinking in hypotheticals keeps me from becoming too attached to a particular point of view. If I can come up with at least one hypothetical (fact, circumstance, occurrence, whatever) that would lead me to change my mind on any given issue, then I’m less likely to be overly rigid.

        (Consider this: What if a prominent progressive says, “I think the choice is obvious: any progressive in a non-contested state needs to move to a contested state immediately, register to vote, and then hold their nose and vote for Clinton.” Does that make it seem too much like a game? Why? Shouldn’t that option be on the table?)

        In any case, my point is not that this or that is or isn’t a realistic outcome, or that it’s all a game (though it certainly is, in the sense of “game theory”). Rather, I’m just floored by the complexity. There are countless options, countless considerations, countless possible outcomes, consequences that we have no ability to predict with confidence. Each of us stands in the face of this tremendous uncertainty, and … well, we make a choice. Right or wrong? Who knows.

        This debate has taken the form of “Here’s why I’ve taken a particular position on this election, and why I think you should take the same position, and why I think the arguments for another position are less than convincing.” No matter how reasoned and thoughtful the argument, I can’t help but find this antagonistic, especially in the context of the internet, and not knowing you (or David Swanson) personally.

        I’d propose a question to you (or David, or whoever else wants to answer): How confident are you that your analysis is “correct”, and applies broadly to all progressives?

        My guess is that exploring that question in depth would be a productive exercise.

        Or it might not.

  6. avatar
    David Danforth July 25, 2016 12:50 pm 

    This isn’t Clinton vs. Duke or Clinton vs. Hitler, although I can see why you go there.
    There are two levels of discourse. The first is: ‘is “lesser evilism” ever appropriate?’ The second is: ‘is Clinton the “lesser evil?”‘
    My concern comes from the second.
    Clinton vs. Trump is not Clinton vs. Pol Pot.
    It is Bugs Moran vs. Al Capone.
    Name your poison.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert July 25, 2016 1:26 pm 

      Actually I went there to indicate that David’s extreme examples weren’t really very relevant, just like mine weren’t…other than demonstrating what ought to be obvious….

      Dave, I don’t know what to say. about comparing the candidates. Trump is really much much worse…not least because the issue isn’t just trump and clinton, but what trump establishes versus what she establishes. What he legitimates and propels, versus what she does. And also the charachter of the opposition he generates – versus the character of the opposition she generates.

      Okay, let’s say the difference between trump and clinton is unclear to you. Chomsky sees it, I see it, but others who you respect don’t see it, nor do you. Now what.

      Well…what are we talking about here. Ultimately, the ten minutes you spend voting in three months. And whether you tell others to vote lesser evil if outcomes are uncertain in their state, for those ten minutes or not. That’s it.

      Now, suppose there is marginal difference between the two, and what they bring, etc., as you currently feel. So you vote Green, or whatever. So Stein gets one more vote. And Trump wins, and Chomsky and I and others are right. Disaster.

      Suppose, on the other hand Clinton wins. Obviously we have to keep battling…. and Stein got one more vote, or there was one more abstention, and somehow that helps us a little in doing so.

      Next scenario, you hold your nose and vote Clinton.

      What do we lose by your doing that, as a hedge against what you don’t think will be, but you agree might be – as others certainly think it – disaster. If Trump still wins, we are where we were. If Clinton wins, what have we lost? Are you not going to be progressive, be radical, be revolutionary – whichever you now are, because you voted clinton, holding your nose, and preparing to oppose her administration? I don’t believe it. I think you will battle on. I think we will have lost nothing.

      • Philip Log July 25, 2016 2:14 pm 

        it is a very weak argument to say that chomsky sees the difference between clinton and trump so we should. that is more follow the leader no? we all know the ways in which clinton is preferable. at the same time it is very possible that she is more likely to get us into more war and a real war. just ask stephen cohen. he has raised very important issues – the relevance of nato, the demonizing of russia and the like. things i have not heard from a presidential candidate since mcgovern. seems to me that should be discussed in this conversation.

        • avatar
          Michael Albert July 25, 2016 2:51 pm 

          What I offered was not follow the leader, at all. I was simply saying there are people, and he came to mind, who we all respect, who see x, a huge difference between clijnton and trump – and there are other people. we all respect, who see y, only a modest difference. So far, that is true, right?

          If the x folks are correct then there is a big disaster possible in the election – a huge setback for constituencies, for ecology, and for organizing. if the y folks are correct, then there is no major difference between candidates, so whoever wins, big deal.

          Okay, what do we do in such a situation?

          Well, if Y is true – if there is no big difference – other than effects on other variables, like, say, the Green party, it doesn’t matter what we do except for those other effects. But if the x people are correct, then it matters a very great deal, what we do, in contested states.

          Since we are talking about ten minutes voting – it seems that even if one is, oneself, unsure, it is sensible to vote to avoid the calamity….

          What confuses the issue is the idea that doing that is somehow tantamount to renouncing working as hard as possible after the election, to win real change. It does not.

          Honestly, for the most part, I line up with those who ignore presidential elections, who don’ vote, who don’t talk about differences between candidates – but who instead focus their energies entirely on the longer term issues of building effective movements for change. But this election seems quite unusual – to say the least – to me. There is a typical candidate on one side – horrible, but familiar and not leading in and of herself anywhere particularly unusual – and there is a totally off the rails right wing candidate and process on the other side such as we have never before seen in a national election, potentially unleashing and empowering horrendous forces in this country…so, it is worthwhile to make sure one and not the other, wins.

          Look at it this way. Jill Stein – I am guessing – looks around and sees that in this election we have the two least popular candidates in ages. Great, she thinks. This is a major opportunity for the Green Party to grow. So, let’s run hard, get votes, parlay it into lasting movement. So far, so good! But she seems to also feel about the two main candidates, who cares who wins, grow the tally for Greens. She could say in contested states vote clinton but then work to build the green party – but instead she says for Stein everywhere.

          Sanders looks – I am guessing again – and sees the same discontent, etc. He says, I hope, great, this is a huge opportunity to build real, lasting, organizational opposition for continuing to fight for a revolutionary transformation of society (which is conceived quite a bit short of what I want, but still…) So far, so good, and not very different from Stein.

          However, Sanders also sees that prospects for that unfolding, and conditions for people all over the world, are at stake on election day because he sees a huge difference between Trump winning and Clinton winning. So, Sanders says, let’s build new organization – but also make sure, as best we can, that Trump loses.

          I think Sanders is right. I hope he will do as indicated above and that we will see clear signs of it this week.

          What would be ideal, I would say, is if he said something like, Hilary Clinton is not going to bring on, herself, the revolution that I favor. Indeed, she will oppose it. But having her in the white house will create a situation in which we can seek that revolution better than with Trump in the White House, and, as well, and at least equally important, having her in the White House will mean far less pain and travail for diverse constituencies than having Trump there. So, for both those reasons I want Clinton to beat Trump. But, I also know that the day after the election, with clinton now president, the real battle begins. And to help with that battle I am, with others, establishing a new organization – People for a Political Revolution – to carry on the momentum of our campaign…etc. etc. I also know, that for that effort to win, a great many Trump supporters need to come over to our project. And so, in coming weeks, I will myself try to address those Trump supporters about both why Trump will not really better their conditions, and why the revolution I favor will.

          • Philip Log July 25, 2016 3:20 pm 

            i understand your position – i know we agree on almost every issue. i voted for the first time in 1972 – since then i have done the lesser evil vote. i will not vote for a clinton again. i am not saying you are wrong – time will tell and nobody can see the future. it may be that after 4 years of trump we will get somebody we really want. just to be clear i do not try to talk people out of voting lesser evil – i have done it and may again. not this time though

            • avatar
              Michael Albert July 27, 2016 9:06 pm 

              Okay Phillip, and yet this is the time, not only in my life, but in history I am familiar with, in the U.S,. when it is most important. Usually the gap is not too wide, between candidates and the administrations they would establish. And going back a ways, at least, issues are not as stark as global warming is now, say.

              I can’t see the future either – but the idea that Trump in office for four years unleashing hate and ignorance and even celebrating it, while assaulting diverse communities, reversing all kinds of very modest but nonetheless real social programs, setting back ecology programs, will then lead to more progress than Clinton in office those four years, strikes me as literally beyond my comprehension. Try as I might, I honestly can’t see how someone can seriously think that unless it is because they have decided they won’t vote for Clinton, period, and then are seeing and adopting a formulation that justifies that stance. If that is unfair, I apologize in advance.

              • Philip Log July 29, 2016 11:07 am 

                so after 8 years of bush and the shit storm of the 2008 financial meltdown the country elected a black man that promised change. i am guessing that was beyond your comprehension in the year 2000 – it was beyond mine. we have been doing the same thing in the voting booth the last 36 years and to me it has not seemed to work. why would you think that 8 years of clinton will get people in the streets any more than today. i cannot see the future but i did read here on znet that 4 years of trump will bring us 8 years of lizzie warren – other wise we are facing 8 years of clinton and more of the same beyond that. something must change – please tell me what is going to cause change we can believe in after clinton is elected??

          • patrick weisback July 26, 2016 2:32 am 

            Can’t we see that none of this matters? Voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for one of the main political parties that rules the country. How far apart are they really? Both parties believe in a core set of values and principles foremost – state run capitalism which benefits property foremost, today corporate capitalism. Yes the Democratic Party will support more social issues over the Republicans, but the Democratic Party is still a party of mainstream capitalism. Look at what Bill Clintons presidency for example. Why is it that armed revolution is not advocated? Wasn’t that successful in the past? For example, the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, and the Russian Revolution? A new society is worth fighting for, protests and voting for the lesser evil candidate will not, nor ever change society. Why isn’t this advocated? During the Spanish Civil War the anarchists had to fight, what am I missing here?

            • Philip Log July 27, 2016 11:06 am 

              what are you missing when you argue for armed revolution? how about sanity? not sure – maybe you saw the cliven bundy standoff and thought you could also point weapons at federal agents and get them to back down. i wouldn’t try it!

            • avatar
              Michael Albert July 27, 2016 9:09 pm 

              The fact that the two parties are really better described as two wings of one corporate party – is true, but doesn’t mean there is never a difference, and in this case a very large difference.

              The reason armed revolution isn’t proposed is because it would be a suicidal foray into insanity, honestly.

  7. Philip Log July 25, 2016 11:27 am 

    do you think that voting for the lesser evil has worked for the last 30 years? seems to me the answer is no. do you think that there would be much more protest against the drones and assassination program if bush and cheney were in the white house. i think yes.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert July 25, 2016 1:07 pm 

      What does “worked” mean – that the lesser evil wins? Or that we have transformed basic institutions in society?

      For the first, yes, that has happened. For the second, no, that has not happened. Then again, if the second criteria is used to rule out anything that has failed to meet it, we would be doing nothing….not marching, not rallying, not striking, not doing civil disobedience, and on and on…

      Just take the last election. If Mccain say, was President instead of Obama – as an example – might there have been more activism during the past eight years. No way to tell for sure, but perhaps. But that would be because the U.S. was exacting even more violence overseas, or more repression and dislocation at home, and it was generating more response – where the response would in time win back a somewhat less vile regime, to continue the fight against…

      The state of our world is not a function of only the volume of dissent – but of, instead, what the world is doing to people, and the effectiveness for winning real and basic change of what the people are doing in reply.

      But to find someone comparable to Trump, and I think still short of what he may entail – you would have to go back to Goldwater, is my guess. And had he won, we all might not be here….

      There is another side to all this. Some point out, rightly, that people who vote lesser evil can in doing slow slip into starting to think the person they voted for was actually good – many progressives and even some quite left who voted obama, say, underwent that dynamic and then had to dig out of the error just to get back to a radical stance. However, there is another trap lurking in electoral choices. Take someone who this time around doesn’t vote Clinton in a contested state, and Trump wins the state. What does that person tell him or herself? Not clear, but one direction is – it doesn’t matter that Trump does massively more damage – including against the opposition he arouses – just the scale of opposition matters. But notice that this, intentionally or not, starts to look very callous toward the people who suffer. And one can get so one just doesn’t take that into account even, one really is callous toward them.

      Consider a workplace. Minimum wage is $10. There is a fight to go to $15. Someone says, wait, if we do that, the momentum we have built up to this point will dissipate. There will be less opposition the day after we win. Let’s not win.

      Clearly that is the wrong response. The better response is, of course let’s win, it helps people and creates grounds to win more, but we also have to work hard to ensure that the momentum we have built persists. We have to organize on-going resistance. That task is our task – thinking that pain is going to organize people is a total cop out – we have to organize ourselves…

      Same thing with an election. If there is a significant difference in ensuing life conditions for people, we have to try to win the lesser evil conditions. But we have to try to do it in a way which doesn’t then say, okay, that’s all we needed, we are done – but in a way that says, okay, that was a small gain, now we have to win more, much more, and finally a new system.

      • Philip Log July 25, 2016 2:36 pm 

        i am not at all sure what you are trying to say. first of all in the last 24 years we have had 16 years of democratic presidents. it is my belief that the country is worse off than in 1990 – in terms of poverty, inequality, militarism and war.
        secondly you said this -“If Mccain say, was President instead of Obama – as an example – might there have been more activism during the past eight years. No way to tell for sure, but perhaps. But that would be because the U.S. was exacting even more violence overseas, or more repression and dislocation at home, and it was generating more response” – i do not believe that. you know the story as well as anyone – obama has 7 countries, prosecuted more whistle blowers, deported more people – to say nothing of rattling the sabre towards nuclear armed russia while “modernizing” our own arsenal to the tune of 1 trillion. mainstream dems cannot seem to bring themselves to complain because he is their guy.
        lastly i do not get your minimum wage point – no disagreement with raising the minimum wage but the question is – is a clinton presidency a win?

        • avatar
          Michael Albert July 25, 2016 3:03 pm 

          Since for all those years I have opposed relentlessly all those Democrats, and more to the point, sought to help build movements and organizations that would carry on a fight well beyond worrying merely about policy, to addressing underlying institutional relations, I am not sure your point, either.

          With Clinton becoming president we have most certainly not won what we desire, or I haven’t at any rate. Since I desire a full scale transformation not of who is in office, but of the whole political, economic, and social system we endure. But with Clinton in office instead of Trump I believe that two key benefits arise. First, there will be less White House generated pain and suffering – still an incredible amount, of course, but less than with Trump there. And, second, movements arising in context of Clinton will be about real fundamental change. Movements arising in context of Trump will be about restraining his right wing and even fascistic policies with little attention to underlying institutions.

          All that people say about how bad Clinton and the Democrats are I have no issue with – none – and in truth probably am far more critical, actually. But we still come back to, bad as all that is, there is far far worse possible, and it is gaining ground to become operative.

          One last point. Trump is no one’s fool. That eeveryone thinks he is just a noisy idiot is a problem. I think Trump is looking at Clinton and thinkiing, where do I get more votes in order to beat her. I can’t get remotely enough by taking some of her support base4d on issues of blacks, women, latinos, gays, around those focuses, etc. And to try to do so, might even reduce my own supporter’s faith in me. So I have to get more support from working class voters, from bernie supporters. I have a big and strongly loyal base. I need to grow it. I need some bernie voters. Now, what do i have to say to get them – whatever it is, I will say it, of course I won’t do it, but I will say it. So I expect you to hear quite a lot from him, in the next weeks, aimed literally at winning over bernie voters, and more working class voters in general. It will be all lies, just like what Clinton says, looking for voters outside her base will be lies…

          • Philip Log July 25, 2016 3:28 pm 

            again i want to say that i know we agree on most of the issues. no need to state your cred. i have two points here and then i will leave it alone. 16 out of 24 years we have had a dem and we are far worse off because of them to a large extent. both candidates lie – we all know that. trump said some very progressive things about nato, war, russia and china during the gop debates when they were not popular.he did not advance his chance of getting the nomination by doing it. i really think he believes he can talk to china and putin – and i think we should! i would also like to see nato dismantled and troops brought hom e from around the world. we know clinton will not do that. i know how much you do and i would like to say – keep it up – i like this site!

          • Philip Log July 29, 2016 11:16 am 

            one last thing – just a suggestion from someone who is not to involved here. as i assume you know i have supported zmag and znet for as long as you have been around. very happy to do it and should give more. you guys have done a great thing! also i rarely comment or pay attention to comments. seems this election has people fired up which is good. i am wondering if the comment section can be improved somehow. i must go looking if i want to find out if anyone replied to what i wrote. i was on the occupy site briefly and their response system was really good i thought. seems to me you might get more people commenting and involved – of course, after being on the occupy site i realize that might not be a good thing!! great work and thank you – this is the second site i go to every morning – after i read about the ny rangers hockey team!!

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