Chomsky’s view: Trump wins. His most virulent supporters become American Brownshirts. Climate deniers become policy makers. Inauguration becomes a death sentence for humanity. While Clinton is an imperial corporate savage, Clinton is also the lesser evil. So hold your nose, vote Clinton for the ten minutes it takes. Before and after, organize.
Joe’s view (Joe is a stand in name for many who hold this view): Clinton is despicable. A vote for Clinton is a vote for war. Hold your head high and vote for what you like or don’t vote at all. To waffle legitimates the Democratic party. To waffle aids empire. To waffle abets injustice. Lesser evilism sells out what is good.
How might we evaluate this face off?
Chomsky assesses the difference between Trump and Clinton, adds concern for humanity, and arrives at a modest prescription. Vote Clinton in contested states. Organize before and after. Chomsky opposes U.S. imperialism, corporate domination, racism, and sexism. If he votes against Trump, does anyone seriously think Chomsky will slip slide into apologetics for injustice?
Joe lets warranted hostility to Clinton interfere with acknowledging that Trump being in the oval office would be much worse. Yet to perceive that simple fact would in no way deny Clinton’s evil, nor celebrate her as good. I have to assume Joe knows that some evils are worse than others – to deny that in general would be ridiculous. So Joe considers differential evil unimportant in this case. Why?
One possibility is that Joe thinks the evilness discrepancy is inconsequential because to do something other than vote for Clinton in contested states will do more to avoid greater damage. If so, okay, that is a tenable albeit not very persuasive view. After all, voting takes just a few minutes. But if Joe thinks that damage differences are inconsequential because he simply can’t bring himself to vote for Clinton because the pain to him would be too great, that is not tenable. (I leave aside here the argument that says Trump is actually the lesser evil. I’m not sure if the people saying this are just posturing, but if not, then their chance of being taken seriously by anyone involved in progressive movements is nil – and deservedly so.)
Returning to Joe, of course it is hard for a sensitive human being to vote for evil. What a horrible situation. But Chomsky knows what is wrong with Clinton. Chomsky is committed to fighting Clintonian style politics. Chomsky has invested incredible time, energy, and focus to taking on the Democratic Party and corporate America. Yet Chomsky indicates by his choice that the pain he would feel pulling a lever for Clinton is inconsequential when compared to the additional pain people throughout the U.S. and all over the world would feel were we to have to endure Trump as President. So, I wonder, why would Joe be unable to give ten minutes to casting a vote and then get on with his activism or other involvements without the slightest negative impact of having voted for Clinton? Chomsky has voted lesser evil over and over, and suggests others should follow that path as well, and having done so has had zero ill effects on his other involvements, other than, perhaps, great nausea on the nights in question.
Tom Hayden enters the debate. He says many good people really like Clinton (which is sadly true). On that basis, in sympathy with them, I choose to like her too, says Hayden (which is one of the most ridiculous rationales I have ever heard from a thoughtful and often admirable political commentator). Women benefit from a woman President, Hayden adds (which is also true, though it can be exaggerated), so lets celebrate Clinton’s nomination and support her vigorously. Celebrate the woman? That doesn’t follow. Celebrate the likely policies? That doesn’t follow. Celebrate that the country is ready for a woman president, only that makes sense.
I assume Hayden would much prefer Sanders as president. As Sanders’ nomination became a dimming prospect, I assume to help defeat Trump, Hayden decided to support Clinton. And I assume Hayden felt the only way to do that was by delivering a kind of excited support that any talk of Clinton being evil would compromise. Hayden is therefore at least publicly not pursuing lesser evilism. Joe could sensibly say Hayden is flirting with a slippery slope and, worse, that he is establishing such a slope that others may unknowingly (unlike Hayden) slide down.
More could be said about every aspect of the lesser evil face off, of course, but I hope you will pardon me if I note that to explore this too deeply is giving credibility to nonsense or, to avoid that, would have to become too psychological and motive focussed to remain civil.
I too feel inner disgust at the prospect of voting for Clinton, but I also see that succumbing to that disgust would elevate reflex above reason and personal comfort above social responsibility.
First, there is no sell out if one is openly clear about one’s reasoning and commitments. And second, if being true to oneself means you must ignore the immense additional pain and suffering that would mark the difference between a Trump victory as compared to a Clinton victory, then your self needs to develop a sense of empathy and justice, not posture behind left rhetoric.
Okay, but to move from the odd to the important, what about Sanders? Though Sanders’ situation is more complicated than Joe’s, Hayden’s, or Chomsky’s, I think essentially the same reasoning applies. For Sanders to call Clinton the lesser evil or, more to the point, for Sanders to constantly address what he doesn’t like and will continue to oppose in her agenda would make it virtually impossible for him to actively traverse the country giving rousing speeches about her virtues. So what can Sanders do, given that he wants Trump to lose?
On the one hand, Sanders can lie and say “Clinton is great, vote for her.” But I would agree with Joe that that would be a slippery slope for him and for many who have been drawn into social involvement by him. On the other hand, Sanders could continue to explain and reject what he believes is wrong with the government, with corporate rule, and with the Democrats and Clinton too, while he at the same time excoriates Trump and reaches out, as well, to Trump’s supporters with the truth about their situation and about Trump’s actual hostility to them and their needs. And, yes, based on all that, Sanders could still urge audiences to vote for Clinton in contested states, but to vote for Greens, or himself, or whoever, in safe states. This isn’t complicated. And it wouldn’t even be particularly hard within the contours of American politics because Clinton herself is likely to run more less this way. She will constantly emphasize that Trump is worse, not that she is wonderful.
But what would make Sanders taking this route convincing and what would cause Sanders supporters to not become passive or mired in Clintonism, but to instead remain passionate, aroused, and committed – voting for Clinton in contested states, but far more steadfastly and aggressively seeking to build a lasting movement for change in all states?
Likewise, what would prevent mainstream media from totally ignoring Sanders into oblivion? What would make his words during the campaign and the during Clinton’s administration compelling enough to keep his audiences large? What would help the support Sanders has galvanized grow steadily more astute and resolute all the way through the presidential campaign and into the subsequent Clinton administration? Here are some possibilities.
1. Sanders and the campaign could seek to arrive at its own platform, to be fought for not only at the convention, which is relatively minor, but also after the convention and into the campaign period, and then after the election and into the future. Optimally this could be a continually updated product of national discussion and exploration, not a top down inflexible delivery from above.
2. Sanders and the campaign could opt to create lasting organization to carry on. One possibility would be to set up a shadow government. Sanders could be its President…and then diverse activists could serve at all the other main positions, including Cabinet Secretaries, perhaps Senators, and so on. Sanders and his campaign could keep fund raising, no longer for the election process, but instead for the shadow government so it can pursue its program, battle the Clinton administration, and galvanize popular support for worthy change, while constantly, about every important government policy and situation, revealing what a government for the people would do, thereby continually growing support for positive aims.
3. Sanders and the campaign could move the campaign’s fund raising efforts even further than the above, from supporting his run, and then supporting the run of Sanders allies (which he has been doing for some time now), to supporting a shadow government (as proposed above), and then also supporting additional vehicles for what he has called a political revolution. His calls for funds could say, please give x for my campaign and our coming shadow government, give y for so and so’s campaign, and give z for this or that worthy movement or activist organization.
4. Sanders and the campaign could broaden and enrich his heretofore weak internationalism by traveling abroad to meet with worthy allies in other countries or to express solidarity with victims of U.S. supported imperial policies. Brazil could be an early destination. Greece too. Imagine Sanders speaking at and joining demonstrations against U.S. Military bases, or addressing immigration issues, or war and peace, again at major movement gatherings. Imagine he gives a galvanizing and inspiring speech at every stop. As but one example, at military bases around the world Sanders could speak about the needs of soldiers and of local communities and propose that such bases begin to benefit rather than diminish social good, for example, turning their energies to building inexpensive housing and sources of renewable energy for their hosts and not least for ex soldiers, all in place of endlessly squandering energy in nonsensical but corporation serving military bloat. Imagine not only Sanders giving such speeches and supporting demonstrations and gatherings, but other shadow government officials as well.
5. Sanders, the campaign, and then the shadow government could not only be a megaphone for inspiring analysis and vision, but also a touchstone for activism. Sanders has said over and over that neither he nor any other president could enact the political revolution he favors without millions of people organizing, including in the streets. Consistent with that correct insight, Sanders and his campaign and then the shadow government could call for diverse national campaigns – for example, for a higher minimum wage, for debt cancellation, against various trade policies, for a massive energy makeover, for military reduction and retooling, and on and on.
None of this has to diminish the number of votes Clinton receives much less raise the number of votes Trump receives. On the contrary, all of the above could do the opposite even as it builds organization, awareness, desire, and hope to fight on through Clinton’s presidency and into a better future.
As a first step, can we transcend the perspective that says beating Trump by having Clinton elected is one option, and fighting for real and lasting change and even for a new society, is another? The contrary truth is that with modest creativity, these ends can be simultaneously accomplished. Chomsky, Joe, and Hayden too could be on one team.