It is about five weeks until the U.S. presidential election. The day after we will wake up to either President Trump or President Clinton and Jill Stein will have gotten between 3% (or a bit less) and 7% (or a bit more) of the vote.
We can imagine someone named Joe saying, I support Jill Stein, she is excellent, vote for her everywhere. He argues that Clinton is horrible and voting for evil doesn’t attain good. We can also imagine someone named Sarah saying, I support Hillary Clinton, she is vastly better than Trump, vote for her everywhere. She argues that Trump winning is unacceptable.
A third position, voiced by myself, Stephen Shalom, Noam Chomsky, Ted Glick, Arun Gupta, and quite a few others, urges that people vote strategically for Stein in safe states, but for Clinton in contested states. This view agrees with the Clinton camp on the need to beat Trump but also agrees with the Stein camp that while Clinton needs to beat Trump, beyond that, more votes aimed at post-election organizing are better than more votes for Clinton.
Proponents of the third view typically like the Green program best and for that reason will vote for Stein in safe states, which is likely to be at least forty and hopefully well over that. For example, I know that Stein is not going to win the election and I think Stein campaigning in contested states and telling people no one should vote for Clinton everywhere is seriously irresponsible, but I will vote for Stein in Massachusetts because I think a higher vote tally for the Greens might help Green momentum for future growth. However, though I do not support Clinton in any way, shape, or form, I would vote for her in contested states to stop Trump from becoming President, and I hope other progressives will do likewise. I acknowledge that by voting for Clinton in contested states, I would take one potential vote away from the Green tally, but I would willingly do that because I believe that lost vote for Stein is more than outweighed by the fact that not voting for Clinton in contested states could lead to a Trump victory which would be incredibly destructive for the well being of huge numbers of people, for positive left organizing prospects, and even for the Green Party itself.
There are people who say that anyone who has this strategic voting position is, by virtue of that, somehow a supporter of Clinton, or of the Democratic Party, or of duoply, or of the status quo. To me, that claim is confused, manipulative, or, most likely, simply careless. I think the reasoning is that since voting for a lesser evil, in this case Clinton, can’t itself transcend the duopoly or status quo, those recommending it must not want to.
But strategic voting is not a strategy for winning a new society. It is only a technique for warding off horrible reaction. To say strategic voting for decades hasn’t led to a new society is true. It has, however, often warded off lesser evils. On the other hand, the Green Party, which is certainly trying to win a whole new society, also hasn’t done so in decades, and is barely more effective now than it was four decades ago. On that basis, should we dismiss the Green Party and any anything like it as useless? I think that would be quite wrong, but at least it would be criticizing an approach for not achieving what it was meant to achieve.
A real argument against voting for Clinton in contested states would be for an advocate of voting Stein everywhere to tell the strategic lesser evil voter, “I get that you believe Trump would be disastrous for human well being and for prospects for social change and that while you reject capitalism, racism, sexism, etc., you think the best way to further that positive agenda is by building radical movements and organizations, but also by beating Trump. But why don’t you see: 1. that the harm to the Greens of getting less votes, even just in contested states, outweighs the fear of Trump; 2. Trump isn’t going to win anyhow; 3. Trump just isn’t that much worse than Clinton; and 4. Trump in office would engender more resistance than Clinton in office, and in that respect perhaps even produce more desirable change.”
Okay, if we accept those claims, then despite progressives voting for Stein, Trump wouldn’t win, or his winning wouldn’t be much worse, or his winning would be offset by stronger positive movements. But are claims 1-4 true?
First, if Stein didn’t even run in contested states, even if she did no more campaigning in safe states with her freed up time, her overall total vote might drop a point or two, though her total tally could also rise if she campaigned more in safe states. In either case, a month after the election, no one would remember the difference. But, yes, it could be a real cost. Just like Trump winning would be a real cost, and if it happened with the margin being less than Stein’s vote total in one or more contested states, also a probable end for the Green Party.
Next comes the claim Trump isn’t going to win. This is irrelevant to strategic lesser evil voting. If Trump is clearly losing overall, there will be few or no contested states to worry about. No one need vote for Clinton to stop Trump in contested states unless Trump has a chance of winning the election and the state, and then the strategy only applies in the contested states.
What about the claim that Trump isn’t that much worse than Clinton? Even if we confine ourselves to just considering global warming, the difference over that is so huge and important that it alone should make all aware voters commit to stopping Trump. And if we then add race and gender differences and what Trump would do to the economy and what he would ratify and promote in the popular culture, I just find it hard to fathom saying he is barely worse. Yes, Clinton, like other presidents, has nearly no redeeming features. But Trump is simply off the charts of extreme negative qualities. And it doesn’t stop with the candidates. Clinton exists with Sanders and Warren and a bunch of new young upstarts pushing her from inside her party, and has as a constituency beyond her party supporting her, not only of corporate sharks, but also women, blacks, and so on. Trump has behind him religious fundamentalists, ideological lunatics, overt racists and sexists, and working people with totally warranted grievances who, however, Trump utterly disdains and will ignore other than to try to rally them into scapegoating others.
It is true that if you honestly believe Trump and Clinton are not dramatically different, if you can really say that the day after the election, if you woke up to President Trump you would not be far more horrified and far more upset than waking up to President Clinton, then, okay, I guess your decision to vote Stein everywhere makes sense. But, really, Trump literally talks about fascistic repression and using nuclear weapons and the most mysoginistic and racist violations as if they were all the common currency of a worthy daily life. He means by law and order – repression. He denies that arguably the most urgent problem humanity has ever faced, global warming, even exists. He galvanizes support from and for virtually every neo-nazi and otherwise maniacally racist and sexist constituency in the country. Any notion that Trump will not promote all that, or that he will morph his almost incomprehensible economic notions into some poor people’s campaign because his Republican Party soulmates will restrain him from worse is hard to fathom. Now add to all that his thousands of governmental appointments, made at the top by him, and made further down by neanderthal components of the Republican party – judges, yes, but all the rest too – and surely the difference between President Trump and President Clinton is evident and huge.
It is hard to see how denying the difference between a likely Trump administration and a likely Clinton administration could be anything other than a rationalization for voting for Stein everywhere which choice was determined, however, on other grounds entirely. In other words, I suspect in more cases than not, one decides to vote for Stein everywhere for other reasons but then, to justify it, says something one would otherwise dismiss as utterly ridiculous, that is, that Trump is at most marginally worse than Clinton. What might those other reasons for deciding to vote Stein everywhere be?
I think it is most often a totally warranted fury at the Democratic Party and a realization, for many for the first time, of the horror that is the American electoral system, as well as general outrage at injustice and oppression, plus a feeling that to acknowledge the desirability of voting for Clinton – even while holding one’s nose, and even only in contested states, and even while devoting oneself to battling against her administration and building new alternatives including the Green Party – is somehow a slippery slope to becoming an apologist for injustice and giving up on change. I think many fear loss of radical commitment and identity more than they fear Trump. But I wonder why anyone would believe, even if some left pundits inexplicably write as though it is inevitable, that a ten minute strategic vote for Clinton in a contested state would cause one to lose one’s values, one’s understanding, and one’s commitment. What would it say about activists that our grasp on our long held, or even newly developed, beliefs would be so subject to dissolution?
Next comes the claim that Trump would engender more opposition than would Clinton, and I think that that could well be true, though I don’t think it is as self evident as many assert. For one thing, it ignores the different level of repression Trump would employ and the defeatism and depression his victory might arouse. But let’s say Trump in office would generate more opposition than Clinton in office. What would that opposition be doing? Under Obama, we got Occupy and Black Lives Matter, each seeking positive change way beyond Democratic Party aims. Under Republicans, and certainly under Trump, opposition would focus overwhelmingly on preventing horrible reaction. It would have for its leadership and rhetoric, content largely and perhaps even fully compatible with Democratic Party agendas. The upshot of protest under Trump, in other words, if successful, would likely be, after four or eight years of tremendous human losses, getting back to where we would be now if Clinton becomes President. Even if we callously ignore that the cost of those eight years would very likely include world swamping climate change, it would still be enormous for minorities, women, gays, working people, and people around the world.
So I have to wonder, why not vote for Clinton in whatever states are still contested five weeks from now, and vote however you think your actions will best aid social change activism in safe states? And if you are considering not voting for Clinton in contested states, I wonder how you would answer these questions:
On the day after the election, when you pick up the paper, will you be hoping Clinton won, and if Trump won, will you be horrified and even more fearful for humanity than at virtually any other moment in your life?
If you were to vote Clinton in a contested state, to stop Trump, or if any other progressive or radical you know were to do so, do you think you or they would then jettison your values and beliefs and become a status quo supporter passive about change? If you are Green the day before the election and you were to vote strategically, would you become a Democratic Party aficionado the day after?
If you vote Stein in a contested state, and Trump wins that state, and wins the election, do you think the Green Party would even survive that? Would you survive that?
Do you really think that Albert, Shalom, Chomsky, Glick, Gupta, and all the others who are advocating strategic voting have suddenly lost their values and commitments? If not, can you explain why you think their logic is wrong and why their assessments are wrong, without simply dismissing them as sellouts so as to avoid addressing substance? And if you are inclined to summarily dismiss, or to just repeat that Clinton is bad and Stein is good, which no one is contesting, can you explain to yourself why that is your inclination?