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Thinking About the Election


As the U.S. election season proceeds, there is controversy, confusion, consternation, and sometimes recrimination. Below, in a question and answer format, we present our views on these matters, hoping to contribute to the discussion.

1. Who are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton?

Trump is a narcissistic, violent, lying, racist, misogynistic, ultra-nationalist bully. He says whatever he calculates will best promote himself. Is he a racist thug? Yes. Does he advocate total state control on behalf of private owners? Not yet. Is he a Mussolini in the making? Maybe.

Hillary Clinton is a leading representative of the neoliberal wing of the capitalist class and has helped move the Democratic Party from New Deal liberalism to pro-corporate liberalism. She is beholden to wealth and power and Sanders was correct to call her the candidate of Wall Street.

Yet as horrible as adherence to wealth and power is, it is unclear why many people see Clinton as massively worse than Obama or her husband, say. Clinton was one of the more liberal Democrats in the Senate, yet some progressives claim they prefer Reagan or even Trump over her. Perhaps these people are first discovering the horrors hiding behind fuzzy Democratic Party rhetoric. Or perhaps they are first directly experiencing the massive obstacle to fundamental change that is our corporate system, and their fury at that system is directed at Clinton alone rather than at her but also more widely.

2. How does the Democratic platform compare with the Republican platform and should we care?

That party platforms and campaign promises are routinely violated is undeniable. Yet, even so, specific campaign pledges are often kept and members of Congress often vote in accord with their party platforms. The key determinant, though, is whether political pressure is brought to bear to compel compliance.

This year, the Sanders forces had substantial input into the Democratic platform. They didn’t get the language they sought on a bunch of issues, and on some (especially Palestine), they got nothing. But the document is still one of the most progressive in Party history:

  • a $15 an hour minimum wage, pegged to inflation (remember when that was a major left demand?)
  • working families should not pay any tuition to go to public colleges and universities,
  • 50 percent of the country’s electricity should come from clean energy sources within a decade,
  • federal legislation to protect the LGBT community from discrimination and transgender folks from violence,
  • repeal the Hyde amendment, which bans federal funds for abortion,
  • comprehensive immigration reform providing a path to citizenship for those without legal documents and in the meantime defending executive actions to prevent the deportation of DREAMers, parents of citizens, and lawful permanent residents, and an end to raids and roundups of children and families,
  • end mass incarceration, reform mandatory minimum sentences, close private prisons and detention centers, expand re-entry programs, require body cameras, stop the use of weapons of war in urban communities, end racial profiling, require the Department of Justice to investigate all questionable or suspicious police-involved shootings, end capital punishment, end the hypercriminalization of marijuana.

Contrast that with the GOP platform, one of the most reactionary in history, which calls for a wall across the Mexican border, no amnesties, treating illegal immigrants as a major source of violent crimes; no abortions, even in cases of rape or women’s health; abolishing tenure; abstinence-only sex education; repealing the Affordable Care Act; characterizing coal as a “clean” energy source; a gay rights section that the Log Cabin Republicans called “the most anti-LGBT platform in the party’s 162-year history”; ending the Attorney General’s “campaign of harassment against police forces”; condemning the Supreme Court’s erosion of the death penalty; and eliminating the federal minimum wage.

Both platforms reflect a fundamental commitment to capitalist values. Nonetheless the differences they reveal in the two parties and the two likely emerging administrations would have significant human consequences.

3. But given Clinton’s connections to the energy industry, aren’t the differences between Clinton and Trump on climate only cosmetic?

Clinton and the Democratic Party platform recognize climate change as an “urgent threat” and commit to addressing it. Clinton says she will “install half a billion solar panels by the end of her first term, cut tax subsidies to oil and gas companies,” and “deliver on the pledge President Obama made at the Paris climate conference—without relying on climate deniers in Congress to pass new legislation.” She will “reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30 percent in 2025 relative to 2005 levels….”

The words “up to” are disturbing, but compare them with Trump, who considers climate change a hoax, or with the Republican platform which proposes “to shift responsibility for environmental regulation from the federal bureaucracy to the states” and “to transform the EPA into an independent bipartisan commission.” They reject “both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement,” and refer to the “illusion of an environmental crisis.” They want to revive the Keystone pipeline.

Some ask why it matters whether we are killed immediately or more slowly. What matters is that the longer timeline offered by the Clinton policies gives us time to build a movement able to win the environmental policies we really need.

If Trump wins and seeks to abolish the EPA, abrogate the Clean Power Plan, and scuttle the Paris Climate Agreement, climate activists will certainly oppose him. But that is the point. To have Trump in office means next year’s organizing will be fighting to prevent or undo horrendous backsliding instead of seeking positive new gains.

4. Given Clinton and the Democrats’ support for “free trade agreements,” would Trump be better for American workers than Clinton?

Technological change and the industrialization of the Third World will inevitably affect employment in the United States. The left insists that the costs of those shifts be shared as fairly and as democratically as possible. What’s objectionable about TPP and the other “free trade agreements” is not that they promote trade, but that they give too much power and benefit to corporations and that they are not accompanied by domestic policies that equitably redistribute the costs and benefits.

Trump has not put forward any policies that would address the redistribution problem. Blocking TPP, but then pursuing other policies that shift income upward will not help the non-college-educated working class victims of globalization.

On the minimum wage, Trump recently took “three different positions … in less than 30 seconds,” but the most generous of them was two-thirds of what the Democratic Party platform calls for (an increase to $15 an hour over time, pegged to inflation). The Republican platform sees the minimum wage as “an issue that should be handled at the state and local level,” calls for the repeal of the Davis-Bacon law, which mandates the payment of prevailing wages on federally-funded construction projects, and supports anti-union Right to Work laws.

On tax policy, Citizens for Tax Justice commented: “Trump’s tax plan would represent an unprecedented shift of income to the wealthy, while taking away substantial income and public services from the overwhelming majority of Americans.”

The tax provisions in the GOP platform, said Citizens for Tax Justice, “would exacerbate the dual problems of rising inequality and continuous annual federal budget deficits with tax cuts that essentially put more money into the pockets of wealthy people and corporations and reduce federal revenues.”

The Republican Platform also opposes the Dodd-Frank regulations, and especially the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Trump himself told the New York Times that he prefers using non-union labor.

In contrast, Democrats offer modest steps to address inequality: make the rich pay their fair share of taxes (“In terms of tax justice,” observed Citizens for Tax Justice, “this year’s Democratic platform is one of the party’s most progressive in modern history”), make it easier to form unions, raise the minimum wage, and oppose Right to Work laws.

The rich have a decisive role in Clinton’s Democratic Party, but even limited differences between the parties will translate into significant differences in people’s lives.

5. How would Trump and Clinton differ on court appointments? Does it even matter? 

The next President will likely make four Supreme Court appointments who will adjudicate for decades. When Trump says he will choose justices in the image of Antonin Scalia, we can assume he will. Some of Bill Clinton and Obama’s nominees have been centrist but have voted with the liberal bloc on many crucial close decisions.

Decisions on immigration, reproductive rights, affirmative action, LGBTQ rights, voting rights, campaign financing, and corporate power all matter, and so different appointments to the Court matter too. Social movements, of course, are needed to generate real change, but the more reactionary the Court, the tougher their job.

6. Is Clinton more likely to pursue war than Trump?

Bernie Sanders rightly criticized Clinton’s 2002 vote for the Iraq war. But despite Trump’s claims, there’s no evidence he opposed that war before it began. His one documented pre-war opinion was his answer to a September 2002 question from Howard Stern on whether he supported going to war. He replied “Yeah, I guess so.” In 2011 Trump told an interviewer that smart people said the Iraq war was about taking over the oil, but “unfortunately, Bush didn’t have that in mind.”

Trump also supported the 2011 campaign to depose Qaddafi in Libya — though he criticized U.S. policy on the grounds that support for the rebels should have been conditioned on their agreeing to give us 50 percent of their oil.

Clinton has hawkish inclinations and a hawkish record, and has surrounded herself with hawkish advisers (including neocons like Robert Kagan). She worked to undermine democracy in Honduras and pursued provocative policies toward Russia. The jingoism at the Democratic Convention was repulsive, but familiar. However, Trump’s America Firstism is not pacifism. He’s called for sending 30,000 troops to fight ISIS (and won’t rule out the use of nuclear weapons against them). He wants bombing that kills the family members of ISIS members (noting that Obama has been fighting a very “politically-correct” war), waterboarding and worse, and he favors barring Muslims.

Trump proposes a 45 percent punitive tariff on China that will surely exacerbate tensions with that major power, and says he wants to bolster U.S. military forces in the tense South China Sea to give the United States a stronger bargaining position.

Clinton may or may not ignore the terms of the Iran nuclear deal and use sanctions to try to extract further concessions from Iran. Trump has said his “number-one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” The Republican platform says they don’t recognize the agreement as binding.

Trump has called for building up the U.S. military and accused Obama of allowing the U.S. nuclear arsenal to “atrophy.” ”The Trump doctrine is simple,” declared The Donald. “It’s strength. It’s strength. Nobody is going to mess with us. Our military will be made stronger.”

In April 2016, Trump warned that, “Our military is depleted, and we’re asking our generals and military leaders to worry about global warming. We will spend what we need to rebuild our military. It is the cheapest investment we can make. We will develop, build, and purchase the best equipment known to mankind. Our military dominance must be unquestioned.”

Obama proposed a trillion dollar nuclear modernization program. Clinton submissively said she had to look into the matter, but now the Democratic platform urges “work to reduce excessive spending on nuclear weapons-related programs that are projected to cost $1 trillion.”

The GOP platform, on the other hand, echoes Trump’s claim that Obama and Clinton have weakened the U.S. military. It denounces them for neglecting U.S. strategic weapons, for signing an inappropriate arms control agreement with Russia, and for moving to normalize relations with Cuba.

Some on the left have been delighted at the fact that Trump has seemed to question several of the mainstays of U.S. foreign policy, especially its non-proliferation policy and the NATO alliance. But telling Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia that the United States is no longer going to bear the expense of their defense and that it would be fine if they wanted to acquire nuclear weapons is precisely the sort of policy that could lead to out-of-control nuclear arms races in East Asia and the Middle East. And saying he might not defend one of the new Baltic NATO members until he had checked whether they had “fulfilled their obligations to us” is not a peace policy but the replacement of a provocative military alliance with a gun-for-hire arrangement.

And doesn’t having a racist megalomaniac’s hand on the nuclear trigger present a real danger?

7. Is Clinton terrible on Palestine? What about Trump?

Although the Democratic Party platform did adopt some of Bernie’s positions on important issues, on Israel-Palestine the document refused to condemn the occupation, condemn the settlements, or call for any pressure on Israel to move toward peace. In conformity to Hillary’s promise to Israel-apologist billionaire Haim Saban, the platform even says the Party will “oppose any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.”

The platform pays lip service to the two-state solution, but by saying it must be “negotiated directly by the parties,” it is essentially saying that Washington will apply zero pressure to bring that solution about (and will guarantee Israel’s “qualitative military edge”).

As awful as this Democratic platform section is, the Republican’s is even worse. It does not even pretend to support a two-state solution, explicitly rejecting the view that Israel is an occupier. The word Palestinian does not appear in the entire document — except for one clause demanding that the United States immediately halt funding to the UN’s climate body because it grants Palestinians membership as a state. It calls for “no daylight between America and Israel” and guarantees Israel a qualitative military edge. It recognizes “Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state” and calls for the American embassy to be moved there. It denounces the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement as anti-Semitic and calls for legislation to prevent the boycotting of Israel or “the Israeli-controlled territories.”

In February 2016, Trump said that the United States should remain “neutral” between Israel and the Palestinians so as to be in a position to broker a deal between the two sides. But he quickly withdrew that, saying that “Palestinians must come to the table knowing that the bond between the United States and Israel is absolutely, totally unbreakable,” that he would move the U.S. embassy to “the eternal capital of the Jewish people,” Jerusalem, and that Hillary Clinton and Obama had “treated Israel very, very badly.”

In May 2016, Trump went even further, declaring that Israel should just “keep moving forward” in building settlements in the occupied territories. U.S. pressure on Israel to stop settlement expansion — which Washington used to call illegal — has generally been non-existent, but this is the first time a presidential candidate has urged them to build more. Trump has been endorsed by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a leading supporter of Israel’s right-wing government, who says he believes that Trump “will be good for Israel.”

Both parties’ positions on Israel-Palestine are terrible, with Trump’s being more so. But this is an example of how one can press on issues before and after the election, totally independent of how one votes in November. Many groups supporting Palestinian rights were out in the streets during the Democratic Convention trying to appeal to the strong sentiment among rank-and-file Democrats who are far more progressive on this issue than are the Party leaders. They were working and will continue to work on changing the conversation on Palestine, quite apart from those ten minutes in November.

8. Does the fact that Clinton is a woman matter?

Yes, a woman becoming president is an undeniable step forward, and, other things equal, it should be enough to decide one’s vote. But of course other things are never equal.

If Trump was a woman, and Clinton a man, and everything else was unchanged, that one positive for Ms. Trump would not override her incredible negatives. Or consider Sanders versus Clinton. Clinton being a woman was certainly a factor in her favor, but not remotely enough to sway most progressives toward supporting her over Sanders — and rightly so.

That said, the effects of having a woman president will be profound for young girls and women — and for young boys, too.

And of course, on the other side of the issue, it isn’t just that Trump isn’t a woman. It is that he is incredibly misogynist and in office would cause feminists to have to battle violent reaction rather than pursue liberation.

9. Does it matter for future activism whether Clinton or Trump becomes President?

Yes, in two main ways. First, in reacting to protests Trump would be far more aggressive than Clinton and encourage local police to be far more repressive. Indeed, Trump would implicitly, and maybe even explicitly, welcome citizen vigilantes to violently repress resistance in a throwback to the days of the “hard hat riots” against anti-war protestors in 1970, or even to KKK tactics against anti-racist organizers.

Second, imagine it is Election Day plus one. You wake up. Clinton won. Sanders is building a new organization called “Our Revolution.” Movements are eager to pursue positive aims they have been elaborating. There is no honeymoon for Hillary, there is activism for society. The focus of protest is government, the two parties, and corporations. The overriding concern is attaining positive gains and moving toward implementing Sanders’ policies and then more.

Or, you wake up, Trump won. Racism surges. Sexism explodes. People of good will are shell-shocked. Movements scramble to find voice and form to oppose a drastic shift rightward. Activists prepare to battle to preserve what with Clinton in office they would have been trying to transcend. The focus of protest is Trump, his policies, and repression. Positive aspirations are back-burnered by the urgency to prevent gruesome reaction and even fascistic violence. The overriding concern is survival, repelling reaction, and getting back to what is remembered as the relative sanity of Obama/Clinton.

10. But couldn’t a victory of the greater evil hasten progressive change? 

Going backward to go forward makes sense when retreat leads to a short cut to leap ahead. But a path forward from a Trump-led society would lead right back through some Democrat, maybe even Clinton herself. It would entail four, eight, or more years delay, and also the massive pain that a Trump administration would impose on people, not to mention the delay in addressing global warming and all that that might mean.

Has any labor organizer ever wished owners would cut salaries or worsen conditions so that labor can leap forward? Has any anti-war organizer, feminist organizer, anti-racist organizer, or other organizer called upon the establishment to make things much worse in order to arrive at much better? Of course not, and for good reason.

11. But didn’t the neoliberal Democratic Party pave the way for Trump, and wouldn’t having more liberals in office now mean more “Trumps” later?

Yes, Democratic Party policies, particularly paying little attention to the declining income, feelings of alienation, horrendous health care, and even the plummeting lifespan of white working people, have been central to Trump’s rise, as has the Democrat’s unwillingness to actually comprehend and relate to working class issues in a remotely sincere fashion.

And yes, having Clinton in office with no effective opposition to force better policies and develop lasting movements, could lead to a still worse and still more effective “Trump” running in the future, particularly if Clinton wins via a campaign that effectively ignores white workers and really all workers as workers, leaving them feeling even more estranged and angry than now.

But who proposes that scenario? And why should we expect it? If Clinton wins she will immediately confront not only an electorate and especially an activist community that will fight for change, but even inside her own Party a seriously divided base with much and perhaps even most of it leaning at least somewhat left, including toward developing working class ties and program.

On the other hand, if Trump wins, he will operate in a Party that backs his most aggressive choices, is utterly disdainful of all opposition, and is also hell bent on delivering a worse “Trump” later.

Regarding its operational lesson, and perhaps even the stakes we face, it is relevant to note that Hitler surely arose from the terrible failures of the German capitalist and social democratic parties to deal with the Depression, but that doesn’t mean it was sensible for progressives to refuse an alliance with the social democrats to stop Hitler.

12. What is Trump’s appeal to white working class people? How might it best be addressed?

Trump appeals to illegitimate racist and sexist fears, but also appeals to legitimate though misdirected concerns about severely worsening life conditions.

Republicans cater to owners and try to win over workers with lies, posturing, fear of terror, and racism/sexism. Democrats serve owners but cater to what might be called the professional class, and try to modestly accommodate workers to gain their votes.

Not believing campaign speeches, people often vote for who they feel understands their situation better. But if many of Trump’s working class supporters are not supporting him because they want him and others like him to get even more rich at working people’s expense, if they are not supporting him because he is a real estate tycoon, if they are not supporting him literally because he is abominably racist and sexist, then perhaps they are supporting him because he appears to them unafraid to say what he thinks. He is not polished and academic. He talks straight. He does not appear to be the kind of person who looks down on workers and who day to day constantly exerts direct power over them.

If so, progressives need to speak directly to Trump’s supporters, respecting their pain and anger and providing real but also believable policy answers to their concerns.

13. Who are the Greens, and Jill Stein? And does a higher vote tally for them aid social change?

Greens are progressives and leftists who believe in the desirability of creating a powerful third party in the U.S. as part of the process of winning a new society. They are polling at 3-5 percentage points nationally. They have won some local elections, though their main emphasis has been on presidential elections. Jill Stein is their likely candidate for President.

A higher vote tally for Greens would reveal support and support typically garners more support because momentum matters.

Further, of those who vote Green, some will join the Greens, and then work for them, and that will help their development.

Finally, reaching 15 percent in the polls gets Stein a seat in the coming debates, 5 percent gets federal matching funds, and attaining various state-wide tallies helps ballot access in the future.

14. What does strategic lesser evil voting mean?

Strategic lesser evil voting means you vote in light of the implications of your choice for the future. It means you look not only at the short and long-term consequences for human well-being of each candidate winning, but also at the likelihood of each candidate winning.

Strategic lesser evil voting means looking at the likely overall benefit and harms of casting your vote in a particular state for Clinton versus the overall benefit and harm of casting your vote in that state for a third party candidate with no chance of winning. If polling shows a close race between Clinton and Trump, then a small number of additional votes for Clinton could mean the difference between which of the two candidates gets all the state’s electoral votes. On the other hand, if polls show that the race is not close, then a strategic lesser evil voter can vote for the Greens or other third party with no negative cost at all.

But what is the positive impact on the Green Party, say, of Green supporters voting for Clinton in contested states? If the Greens were to put all their energies into safe-state campaigning, they could win nearly as many overall votes as otherwise, especially since they wouldn’t lose the support of safe-state voters who considered an all-states campaign irresponsible. But even if the Greens lost some votes by declining to campaign for presidential votes in contested states, the impact of these lost presidential votes would be quite modest. Greens who vote for Clinton would emerge from the voting booth with the same views they would have had had their state been safe and had they voted for Stein, and they could work just as hard for Green positions in either case. And Trump would have lost — or, in the horrible event he won, Greens would not be called the cause of it, with disastrous results for the Party.

So even ignoring implications of a Trump victory for the country and the world, Greens would at most be marginally hurt by promoting a safe state strategy, and might even benefit from doing so. And, of course, we should not ignore implications for others, in any event.

15. But if we’re always committed to lesser evil voting, won’t that mean we’re always going to be voting for a reactionary capitalist party and that therefore the development of an alternative will be impossible?

If all we do is vote every four years, then no matter how we vote, we will never get much change. What is crucial is whether we build sufficiently effective movements to generate sufficient support for change to carry a really worthy candidate into contention, and then to victory, whether in a mainstream party, like Sanders nearly achieved, or in a third party. And what determines that is overwhelmingly what we are doing other than voting, like the work of Occupy, Black Lives Matter, and other projects that over the past years have paved the way for Sanders, but also on whether our periodic voting creates conditions more or less conducive to progress, and on whether our third party work locally creates a steadily enlarging base.

In this election, progressives and leftists who follow strategic lesser evil voting will be free in nearly all states, we hope, to vote for third parties because those states will be uncontested. In contested states, their lesser evil vote for Clinton will further the prospects for Greens by contributing to stopping Trump.

In contrast, if progressives in contested states reject voting for Clinton and Trump wins, they would have unintentionally impeded prospects for Green gains and consigned people to four years of Trump.

16. Why blame those who vote for third party candidates in swing states for a Trump victory? Isn’t that the argument used to tar Nader voters for Bush’s win in 2000? Was it correct then?

Suppose it comes down to Florida. Suppose we know, as Election Day dawns, that whoever wins Florida becomes President because every other state is clearly in one column or the other. The polls show Florida could go either way. If in this situation a person, or especially a social group, movement, or organization abstains, votes for a third party, or votes for a write-in candidate, those are votes lopped off Clinton’s potential total. If some group does that, and it swings the final tally to Trump, then it is impossible to deny that the group’s choice had the predictable consequence of giving the election to Trump. Had they chosen differently, Trump would have lost.

In Florida in 2000, Bush beat Gore by 537 votes. Nader got 97,000 votes. Therefore, with all else equal, if only 538 Nader voters had voted instead for Gore, Gore would have won all 25 of Florida’s electoral votes and would have won the electoral vote 291 to 246. It is true, of course, that without Republican shenanigans during the Florida vote count, Gore would have won the state. It is also true that had Gore run a better campaign, he would have won the very close election. Also, if they hadn’t voted for Nader, some Green voters might not have voted at all and some might even have voted for Bush. But still, despite all this, any 538 Nader voters in Florida could have prevented Bush from becoming president. And had Nader urged them to do just that, while he campaigned elsewhere, and in Florida they worked to prepare to carry on after the election against Gore, then Gore would have won, and the Greens would also have been vastly better off.

17. Don’t we need to build an alternative to the two-party duopoly?

Yes, of course we do, but activism that aims to transform society, rather than simply eliminate a horrible turn toward reaction, will be far more likely to happen with Clinton in office than with Trump.

Ensuring that Trump loses by voting for Clinton in contested states while voting for Stein, or whoever, in safe states, builds for an alternative to the two-party duopoly both by supporting a possible alternative right now in uncontested states, and also by warding off a massive impediment to that alternative for the coming four years, in contested states.

18. But doesn’t advocating lesser evil voting mean one doesn’t care about the long term and that one is, as some commentators have suggested, a running dog lackey of imperialism?

We don’t feel like we are running dog lackeys of imperialism. We propose and favor full revolutionary alternatives to existing political and economic systems. Yet we also think voting for Clinton in contested states will help block Trump’s horrible agenda and also improve the prospects for greater activism to come.

We have the lesser evil inclination in this election not because we are suddenly inexplicably beholden to the powers and institutions we have fought for decades, or because we have lost our nerve, or our way, but because we have for all our adult lives sought and will keep on seeking long term transformation of our society. We simply see that in our country’s current circumstance, lesser evil voting in contested states aids seeking change against wealth and power.

19. Does refusing to vote Clinton even in contested states mean one doesn’t care about the well-being of constituencies that will suffer more under Trump than under Clinton?

In rare cases, perhaps some callousness plays a role, but far more often refusing to vote for Clinton even in contested states means that one is furious at the Democrats for playing dirty with Bernie, that one hates what Clinton stands for, that one hates what Clinton and her administration will be inclined to do in office, that one feels a tremendous urgency to transcend not just neoliberal policies, but the whole political, economic, and social system we currently endure, and that one just doesn’t want to and would indeed feel sick to the core to pull a lever that seemingly ratifies all that one despises.

The problem is, even with all these fully warranted and admirable feelings causing one’s refusal, the refusal itself could elect Trump and unleash even worse outcomes than those we oppose on many, many people, and arguably on the whole species.

Does anyone believe a progressive, leftist, or revolutionary who pulls the lever for Clinton in a contested state must in any way suffer diminished ability to fight on? Why can’t we hold our nose, cast our vote, and then go right back to struggling for a new society? Why can’t we stop Trump and also build new political, organizational, and movement alternatives?

20. But isn’t voting for Clinton a slippery slope. First you resolve to vote for her, then you don’t want to criticize her before the election (for fear you’ll help the greater evil), then you tone down your criticism of her after the election (because you’ll be helping some greater evil defeat her four years later)… 

We all like to feel good about ourselves and we all at times rationalize our choices. But even so, this trajectory is not inevitable. We can vote for Clinton while indicating we do not support her and that we will oppose her, and we can then do just that.

Indeed, if the overwhelming message of leftists in talks and writing in the coming weeks is that we should vote strategically and also fight on, it is hard to see why pulling the lever for Clinton in a contested state, of which there will hopefully be few or even none, should interfere with that voter becoming one of Clinton’s most steadfast and effective opponents, or with that voter becoming one of the Green Party’s most steadfast and effective supporters and participants.

21. Aren’t you asking Greens to be inactive until November 8, thereby cutting their momentum?

No, not at all. Campaign in most states for president, for local offices, and for issues, and in swing states campaign for local offices and for issues. The idea that foregoing voting for Stein in contested states means doing nothing there downplays the importance of local activities and campaigns.

22. But I want to vote my conscience.

So do we. Why isn’t accounting for the impact of our choice on the well-being of others and on future organizing prospects part of voting our consciences?

23. But isn’t it harmful to vote based on fear rather than positive program?

It would be great if we had nothing to fear and the only question before us was which of various progressive programs we wanted to adopt. But how can we not be fearful of climate catastrophe or nuclear war or mass deportations or racist violence?

Regrettably, we need to focus on both offense and defense: advancing positive programs while, by our 10-minute vote in swing states, we block our most feared outcomes.

24. But Trump’s not going to win…

Pundits on the left and elsewhere have consistently underestimated Trump in this campaign. Today Clinton is ahead in the polls, but it is reckless to assume that her victory is a foregone conclusion.

In any event, the odds of Trump winning has no bearing on the call to vote for Clinton only where it might matter. If, in early November, it is clear that Trump has no chance of winning, then one can vote for a third party everywhere. If it is clear that some state that was previously considered up for grabs was now decisively in one column or another, voters there could likewise vote for a third party.

25. What is most important, post election? Is it left unity? Is it who is president? Is it what new organizations and activism we have put in place to go forward?

All three are important.

Efforts at change in the United States cannot succeed, long or short term, unless all who favor these ends work together in a spirit of mutual aid. So we need left unity and we have to be trying for it, not assaulting one another, even as we seek other gains as well.

Aside from affecting many people’s lives today, who is president empowers various views, establishes context, and also affects government responses to dissent. Do activists have to fight against policies that seek to move us back in time, or can activists focus on positive aspirations linked to long term aims? Does dissent try to reduce magnified repression or eliminate familiar repression?

Change depends on the levels of activism and organization we have in place to fight for it, and that in turn depends on the extent to which we develop organization and activism as opposed to only immersing ourselves in seeking vote tallies. So, while trying to generate unity, and while expanding popular support, and while trying to avoid a Trump presidency, we need to also build new organizations that can sustain activism in the years ahead.

26. But didn’t Bernie Sanders behave like a “sheep-dog,” trying to herd all left voters into the Democratic Party corral? 

If Sanders was a sheepdog, then all his supporters are sheep. What a strange way to characterize those one hopes will be engines of social change. But luckily we don’t feel herded, do you?

Sanders wants Clinton to beat Trump. So do we. Sanders wants various changes in the Democratic Party’s rules and methods. We would like to have those changes too. Sanders says he wants much more, and we do too.

But Sanders has gone another step. He is creating an organization. It is not called Young Democrats or Super Democrats or Democratic Allies. It is called “Our Revolution.” What will the structure, policies, and program of the organization be? We don’t know, but hopefully it will mature into a participatory force fighting for Bernie’s program, and for much beyond that as well.

Sanders has said from the day he began his campaign that what matters to winning change is on-going dissent, demonstrations, and organizing in the street through and beyond Election Day. And now he is adding that organization matters, too.

The purported blemish many now point to regarding Sanders, is that he has said we have to stop Trump which means we have to elect Clinton. But that is consistent with the rest of his message and enhances it as soon as we realize that for us it can mean voting for Clinton where necessary to beat Trump, but opposing her objectionable policies everywhere until we have replaced her administration with much better, and then opposing that administration too, until we have a new system.

In fact, Sanders brought many new people into politics and was able to reach millions of people that third parties have for decades been unable to reach. There is no reason to suppose that those of his supporters who are now going to vote for Clinton have been duped into doing so. They may have been attracted to Sanders in the first place because he offered a plausible path to substantial social change without risking a reactionary outcome. They may well agree with strategic lesser evil voting.

Would it have been better, not least in combatting Trump, if Sanders had come to the convention and said something like, “Hillary Clinton’s agenda is not all that I wanted and I don’t believe a Clinton Administration will bring us liberty and justice, but I am absolutely convinced, without an inkling of doubt, that having Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office will do far less harm to working people, minorities, women, the environment, and international relations, and will provide a far better context for winning further gains than having Donald Trump there. For that reason, I want Hillary Clinton to become the next President and I intend to campaign as hard as I can in every contested state to urge my supporters to vote Clinton in those states, and then to join me and our new organization, Our Revolution, to agitate, militate, and organize against the new Clinton administration and on behalf of working people, women, black people, brown people, LGBT people, and really all but the oligarchs and potentates who run our society and profit from our labors.”?

Perhaps that would have been better (we think so), but it did not happen.

27. What then can we sensibly say about Sanders’ role in all that has unfolded? Why didn’t he run for President as a Green, with Stein as his Vice President?

Sanders’ role has been consistent and, relative to anything that anyone might plausibly have anticipated, far more successful than other efforts we might name. Sanders ran as a Democrat for the outreach and visibility it would facilitate, which it certainly did.

We can only guess at Sanders’ decision not to accept the Green invitation to run on their ticket once he could no longer get the Democratic Party nomination. But we hope that if Sanders had thought that he and the Greens might have won, then he would have run. But if he thought, as we guess was the case, that it might have only meant his getting 10 percent or perhaps 15 percent and Trump winning, then we assume he concluded that the risk of running wasn’t worth it. The downside was too great, the upside too limited. The better path, we assume he decided, was to get Trump removed from the field by a Clinton victory, and then proceed with the struggle.

28. What might a person seeking a real revolution in U.S. institutions do at a time like this? What ought such a person not do? 

There are countless possible answers as to what one might usefully do in these times.  Try to preserve and enlarge the momentum that has developed largely from the Sanders campaign, while also trying to ensure that Trump loses. Work toward creating new organization. Work toward developing and creating revolutionary vision and consistent program feeding into that vision. Support diverse movements and seek to mutually align them into larger endeavors.

As to what not to do, of course that too has many answers, but the most germane might be — don’t escalate time-bound differences into hostile disputes and then into dismissals of allies and potential allies.

34 Comments

  1. avatar
    Peter Bohmer August 7, 2016 9:32 pm 

    Dear Michael and Steve,
    (This is a letter I sent to long-term friends, Michael Albert and Steven Shalom on July 31st, 2016 before they printed the above commentary)

    I read your proposed Question and Answer analysis of the upcoming 2016 Presidential Election pamphlet and while I think the tone is more respectful of those on the left who feel they can’t vote for Clinton than earlier writing by Michael Albert, I still have problems with it.
    1) I think maybe because you want to highlight Clinton’s differences with Trump, which are real and significant, you are less critical of her than i am, e.g. her strong support for fracking, TPP (in the past) without now saying she was wrong, her close connections to AIPAC and intense anti BDS position, her connections to Goldman-Sachs and Wall Street, her positions along with Obama) on Latin America, e..g, Honduras and Venezuela, her public support for 1996 welfare deform act and 1994, 1996 crime bills, etc. You should not demonize Clinton but show a little more outrage at her and most of the Democratic Party’s imperialism and militarism.
    2) Note how Bernie Sanders, Michael Eric Dyson, etc., in coming out in support of Clinton and Kaine also feel compelled to praise them. While not a logical necessity, there is pressure both from the pro Clinton people and in order to justify one’s position and to make one’s support meaningful to downplay criticism and even faintly praise Clinton.

    3) I think we are in a period of danger (Trump, growth of white supremacy connected to Trump’s candidacy, climate change, etc) but also a period of renewed interest in activism and political engagement, socialism, Black Lives Matter, etc. This period of potential growth of activism and social movement growth may be very short-lived. Your strategy of asking people to vote strategically contributes unintentionally to demobilizing people who are beginning to become very engaged. For example, although I have been quite critical of the Green Party for their lack of grassroots organizing and their whiteness, I think there is a real possibility now of a significant growth in membership, in building chapters, and in votes for Jill Stein. Saying the Greens should wait until after November is likely to miss the moment. For example in Olympia some younger activists just formed a second Green Party organization as an alternative to the existing one which has good people in it, but has not been all that active or grown.

    4) There is a difference which you ignore between asking individuals to vote for the lesser of two evils in swing states and asking that organizations, social movements follow this rule. It makes a lot more sense for an individual to do that. However, I question this strategy far more for a radical organization like Black Lives Matter or the Green Party as it is likely to be seen as a compromise with a pro-corporate and neoliberal militarist, Hillary Clinton and the mainstream of the Democratic Party, and furthers the skepticism people have for political engagement and for a new and radical politics.

    5) I originally wrote Michael Albert many months ago that my position and many people I know is that we should simultaneously strongly and totally oppose Trump while building organizations, social movements that deal with the key issues of the day-a two pronged strategy. With regards to Clinton and the November presidential elections, we should not focus on Hillary Clinton and her campaign but of course say, she and the Democrats are not as bad as Trump and the Republicans, and leave it up to people whether they vote for her or not. I also expressed this in a commentary I put on Znet about a month ago which I am including here. It stresses being respectful to those, especially people new to activism and younger people, who are into rejecting Clinton and the Democrats. You may want to skip the following if you already read it.
    “July 14, 2016
    What I find missing from my friend, Michael Albert’s commentary in the Left Unity section of Znet, https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/we-need-a-united-left/ is an acknowledgement and a validation of the moral outrage felt by many people, mainly but not only young people, that they are being told to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Michael Albert is right that Hillary Clinton will do less harm than a Trump presidency but the harm of her militaristic, imperialist and neoliberal administration will be major to people inside the United States, and probably even worse for those living in other countries.
    So I think people who say they cannot in good conscience vote for Hillary Clinton, even in contested states such as Florida, Ohio, etc. should not be criticized nor pressured to change their mind. I know many, many people in this category and when I ask them what they are likely to do in November, besides talking about their anger at the mainstream media promotion of Clinton and the marginalization of Bernie, and the daily and massive coverage of Trump; almost all of them also tell me they will either not vote or vote for Jill Stein and the Greens. I do not criticize this decision although if they ask me what I believe, I say that voting for Hillary Clinton in states where it is not clear who will win, also makes some sense and is defensible.
    Reducing voting to a strategic decision leaves out the moral dilemma felt by so many newly politicized and radicalized people, who are a natural base for the growth of an anti-capitalist transformational politics. My point is not so much that I totally disagree with the analysis that Michael Albert and others put forward; I disagree with the way they are presenting it.. This is important because it makes building social movements and anti-capitalist organizations that include both those who are making a tactical decision to vote for Hillary Clinton in some states and those who absolutely refuse to vote for her, more difficult, now and after the November, 2016 elections.”

    In solidarity, Peter Bohmer

    P.S. Although we still have some disagreements your final version is an important contribution to an important discussion.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert August 8, 2016 3:05 pm 

      Peter,
      If I have disrespected anyone, in any piece, I would like to know that by reference to the actual words that did so, and then I would either apologize or explain why I don’t think, in fact,what I offered was disrespectful. But regardless, substance ought not get lost.
      1) I have no idea why you think I or Steve is less critical of Clinton than you are, whatever precisely you might mean by that. In fact, I literally do not believe that you believe it. I don’t see how you could, given how well you know us. So I have to wonder why you say such a thing? It is an easy way to dismiss our writing – that is, for many, they simply assume we are “shills for Clinton” wand therefore see no need to seriously assess the case made. But that you should add to that is hard for me to fathom.
      I too oppose “her support for fracking, TPP (in the past) without now saying she was wrong, her close connections to AIPAC and intense anti BDS position, her connections to Goldman-Sachs and Wall Street, her positions along with Obama) on Latin America, e..g, Honduras and Venezuela, her public support for 1996 welfare deform act and 1994, 1996 crime bills, etc.” You say, “you should not demonize Clinton but show a little more outrage at her and most of the Democratic Party’s imperialism and militarism.” Seriously? It is necessary to do what, to say what, to be acceptable? In every piece one has to do what, prove one’s utterly obvious and ever-present outrage in a precise manner that fulfills what criteria?
      2) You say, “Note how Bernie Sanders, Michael Eric Dyson, etc., in coming out in support of Clinton and Kaine also feel compelled to praise them. While not a logical necessity, there is pressure both from the pro Clinton people and in order to justify one’s position and to make one’s support meaningful to downplay criticism and even faintly praise Clinton.” Indeed, and since we point out the same slippery slope dynamic, and make clear that it should be avoided, but urge that showing how is a good thing to do, whereas simply noting the dynamic and saying it is unavoidable is not a good thing to do, how is telling us this disagreeing? Fact is, you are avoiding the dynamic – so why do you think others cannot, even if you help by telling how?
      3) You say to us, “Your strategy of asking people to vote strategically contributes unintentionally to demobilizing people who are beginning to become very engaged.” How does it do that? First, it is only in contested states and only if the race is up for grabs that what we write affects votes. So, let’s say another Peter is going to the polls to vote, let’s say in a contested state. Peter is exactly as critical of Clinton as you are, and exactly as committed to building movement to create sustained and comprehensive change. This other Peter votes Clinton, nonetheless, and then goes home and hosts a meeting for the Green Party, or the organization “Our Revolution,” or whatever he decides. And, indeed, he did similar things, as he was able, in August, September, and October. Why is he somehow made less effective, or less committed, by having voted for the ten minutes it took to block Trump as compared to voting to get another vote in the Green tally?
      I agree there is a possibility of Green Party growth now. And I agree that it may be squandered or lead to very temporary rather than lasting gains. But I think this happening, if it is to mean much, on the “grassroots organizing” you say the Greens have been weak at. And so far, as best I can see, that is getting way less of a boost than the idea that voting is the priority. At any rate, nothing about voting for Clinton in a contested state precludes doing everything one wants to including voting for Greens in roughly forty states, and even for all but ten minutes doing everything one might want for the Greens in a contested state. Literally the only thing what we propose does is move a vote from Stein to Clinton. That people who routinely and rightly bemoan electoral approaches which focus overwhelmingly on vote tallies and begin bending themselves to increase tallies with no eye to lasting political engagement to be so fixated on vote tallies leaves me very confused.
      When you say, “Saying the Greens should wait until after November,” you are simply not discussing the issue at hand because no one proposes that, and certainly not Steve or I. Show me where in anything we have writing we say anything even remotely like that. The only way to interpret us as saying that is to say that Greens have only one thing to do and that is to vote. In roughly forty states there is obviously no such implication because our words don’t even suggest a vote. In ten states, let’s say, the difference occurs between Stein’s formulation and ours in the ten minutes of voting – and, if one wants, in various conversations one has. Surely the ten minutes is not germane. It can’t be that you think the important work for building the Green Party is the simple act of pulling a lever for Stein.
      So, regarding the conversations one engages in before the election, one person says “I am going to vote Stein, you should too, and answers a query about Trump possibly winning with something like, it doesn’t matter, or they are both horrible, Stein it good, let’s elect Stein – or perhaps, let’s vote for what we like, not against what we hate.” The other person says, “I like Stein, I hate Clinton, but I think Trump is far far worse, so in a contested state I will vote Clinton to stop Trump, but for no other reason. I will work to build the Greens before I vote and after I vote, and I will oppose Clinton in office, of course, but stop Trump matters to me, too.”
      For some reason you think the latter person is destined to drift away from radicalism in some sense, or to lose momentum, or something like that, and that the former person is likely to become more engaged, aware, etc. I see no argument that seriously buttresses that prediction. Not in history, not in the dynamics. And actually, I can see strong arguments for the reverse – unless of course the Clinton voter is really a Clinton advocate, not a clinton opponent. The reverse arguments that have some weight, at least in my accounting, are, 1, if Trump wins or even nearly wins, it will both create a much worse context for seriously radical progress and will cause Greens to have to deal with tremendous criticism and outrage that will seriously erode their future prospects. And 2, considering the individual votes themselves, if the Stein voter says things like let’s elect Stein and she gets meager votes, or who cares who is elected we have to just tally support for Stein, and people begin to realize just how divorced from the reality of the situation that is, again, Greens will suffer.
      You say, “in Olympia some younger activists just formed a second Green Party organization as an alternative to the existing one which has good people in it, but has not been all that active or grown.” And why not? Do you really think it has to do primarily or even largely with attitudes to lesser evil voting, as compared to other matters, barely dealt with in the past, that hopefully they will address successfully? If you were young like them, and you had exactly the views you do now, which I am quite sure include that you would vote Clinton in a contested state if the vote was in doubt, do you think your joining their effort would hurt it, or help it?
      4) You assert that “there is a difference which you ignore between asking individuals to vote for the lesser of two evils in swing states and asking that organizations, social movements follow this rule” and by definition I agree it is certainly different, but I am not sure what you think the difference implies. You say it would be harmful for “Black Lives Matter or the Green Party as it is likely to be seen as a compromise with a pro-corporate and neoliberal militarist, Hillary Clinton and the mainstream of the Democratic Party, and further the skepticism people have for political engagement and for a new and radical politics.”
      Two things. First, if BLM or GP says very clearly we collectively favor (supposing they did) voting Clinton in states that turn out to be contested although we despise Clinton and the Democratic Party and the existing corporate and electoral systems. We favor engaging in hated lesser evil voting, under duress, because we believe Trump……but we also urge that everyone relating to BLM/GP realize that changing society depends on much much more than ten minutes pulling a lever in a voting booth – so we urge as major focuses, for example… …. I doubt they would lose credibility or a sense of veracity or truthfulness or accuracy or radicalism with potential audiences and even their existing base. They certainly shouldn’t and if they did, it would be something to try to correct rather than ratify.
      On the other hand, my guess is that ironically Stein will turn out to have actually hurt GP prospects by not doing that. So it turns out risking Trump is not only unwisely dismissive of the impact he would have, but even harmful, even without him winning, to Greens. Did Nader going to Florida to campaign in the last days of the election, telling all Greens there they should vote for him, not Gore, help humanity, did it help even just the Greens? And there is a whole more at stake, now. Yes Trump may implode, I surely hope so. I hope not one state is contested. And if it happens I would bet lots of folks will say see, you were wrong to me and Steve and others. But we both know that would be incorrect.
      Suppose you saw someone you care about getting ready to play Russian Roulette with a gun that had one bullet but also five empty chambers. The gain from having played would be, what, looking fearless, I guess, or maybe some payoff? But the price, if that bullet comes up? And so you urge you friend not to make that choice. You were not wrong to do so if an empty chamber comes up.
      5) You write, “I originally wrote Michael Albert many months ago that my position and many people I know is that we should simultaneously strongly and totally oppose Trump while building organizations, social movements that deal with the key issues of the day-a two pronged strategy.” And, indeed, where do Steve and I disagree with that. In fact, where does Sanders disagree with that? The question becomes, how does one best oppose Trump, and how does one best build for the future?
      You write, “With regards to Clinton and the November presidential elections, we should not focus on Hillary Clinton and her campaign but of course say, she and the Democrats are not as bad as Trump and the Republicans, and leave it up to people whether they vote for her or not.”
      What does leave it up to people mean? Of course it is up to people. But of course one can try to affect the discussion and thinking and evidence and so on that people access in the process of deciding what to do. I don’t get how what Steve and I wrote, or what I have myself written earlier, is in any way contrary to what you say here – other than this advisory which itself seems inconsistent with the rest of what you say – other than that we differ about what will be most useful for organizing and least likely to incur disastrous but avoidable consequences.
      You write, “I also expressed this in a commentary I put on Znet about a month ago which I am including here. It stresses being respectful to those, especially people new to activism and younger people, who are into rejecting Clinton and the Democrats.” A fine sentiment, and one I wrote a whole piece arguing for, in more dimensions, and which I try – hopefully not falling unduly short – to act on. But the fine sentiment deteriorates if it drifts into not conveying your actual beliefs, so, again, I don’t see what you are criticizing.
      You write, “What I find missing from my friend, Michael Albert’s commentary in the Left Unity section of Znet, https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/we-need-a-united-left/ is an acknowledgement and a validation of the moral outrage felt by many people, mainly but not only young people, that they are being told to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.”
      I read that and I am simply incredulous. I have no idea what you are referring to, what words suggest anything other than agreement, which stretches over decades and will never end, with such outrage. You know, I might get it if I was writing for and would be read by some humongous mainstream audience, but I am not, of course.
      You say, “Michael Albert is right that Hillary Clinton will do less harm than a Trump presidency but the harm of her militaristic, imperialist and neoliberal administration will be major to people inside the United States, and probably even worse for those living in other countries.”
      And who denies that? Why is it okay to reply to content with rejections of views that are not only absent from the content, but are also rejected by the content, as if that isn’t the case?
      You write, “So I think people who say they cannot in good conscience vote for Hillary Clinton, even in contested states such as Florida, Ohio, etc. should not be criticized nor pressured to change their mind.”
      Apparently you believe that making a case for why such a choice is not wise, indeed not even in accord with the stated desires of the people making it, is wrong because it is critical or pressures them. But why is it wrong to say what one believes, especially when one thinks it really matters, albeit, of course, while trying to understand and relate to the full formulations one is commenting on? I don’t know. And honestly, Peter, I wish those who were reacting to the Q/A or to any of the other pieces I have offered did it, instead of effectively ignoring the substance and simply asserting views most of which I don’t even have an issue with but they pose as if I believe the opposite.
      You say, “I know many, many people in this category and when I ask them what they are likely to do in November, besides talking about their anger at the mainstream media promotion of Clinton and the marginalization of Bernie, and the daily and massive coverage of Trump; almost all of them also tell me they will either not vote or vote for Jill Stein and the Greens. I do not criticize this decision although if they ask me what I believe, I say that voting for Hillary Clinton in states where it is not clear who will win, also makes some sense and is defensible.”
      Okay, we disagree. But to me, it seems you feel, I don’t know, intimidated – which is what I think you are saying I should avoid doing, yet it has been done, to you, not by me, but by others. Do you think if you are taking with a Clinton voter in a safe state, or a Trump voter for that matter, one should say, well sure, okay, but you know the Stein voters are defensible…rather than honestly and respectfully making a case?
      And you seem to think my making a case that my view that the widespread position you note is a harmful view, which could even become horribly harmful, is wrong? It is okay that I think it – and that you think it too – but wrong to argue the case?
      You seem to think is that saying it, arguing it, calmly and as fully as one can, attending to what others say as they say it, is the problem. Some will feel that as disrespectful, which I am sure is true. Some will feel it as sell out, again, true. And so on.
      In reaction, I agree that if pretty much all those who think lev is vastly preferable to simple rejection of voting against Trump are silent, then the few who raise the points will appear, at least for a time, very discordant – just like radicals taking on any issue appear, at least at first. And if it is permitted that the folks telling what you in fact agree is true be dismissed and isolated with no reaction, including people who agree with them even joining in, then the notion that the radical thing to do, the moral thing to do, the insightful thing to do, is to not vote Clinton anywhere whatever else you may choose to do, will remain very prevalent among many leftists. That is a high price to pay, in my view, for being quiet to avoid offending.
      You write, “Reducing voting to a strategic decision leaves out the moral dilemma felt by so many newly politicized and radicalized people, who are a natural base for the growth of an anti-capitalist transformational politics.”
      I find this to be maybe the most disturbing point that so many are making. What is the moral dilemma? To vote or not to vote Clinton in a contested state. But why is it a moral dilemma. For you it seems to be because the people simply hate Clinton. I don’t see that as meriting the label “moral dilemma,” and I daresay those who feel that hate would quickly agree if there was a full and open discussion of the situation. More, the idea that being strategic – which surely means assessing the implications of one’s options to decide how to choose among them – is not moral, but that feeling hostile to an option personally, and acting on that account, with nothing beyond one’s feelings coming into play is moral, strikes me as very strange.
      You write, “My point is not so much that I totally disagree with the analysis that Michael Albert and others put forward; I disagree with the way they are presenting it.” I am sorry, but in that case, present it better. And, while you are at that, please point to paragraphs you think are culpable in whatever way you have in mind, so I can do better in the future.
      You write, “This is important because it makes building social movements and anti-capitalist organizations that include both those who are making a tactical decision to vote for Hillary Clinton in some states and those who absolutely refuse to vote for her, more difficult, now and after the November, 2016 elections.”
      Of course that can be true. Maybe it is for what I have written, though I hope not. But I wonder, Peter, why is it that you are so attuned to that possibility yet display zero attentiveness to the possibility that the way people who are advocating universal rejection of voting for Clinton write and talk with others – talking about people selling out, shilling for Democrats, and on and on, doesn’t create barriers? I have literally written exactly about the need to proceed in a way that avoids lasting schisms… so I am glad you agree about that but I wonder why you don’t notice it.
      The articles that irk you are focused on all kind of substantive matters, trying to address the views of people we disagree with in their strongest form. You pretty much ignore all that to address a different matter. I think, in response, that there are two problems, not just one, with trying to navigate presenting views that many people one respects and wants to have good relations with and be involved with may take offense at due feeling you to be critical of them and their not liking that – content aside. One problem is to convey the truth, including the criticism not of people but of views, as respectfully as possible, taking seriously all contrary views. If one fails at that, as you say, one may contribute to lasting hostilities that only do harm – thus a problem to transcend. But the second problem is being paternalistic, phony, pandering, and even short of all that, contributing to the idea that the truth isn’t always revolutionary, and dare I say it, that bending one’s views, and what one says, or even going silent, to fit the contours of those listening simply to avoid offending them – despite that such offense would not be warranted – and to remain liked, but at the expense of real and needed communications. If one fails at that substance is simply jettisoned for form, rather than form being carefully attended to convey substance accurately.

      • avatar
        Peter Bohmer August 8, 2016 7:58 pm 

        I am including in quotes the last sentence from my above commentary, the one Michael criticized.

        ” Although we still have some disagreements your final version is an important contribution to an important discussion.”

        I wish that I had put the above sentence at the beginning of my commentary, rather than at the end.

  2. Ron Graham-Becker August 5, 2016 11:19 pm 

    Michael, I do understand the concept (LEV) that you are so passionate about. But where’s the debate? There is a hell of a lot of critique out there — pro/con — and the emotions run hot and heavy. Open up the discussion a bit and let’s see where it goes. Present the questions, then offer DEBATE on the questions to other articulate-in-the-topic types. And then offer up a Q & A to your readers.
    As it is, is the answers appear one sided.

    But hey, this is your site after all.

    Nelson Mandela once said: “..vote your hopes, not your fears.”
    The essence of Voting one’s hopes & the strategic approach of LEV are, IMO, contradictory to each other. Ideally, when one votes, it shouldn’t be out of fear. So, how can the common, civic-responsible person (who votes) — not the extreme left voter (who strategizes in swing states, etc) — ever come to the realization that this voting gift is making a difference rather than actually what it has become — a total sham, bought and sold, from the national levels to the local levels?
    People NOT voting because they are apathetic to the corrupt system and tired of the corrupt choices offered, are, in fact, still making serious choices. But what a dismal disgrace it is. And what a sad state of affairs it has become when these “common” people have to (uncomfortably) explain it all to their children every four years or so …and then those children, when they’re on their own, will usually vote like mom and dad. What a sad mess it is.
    I say enough already.
    If it ultimately goes to the streets because the band-aids have fallen off the wounds, then quite possibly the problems will become evident to the “common” people.
    To continue the process of repair and reform is just kicking the can down the road, as they say.
    Thank you.

  3. Philip Log August 5, 2016 11:00 am 

    it is all so frustrating. well thought out but sounds like what i hear from the smart democrats i hang with. but i will not vote for her. same argument as 1992 , 96 and every election and where are we – better off. i say no – i give up on lessor evil. with a republican in offcie we would have seen great protest over drones and the star chamber in the white house. maybe it is time for trump! let the shit hit the fan. all i know is what you are advocating has not worked so far.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert August 5, 2016 12:00 pm 

      Phillip,

      You address no issue – indicate no mistake of logic or fact – and simply repeat what you will do. So I am frustrated too – is there a reason that is not addressed, or one that is wrongly addressed? If not, then what?

      Saying voting for a lesser evil, in a contested state hasn’t worked is very odd to my ears. What does it mean? It hasn’t revolutionized society – true. But then, that has never been claimed for it, nor has anything else, for that matter.

      What it can do, only, is prevent a greater evil, or at least help to do so. Not voting the lesser evil can do the opposite. Some say voting the lesser evil also somehow weakens us, or not doing so strengthens us – but that is dealt with in the q/a. Did we get something about that wrong?

  4. Ana Rcisi August 4, 2016 11:36 pm 

    I believe Clinton is a war criminal, and I can’t vote for a war criminal. If my single vote (for the Greens, most likely) causes Trump to be elected, so be it. The chance that any single vote will decide the election is submicroscopic, but it will change the voter. Vote for Clinton (or Trump) and you’ll be the kind of person who goes along with mass murder — an accomplice. It’s time to stop going along with it.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert August 5, 2016 12:03 pm 

      Ana,

      Agree on clinton as a war criminal. Find it hard to comprehend how you can say well, okay, if my not voting for her because I can’t stand her elects trump, so be it? I ask this sincerely, in your mind is that because your voting as you feel about her – outweighs the effects on others of all conceivable differences between her and trump not to mention the effects on movement prospects? If not, then what is wrong in the q/a…if nothing, then what am I missing that justifies the stand you are taking?

      • Ana Rcisi August 5, 2016 5:38 pm 

        One of the most important principles of Left activism is ‘Don’t let the bastards get you down.’ We don’t have the Right’s money and power, all we have is our truth. And if we give that up, we’re going to be depressed — that is, gotten down. One truth (for me) is that Clinton, and any other war criminals, are beyond the pale. Their behavior is unacceptable and I won’t be associated with it as an accomplice. If I go into the streets, as I will probably have to, let me at least go enjoying a pure heart and a clean conscience.

        Beyond that, however, as I said the chance that my vote will determine the winner of the election is submicroscopic, infinitesimal. The cost of committing a crime against myself by voting for a war criminal is not balanced by the near-zero probability of benefit for anyone.

        On the third hand, racking up a lot of votes — win or lose — for minor party candidates in this election may encourage more of the same in the future — if we have a future. It’s a thin thread, but it might lead somewhere. Voting for Clinton (or Trump, as some nihilists of my acquaintance say they intend to do) gets us nowhere.

        • avatar
          Michael Albert August 5, 2016 7:00 pm 

          Please don’t take this wrong but how does having not vot4d for Clinton in a contested state give you a pure heart and clean conscience of the effect of it is to increase the likelihood of a trump presidencY?

          I am sorry bUt I don’t get it…and if that position prevails it could easily be what happens. Do you think 500 more votes for Stein would override that? If so, okay, but it is a very strange calculus.

          Do you believe if you pulled a lever for Clinton to stop trump, that would somehow reduce your inclination to fight for justice after November? Like many others you are repeating y0ur feelings, which I certainly acknowledge you have, but you aren’t dealing with the arguments, the substance.

        • avatar
          Michael Albert August 5, 2016 7:04 pm 

          Please don’t take this wrong but how does having not voted for Clinton in a contested state give you a pure heart and clean conscience if the effect of it is to increase the likelihood of a trump presidencY?

          I am sorry bUt I don’t get it…and if that position prevails it could easily be what happens. Do you think 500 more votes for Stein would override that? If so, okay, but to my mind it is a very strange calculus. Tell me, do you think if I were in a contested state and vot4d for Clinton I would have an u pure heart or guilty conscience?

          Do you believe if you pulled a lever for Clinton to stop trump, that would somehow reduce your inclination to fight for justice after November? Like many others you are repeating y0ur feelings, which I certainly acknowledge you have, but you aren’t dealing with the arguments, the substance.

          • Ana Rcisi August 5, 2016 10:22 pm 

            Well, the primary argument _you_ have to deal with is that of the insignificance of a single vote in an election where millions participate. The probable benefit of voting for Clinton (infinitesimal) has to be weighed against the very real depression and despair of submitting, once again, to our contemptuous overlords — in this case outright war criminals by the standards of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunals. Yes, I think I would be discouraged. I have been hearing from progressives and those further left about how they’re going to ‘hold their nose and vote’, but then ‘fight like hell’, and I’ve seen very little fighting like hell. Maybe the nose-holding has something to do with it.

  5. Kread August 4, 2016 7:03 pm 

    You have convinced yourself that somehow Clinton is actually this fuzzy progressive wannabe that’s being unduly influenced and lead astray so voting for her is ok. After voting for her then she will leave the influence of arms manufacturers and billionaires if we only work hard at it and show her the way back.
    And how far has that got you over the last 50 years?
    Interesting comments in number 18 – “have fought for decades” and “we have for all our adult lives”.
    No, the only thing that’s going to change things for real is to have these 2 look at a few million Green votes this time. Then more next time. Voting strategically for one far right candidate over another has not worked.

    • avatar
      Paul D August 4, 2016 11:15 pm 

      Kread,

      No. Michael and Stephen have not convinced themselves of any such thing. You may want to read the article again. It is very comprehensive and you should direct your criticism at the specific points that they make.

      Speaking for myself, I’d like to point out that the purpose of resistance is not to “show” or steer US president anywhere – it is to build numbers to the point that we can eventually do away with the US presidency, along with lots of other capitalism-supporting institutions, altogether.

      As someone who was quite involved in Nader and every other Green presidential candidate going back to 1996. I have learned that the US president, and particularly the US media do not care a whit about a few million Green votes. We’ve been there and done that. The purpose of voting for Clinton – and then only in the case of :
      1. The election is close
      2. one is voting in a toss-up state
      Is simply to prevent a manifestly unstable lunatic from becoming the US president so that our organizing can more forward rather than retreat to survival mode under potentially severe repression.

      If it makes it more palatable, consider strategic voting as picking the devil we wish to fight.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert August 5, 2016 12:23 pm 

      Kread,

      I am not sure if your lead sentence is to me – if it is, I am at wits end how you could think it. Seriously, how can you think someone who has for fifty years fought against clinton types, and more so the system that elevates them, as their full time unrelenting pursuit, has suddenly lost his mind? And how can you think that having read something that says the opposite, and without addressing a single point in it?

      And why do you think that believing clinton is okay in any sense at all is somehow the basis for the simple statement, it is better to vote the lesser evil – especially when the gap is very large, in contested states, to ward off the greater evil, while voting for whatever is the best option otherwise, in all other states?

      As to after her getting elected, no, her alignments and intents won’t become any better, rather she will have to be forced, as well as the government, toward better results by powerful movements.

      Now about the last 50 years. You and so many others act like lesser evil voting has somehow been the cornerstone of activist thought and action. It has never been more than a side bar that arises sometimes.

      Do you really believe what it seems you are saying? Do you believe if something hasn’t worked yet – meaning, hasn’t won a new world since of course lesser evil voting has worked for its very limited time bound aims, at times, and has been violated and failed, at times, too – then dispense with it? Okay, by that logic you would need to dispense everything leftists have done, strikes, civil disobedience, teach ins, book writing, speaking, building organizations, occuypy, blm, anti war work, unions, and on and on….

      And in that pile of things you would also have to eliminate as unworthy voting for greens, and even having a green party. And there is a major difference, as well. Voting for Greens and having a Green Party has had as its goal winning electoral power and, yes, by your norms it has failed at that and should I guess therefore be jettisoned. On the other hand, lev voting has actually worked and failed only by its not being used, at the very very limited aim it has.

      My point is, people are constructing rationales, yes, but, I don’t know how else to say this – it is sort of like having the answer before you start and then constructing something that at least seems to point to the answer and at least seems to serve as a rationale for it, regardless of how much one has to twist, exclude, etc. to get the pre desired result.

      I have written a number of pieces. I am still waiting for someone to read one – and we can now for simplicity make it this most recent one, and say, wait, it is wrong here because….with actual reason, an actual arguement, not solely an assertion. Maybe I will find that somewhere below…in another response, or maybe you will offer it in another reply.

      But the question also arises, why do so many people so fiercely want the result – it is okay, even morally and politically wise, to not vote clinton even in a contested state even if that might elect Trump? I am honestly not sure. I would like someone to explain. If there is something Steve and I failed to address, by all means tell us.

      • avatar
        Paul D August 5, 2016 4:59 pm 

        Michael,

        Like you, I, perhaps by my science and engineering training and occupation, (and perhaps you, by virtue of your physics education?) prize logical analysis and discourse over emotional shouting. But unfortunately, in the issue of this upcoming election, we have a many, probably most, of those who have found their activist voices thanks to Sanders, now acting on pure emotional impulse and rage, with supporting evidence for their feelings largely grabbed out of thin-air – something I find very troubling.

        What Bernie Sanders did and is doing is very admirable, but sometimes I worry that he has created a sort of short-lived dysfunctional Frankenstein’s monster that will cause Trump to be elected and then vanish on November 9, 2016, with our and Bernie’s hopes for a durable growing movement dashed just as Occupy so utterly vanished like a passing fad.

  6. avatar
    Paul D August 4, 2016 4:18 pm 

    Thank-you, Michael and Stephen, for your incredibly comprehensive response in support of the small, but in this election’s case, critical, role that strategic voting in the context of organizing, organizing, organizing outside of the insane world of US presidential electoral politics.

    You have presented a well-thought out rebuttal to every question presented by those opposing strategic, outcome-based voting.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert August 5, 2016 12:24 pm 

      Hi Paul – we tried…

  7. John Vincent August 4, 2016 3:00 pm 

    Trump has demonstrated he is such an uncontrollable megalomaniac that many Republican party leaders and billionaire CEOs are abandoning his campaign for Clinton’s. I don’t fear a Trump presidency so much as a Clinton presidency emboldened by growing Republican support giving her the impulse to completely abandon the progressive wing of the Democratic party and the gains demonstrated in its platform.

    We desperately need “to preserve and enlarge the momentum that has developed largely from the Sanders campaign” not so much to ensure Trump loses, but that Clinton doesn’t move further to the Right enhancing the ideals of the Republican faction of the Billionaire class to the point where the distinction between the two parties becomes even more opaque.

    Trump doesn’t have enough personal wealth to buy the presidency if Big Republican money continues to shift to Clinton. The question is what will that money buy?

    • avatar
      Michael Albert August 5, 2016 12:26 pm 

      John,

      Of course I agree taht as always the abiding problem is how to galvanize both understanding and energy on behalf of change – via movements, organization, etc. etc. Hopefully against a Clinton administration…

      • John Vincent August 5, 2016 5:12 pm 

        Michael,

        I hope the time and effort that you, Stephen Shalom, Robin Hahnel and others are currently exerting convincing people to vote against Trump will be duplicated multiple times to explain just how awful things could become after Clinton is elected president.

        The energy and anger that the Sanders’ campaign aroused in the younger generation, among others, must be further aroused and directed against a President Clinton who will inevitably move toward increased hostilities with Syria, Russia, and China increasing the specter of world war, and a further abandonment of the working class for Wall Street leading to an increase in inequality, corporate power, police brutality and the privatization of the commons.

        Clinton’s movement to the Right since her nomination is worrisome. If she looses to Trump it will be because she went out of her way to alienate Democratic voters. But even David Brooks is calling on Republicans to abandon the “man-child” Trump lessening his prospects. Hopefully this does not inspire Clinton to move even further to the Right.

        It’s ironic that you guys and David Brooks are now on the same page. These are weird times.

        • avatar
          Michael Albert August 5, 2016 8:25 pm 

          Your closing is hard for me to comprehend. If you and Stalin both say you hate Hitler, or, if you prefer, ca[otalism, are you on the same page?

          • John Vincent August 5, 2016 10:00 pm 

            Why must everyone bring up Hitler. I just think it is ironic that Trump has become so obviously bad that even a conservative appologist like David Brooks thinks people should vote against him. Lighten up.

            • avatar
              Paul D August 6, 2016 2:03 am 

              Actually, Michael’s analogy is well-taken, but if it helps you to understand it, forget the Hitler part. If both you and Stalin are say you hate capitalism, are you both on the same page?

              Also, as someone living in the southwest Pennsylvania/West Virginia region, I can guarantee you that the main objection of virtually all of the working class around here is that Clinton is too far left – particularly with regard to environmental protection and her proposed escalation of Obama’s “war on coal” as part of the “global warming hoax”. If Hillary is moving to the right (I’m not sure she is) it is only in a (probably futile) effort to make herself more palatable to the great proportion of the US population in areas like mine.

              Sometimes, I am amazed at how isolated many commentators on the left are from the attitudes of ordinary USAns. For example Counterpunch writer Andrew Levine wrote: “After eight years of President Drone, the Republican would have a clear advantage.”

              Does Mr. Levine honestly believe that a majority of USAns are troubled by Obama’s drone attacks against poeple in the middle east and would look for a Republican to end it? A majority of USAns wanted Obama to kill more Muslim middle easterners and would vote for a Republican because they would expect them to use drones with greater impunity.

              • John Vincent August 6, 2016 4:14 pm 

                I find it goofy that the main point of my comment is ignored and the least relevant part, something made in passing, is picked up on as needing debate. I was not commenting about capitalism or fascism, or Stalinism versus fascism. I was remarking that it was funny that Albert and Brooks were on the same page REGARDING TRUMP.

                If the working class in your area believes climate change is a hoax and that Clinton is a Leftist, then you should be spending your time talking to them rather than trying to educate someone living in California who knows better.

                The Black truck driver I talked to the other day, who happened to listening to Chris Hedges on KPFA – our local publicly sponsored radio station – gets it. His comment regarding a vote for Trump versus Clinton: “One will cut you off at the waist, the other at the knees.” I understood what he meant. In addition, he understood the need to vote strategically.

                I’m glad I live on the Left coast.

  8. Chris Reed August 4, 2016 1:34 pm 

    I am all in favor of the push back that protesters are giving Trump. However, the lesser evilism strategy makes more sense in some communities and less in others. Arizona voters will get a chance to repudiate Arpaio and Trump at the same time. African-American voters in large metropolitan areas, who constitute the larger block of Muslim enclave voters, will be given the same opportunity. But here in West Virginia, Clinton and Trump voters fall on a sharp class divide. I couldn’t help but notice the preponderance of Obama-Biden signs in upper-middle class neighborhoods in 2012-the same neighborhoods which push back against school redistricting, while at the same time, the only campaign signs that I see when I travel rural West Virginia are for Trump.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert August 5, 2016 12:30 pm 

      Chris,

      Voting for Clinton as the lesser evil – meaning by people way to her left – only makes sense where it is needed to block Trump. Elsewhere there are better options, including not voting at all…

      The article addresses what you rightly observe – and there are two immediate issues it rasies. Why is the left so much worse than it ought to be at reaching working class communities for support? And, does one vote with a constituency one of course likes better, cares about the future of more, or for a result that will better benefit that constituency?

      The article tries to answer…

    • avatar
      Paul D August 6, 2016 2:09 am 

      Chris,

      Many of the West Virginia homes with Trump signs I’ve seen along highway 219 tend to be in the front yards of the larger, nicer, 3-car garage homes.

  9. avatar
    David Danforth August 4, 2016 1:15 pm 

    Thank you Michael and Stephen for this analysis.

  10. Richard Bluhm August 4, 2016 1:14 pm 

    29. Given the fact that systemic corruption is now the hallmark of the United States, and it is facilitated by an unelected “Superclass” (David Rothkopf),”Deep State” (Michael Lofgren), “Big Brother” (George Orwell), what will IT countenance as far as any departure from IT’S agenda by a sycophant Clinton or a tyrant Trump?

    We’ve been beating this dying horse, the American presidency, interminably, and nobody calculates the gigantic influence of the ruling class. We analyze and synthesize the “quadrennial electoral extravaganza” as if the buck stops there. Wasn’t Eisenhower’s farewell to Congress enough of an admission that elite power superseded that of the government six decades ago?

    We desperately need a paradigm shift, but we’re stuck in paradigm paralysis. We need a revolution, and it won’t come from this broken system.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert August 5, 2016 12:32 pm 

      Richard,

      Since I of course devote almost all my energies to addressing and trying to find diverse means to get beyond the abiding institutions of oppression, not just the party leaders in office to defend it, I agree with your lean. BUT – that said, as the article tries to show, there are elections in which a lot is at stake, and this happens to be one.

  11. Charles Ho August 4, 2016 12:24 pm 

    A lot of “dog” words to move the sheep back into the same old corral. BOTH political parties need to be taken by the scruff of their necks and shaken really hard. VOTING FOR CLINTON WILL NOT DO THAT.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert August 5, 2016 12:37 pm 

      Charles,

      The ease with which undoubtedly good people, with radical intents, can besmirch other’s motives is breahtaking. This labelling of people who argue for lesser evil voting, and who will act on it, does nothing constructive – and that is being very generous about it.

      What is needed is not shaking political parties, whatever that might mean. It is millions upon millions of people organized, militant, with clear aims, pursuing them without respite. That means folks who you call sheep, and who you called dogs, and whatever –

      And certainly voting for clinton, in contested states – will not do it. Nor will any other single thing, including, say, not voting, or voting for Stein, or whatever. What voting for clinton in contested states may well accomplish, however, is blockng turmp. Do you have issue with any actual points raised, any argument offered, in the Q/.A. If not, what causes you to be so disparaging, I wonder?

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