The anarchist political observer Noam Chomsky has over the years espoused a strategy of voting for the Democrat in swing states. Recently Chomsky, with John Halle, propounded “An Eight Point Brief for LEV (Lesser Evil Voting).”
Chomsky questions the ethical/moral principle rejecting LEV since lesser evil voting is designed to minimize evil. As futile as lesser evilism is, it is also futile to discuss there being a lesser evilism between the two utterly dominant rightist political parties in the United States. LEV, in fact, is an equally contemptible or greater evil.
Chomsky, though, sensibly cautions that challenges to the political-business duopoly needs to be contemplated with a full awareness of their possible consequences. What are the possible consequences? Chomsky suggests, “A Trump presidency, should it materialize, will undermine the burgeoning movement centered around the Sanders campaign, particularly if it is perceived as having minimized the dangers posed by the far right.” However, another consequence is equally possible: a horrendous slide to the right would spur progressives to coalesce among a leftist Democrat, and/or it might finally cause former or potential Democrats to reject the chicanery of the business-dominated Democrats and embrace the progressivist platform of the Green Party.
This cost/benefit strategic accounting seriously pushes for progressivist change.
Focusing on the electoral system, however, must not be the end-all and be-all for bringing about progressivism in the US. Grassroots organizing and activism must continue to inform, oppose poverty and impoverishment, oppose war and violence, and push for human rights and equal opportunity for all people — during electoral periods and between election cycles.
I examine Halle and Chomsky’s Eight Point Brief for LEV.
1) Voting should not be viewed as a form of personal self-expression or moral judgement directed in retaliation towards major party candidates who fail to reflect our values, or of a corrupt system designed to limit choices to those acceptable to corporate elites.
No argument with this.
2) The exclusive consequence of the act of voting in 2016 will be (if in a contested “swing state”) to marginally increase or decrease the chance of one of the major party candidates winning.
This is true of the individual act of voting. The individual in solitude has little sway over the electoral result; that is an obvious given. However, when a consciousness sweeps across a multitude of like-minded individuals then enormous potentials emerge. This desire for a change from the effete status quo is, arguably, what occurred with the almost breakthrough candidacy of Bernie Saunders, and it is also what happened, in a dissimilar manner, with the candidacy of Donald Trump. Chomsky has framed the exclusive consequence of the act of voting as the result of an individualistic action, and it is. But individuals can and do, at times, form a wider consciousness, measurable by statistically rigorous polling results, that has potential ramifications on a much greater scale that mere margins. An example of this would be the expression of voter disgust in the Canadian federal election of 1993. Following two successive majority governments led by the Brian Mulroney Tories, a voting tsunami washed away all but two Tory seats in the 295-seat Parliament. The conservatives had been around since 1867, but the electoral demolition led to the eventual dissolution of the Tories.
3) One of these candidates, Trump, denies the existence of global warming, calls for increasing use of fossil fuels, dismantling of environmental regulations and refuses assistance to India and other developing nations as called for in the Paris agreement, the combination of which could, in four years, take us to a catastrophic tipping point. Trump has also pledged to deport 11 million Mexican immigrants, offered to provide for the defense of supporters who have assaulted African American protestors at his rallies, stated his “openness to using nuclear weapons”, supports a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and regards “the police in this country as absolutely mistreated and misunderstood” while having “done an unbelievable job of keeping law and order.” Trump has also pledged to increase military spending while cutting taxes on the rich, hence shredding what remains of the social welfare “safety net” despite pretenses.
Much of what Trump stands for is anathema. True. There is no need to defend this man. However, Trump stakes out important positions diametrical to Hillary Clinton; for example, Clinton’s advocacy of a no-fly zone over Syria, her saber rattling with Russia, her corporate-friendly policy toward so-called free trade deals.
Chomsky cleverly anticipated such an objection, writing:
… with respect to point 3) which some will challenge by citing the claim that Clinton’s foreign policy could pose a more serious menace than that of Trump.
In any case, while conceding as an outside possibility that Trump’s foreign policy is preferable, most of us not already convinced that that is so will need more evidence than can be aired in a discussion involving this statement. Furthermore, insofar as this is the fact of the matter, following the logic through seems to require a vote for Trump, though it’s a bit hard to know whether those making this suggestion are intending it seriously.
First, Chomsky concedes “an outside possibility that Trump’s foreign policy is preferable…” In other words, Chomsky posits an inside possibility (one assumes that Chomsky is saying that there is the strongest likelihood) that Clinton’s foreign policy is preferable without any substantiation of why this would be so. Second, he raises an unreasonable demand for “evidence” that Trump will follow a less menacing foreign policy than Clinton. Given that Trump has never held political office no such evidence exists. What does exist is plenty of evidence that Clinton will pursue a menacing foreign policy. There is no reason to assume Clinton would reduce the number of American military bases overseas or curtail military spending. In fact, it is likelier that she would increase military spending. She will also likeliest resort to a US military attack to bring about “regime change” in Syria, pushing the US closer to military confrontation with Russia. Trump’s detractors compare his bombastic rhetoric unfavorably to Clinton’s rhetoric. But toward Putin or Assad, Clinton’s undiplomatic utterances are on record.
Moreover, following Chomsky’s logic, while the more preferable policies of Trump lack evidence, by the same token, the more objectionable policies of Trump also lack evidence for the same reason: Trump has no political track record upon which to judge what he would do if in the Oval Office. Thus, following this Chomskyian logic one could not pass judgement on hardly of Trump’s pronouncements. Would he really build a wall on the Mexico-US border? Where is the evidence for this? Would Trump really ban Muslims from entering the US? Where is the evidence for this?
By effectively undermining Trump’s peacemongering vis-à-vis Clinton’s warmongering, Chomsky, by the same logic, undermines criticisms of the regressivist political utterances by Trump. Thus, following Chomsky’s logic through it seems a bit hard to know whether his suggestion is intended seriously.
4) The suffering which these and other similarly extremist policies and attitudes will impose on marginalized and already oppressed populations has a high probability of being significantly greater than that which will result from a Clinton presidency.
One assumes that Chomsky refers to the domestic population here. Trump’s policies — if he is true to his word to protect jobs for American workers and punish offshoring of American jobs along with his opposition to the TPP — would be a political reversal for neoliberalization. Clintonomics would be decidedly worse for marginalized and oppressed peoples at home and abroad. The economic plight of students, the poor, and ill, however, would be much better under a Jill Stein presidency.
The economic plight of students, the poor, and ill would be much better under a Jill Stein presidency.
If Chomsky is referring to the preponderant violence of US foreign policy and its oppressive and genocidal on populations, then I agree with his “basic moral principle”: “not only must we take responsibility for our actions, but the consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves.” Under the Democratic administration hundreds of thousands have died, millions of people have been displaced, and terrorist organizations have proliferated. This is the evidence from Clinton’s time in political office. Thus a vote for Clinton is predictably a vote that will lead to a continuation, perhaps even a ramping up, of the suffering of others. Basic morality suggests to this writer to steer clear of casting such an oppression-enabling vote.
5) Should constitute sufficient basis to voting for Clinton where a vote is potentially consequential-namely, in a contested, “swing” state.
I contend that Chomsky’s basis for 5) is false or questionable. First, Chomsky has staunchly argued that “we” should concentrate foremost on the wrongful actions and crimes of our own state because they are something we can have an influence over. But it seems that Chomsky believes that Trump will supersede Clinton’s record of killing in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. Clinton is not going to close US military abroad. Trump has called these bases into question. And if one concentrates on the domestic population, at least the rhetoric of Trump against so-called free trade agreements and offshoring US factories abroad bodes well for the American worker.
6) However, the left should also recognize that, should Trump win based on its failure to support Clinton, it will repeatedly face the accusation (based in fact), that it lacks concern for those sure to be most victimized by a Trump administration.
This criticism is anti-democratic; furthermore, the criticism applies conversely. Chomsky’s citing the accusation gives it a veneer of credence. Effectively it leads to the perpetuation of the business-party duopoly. The records of the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama administrations demonstrate the futility of such a proffered rationale. Clinton deregulated the finance sector, exposed American workers to the vagaries of “free trade,” implemented regressive welfare policies, and continued aggressive US militarism abroad. Obama? Bailing out the banks; attempts to cut back social security; warring in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, and Syria; drone strikes; confrontation with Russia and China; TPP; and the lingering incarceration at Guantanamo Bay. It is important to note that Democrats, arguably, have a freer hand to implement rightist policy than Republicans have since many supporters of Democrats will mute their opposition to avoid providing succor to the Republicans. George Bush was stymied from tinkering with social security. Notably, Obama has done an about-face on social security and proposed an expansion, picking up on the popularity for such a measure from the Bernie Saunders candidacy.
7) Often this charge will emanate from establishment operatives who will use it as a bad faith justification for defeating challenges to corporate hegemony either in the Democratic Party or outside of it. They will ensure that it will be widely circulated in mainstream media channels with the result that many of those who would otherwise be sympathetic to a left challenge will find it a convincing reason to maintain their ties with the political establishment rather than breaking with it, as they must.
It is true that establishment operatives will use LEV as a bad faith justification for defeating challenges to corporate hegemony either in the Democratic Party or outside of it. That was the case when Ralph Nader ran. It is the case when Cynthia McKinney ran and it is when Jill Stein runs. The corporate media and even many so-called progressives will trot out this time-worn argument with each election cycle. As long as enough people buy into the premise, then the status quo will persist. The result is that a right-wing government always assumes office in Washington. This bodes ill for the poor and working class. It bodes poorly for nation states designated as enemy states by the US.
8) Conclusion: by dismissing a “lesser evil” electoral logic and thereby increasing the potential for Clinton’s defeat the left will undermine what should be at the core of what it claims to be attempting to achieve.
Conclusion: by buying into a “lesser evil” electoral logic the corporate-political duopoly will remain in power to continue policies that primarily benefit the 1% and their goals for further enrichment; to unfetter finance, to pursue a belligerent foreign policy — a policy that seeks to placate the military-industrial establishment; and to further entrench corporate domination of the electoral system. All of this is at cross-hairs with what should be at the core of what progressives claim to be attempting to achieve.
The tragedy of opting for lesser evilism is that the people get evil.
Some leftist commentators argue that there is no evilism. I found that to be preposterous. Barack Obama was the so-called lesser evil the previous two election cycles. Obama is not a lesser evilist; he is the man who enables evil. … The cycles of US-backed violence and killing in places such as Gaza, Syria, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia underscore the utter futility of pandering to a perceived lesser evilism. If one votes for a degree of evil, then one should not be surprised when evil results.
Progressivism demands that social justice activists repudiate evil. Morality dictates that people should not live in fear of being killed. A genuine peacemongering US president is needed to stop the killing and save lives. Consequently, both Democrats and Republicans are anathema. Given the present candidates, if people vote, then the only conscionable vote is for someone not of the business party factions.
Only a propeace “third” party will set the US on a new path. Outside of a revolution, the election of a propeace “third” party is the only moral direction on the horizon for Americans truly interested in steering their country toward peace and rehabilitating the ensanguined US reputation. Such a “third party” vote, however, may well augur the birth of a revolution on many promising fronts.