The Trump phenomenon is terrible, but now is no time for lesser-evil voting. A dictatorship is not knocking at the door in the United States.
Thinking about the upcoming United States presidential election contest between two of the most widely hated people in the nation, I am reminded of the old Aesop’s fable about “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” The tale concerns a shepherd boy who repeatedly fools his village neighbors into thinking a wolf is attacking his flock.
The first few times he does this, the villagers come running to drive off the imaginary wolf. Finally, a real wolf actually appears, and the boy again calls for help. But the villagers believe it is another false alarm and stay put. The sheep are eaten by the wolf. In some later versions of the fable, the boy himself is devoured.
The moral of the story is stated at the end of the Greek version: This shows how liars are rewarded—even if they tell the truth, no one believes them. As Aristotle is supposed to have said, when those who tell lies “speak truth, they are not believed.”
Every four years, liberal-left politicos scream wolf about how the Republicans are going to wreak plutocratic, racist, ecocidal, sexist, repressive and war-mongering hell if they win “this, the most important election in American history.” The politicos conveniently ignore the plutocratic, racist, ecocidal, sexist, repressive and military-imperial havoc that Democrats inflict at home and abroad in dark, co-dependent alliance with the ever more radically reactionary Republicans. Democrats fail to acknowledge their preferred party’s responsibility for sustaining the Republicans’ continuing power, which feeds on the “dismal” Dems’ neoliberal abandonment of the nation’s working-class majority in service to transnational Wall Street and corporate America. They commonly exaggerate the danger posed by the right-most major party and (especially) the progressivism of the not-so-left-most one.
It’s not that the liberal and progressive politicos lie about the presence of wolves. The wolves are out there. But they include Democratic wolves in fake sheep’s clothing joined with Republicans in what Washington journalist Mark Leibovich calls “the ultimate Green Party.” The nation’s capital, Leibovich notes, has “become a determinedly bipartisan team when there is money to be made. … ‘No Democrats and Republicans in Washington anymore,’ goes the maxim, ‘only millionaires.’ ”
It’s nothing new, which is part of why I have third-party-protest-voted in all but one (2004) of the nine U.S. presidential elections for which I have been eligible. This includes two of the last three, the only ones in which I have voted in a “contested state” (Iowa)—a state where the major-party outcome is in play.
So why might a serious left progressive living in a contested state (someone like this writer) consider following the venerable left political scientist Adolph Reed Jr.’s advicethis year to “vote for the lying neoliberal warmonger” Hillary Clinton? Part of it could be that lefty’s sense that it is better for “the U.S. Left” (insofar as it exists) and the development of the dedicated, day-to-day, grass-roots social movement we desperately need in place beneath and beyond the election cycle when a corporate Democrat occupies the White House. The presence of a Democrat in the nominal top U.S. job is usefully instructive. It helps demonstrate the richly bipartisan nature of the American plutocracy and empire. Young workers and students especially need to see and experience how the misery and oppression imposed by capitalism and its evil twin imperialism live on when Democrats hold the Oval Office.
At the same time, the presence of a Republican in the White House tends to fuel the sense among progressives and liberals that the main problem in the country is that the “wrong party” holds executive power and that all energy and activism must be directed at fixing that by putting the “right party” back in. Everything progressive gets sucked into a giant “Get Out the Vote” project for the next faux-progressive Democratic savior, brandishing the promises of “hope” and “change” (campaign keywords for the neoliberal imperialist Bill Clinton in 1992 and the neoliberal imperialist Barack Obama in 2008).
Hillary will be much less capable than the more charismatic Obama (under whom there has been more popular organizing and protest than some lefties like to acknowledge) of bamboozling progressives into thinking they’ve got a friend in the White House. Unlike Obama in 2008, she’s got a long corporatist and imperialist track record that connects her to the establishment and is hard to deny.
It is an urban myth that Republican presidents spark and energize progressive and left activism. True, they’ve done outrageous things that can put lots of folks in the streets for a bit. One thinks of Richard Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia and Bush Jr.’s invasion of Iraq. But the waves of protest recede, followed by repression, and everything tends to get channeled into the holy electoral quest to put Democrats back in executive-branch power. The second George W. Bush term was no activist heyday, thanks in significant measure to the great co-optive and demobilizing impact of Democratic Party electoral politics and the deceptive, not-so “antiwar” Obama phenomenon.
But the main reason it is easy to understand why many intelligent lefties stuck behind contested state lines might follow Reed’s advice is that Trump is no ordinary Republican wolf. By some dire portside reckonings (including Reed’s), “the Donald” is something like a real fascist threat worthy of mention in the same breath as Hitler and Mussolini. He’s a really bad version of the wolf who finally appears to devour the sheep in the ancient fable. Look at the following semi-viral jeremiad recently posted across “social media” by the longtime left journalist Arun Gupta—a spine-chilling reflection on what he fears a Trump presidency would mean:
I know it’s the fifth anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, but there is little to celebrate at such a grim moment. That being the likelihood Trump may very well win.
Black Lives Matter will be declared a domestic terrorist outfit. … Trump and Attorney General [Rudy] Giuliani would relish using the National Guard to crush blockades of oil pipelines and trains, and indigenous people defending their lands.
An English-only law would likely be passed, DACA be withdrawn, and sanctuary cities outlawed. White supremacists, Neo-Nazis, the Klan, and the Alt-Right would all be welcome into his administration, overtly or covertly.
There would be an all-out assault on reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood. Significant gains made at the National Labor Relations Board in the last few years will be overturned.
Huge swaths of the West under federal control will be turned over to logging, ranching, mining, and oil and gas industries.
Tens of millions would go from inadequate healthcare to no healthcare.
… Massive voter suppression becomes the norm. There will be organized vigilante violence, perhaps even mini-pogroms, against Muslim and Mexican communities with the state turning a blind eye.
…As soon as a recession hits, Trump would immediately go hunting for scapegoats to distract his followers. This could include a ban on Muslim immigration, a registration program, and mass round-ups of immigrants, meaning concentration camps to hold them before they were ousted, overseen by his ‘deportation force’ of Brownshirts.
There is a quaint notion on the left that somehow Trump is hot air. This ignores the dynamics he’s set in motion that will make new types of state-sponsored racial violence all but inevitable. … all the recent organizing gains will wither as the left is forced to wage losing defensive struggles against violent white nationalists. …
… there is a bizarre faith on the left that the ruling class will somehow keep him in check, despite the fact he will have control over every branch of government. …No one will be able to stop his dictatorial, white supremacist agenda. Congress won’t stop him. He will have a majority on the Supreme Court, and while sections of the ruling class may be deeply unhappy, they will still be safe and obscenely wealthy and can always escape.
In warning about Trump and instructing lefties not to vote third-party this time, Reed reminds us of the German Community Party’s fateful error: choosing not to ally with the German Social Democrats against the Nazi Party during the early 1930s. The moral of the story is clear: All sane left progressives need to report to duty to protect the flock under the banner of the admittedly horrid (good of Reed to admit that) Hillary.
When I posted Gupta’s petrifying ponderings on Facebook, numerous online lefties immediately denounced it as standard, wolf-crying Democratic Party “scaremongering” and “Clintonist hyperbole.” I do not so reflexively dismiss Gupta’s alarm or that of other leading left intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Henry Giroux. There is more than just a slight hint of neofascism around the Trump phenomenon—not just in the bizarre Trump (who used to keep a copy of Hitler’s speeches by his bedside) himself but in his worst backers and in his largely white middle- and lower-middle-class base, precisely the stratum that has offered the key base for virulent right-wing movements in Western history. A “law and order” President Trump (whose openly Nixonian, pro-police speech at the Republican National Convention promised that “safety will be restored” under his rule) could well try to unleash the nation’s vast surveillance and police state to crush dissent and popular protest on a chilling scale. His turn to the iron heel could receive sadly significant support from many angry Caucasians in a white-majority nation that ranks the military and the police as its two most popular institutions—and which tells pollsters that racism no longer poses significant barriers to black (and Latino and Native American) equality. A shocking number of “good [white] Americans” absurdly think the nation has been “under the control of the left” for the last eight years. It’s time, they think, “to take our country back” from, yes, “the left.”
Meanwhile, we could face a lethal climate policy disaster. In his recent speech to the Economic Club of New York, the climate change-denier Donald Trump promised to thoroughly deregulate energy production. A President Trump would boost the nation’s and world’s levels of coal, gas and oil extraction and carbon emission to a degree that could amount to what Chomsky calls “almost a death knell for the species.”
There’s more, of course, to whiten left hairs about the prospects of a Trump White House. A short list includes: Trump’s repeated claim that U.S. wages are too high (something that is all too well-matched to his real-world record of mercilessly exploiting and cheating workers); his call for big increases in the already hyperbloated Pentagon budget; his claim that “there’s nobody bigger or better at the military than me”; his call to expand the nuclear arsenal; his claim that he’d consider using nuclear weapons in Europe; his statement that the U.S. “may very well be better off” if Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia developed nuclear weapons; his boast that he’d “shoot” Iranian shipsif they ever again interdict “our beautiful destroyers with their little boats”; his legitimization of the use of violence against protesters at his rallies; his ugly mocking of a disabled reporter (able-ism is a hallmark fascist movement); his long record of deeply disturbing misogyny.
And let’s not forget Trump’s bizarre rants about the supposed American scourge of “criminal alien” rapists and murderers, his insane racist charge that Mexico issending such criminals into the U.S., and the truly crazy promise to build a great southern wall “and make Mexico pay for it.” Or that Trump’s recently installed campaign chief is the noxious Stephen Bannon, the director of Breitbart, an openly white nationalist, paranoid-style and conspiracy-oriented alt-right websitethat caters to some of the ugliest and neo- and proto-fascistic, anti-black, anti-Latino, anti-environmental, anti-feminist and anti-human sentiments imaginable. It is no wonder that an ugly swarm of neo-Nazis, white nationalists and Klansmen have flocked to Trump’s Make America Hate Again (and Like Never Before) rallies and cause.
Is all this enough to scare lots of left progressives into voting for “the arch-corporatist and Wall Street-sponsored neoliberal imperialist Hillary Clinton (a candidate whom Gupta has described as “right-wing fanatic” and “enemy of workers”) as the proverbial “lesser evil” in a contested state? Sure. For many lefties (this writer included), however, the Trump threat level does not rise that high. The wolf cry still falls on deaf ears. This is for at least six reasons.
READ: The Illusion of Freedom
First, ominous warnings from smart people notwithstanding, the American corporate, financial and imperial ruling class doesn’t yet need or want real or quasi-fascism through Herr Trump or anyone else at this historical moment. The U.S. model of corporate-managed and “inverted totalitarianism” (Sheldon Wolin) sold as “democracy” is not about strongmen and brown shirts. The notion that the nation’s “deep state” power elite—the actual rulers who run the nation’s commanding-heights affairs behind the marionette theater of electoral politics—would (a) let an uber-narcissistic man-child like Donald Trump into the Oval Office and (b) permit him to do the crazy things he talks about is far-fetched.
Neofascism is simply not where the American ruling class is right now. When it is, we will know. If and when it gets there, it will put forward a far more serious and capable frontman than the preposterous Donald—a man so uninterested in the actual work of ruling that he offered the “moderate” Republican John Kasich control over “domestic and foreign policy” in a Trump White House if Kasich would be his running mate. Trump’s ascendency to the White House could well portend a further chaotic delegitimization of “homeland” authority and a pervasive sense of societal absurdity (I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that my anarchist streetfighter side would relish the installation of a commander in chief as completely absurd as Trump). Along with the humiliating black eye that a Trump White House would be for Uncle Sam on the global stage, this is something the American power elite has reason not to want. It would be bad for business—and for American-style business rule as usual.
Second, it is frankly comical to think of the ludicrous, soft-fleshed, silver-spooned draft-dodger and pampered television personality Donald Trump as some kind of neo-Fuhrer. He is seen as “unfit for command” by most top military commanders and is far too monumentally unpopular with the majority of citizens to ever rally enough masses to overcome the hostility he faces with the corporate and imperial establishment.
Third, the populace would not be as pathetically supine and powerless as Gupta imagines in response to the election and policies of a vicious clown like Trump. His selection and installment as U.S. president would be understood by tens of millions of Americans as an incredibly provocative development—provocative and dangerous enough to spark protests and mass mobilizations on a scale like nothing ever seen in American history. That, too, is part of what makes Trump a different kind of Republican wolf. I suggested above that ultra-left backlash theorists (folks who think “things have to get worse before they get better”) are wrong to assume that it’s better to have Republicans in the White House when it comes to sparking popular protest. Trump would be an exception to that rule. The “deep state” has zero interest in the riotous instability that would result from Trump’s election and inauguration.
Fourth, Trump’s not going to win. For all Hillary Clinton’s obvious terrible flaws as a candidate, the big insider cash, the national electoral demographics, and the Electoral College map (just ask Nate Silver and his team of multivariate election predictors at FiveThirtyEight.com) strongly favor her. Her health stumbles and some recent homeland terror attacks have, yes, boosted Trump in the polls recently. That will fade as cold campaign finance realities and corporate media bring the bipartisan ruling class’s long-chosen candidate Hillary to the moment she has literally craved for so long. The big and smart money is still on “the lying neoliberal warmonger.”
READ, WATCH, LISTEN: She’s No Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump—Behind the Scenes With Jill Stein
Fifth, the Green Party’s Party’s Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka are combining genuine social movement activism with an electoral campaign for a Green New Deal—a many-sided program that is much more than just another bit of progressive policy wonkery. It’s an existential necessity for a decent future, one that combines a giant livable ecology-saving program of national and energy and economic reconversion with a giant jobs program and universal health insurance paid for by genuinely progressive taxation (long overdue in “New Gilded Age” America) and massive reductions in the nation’s giant Pentagon System (which accounts for half the world’s military spending). How does any environmentally sentient and peace-advocating lefty not vote for all of that in the current age of savage inequality, rampant militarism, and ever-more imminent eco-catastrophe?
Sixth, “lesser-evil voting” (LEV) has a “terrible track record,” as Stein reminded me last spring. The more American liberals and progressives do it, the more the Republican right wing is emboldened, the further the Democrats move into ideological and policy territory formerly held by Republicans, and the more dire the American and global situation becomes. LEV is a viciously circular, self-fulfilling prophecy that itself holds no small responsibility for the ascendancy of horrible Republican presidents and other terrible things like the tea party and Donald Trump phenomena. And one does not seriously challenge LEV only in so-called safe states. You have to draw some lines in the sand and exit left at some point: Protect the flock.
I am not so inured to the quasi-neofascistic evil of the Trump phenomenon and the ugly prospects of a Trump presidency—especially on the ecological level—that I cannot understand why many fellow leftists would mark a ballot for the hideous imperial corporatist Hillary Clinton to block Herr Trump. The intra-left bloodletting that takes place on a regular quadrennial schedule over the difficult question of how best to respond to the United States’ plutocratic electoral and party system certainly does not serve the progressive left cause. Let us join together after the latest quadrennial extravaganza to build and expand a great popular movement with a list of demands and the introduction of an election and party system that deserves passionate citizen engagement.
Paul Street, Contributor
Paul Street holds a doctorate in U.S. history from Binghamton University. He is former vice president for research and planning of the Chicago Urban League. Street is also the author of numerous books, including “Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis” (2007), “The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power” (2010), and “They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy” (2014), and a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Z Magazine/ZNet, Black Agenda Report and teleSUR English. He has taught American history at several Chicago-area colleges and universities and currently lives in Iowa City, Iowa.
Source: TruthDig – Paul Street: Keep Calm and Vote Green: Fascism Is Not Coming – Truthdig