Saturday, June 3, 2017

Fret Not, Uncle Noam Sez it's OK to Vote for Hillary

The following essay was submitted to another website in October of 2016 for a "get out the vote" discussion, but was rejected for various reasons. I toyed with the idea of putting it up here, but I started to edit the piece after it was rejected, and ended up not finishing it in time for the election. As I ran across it in my drafts the other day, it seemed to me to be still worth posting. The essay has been edited post-election for clarity; I did not include any sort of insight that may have come to me after the election.

We have better things to do than be amused by the war of the paper ballots. We have much more important business to be about. -- Peter Kropotkin, "Enemies of the People"
  Ugh, what a shitshow. I know that's been said running up to virtually every November for decades now*, but this one is special: it seems everyone is unhappy with these . . . people . . . that are running for office in this forsaken country. But, just when you think the marks are wising up, the equivocation starts creeping back in, fear takes over, everyone retreats to the old battle lines, and we're back to the same bipolar nonsense as before. Next election, everybody gets away with the same bullshit, just slightly attenuated for the times.

  And just so we're all on the same page, goofball Jill Stein and Bubba Libertarian aren't the answer either. All four of them make Obama look like a Roosevelt. Gerald Ford would have won this goddamn election in a landslide.

  As much as Republicans try to run away from Trump, he is the natural result of the Southern strategy, an evolution of the Lee Atwater ideal. The fact that he is a morally bankrupt dullard really animates this year's horror circus.

  As for Hillary, her candidacy is the culmination of a very simple strategy which has placed a Dem in the White House for 16 of the 24 years since hubby Bill first executed it in '92: as long as you are one tiny hair to the left of the nutball running for the Republicans, you can count on a lot of votes. From there, it's usually not too tough to turn the elephant into a monster, especially since the elephant usually seems more than happy to help the process along. It's actually a variation on the time-honored strategy of not getting eaten by the bear: that is, when you and your friend are trying to get away from the bear, you don't have to be faster than the bear, you just have to be faster than your friend.

  Just once, I would like someone to be faster than the bear. That seems, however, too much to ask.  As we stand here, late October 2016, given the choices we have, anyone with any clarity of vision has to deeply and seriously question the efficacy of the vote.

*          *          *          *          *

  On November 8th, everyone will be running around wearing their silly little "I VOTED!" stickers like citizenship merit badges. Media personalities such as Louis C.K., who people inexplicably seem to think is a smart guy, say things like "if you don't vote for anybody, you are an asshole".  Everybody on your facebook feed is blaming non-voters for everything from the national debt to global warming. A non-voter would win the race to the bottom against a drug dealer, it would seem.

  From the liberal view, this vilification orbits around two poles: one, an abundance of evidence that the higher the percentage of voters that turn out, the more liberal the vote becomes; and two, the relentless campaign by the right to disenfranchise as many people as absolutely possible. Distilled, the liberal view is that an ideal election, with a 100% turnout of all eligible voters, would result in a truly just representative government that would almost perfectly serve the good of the people.

  The right wing, on the other hand, wants to control (read: limit) voting as much as possible. The leitmotif of right wing media during election seasons is voter fraud: the specter of Chicago-style Democrat voting haunts the imagination of almost every right winger. No, check that: the specter of hoards of brown-skinned voters haunts the imagination of almost every right winger. There is no point being delicate about it: fear of the takeover of America by non-whites informs all voting-related action by the right wing. And, make no mistake, they are very successful, with everything from gerrymandering to individual voting legalities and ID laws (read: brown people filters). Such is the obsession with voting fraud in the the right wing that a Trump voter was recently busted for voting multiple times, driven by the conviction that she had to do it to help counteract all the brown people she knew where doing it as well.

  And that, in typical bipolar American logic, delimits the whole conversation about voting:since the vote was hard won (it was), and since bad people are trying to take it away (they are), then voting is good and important (doesn't necessarily follow!). It's a horrific thought, but could the struggle for the vote be like Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone's vault, a loud and furious fight for nothing?

*          *          *          *          *

Don’t sit this one out…we aren’t. Let’s act as citizens: stand up and take direct action by voting for leaders who support clean air, clean water and climate action.  Go #VoteOurPlanet.  -- Patagonia corporate voter PSA
The State organization, having always been [. . .] the instrument for establishing monopolies in favor of the ruling minorities, cannot be made to work for the destruction of these monopolies. [. . .] In virtue of [these] principles the anarchists refuse to be party to the present state organization and to support it by infusing fresh blood into it. They do not seek to constitute, and invite the working men not to constitute, political parties and parliaments. Accordingly, since the foundation of  the International Working Man's Association in 1864-1866, they have endeavored to promote their ideas directly amongst the labor organizations and to induce those unions to a direct struggle against capital, without placing their faith in parliamentary legislation.  -- Peter Kropotkin, "Anarchism"
  The big question is, of course, precisely what does voting achieve? As noted above, a liberal would have you believe that a perfect democracy with 100% participation would bring about a truly just and benevolent society . . . and, to be clear, "just" in this case aligns with liberal values. A conservative perceives justice in his terms, and will construct a specific voting population to best execute conservative values. Both views (and the American system only allows two) assume that voting is what constitutes government. Both views are mistaken on this count.

  The government governs, or so everyone seems to assume. The government carries out the act of governance . . . and unquestionably it is a large factor in controlling (governing) our lives, but is it the only factor? Of course not - it may not even be the largest factor.

  For most of us, the person who controls our lives the most is our boss. Our boss quite frequently answers to other people, but unless you actually work for the government, our boss doesn't primarily answer to the government. Now, the person your boss ultimately answers to, the owner/CEO, may tell you they answer to the government, but that's not really accurate: they primarily answer to shareholders or, if the company is privately held, they answer to banks. Point is, the whole question of governance is not as simple as "the government governs"; and frankly, the poorer you are, the more people have a say in your life.

  Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that voting is what constitutes the government (spoiler alert: it doesn't). Government, however, is only one factor that controls (governs) our lives; other factors require different actions. These actions take different forms, but generally when we want change, we expect the government to lead the change, because the belief (in this country, anyway) is that it is the government that controls everything. This kind of odd almost circular logic leads us to not only artificially limit our options for change, but also to place undue faith in the power of the vote to change things. Also, this illusion very conveniently serves the conservative establishment (not conservative in the narrow American political sense, but in the"deep state" political sense that also includes virtually all elected Democrats), which is of course run by the masters of capital; it is not an accident that the corporate exhortation quoted above urges the "citizen" to "stand up and take direct action by voting". Equating "voting" with "standing up" and "taking direct action" essentially neutralizes protest and direct action by bringing them under the purview of the governmental system. We need to be very clear on this point: voting is not protest, voting is not direct action. Voting is the act of perpetuating the government; and even if we believe that the government can work to the benefit of all (as our pal Kropotkin clearly does not), getting government square is only the start of solving the problem.

  Which leads us to our next question: is it truly possible to get the government square? That, friends, is something which should arouse your deepest skepticism. Even if the current state of governmental affairs leaves you undaunted, even if you believe you can make the government square, it's only part of the problem, and maybe not even the biggest part; and also not where one would start if one really wants to change the world for the better,

*          *          *          *          *

  Noam Chomsky, whose position can be essentially boiled down to "well, obviously Clinton is peak neoliberal, and a big part of the problem, maybe the biggest, but Donald Trump? For god's sake, you have to vote for Hillary in a swing state . . . ", speaks often of the necessity of voting. Unlike the "don't be an asshole, vote!" crowd, Chomsky understands the real import of the vote:
My feeling is that [voting is] a decision but it's the kind of decision that's kind of tenth order. I think it should be made in five minutes... Most of the time it's a very small decision, maybe if you can, you just have to compare the alternatives and see if there is on balance any difference but it doesn't seem to be a fundamental question.
Voting here is far from the much heralded "bloodless revolution" that US political supporters loudly proclaim it to be. Very far from revolutionary, voting is, at best, evolutionary. And given the principals in this election, it is not even particularly evolutionary**.

  It is this myth of "the bloodless revolution" that is the most destructive part of the American political landscape: whether you are a believer in the power of the government to change things, or whether you despair of the possibility of any true change because "the system is rigged", you are handcuffed by your faith in the government as the sole agent of change.

  Noam will tell you that it's ok to vote for Hillary, but he will also tell you that real change happens out in the street. We're not talking about charity work here; we're talking about active resistance, direct action to solve problems. We need to stand up, we need to strike, we need to march, we need to actively resist the bad that happens in our country, the bad that happens everywhere because of our country. You want to see everyone get a living wage? Then sure, vote for the politician who at least pays lip service to fighting poverty, maybe even practice your "ethical consumerism", but don't be under the illusion that change will come about that way: if you really want to change things, join them in the streets. Stand up for a living wage; make sure everyone knows this is a moral imperative.

  Ethical, compassionate politicians can only come from an ethical, compassionate culture. A good government is an end product, not a beginning. All the voting enthusiasts who do nothing more than cast ballots and bitch on public media are a much bigger part of the problem than the politically active folk who don't vote. At the end of the day, voting is no more than passive consumption of what the political establishment is selling you. It is rarely ever change, and it is never revolution.

*          *          *          *          *

  So here we are. If you need a reason to vote for Hillary, you've got it. Vote against a completely morally bankrupt administration in favor of a slightly less morally bankrupt administration; but don't pretend that solves any problems. If you really believe in the moral power of your politics, then go out and fight for them. Relegate voting to where it belongs, way down the list of your political priorities.
*  “How many more of these stinking, double-downer sideshows will we have to go through before we can get ourselves straight enough to put together some kind of national election that will give me and the at least 20 million people I tend to agree with a chance to vote FOR something, instead of always being faced with that old familiar choice between the lesser of two evils?"  - Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72
** It is important to, at long last, elect a woman president. But if being a woman president is evolutionary in and of itself, and if that is a reason in and of itself to vote for a candidate, then Carly Fiorina would do as well as Hillary Clinton, just as electing Ben Carson would have been as good as electing Barack Obama.

1 comment: