Dear Bernie Supporters,
So, you’re upset that Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic primary to Hillary Clinton, one of the most reviled Presidential candidates in modern US history (second only to her chief competitor Donald J. Trump). I feel your pain, a pain that is magnified by the recent Wikileaks revelation of just how biased the DNC was towards Clinton, with high-level staffers of disgraced, now former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz suggesting, among other things, that they try to get the media to use Bernie’s “religion” (or supposed lack thereof) against him in key states where he was winning. The Democratic Party is not only corrupt in the sense that the rules themselves are status quo-oriented, but also in regard to the rampant violation of the neutrality rule the DNC is supposed to follow during the primary. I feel your pain, I really do.
The question is where to take your pain. Where should you take your passion for an anti-establishment politics where corporations cannot buy or influence elections or directly shape policy (and even actually write legislation in some cases)? Where should you take your passionate opposition to war? Where should you take your disgust at the horribly oppressive and racist system of mass incarceration, exacerbated by the phony “war on drugs”? Where should you take your belief in genuine democracy?
The first thing I can tell you is something I wish didn’t need to be said: Donald Trump is not the answer. Unless the question is who is the most racist, hateful, sexist, and authoritarian of the candidates. There is no question to which Donald Trump is a good answer in American politics. Let’s make one more thing clear here: Trump is not going to make America great again. Not that I really have any idea during which time period America was so much better than it is today (which is not to say it is great today for most people), but Trump is simply playing on a mythologized nostalgia for a time when things were easier for straight, white men. There’s no going back to those days — not that we have really fully left them behind. There is also no reason to believe that Trump has any legitimate, legally viable strategy for significantly increasing long-term employment in the US. As for “bringing US manufacturing jobs back,” unless US workers want to make $1/hour I doubt that will happen either. Recent scholarship from Paul Mason (Postcapitalism, 2015), Martin Ford (Rise of the Robots, 2015), and Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams (Inventing the Future, 2015) highlights the problem of rapidly increasing automation across traditional high-employment sectors like industrial manufacturing and service with respect to job creation. They all more or less agree that as we move into the future, fewer and fewer workers will be needed to achieve exponentially higher degrees of economic productivity. There will very simply be fewer and fewer jobs to “bring back.” Trump is nothing but a demagogue for the white male working class in the US. Hailed by his son as a “blue-collar billionaire,” his campaign platform is about as inconsistent, incoherent, and incomprehensible as that label. I feel your pain, but seriously, stay away from Trump.
I don’t think Clinton is the answer either, unless the question is: who is the slightly less blatantly offensive, racist, sexist, and hateful of the two major candidates. As I have argued elsewhere, Clinton’s policies would likely entail a rightward shift in foreign policy and either a slight leftward shift in domestic policy, or a maintenance of the neoliberal Obama status quo (predictions are tough at this point mainly because it is unclear which aspects of Clinton’s platform are there for campaign purposes and which represent her genuine positions). Many people, taking Trump’s most egregious statements as his true beliefs (a practice I find problematic), seem to have good cause to vote for the lesser evil embodied by Clinton. Now, if Trump does intend, and is somehow able to, implement even half of his xenophobic, regressive program, Hillary Clinton would indeed represent a clear lesser evil. But that is unlikely. And given her support for the occupation of Palestine, the illegal drone program, coups against democratically elected leaders, and regime change, it is hard for me to balance those facts against Trump’s proclivity for taking all sides of every issue. So again, Bernie supporters, I feel your pain, but I’m not sure there are good answers here either. I understand if you disagree though — especially if you live in a swing-state. Trump is scary, there is no doubt. I just also think Hillary Clinton is a lot scarier than most people on the center-left tend to admit. In the end, if you believe the worst of Trump’s rhetoric, strategic lesser-evil voting in a swing-state makes sense, though there is no reason to think you need to or should restrict your political activity to simply voting. If you are with me and many others who believe that Clinton is too “evil” to be reasonably considered a lesser evil, there are other options.
There are the third party candidates. It may be improbable that any of them will win the general election, but that isn’t enough to say we shouldn’t support one of them — and I literally mean one of them.
According to recent CNN polling of Bernie Sanders supporters, 55% plan to vote for Hillary Clinton, and (basically within the margin of error), 5% plan to vote for Donald Trump. 23% have said that they are going to vote for Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico and Libertarian Party candidate for President. A mere 12% have said they plan to vote for Jill Stein. What is most surprising about these numbers is not that Clinton has only 55% or that Trump has as much as 5%. What is most surprising is that Gary Johnson has nearly twice as much support as Jill Stein. Policy-wise this is completely absurd. The core of Sanders’ message was to significantly increase regulation and taxation, to address income and wealth inequality. As a libertarian, Johnson believes that deregulated, untaxed, free market capitalism is the answer — regardless of what the question is.
Gary Johnson is a likable candidate in some ways. After all, he is anti-war. He supports a woman’s right to choose. He supports marriage equality. He supports criminal justice reform (especially when it comes to eliminating mandatory minimums on drug possession). What he doesn’t support is any increase in government spending related to any of these issues. He supports massive tax cuts across the board, including for millionaires and billionaires, which would severely limit funding for organizations like Planned Parenthood and other groups fighting against LGBTQIA discrimination (he doesn’t oppose the idea of funding these entities in principle, just in practice). He supports massive cuts to social programs like SNAP (food stamps) which barely keep some of our poorest children from going hungry. He supports deregulating corporations, which would bring us rapidly closer to another 2007/2008-like collapse. While Johnson supports opening up our electoral system beyond two-party dominance, as well as removing corporate influence in elections and government, he opposes public financing of elections, which would be the only way to prevent private and corporate influence. After all, nearly every politician who runs for the highest office in the US, at least from the two major parties, has been in the top 1% of income earners. Instead of buying candidates, Goldman Sachs-types could simply put up their own candidates (à la Mitt Romney).
Contrary to Johnson, who wants to cut federal funding for regulation, social programs, and investment in green energy solutions, Jill Stein represents the best of Bernie’s platform, plus a stronger anti-war, anti-Palestinian occupation (pro-BDS) stance. She represents a true progressive agenda that responds to the very real dangers and crises our world faces. And don’t worry, like Bernie and Gary, Jill supports legalization of marijuana!
One of Stein’s major drawbacks, though, is her lack of national name recognition, as well as being slightly behind Johnson in getting on the ballot in all 50 states. This is why she needs our support, and you can do this even if you live in a swing state and plan to vote for Hillary Clinton in November. There is no conflict in organizing for the Left choice now and making a lesser-evil vote later. In fact, this might be the strategic path for our near and long-term future.
While I won’t excoriate you for making the lesser-evil vote if you decide to go with Clinton, both Johnson and Trump are simply unacceptable. While it may seem superficially reasonable to support Johnson in the face of Hillary Clinton’s hawkishness and ties to Wall Street, you simply cannot seriously care about economic and social justice and vote for Gary Johnson (or, of course, Donald Trump). Bernie supporters, I feel your pain, I really do, but going from supporting Bernie Sanders to supporting Gary Johnson (or Trump) is cutting off your nose to spite your face.