Breaking The Zero-Sum Election Cycle

Perhaps the only dish more American than apple pie is the shit-sandwich voters are served every four years when they arrive at the ballot box to cast a vote for president.

Perhaps the only dish more American than apple pie is the shit-sandwich voters are served every four years when they arrive at the ballot box to cast a vote for president. Politics is a checkered board, and the left needs to play chess, not checkers. On a surface level, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that Joe Biden is the lesser of two evils and from there move on. But it is imperative that voters are reminded that their choice in president is not a binary one. For decades, voters, particularly voters of color, have been bullied by the Democratic Party into accepting their faustian bargain. The cost has been endless war, the extreme erosion of the middle class, further dividing the country into a nation of haves and have nots.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has spent the entirety of the Democratic Presidential Primary race in the coveted position of the politician who’s always failing up. The waters parted for the lazy, creepy, corporate prune who hasn’t yet managed to put forward a single noteworthy policy proposal since his bid for the presidency began almost a year ago. His lack of campaigning and uninspiring debate performances were constantly graded on a curve. After all, he was the frontrunner, and the “safest bet to beat Trump”, as voters were constantly reminded by pundits morning, noon, and night. All the while he campaigned less, had less staff, and raised less money than many of his competitors.

After his first victory in South Carolina, the first reprieve from a series of self-described “gut punches” in the early states of the race, Biden met his “firewall” in the Southern states and they delivered for him in spades, granting some weight to the argument he was the “electable candidate” in contested regions.

Barack Obama’s a sneaky bastard, with supreme political instincts, and he may have personally thwarted a contested convention. He saw the crowded field and the threat of the insurgent Senator Sanders and his populist anti-corporate movement, and recalled back to the failure of the Republican party to get behind a single candidate in 2016, which parted the way for Trump. The Dems were doomed to a similar fate unless direct action was taken to unite the party in its opposition against the country’s most popular senator

At which time the former president is reported to have dropped the hammer and made a series of phone calls urging any of the candidates who wanted a future in Washington to drop out of the race or pay the price of making an enemy of the party’s most powerful man. How else would Joe Biden, who campaigned less, had less staff, and raised less money than many of his competitors end up the consolidated-behind choice, right before the most critical day of the primary election?

What then is the case for Joe Biden, who is running an even more conservative campaign than Hillary Clinton despite the fact that the party has moved decidedly left in policy preference over the past four years? The more it’s pondered, the flimsier it seems. There are distinctions between President Trump and Joe Biden, though they are dwarfed by the similarities. Trump has followed the Republican Party script of climate change denialism, whereas Joe Biden is perfectly willing to use it as a neoliberal talking point so long as it doesn’t disrupt Wall Street’s bottom line. Because of this he’d certainly make a great show of rejoining the Paris Climate agreement, so that we can all feel good about ourselves as we continue to make the Earth unlivable with the same lack of serious oversight. After all, what’s the difference between falling off a cliff and racing toward one with tremendous voracity? The result will be the same. Why then is it so preposterous to propose pulling the emergency break and diverting disaster?

What will Joe Biden do about the death machine of the military-industrial complex? Is there a  more privileged position to take than one that demands thousands of foriegn corpses continue to be given the blind eye? Surely he wasn’t intervening when Obama was authorizing countless military strikes in places half of the nation couldn’t point to on a map — countries like Somalia, Yemen, or Libya, where many Americans would be surprised to learn we’ve had an active military presence for over a decade.

But what about The Bench, they chide?  “Ruth Bader Ginsburg won’t live forever.” Indeed, RBG is human; she bleeds when she’s cut and she too will die someday, perhaps in the next 4 years. This fact was just as true now as it was two months into Obama’s second term, when she celebrated her 80th birthday, and still for 3 more years, did not step down when Obama could have safely appointed her replacement. Furthermore, Joe Biden’s record with Supreme Court appointments is rather checkered. He played a critical role in the pre-Kavanaugh case of Clarence Thomas, a Democrat nominated to the bench by Clinton who was accused of sexually assaulting Anita Hill, whom Biden personally slandered in front of the entire country and to this day has never apologized for it.  

Aside from being credibly accused of sexually assaulting Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas has a history of siding with the conservative side of the bench. Not only did Justice Thomas join Justice Scalia and Chief Justice William Rehnquest in their dissenting opinion of the ruling on Lawrence v Texas, which declared it unconstitutional for states to outlaw private consentual sex between two people of the same gender, Thomas also dissented in the landmark 2015 case Obergefell v Hodges, which ruled same sex marriage must be recognized in every single state. Let’s not forget Joe Biden also voted to confirm the aforementioned radical Reagan Supreme Court nominee Antonin Scalia — who spent decades ruling against women’s right to access legal, safe abortions and once compared homosexuality and gay sex to adult incest in his dissenting remarks.

Ironically enough, many of the same people who spend their time wagging their fingers at anyone who considers voting third party are the same people who were outraged by anyone who doubted the validity of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations of Brett Kavanaugh and implored the country to #believewomen. Turns out that the Democrats have built their moral high ground on a mountain of sand, and Tara Reade is the tide.

Certainly, four more years of Donald Trump in the White House would have untold consequences not just for the United States, but for the global climate. He will continue to ignore the devastation that carbon emissions are wreaking on the ozone layer, causing the global temperature to skyrocket. According to a 2018 report released by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) we have less than a decade to mobilize globally and keep the planet’s temperature from rising above 2 degrees Celsius (for reference, we have experienced only .5 degrees of warming to date) to prevent cascading effects of potential feedback loops that scientists feel will emerge if we surpass the critical 2 degree threshold. At this point we will no longer be able to halt the rapidly increasing temperature, essentially dooming all life on this planet; this is a reality, not a hyperbolic conjecture. 

If Donald Trump is the most dangerous president of our lives, it is not because of his oafishness,  kleptocracy, or poor judgement, in those ways he is far more similar to his predecessors as president. It is because he is completely devoid of any ideology except that of “me.” Because of this, it makes him nearly impossible to control, which is the reason the establishment wants him out. In the same way the Democratic Party would rather lose to Trump than allow Bernie Sanders to become president, the bulk of the Republican Party Establishment would have far preferred Hillary Clinton defeat Trump and retain party control. After all, as the Democrats have demonstrated, it’s easier to cash in as the opposition than the party in power.

What will become of vulnerable minority communities under 4 more years of Trump? Well, perhaps less of them will be deported than under Obama’s second term. While the opposition media loves to expose the Trump administration’s, vile, unconscionable child separation at the border, they were equally happy to turn a blind eye when it was the Obama administration putting children in cages — let’s not forget, they deported over 300,000 more undocumented individuals during his first 3 years in office than Donald Trump and we can expect a similar practice under Biden. In fact, if you compare Donald Trump to past Republican candidates like Mitt Romney, he’s actually performed better with Latino voters while Joe Biden finds himself uniquely vulnerable amongst the same demographic

Aside from his monumental tax cuts and The US Mexico Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA) which walked back every single economic campaign promise he made to his working class base. Trump has accomplished little in terms of new domestic policy, after failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act his term was spent primarily rolling back any paltry Obama era environmental protections, granting private companies access to extract oil and gas from formerly protected land, and babysitting the interests of the stock market. When he can get away from his Mara-lago resort, of course. 

His highest crimes, like all presidents have come from his foreign policy: from his executive order that banned foreign nationals from seven muslim majority countries from entering the United States, to the crippling economic sanctions on countries like Iran and Venezuela, all while he personally enriched himself through his presidency. In fact, from a purely legislative perspective, outside of his trade war with China, he’s towed the Republican Party line. 

This is because Trump has no real interest in governance, just being the center of attention and the man in charge. Nationalism, narcissism, and barbarism are not new traits in the Oval Office, they’re prerequisites. The mechanisms Donald Trump has used to terrorize immigrant communities, such as ICE, long precede his presidency, and will continue regardless of the outcome this November. What has changed with the Trump era is his disposal of decency in his rhetoric. He capitalizes on the cruelty of his words in the way past presidents capitalized on silence and secrecy. It is for this reason that Trump throws his executive weight behind high publicity ICE raids that rally his base, whereas Obama quietly deported those seeking opportunity in America. Perhaps this is why when polled, only 49% of latino voters indicated their support for Joe Biden, 17% supported Trump, and the rest hadn’t made up their minds.  

A troubling fact for the Blue Dog Democrats who argue every election cycle that voting for anyone besides their anointed candidate represents a privileged position to take, a position that was always disingenuous and is now evidently, empirically wrong. A 2018 study by the PEW Research Found that “there are striking demographic differences between voters and nonvoters, and significant political differences as well. Compared with validated voters, nonvoters were more likely to be younger, less educated, less affluent and nonwhite. And nonvoters were much more Democratic.”

Could this not be a rebuttal of the affluent white male leftists who are often associated with protest voting, and perhaps a greater condemnation of the party that claims to prioritize those communities? Maybe being used as a photo opp once every four years just isn’t enough for those young, impoverished, people of color to interrupt their lives and take off work to cast a vote for a candidate who will at best impact their lives only in the margins? As former Bernie Sanders Press Secretary Briahna Joy Gray put it in a recent interview with The Atlantic, “At a certain point, voters are tired of having people—excuse the expression—piss on their leg and tell them that it’s raining.” 

Let us be frank, Joe Biden is a bad candidate. As surely as he couldn’t be trusted alone with your daughter or niece, he can’t be trusted to run this country. The fact that this has to be argued at all, is exhausting and disheartening. It is also, far more obvious and less up for debate, that Donald Trump is both an abysmal president and candidate for reelection.

In the famous 1997 film Good Will Hunting, Will Hunting (Matt Damon) recounts to his therapist (Robin Williams), his childhood memory of his foster father coming home to beat him. “He used to just put a belt, a stick, and a wrench on the table and say ‘choose.’” His therapist replies, “Gotta go with the belt on that one,” instinctively opting for the least amount of punishment. Will responds, “I went with a wrench.” Why? “Because fuck him, that’s why.” 

Voters are not fools; they are aware that abstaining from voting against Donald Trump will most likely result in his reelection. What they are trying desperately to convey is that the candidate offered by the Democratic Party is not meaningfully different enough from the pathological lying, odious, predatory, narcissist, currently occupying the White House. Donald Trump is the devil people know, running against the Democratic devil they know slightly less. Between the two evils, is one even less?

Now there is no point in throwing in the towel now and even less a point in throwing away your vote. The left instead needs to provide the electorate with a candidate who stands neither credibly accused of rape or war crimes. 

Where would the left be today if Ralph Nader had run against Al Gore and George W. Bush as a member of a leftist third party instead of as an independent? Or hell, where would we be if even Bernie Sanders had the political fortitude to ignore the shrieks of heresy emanating from the Washington insiders and run a third party campaign instead of wasting his time trying to negotiate with politicians completely corrupted by corporate cash. I’ll tell you where we wouldn’t be: right back where we began, with popular policy proposals and no power to pass them.  

After the suspension of the Sanders’ campaign, Joe Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee. Sanders stayed true to his word and endorsed the eventual nominee in Biden, but some of his campaign’s most prominent voices have been reluctant to follow suit. Many are citing Biden’s refusal to embrace Sanders’ key policies, his appointment of Larry Summers as an economic advisor, and his refusal to extend a serious olive branch to his left flank by considering Sanders himself as a potential running mate. In addition to these red flags, an accusation of sexual assault from a former Senate aide to Biden has roiled his campiagn, and given many a glaring reason to doubt Biden’s frequently-cited “decency.”

As things currently stand in D.C., the left is losing any sort of sway over policy making decisions within the infrastructure of the party. Joe Biden, who has offered the Bernie voters only certain minimal concessions–like occasionally bringing up the raising the minimum wage–has thus far based his strategy around appealing to boomer voters and those with nostalgia for the Obama years. This was admittedly a successful strategy in the primary elections — though Biden didn’t expand the voter base at all or inspire new voters, he did play to those who he knew would show up, unlike Bernie, who gambled on the youth vote to turn out in droves.

The primary is nearing its conclusion, however, and Biden has yet to make a serious pivot to attempt to court other demographics. As President Trump ramps up his aggressive campaigning and outreach to the black community, Biden seems relatively comfortable sitting back and embracing a similar strategy to the he leaned into during the primary. This low effort style of campaigning does have its pros, especially since the candidate in question is hardly an impressive orator at this point, but it represents a lack of energy that is beginning to infect the Democratic Party from the head down to the tail, and which will suppress voter turnout and enthusiasm in the coming years. Biden himself is at alarmingly low levels of enthusiasm amongst regular Democratic voters.

It was precisely this activist energy that Sanders well channeled with his bids for the Presidency, and the contrast in excitement couldn’t be more blatant as the party “unites” behind Biden. As Biden currently navigates the sexual assault charge recently brought against him, he also is trying to figure out who to name as his running mate, a key decsion that holds more power than usually it is given credit. Despite the fact that the role of the Vice President is largely symbolic, it is of key importance in this election given Biden’s old age, and he would be fool-hardy not to name a progessive to bridge the ideological spectrum of the party and make sure all Democrats feel represented in the ticket. Unfortunately, the most commonly floated names have been moderates Amy Klobochar, Gretchen Whitmer and Kamala Harris, with Elizabeth Warren being the sole candidate for the job with any progressive credentials whatsoever.

If Biden refuses to choose a progressive running mate, it will be the main mistake the Democrats could make in this general election. For a party that loves to lecture its left flank about “unity,” they rarely ever succeed in unifying the party themselves when they have the real opportunity. Bernie’s coalition cares deeply about policy, and understands that personnel is perhaps the most crucial first step to having the right policies pushed. Appointing a progressive leader as VP, someone established like Bernie Sanders or Barbara Lee, would go a long way with voters that currently have no substantial reason to vote blue. Unfortunately, knowing the Democratic party, we shouldn’t hold our breaths. Just as Al Gore chose Joe Liberman to be his running mate in 2000, pissing off his left flank, just as Hillary chose Tim Kaine in 2016 and tried to pretend that the primary hadn’t happened, Biden will likely choose a milquetoast moderate. And like Gore and Clinton, he will probably lose come November, a consequence of snubbing the base of the party.

Following Bernie’s exit from the race, his movement has scattered around a bit, fairly directionless in their dispersion. In need of a new cause, some have given into the Democratic party’s ultimatum: if not Biden, then Trump. Others yet, like Briahna Joy Gray, remain uncommitted, either using their political leverage by waiting to endorse, or waiting for a real alternative to emerge. Howie Hawkins, currently the presumptive Green party nominee, has a solid platform and an impeccable track record of fighting the power, but he admittedly lacks the clout to seriously challenge two of the biggest names in politics.

Hopefully, a more well-known challenger steps up to the plate, someone like Jesse Ventura, who has been hinting for a while that he wishes to run. A character like Ventura could not only give the two-party system a run for its money with his name recognition and brash shit-talking, but his deeply held policy beliefs aren’t all that removed from those of the Bernie Left: a deep distrust of the deep state (especially the military industrial complex and the NSA), a recognition that America falls far behind the rest of the developed world in healthcare, and an understanding that we must address climate change, the number one existential issue of our lifetimes.

If someone like Ventura is willing to endure the character assassination and endless obfuscation that will be brought upon him by the MSNBC crowd, then a new home for the populist movement could be formed. Not only would this give leftists a real alternative to the accused-rapist that the Democrats have nominated, but it could also give the populist-right an alternative to Trump’s faux-populism. If a serious third party is to emerge in this election cycle, they would be best suited to court not just the left, but also certain fractions of the right and libertarian-leaning as well, including those who also want to end our endless wars, disband the surveillance state, free non-violent drug offenders, and legalize cannabis once and for all. 

There is ample common ground to move with the populist-right and the libertarians, and there’s no reason that a coalition can’t be formed to overcome the two-party stranglehold. If the left is serious about power and influence in Washington, and amplifying suppressed voices, a third-party challenge could surely do the job. A multi-racial, working-class coalition of voters who have had it with the establishment needs to be organized and unified, prepared to buck electoral orthodoxy and make a principled stand.

Assuming that the Bernie coalition largely does stay home or vote third party instead of falling in line behind Joe Biden, it is to be considered what will happen if Biden wins anyway. Due to the extreme stakes of this general election, and the fact that Donald Trump so desperately needs to be removed, the outcome of the election is dire for the Democrats to set the narrative going into the next term. If Biden can pull off a win against Trump, and especially if he can do so without the help of the Progressive left, this will be used against leftist candidates for years to come — ”It took the most moderate, centrist Democrat of the lot to beat Trump” will be the resounding rallying cry of the neo-liberal jackals on MSNBC, repeated ad nauseum for many election cycles to come.

However unlikely Biden’s victory is, if he is to win then the left will need some influence on his platform and administration. But how can we avoid falling for the same trap that the establishment has laid time and time again, promising us platform positions and committee appointments that never really amount to any serious, substantive change? Well, perhaps instead of playing the game on their own rigged terms, the left makes a serious statement by actually getting a third party to 5% or beyond, and even risk playing the role of a genuine spoiler in the process. Though uncomfortable to discuss, strategically it may be the best option for the sake of visibility; the Democratic Party would no-doubt be forced to recognize the existence of a faction that wields the ability to block them from power.

As destructive as such a tactic may sound, it would not only serve as a warning to the Democratic Party, but could also begin laying the groundwork for a multi-party system in this country, where voters begin to realize that voting a third party into power isn’t just possible but would probably be preferable to most citizens. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, significantly more Americans identified as Independent than Democrat or Republican. Getting a third party to at least 5% in the general election would qualify them for federal funding for the next election, building the groundwork for a real people’s party. Increasingly, Americans are fed up with hyper-partisanship, the corporate stranglehold on Washington and their general lack of palatable options come election season; the emergence of more parties could assuage some of these bugs in the system. It’s just a matter of getting it off the ground, as so many candidates in the past have failed to do, like Jill Stein did in 2016 and Hawkins would surely do this time around, given his lack of political celebrity and the fact that ranked-choice voting is still not the norm in most states. Perhaps 2020 is the year the progressive left makes that stand, consequences be damned, because perhaps it’s now or never.

Power cannot be negotiated. It will not be forfeited, it must be fought for. This is a lesson Bernie Sanders, in his lifetime of public service, never learned. Joe Biden hasn’t given any indication his cabinet would include any olive branches to the party’s progressive flank, but in spite of this, Bernie and The Squad gave away the farm, publicly announcing their support for Joe Biden, without securing even so much as a flimsy campaign promise for a policy they’ve campaigned for. “They were a careless people…” F. Scott Fitzgerald famously observed about the opulent, “They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money and their vast carelessness … and let other people clean up the mess they’d made.” Right on cue came Bernie Sanders and The Squad, standing not with the movement they’d built, but with shovels in hand, ready to clean up the mess of the donor class.

Since 2016, the activist left has been incredibly energized, inspired by Sanders’ nearly-successful run for the Presidency and eager to implement the political revolution he called for. Groups like Our Revolution, the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats organized and fought tirelessly to set the tone of the Democratic party going into 2020 by electing insurgent progressives to Congress and putting important issues like Medicare and a Green New Deal forefront in the ideal platform for the resistance to Donald Trump. Yet, it seems like for all the progress that has been made, we find ourselves back at square one: confronted by an unpalatable choice of two evils; left to parse out the minuta between them while desperately hoping for a third-party white knight to come in and save us from the corporate stranglehold on our government. This electoral binary is the perpetual pitfall the left finds itself in year after year, election after election. A third party for the people and not the powerful is the only way to break the zero sum election cycle. It’s time to stop falling for the illusion of choice and demand real democracy.

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