Today is the fourth of my series of posts about voting—particularly in THIS election. [And on a personal note, I had to trash several days worth of my regular update schedule to take this from concept notes to a polished final draft, so I appreciate the patience of anyone who was wondering where my usual posts were.]
As one goes further left in U.S. politics, the chances grow rather quickly of finding folks who don’t vote, vote for third parties or write in candidates as “protest,” or generally make sure you know they’re “leftists” not “liberals,” hate the DNC, and find everyone but maybe "the squad" entirely too moderate and impure for them to endorse, support, or vote for. (They also, as a broad generalization, seem to have a weird inability to notice that Senator Kamala Harris rates more liberal by every watchdog group than Bernie Sanders who they think of as the One True Leftist™ in politics––but that could probably be its whole own post. Left-over primary season self-righteousness is a hell of a drug.)
These are the folks that find compromise on issues like health care to be unacceptable. They are the ones who cannot abide by a mainstream politician who has made, or sometimes even supported a politically centrist policy at any time during their career….even if it goes back perhaps decades. (And, frankly, some of them just hate anyone without a S and and “anders” in their last name.) The harm the Democratic people causes people isn't trivial and they don't accept it just because it's not as much.
And let’s be clear that a lot could be said about these folks. They’re not exactly wrong. Ideologically speaking, I’m one of them. I just yell at the clouds like Grandpa Simpson where it’s most effective and vote…well….ALSO where it’s actually most effective. But Democrats regularly court the far left's votes and then throw them under the bus as a matter of standard operating procedure. ("Oh....did I say socialized medicine? I meant a complicated system of paying insurance companies and a mandate that you must. We'll get you a subsidy, though! Just fill out ten miles of paperwork.") There is no viable left-wing party in U.S. politics. Not really. There are some left-wing parties but voting for them is pragmatically the same as ceding power by inaction and probably instantly gets you on an FBI watchlist.
But no major political party in the United States (of which there are TWO––take it or leave it) is having a serious conversation about redistributing wealth. Actual leftist folks are NOT represented by the U.S. political spectrum (arguably by design). And frankly, no one is entitled to anyone’s vote, even if "the other guy is totes worse, yo." On a global continuum, Democrats land just right of center, and as a party have never taken a stand against colonization or capitalism, or taken a firm position against police brutality, a MUCH higher tax on the super wealthy, fought hard for social justice issues like institutional racism, really come down against environmental destruction, or found alternatives to cowering in the corner* and begging Republicans not to hurt them every time the latter group demonstrates that it will have no respect for bylaws or precedent and is about to make a naked, “who’s gonna stop us....YOU?” flavored power grab.
*Democrats like to call this "going high." They would apparently rather be governed by the conservative minority from the low ground than engage in anything that has the appearance of unseemly procedural politics.
On the other hand, these same leftists seem more intent on calling people bootlickers, blocking their agree-with-almost-everything-but-the-pragmatism-of-a-protest-vote friends on social media, and sharing dank memes than they are intent on winning hearts and minds with ideas they assure everyone are vastly superior. (And….just so we’re clear, before we go any further, I should again make it crystal clear that I’m mostly one of them.) The message they seem to think they’re sending to Democrats didn’t work in 2016 or even as far back as 2000 when one could arguably say their votes DID swing the election in key states. And their political strategy seems primarily based on showing up every four years, putting a gun to their own heads and threatening to blow away their own political power on write-ins, protest votes, or pure apathy if they are not appeased by Democrats in purple districts embracing various third-rail leftist issues or abandoning all semblance of the decorum without which one cannot get elected in our society. And without getting elected––and this should go without saying, but so often doesn’t in these circles––one cannot govern. (Making the ideal leftist dream candidate, who calls conservatives names and demands policies for which there is no political will, UTTERLY unelectable.) Ironically, the idea that—given how many of them (us) there are––they could pull the entire DNC platform to the left in under a decade by joining the party en masse doesn’t seem to have as much catharsis to them as simply getting pissed off, taking their ball, and going home to watch Democrats lose again (and presumably not be too troubled by watching the folks they claim to champion suffering under Republicans).
It is no wonder they are the ones that Russian psyops and right-wing false flags so consistently target as "the weak underbelly" of the left-wing of U.S. politics. Essentially, by reminding them of what the more conservative end of the necessarily broad Democrat coalition finds acceptable (or by playing a highlight reel of a politician’s most compromising and/or right-wing-y choices), leftists can be convinced to disenfranchise THEMSELVES in write-ins, protest votes, and abstention, thereby ceding power by inaction to the right wing.
Pragmatism and idealism are big values struggled fiercely over at that end of the political spectrum. Tacit approval of corrupt systems is still approval, and voting for someone who has essentially embraced ideologies, and likely even signed legislation anathema to one’s personal philosophies or even HARMFUL in terms of objective results is understandably an awful position to put anyone in. This Faustian deal is particularly compounded when sneering Democrats catechize leftists about who ELSE they're going to vote for. For leftists, saying “Here, buddy. Have the power to govern me” to someone who has shown that they absolutely WILL use that power to hurt them and theirs is a fucking tough sell.
I’m not here to sling insults or besmirch decisions, but I would like to challenge the existing narrative. Because leftists reach for one particular way to frame this dilemma over and over again: that Democrats don’t share their values and are against them, and moderate policies ALSO hurt them SO WHY EVEN BOTHER. (Personally, I would argue that Republicans and Democrats are far from the same, but this article is not about challenging that perception.) That we shouldn’t HAVE to vote for the LESSER evil and this “it is what it is” shit is hard to swallow cycle after cycle as change, if it comes at all, is glacial and wiped out by the first fifteen minutes of a GOP regime.
But there’s another way to think of this. Another way to frame this narrative.
Like a video game. Specifically, that screen where you get to choose your difficulty.
See, no one thinks a video game is ON THEIR SIDE. The game is working against them. (The metaphor breaks down, of course, because this is about power, not fun, but if you stay within the margins, it makes sense.) A player has to defeat enemies who want to destroy them. There are powerful bosses. A gamer is likely to fail a few times and have to go back to a save point (or something). The end boss might even be super challenging and in some cases require hundreds of hours of work to have a chance of succeeding. (Even on a relatively easy game.) The system of the video game is not their ally. They are literally working to defeat it.
But many video games do allow for choosing a difficulty level. Maybe you have more ability to get hit, or your enemies less. Maybe you start out with more resources, or they are easier to find. Maybe the number of random encounters with enemies goes down. The game might be working against you and you might be working against the game, but it is just EASIER. The hard parts are still hard, but they’re easier than if you crank the difficulty. And if you DO crank the difficulty, you can often find that just walking around in the world becomes incredibly difficult.
Voting for a Democrat (particularly at a moment in history like this one) is setting the difficulty at a lower setting. It will make for an easier experience for any leftist, whether they be a card-carrying communist or an anarchist, a democratic socialist who would like to see a more Scandinavian model taken seriously, or even just a party line Democrat. We don’t have to share the official DNC “victory condition” objectives or like their candidates’ every past move to recognize that a Democrat makes life as a leftist easier than a Republican. Especially THIS Republican. The hard parts are still going to be very very hard, and we’ve lots of work to do, but they’ll be easier. And it won’t be so fucking dangerous to just walk around.
My leftist friends, this doesn’t mean the Democrats won’t be working against socialism, or radical liberation movements, or that they never passed a bill that targets sex workers or trans folks or hurt a community of color. (They don't, they have, they will again.) It just means that EVERY. SINGLE. GOAL. OR. OBJECTIVE. ––both pragmatic and idealistic––that we leftists have will just be that much EASIER to accomplish under a Democrat.
Not easy. Just a lower difficulty.
1. Having Codified Power- The reason you get to cheer on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “the squad” ––or (if you’re a certain stripe of leftist) hang on Bernie Sanders’ every word and make sure everyone knows he would have done a better job at…..whatever––is because SOMEONE VOTED FOR THEM. At some point they won their elections. That's WHY they have power. The political landscape in their area was liberal enough that their constituents felt represented. That can’t happen if elections are ceded by inaction to the other party.
2. Discourse- Arguably, the reason that the far left can’t muster more than about 30% turnout during Democratic primaries is because they are still trying to win the war of ideals (and less so, trying to get their people to actually show up). A hearts-and-minds persuasion campaign is not as glamorous to think about as revolutions and not as fun as making dank memes about bootlickers. It is long, unrewarding work, but it is also how movements make progress. Do you imagine that discourse is going to be easier under the party that thinks your goals are all worthy (but that maybe you’re not being pragmatic about how to get the political will to make it happen), or under the party who is framing mainstream Democrats as enemies of the state, characterizing activist groups as terrorists, and working to make it illegal to say what you’re saying? You think people are going to listen to talk of socialism MORE or LESS if we enter a new McCarthy era or have ONE viable party? Or do you imagine your subversive and possibly illegal ideas will be more difficult to talk about?
3. The Overton Window- If you’re trying to move U.S. politics to the left and maybe someday even see the U.S. abandon some of its destructive legacies, deep-seated culture of bigotry towards various groups, and harmful policies both parties embrace (like allowing monopolies ungodly power), do you imagine that this will be easier with a party whose lefter members already question these things and are willing to move the slider, or with the wing that is actively hostile and pulls to the right whenever they can still do so and win elections?
4. A POTUS Who Might Listen- Simply getting through to a sitting president is NOT EASY. A certain level of….let’s say self-assuredness is required just to run for the position. While there is some evidence that Trump tends to default to taking advice from the last person with whom he was in the room when he has too many options he likes or really doesn’t know what to do, these are his advisors groveling to his ego (and evidence suggests, playing him). When it comes to listening to economists, diplomats, military experts, scientists, historians, the vast majority of the citizens over which he governs, he demonstrates a singular… “disinclination.” Even being nearly killed by Covid-19 didn’t convince him to be any less cavalier about blowing off every safety precaution advised by the very same medical science that almost certainly saved his life. Do you imagine getting the president to listen to reason, science, a huge swath of constituents would be easier with Trump or with Biden?
5. Environmental Concerns- Of course, the Green New Deal is a plan the far left wants, and it would be great if we could just circumvent those pesky democracy concerns and mandate it tomorrow. But in the meantime (until we have a leftist military coup and a socialist utopia enforced at gunpoint by an authoritarian regime), we have to work our ground game and SELL people the idea. And do you imagine that this will be easier with the candidate who has agreed that anthropogenic climate change is the existential crisis of our century and has said that getting back into the Paris Accords will happen on day one (but has some sobering concerns about how quickly fossil fuel economies can be shifted to renewables and how all this is going to get paid for)? Or do you imagine that this will be easier with the candidate that mocks anyone who says there’s a problem, has called climate change a political hoax as recently as this month (usually insinuating that it's China's doing), pulled us out of The Paris Accords, passes federal laws to undermine states trying to regulate the use of fossil fuels, and has made denial that it is even really an issue a PART OF HIS PLATFORM as well as spending four years deregulating SO much that pollution problems we spent decades fixing have already returned?
6. Anti-Racism- The reason Black Lives Matter was able to bring so much attention to racial disparities in the criminal justice system in the wake of George Floyd’s extrajudicial murder is because they (BLM) had been talking about the issue since the July 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. That’s seven years to start moving the needle on the national conversation. Now do you imagine that sort of progress is going to be easier under a regime that has its problems and needs to unpack some assumptions and challenge systems with racism baked in but that seems more willing every day to challenge a problematic past and be inclusive, or under the regime of the party telling BLM they’re a bunch of terrorists and anyone who doesn’t just let the police kill them can fuck off and die? In fact, we can see the different reactions to the 2020 protests in the candidates themselves. One is clearly a higher difficulty level.
7. Anti-Bigotry- Really the same thing goes for any anti-bigotry. Feminism? Trans liberation? LGBTQIA+ rights? Do you think that getting to where you want to be is going to be easier with a group who generally (except perhaps for its most conservative members) wants the same things but sometimes can’t find the political will to make it happen, or with the party that is overtly hostile to these folks and friendly to the folks who want to treat them as social pariahs and that practically has “Wink Wink Nudge Nudge” stamped on the legislation it passes allowing bigotry against such groups in the name of “religious freedom.” Do you imagine that the courts, where issues of civil rights and liberties are usually hashed out (rather than the legislature), are going to be more or less open minded under Republican appointees?
8. Body Autonomy- Do you imagine the body autonomy of people with uteruses is going to be more respected by the folks who (generally) consider the right to medical care to be sacrosanct and access and privacy surrounding family planning a basic medical human right, or by the party that is nakedly and transparently packing the court with anti-choice SCOTUS justices so that they can challenge Roe v. Wade piecemeal….or even whole cloth? The party who has made access to abortion a priority in the states they control or the one who has shut down Planned Parenthoods in the states THEY control?
9. Taxes Reform (The Real Kind)- Which party do you imagine is going to make it easier to pass a more progressive tax code? Which party would (in fact DOES) discuss taxing the rich at a greater rate and would make it easier to fund programs that help poorer folks? And would Trump or Biden veto the shit out of anything like that if it landed on their desk––making it that much harder to get done?
10. Social Issues- You see where this is going, right? You can fit almost any issue in here and ask yourself the same question. I don’t need to list them all. From immigration reform to labor rights to equality issues to early childhood education, they will have the same basic breakdown. Do you think you’re going to get more under a regime that drags its feet and won’t (or often can’t––because governing a pluralistic society is hard) get things done as well or quickly as the leftist line, or do you think you're going to get more under the regime of the group that is openly hostile and derisive to all those things? Anything from school lunches to kids in cages to SNAP benefits to regressive tax “reforms.” It’s all the same. Which party do you think is going to make it easier to achieve some concessions, achieve some progress, achieve SOME middle ground, and which party wants to pass laws going exactly the other way ALL the time and to make every single thing you might want to accomplish much much much more difficult? Even something relatively simple like taking a more nuanced look at Christopher Columbus and indigenous history, we can see which side is going to make it easier, and which side is going to make White House official statements that any such nuance is anathema to the “spirit of patriotism.”
11. Safety and Security- There is no question that our entire society and all on the political spectrum are hostile to certain marginalized communities, but one thing we’ve seen in the last four years is that while Democrats may not expend their political capital to make things better, Republicans can always, always, always, ALWAYS make them worse. Fucking always. Do you imagine a president who is openly, nakedly racist, refuses to condemn white supremacy or fringe conspiracy groups, and whose rhetoric encourages stochastic terrorism will make keeping folks (particularly marginalized folks) safe and secure easier or harder? Do you imagine folks for whom simply walking around has become difficult will be more likely to take chances putting their time and energy and money into all those leftist causes if they are spending more time just trying to make sure they and their family are getting by and safe and staying alive?
12. Health and Livelihood- The same goes for heath and livelihood. Possibly literally, as the gutting of the A.C.A. is absolutely on the ballot this year. Do you imagine people going through foreclosures because of medical bills or watching loved ones die are going to be more or less likely to have time and energy for a leftist mobilization? Do you imagine that lacking affordable health care or conversely being unable to miss a day of work because even REMOTELY affordable healthcare is coupled with employment would make it easier or harder on the average person?
13. Covid Response- Do you imagine we’re going to slow the body count that is directly affecting some of the most marginalized communities with a president who is ready to embrace national leadership, whose party has pushed for some serious stimulus, who personally takes the CDC guidelines seriously, or with the president who knew the truth and didn’t tell us, has actively hidden data that looks bad, yanked data from the CDC because they told him opening wasn't a gangbusters idea, who mocks basic medically recommended precautions as “living in fear,” and whose basic outlook on stimulus is, “Fuck you. It’ll ruin the Dow. Get your whiny asses back to work"?
14. Socialism- I know it’s a dirty word that conservatives are afraid of even though by calling everything socialism they demonstrate breathtakingly that they actually don’t understand what it even is. Many conservative voters even favor policies that are MORE socialist...as long as the word "socialism" is taken out of the description. But if we think of Capitalism vs. Socialism as a slider moving from left to right instead of a switch that is either on or off, which party do you think is going to make moving the slider to the left towards “socialism” easier? Which party already favors safety nets, social programs, expanding medicare, progressive tax structure, keeping social security funded, and increasing minimum wage? Which party hates ALL those things, has strategy memos about how to win a war of attrition against the New Deal, wants to go back to a flat tax, and will cut costs by privatizing health care, education, and even retirement? Which group has a higher difficulty level?
But hey. Maybe all this policy wonkery isn’t your style. Maybe you think taking to the streets and mobilizing and organizing is the key to change rather than getting your hands impure with all that mainstream politics. I might encourage anyone with such a belief to take a look around and notice how many of the U.S. proletariat’s deep-seated and very real concerns they are literally refusing to take political action on in pursuit of “loftier ideas” for which they want those exact same people’s support, but that’s a different article. Even if you don’t, strictly speaking, believe in "harm reduction," you can still turn down the difficulty level on what you ARE trying to accomplish.
15-Activism/Protest- Do you suppose there will be more or fewer people able to go to marches and protests and weekly meetings and write persuasive articles and give their time, energy, and money to a cause under the party that generally struggles for labor rights, health care, and accountability in law enforcement? Or do you suppose that you’ll get a lot more people who CAN’T participate, are afraid of the consequences, or can’t AFFORD to take a day off to take part in a march or something under the party that is openly hostile to all those things….well, at least when the left is doing them (seems like domestic terrorists invading capitol buildings in Michigan get a pass). Do you imagine that standing up and being counted (if you are a "mob" instead of a "militia," that is) will be easier or harder as the consequences increase for doing so?
16. Full-on Civil Unrest- Which party do you think is going to outlaw mass protesting or at least make certain kinds of protesting illegal? (You don’t have to imagine this. You can just look and see which party has already tried to pass exactly such legislation.) Which party is going to accelerate police brutality? (Again…which party HAS?) Which party is more likely to react to grievances in better faith? And if you do have police cracking down (via various work-arounds to the first amendment), which party will make peaceful assembly harder? Again, it’s not like there’s never been protests and/or police brutality under a Democrat. That’s absurd. But Trump has made it crystal clear that it’s going to be HARDER under him.
17. Finding (and Sharing) Quality Information- Do you imagine Donald Trump with his open contempt and hostility for the fourth estate, a history of coverups of everything from translators speaking about his sideline conversations with geopolitical enemies to his taxes to the dangers he knew about Covid way back in February, and shrill insistence that anything he doesn’t like must be “fake news” is going to make it easier or harder to access reliable information? You may not like the mainstream media and its corporate, GE/Comcast, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Warner Media monopolies on what news you even have access to, but do you imagine that things will be easier or harder under a regime that actively undermines the press at every turn? What about social media? Do you think it’s going to be easier to find reliable information on social media under the party that is instigating hearings into social media’s effects on democracy, or under the group that hired Cambridge Analytica, shrugs at Russian troll farm meddling, claims a "fact check" is censorship, and thinks that anyone with money should be able to spread just as many lies as they want without so much as a fact check?
18. Grassroots Movements/Parallel Infrastructure- Of Trump or Biden, which do you think would be more accepting of movements that build political power by doing what government ought to be doing, though at the community level; however who also do so with an activist/leftist bent? Which do you imagine will have federal agents who seize assets and shut programs down on technicalities? (Not because they actually did anything “wrong,” but because they were hotbeds of “radical antifa liberal” thought.) Which do you think will make it harder for such a group to influence policy? Which do you think will just make it simply HARDER to exist as such an organization?
19-Democracy (flawed though it may be)- We are a flawed democracy. That is a matter of fact. (Feel free to look it up. We're on the edge, but it's true.) We're more an oligarchy really and with profound disenfranchisement, particularly of marginalized groups. But which candidate has been encouraging voting? And which has openly said anti-democratic shit? Which party "gets out the vote!" and which party floats, writes, endorses, proposes, votes for, and fights the legal battles to maintain laws that disenfranchise voters (particularly CERTAIN voters)? Which party is more likely to use computers to gerrymander the SHIT out of states so that some votes literally count for less? Which candidate has said he won’t accept the election results? Which candidate has hinted around that he will want more than two terms (“My political opposition made me do it.”) Which party makes vox populi a higher difficulty level at every opportunity?
20. The Vaunted “Revolution”- I just want to take a moment to address the leftist elephant in the room: the “revolution” everyone seems so keen on. While I’ll laugh at a clever guillotine meme, and I understand the language of the unheard, people who have watched too many movies maybe don’t understand just how many people get killed (and which underclasses will take the brunt of these casualties) if folks try their hand against the greatest military in history on its home soil, and against a party that finds the Geneva conventions or the rules of engagement....constraining. If we do end up sparking a revolution under a Democratic regime, it is more likely to be a cultural metamorphosis. A huge tectonic shift in social norms and ideology. A "movement." We’ve seen what this looks like. Not without its civil unrest (I’m no credulous naïf), but perhaps without tanks in the streets and live ammunition. And we’ve already seen who militarizes and demands violence from the governors they don’t think are being heavy-handed enough. Which revolution do you imagine is going to have a higher difficulty level….(of even surviving, never mind of effectively changing anything)?
I could go on. This list isn’t even exhaustive. Leftists can’t get what they want out of U.S. mainstream politics, but the idea that the election outcome doesn’t matter is absurd. Just the great awareness of the coming shift in judicial outcomes is proof that elections matter.
Everything that someone who claims to be lefter than liberal (and I’m talking about those who go to great pains to make sure that everyone knows that liberals are too moderate and they don’t consider themselves to be one)…..
EVERY goal they have….
EVERY objective they’re trying to accomplish……
EVERY SINGLE THING they want to see in the world….
ALL OF IT will be easier under a Biden presidency. And so, so, so much harder under a smug-about-winning and likely unfathomably vengeful Donald Trump regime.