by Kevin Currie-Knight
I became eligible to vote when I turned 18, in 1995. I first cast a vote for President in 1996 (I can say with some shame that I voted for Ross Perot, a misguided protest vote). I’ve voted in every Presidential — and most other — election(s) ever since…. except this one. In 2020, maybe the most polarized election in recent history – I did not cast a vote for US President. I’d like to explain my thinking.
First, I should say that even though I generally vote, I am used to not voting for a major party candidate and the fallout this brings. I tend to vote either for the Libertarian candidate, sometimes the Green candidate, and other times Independents. For that, I am used to taking it on the chin from Republican- and Democrat-voting friends. I often joke that I have Schroedinger’s vote: whoever’s horse loses, I will be blamed for the loss. If a Republican won, I will be blamed by Democrat voters for not voting their way. If a Democrat won, the opposite. (Their error, of course, is to assume that but for my third-party- (or in this case non-) vote, I would have voted their way. That’s often a bad assumption.)
To put it bluntly, this election cycle has disgusted me, and I don’t use the term lightly. The first reason for my disgust is that if Biden and Trump are the best two candidates our democratic processes can produce for the highest political office in the US, that says something damning either about our democratic processes or their participants. I cannot shake the feeling that voting for either of them would be to embrace an insult. The closest I can liken it is to being told by a careless and cheap boss that they will pay for dinner, being offered two options of cheap and disgusting meals, and having your grudging consent to one of them be taken by this boss as a sign that you value their magnanimity. (“Look, I gave you a choice. And you chose!”)
But isn’t one of these candidates truly the lesser evil? This time, no, and here’s my second point of disgust with 2020’s election cycle. When we vote for a candidate (in winner-take-all elections), we vote for someone representing a wide bundle of policies. Trump and Biden have various stances on foreign, immigration, trade, and regulatory policies, a host of “social issues,” and so on. It may happen that one candidate does line up with someone’s bevy of preferences on all these issues. But my own views on different aspects of these bundles don’t easily align with contemporary “left” or “right” very well. Each candidate comes somewhat close to my own positions on some things, but diverges — in equally problematic ways — from me on others. I can also say that as the years have gone on, the major party candidates on offer have been increasingly distant from my own favored positions to the point that I cannot vote for either in good faith.
Nor can I vote, as I often do, for the third party candidates. As time goes on, I am becoming more irritated at the sophomoric level of quality here as well. (I think this is less because their quality has gotten worse, and more because as the quality of major party candidates nose-dives, I become more disappointed at third parties’ inability — or lack of desire? — to run credible alternatives.)
My third area of disgust is how polarized and partisan everyone seems to be around what seems to me thoroughly uninspiring choices. Recently, for instance, we learned that Joe Biden has received the most raw votes than any presidential candidate ever. I have only anecdotal evidence here, but of the many Biden voters I know or have listened to/read, I know of none who cast that vote for reasons other (or larger) than that Biden isn’t Trump. Also, the political rhetoric around Biden has been that 2020 is the year we all, more than ever, must vote Democrat. So, all the fuss and all these votes for a candidate whose biggest selling point is about what he isn’t (Trump) than anything he is? I hope you can see the disgust I glean from this.
But shouldn’t I still suck up my disgust and vote for … someone? I know a lot of folks seemingly as disaffected as I who nonetheless suck it up and vote for the least noxious horse. After all, they say, a President will be picked regardless of whether I vote or not.
First, I must remind these people of what I said above: from where I sit, neither Biden or Trump is the distinctly lesser evil. Of course, everyone is incredulous when I say that, but they are incredulous in predictably different directions. Those who are Biden Their Time© can’t believe that I can be so blind to the obvious fascism and racism of this Trumpster Fire.© Trumpsters, meanwhile, are equally incredulous that I would be so naïve about Biden; how he is the Trojan horse that will usher in socialism and critical race theory to America, surely spelling the death of The American Way.© It is hard for me to take either admonition seriously when both come with equal and opposing certitude and force. I feel like the atheist watching every religion and sect say with full and equal confidence that theirs is the only God, and if you can’t see it, you’re just blind.
My second response to “You must pick… somebody!” brings me to why I have tended not to vote for the lesser evil in the first place. One way to vote is strategically, and this is what folks tend to do when voting for the lesser evil. You may like candidate C, but you have reason to think that few others will vote for C and C can’t win. So, rather than “throw your vote away,” to strategize by voting for the most tolerable or least objectionable candidate you think has a shot.
The other way to vote — and the way I’ve always understood what I’m doing — is to give sincere voice and endorsement to the representative you want to represent you. If C loses, then your preferences just didn’t carry the day. But if you vote B (the lesser evil), you will actually have voted for the candidate you didn’t really want to represent you, and your vote will (inaccurately) be taken by B and everyone who sees your vote as an endorsement of B.
I can’t say the strategic way of voting is wrong. One candidate does have to win. In some way, voting operates as a coordination game (done under the non-ideal conditions of secret ballots), where we all collectively decide the winner. But voting is also fundamentally about picking who we want to represent us, and I cannot feel good about voting, say, against Trump and having that be counted as a vote for Biden (or vice versa). For if I did that and Biden won, I’d still ultimately lose as Biden simply doesn’t reflect my policy preferences in any meaningful way. (Nor does Trump.)
Being a frequent third-party voter (and now a non-voter) has sensitized me to this tension within the American voting process. If we vote strategically for the “good enough and electable,” we cheapen the very idea of voting as a way to select the leaders we want. And we run the very real possibility of gaining results that fail to reflect people’s actual values. If we vote sincerely for candidates we truly like without an eye toward strategic electability, many of us will consign ourselves to “throwing our votes away.” I prefer the latter, even though I understand the shortcomings of the approach. But alas; it is democracy’s problem, not mine.
There you have it, my reasons for not voting for President in 2020. In full disclosure, I am worried that if 2024 and beyond looks anything like 2020’s election cycle, I might be staying home even more. But my vote, like my dollar, has to be earned. I will not give it lightly. And it sickens me to see how little most people’s recent vote seemed to cost.
59 responses to “On Not Voting for the Lesser of Two Evils”
Several thoughts …
1) Trump is a mendacious liar; Biden is not. By failing to vote against Trump, you in effect acquiesce to his awfulness. That is certainly your right and privilege, but don’t expect others to laud you for your moral rectitude.
2) What we really need is a Ranked-Choice Voting system. That would allow you vote for your preferred candidate as first choice and the lesser of two evils for your second choice and have both votes count (assuming your first choice doesn’t win.)
3) What would also be beneficial is a system like Australia’s in which every citizen is required to vote.
Kevin, as you know — because we discussed it privately, at length — I disagree profoundly with this. But I think it is worthwhile airing my disagreements in public, and there are a few considerations that will be new to you, as I didn’t mention them when we talked.
1. I can understand not voting because the car broke down or the lines were too long to be able to stay etc., but I can’t understand not voting on purpose. At least not when one is a citizen of a participatory democracy, like we all are. Indeed, I don’t really understand what it is *to be* a citizen of a participatory democracy who doesn’t, well, *participate* in its most basic, fundamental functions. Sort of like someone who works in a kitchen but neither preps nor cooks nor cleans.
2. I find strange your complaint that neither candidates fit well into *your* political preferences. Why would or should they? With well over 150 million voters, candidates are challenged to appeal to tens upon tens of millions of voters’ preferences. Voting for whomever is more in one’s orbit is all that anyone can reasonably expect and is a feature of modern democratic politics, not a bug.
2a. I also would think that if among candidates that 150+ million of my compatriots found *something* to resonate with, neither “reflected my policy preferences in any meaningful way,” my main concern would be with why *my* preferences are so eccentric and out of touch, not with the 150+ million people or the candidates.
3. I won’t deny that it beggars the imagination how, in the middle of a deadly pandemic and serious social and civic unrest, anyone could fail to understand why we *cannot* have a Head of State who behaves as Donald Trump does.
4. Lurking under the surface is what strikes me as a very naïve, almost Platonic conception of politics, which entirely misunderstands the nature of the thing. What you call “strategic voting” is the only kind there is. Politics is *entirely* practical in nature: it’s purpose is to effect both the acquisition and implementation of political authority. It’s purpose is *not* to, as you put it, “give sincere voice and endorsement to the representative you want to represent you.” And it *certainly* is not to engage in value-messaging, in order that one’s worries that someone, somewhere will “see your vote as an endorsement of” whomever might be assuaged.
Shame on you (ok, just kidding).
I don’t agree with your choice. But I do agree that it is your choice and you are entitled to vote how you choose.
I’m inclined to think that your expectations are too high, and that’s why the election candidates never meet those expectations.
The most basic problem is that the majority of voters don’t have a clue. That is not new for 2020. That was always the case. I notice this when I am expected to vote for officers in a professional society, and in truth I usually don’t have a clue as to whom I should vote for.
One of the big problems with election systems is this: the requirements of the job of being an effective president are very different from the requirements for the job of being a persuasive candidate for election.
I have settled on three strategies for choosing the candidate for whom I will vote.
1: Vote for the candidate that I really like.
This was my choice in 2008 and 2012, when I voted for Obama. No, I didn’t think he was perfect, and I didn’t agree with all of his proposed policies. But he did seem to approach things with good judgement, so was a candidate that I could like.
2: Vote for the lesser of two evils.
This was my choice in 1992, when I held my nose and voted for Clinton. It was also my choice in 2000, when I voted for Al Gore, while resenting that there wasn’t a better choice available. And it was my way of choosing in 2016 when I really wanted somebody better than Hillary Clinton, but voted for her over Trump.
3: Throw the rascals out.
This is how I vote, when somebody has been so bad that I must vote against them, no matter how poor the other candidate. This was my strategy in 2006, when I voted for Judy Baar Topinka for governor of Illinois. The rascal was Rod Blagojevich, who I thought to have been thoroughly dishonest in his first term as governor.
And this was my choice in 2020, with Trump as the rascal to be thrown out.
I completely agree with you 2, and profoundly disagree with your 3. (Voting is not itself a moral act; voting WELL may be. But voting well requires a lot of information gathering and cognitive sifting, and I am quite sure not everyone has either the ability, willingness, or interest in doing it. Forcing folks who don’t wish to vote to vote doesn’t do anyone any good. In fact, there is no evidence that higher turn out yields better outcomes. Democracy works just fine if less people do it as more people).
As for 1, I agree that Trump is a mendacious liar, and I’d also say that he is an ass. (Interestingly, many conservatives I am close to agree with that as well. They just think there is a chasm between him a a personality and him actuating his presidential duties. They’d say that his persona doesn’t match at all his competence at fulfilling the actual roles of president. I disagree, but it is an interesting separation.) But that he is a mendacious ass doesn’t mean that I should therefore be willing to vote in a career politician who (remember his first prez campaign?) has exhibited himself an interesting capacity for lying, and whose policies I often don’t care for.)
And your logic doesn’t work. I did not vote. That means, in the most literal sense it can mean, that I did not support anyone. As for acquiescing to Trump with a non-vote, that assumes – wrongly, as it overlooks the entire point of an election – that the winner was already decided and therefore, not voting against that decided outcome is equivalent to acquiescing to it. I had no reason to think that Trump was just going to win, and hence, had no reason to see my lack of vote as acquescence to a pre-determined outcome.
Dan, and great conversation it was!
“I can understand not voting because the car broke down or the lines were too long to be able to stay etc., but I can’t understand not voting on purpose. At least not when one is a citizen of a participatory democracy, like we all are”
I still can’t get the force of your argument. First, it is not as if democracy breaks down if I, or folks who are ambivalent or don’t care to, don’t vote. There is no evidence that democracy gets worse results if it is left only to those who WANT to vote to choose leaders. (Diversity of perspectives may benefit the result, but that is unrelated to size of the voting population.) Second, the way I see it, being in a participatory democracy means at strongest that you CAN help decide your leaders, and I’m at a loss to see why it is a mandate that we MUST or we have some duty to help choose our leaders. Third, I literally didn’t vote because I am ambivalent and don’t see an option of a person I WANT to vote for. Not sure why, given that, you’d think it is still my duty to, I don’t know, flip a coin or choose whose first name I like best and vote that way? That seems irresponsible to me.
Oh, let me try something: “I can understand not starting a business because the car broke down or the lines were too long to be able to get your loan approved. But I can’t understand not starting a business on purpose. At least not when we live in a capitalist country that only works because people start businesses!” Doesn’t work.
“my main concern would be with why *my* preferences are so eccentric and out of touch, not with the 150+ million people or the candidates.”
It’s strange enough to say that my ambivalence is still not enough reason for me not to vote. But now, you seem to be arguing that what I should do is that, if my preferences don’t align with sizable swaths of the US population, I should probably change my preferences SO THAT I CAN NOW VOTE? Yes, I guess my prefernces are out of sync with most Americans’. But if voting is about people electing leaders by expressing their preferences for leaders, I am not sure why I should change my preferences so that I can vote.
“I won’t deny that it beggars the imagination how, in the middle of a deadly pandemic and serious social and civic unrest, anyone could fail to understand why we *cannot* have a Head of State who behaves as Donald Trump does. ”
At the risk of getting bogged down in nitty gritty politics, I guess I think dealing with a pandemic is a really, really complicated thing. There are a ton of trade-offs to take into consideration and any way you draw the line, bad things are likely going to happen in a country the size of (and as randy) as ours. Trump, for instance, is to be blamed for not coming out and honestly telling the American people about how horrible this thing was as early as possible. Doesn’t take much imagination to see that had Obama done that, we’d be making excuses about how he was so presidential he didn’t want to freak folks out. And I suspect Obama and Biden would be oodles better as figureheads during this pandemic. But I also think that going gung ho for new mandatory shut downs overlooks what Trump didn’t: the ravaging effect that would likely have on an economy where small businesses especially are already vulnderable.
In sum, I don’t like Trump in this area, but I suspect his badness (and Biden’s potential goodness) is being overstated because we want complex things to be simple.
“Lurking under the surface is what strikes me as a very naïve, almost Platonic conception of politics, which entirely misunderstands the nature of the thing. What you call “strategic voting” is the only kind there is. Politics is *entirely* practical in nature”
Like I said, I think the difficulty is democracy and how it issues competing demands. First, one thing we are supposed to find special about democracy is that it gives us all a chance to voice our preferences. But the second thing we are supposed to find grand about it is that those preferences will be totaled, aggregated, and turned into a winner. OF COURSE, given that, there are two ways to vote: one with more of an eye on strategy and the other with more of an ee on casting a vote for who you like of the available options. You might think the former option is naive, but I think your option – the goal is to pick a winner strategically – cheapens some aspect of what democracy is supposed to afford us, a voice (that can do something more than strategize).
I should also say, because I’ve thought about it more, your insistence that the only way to vote is strategically is probably reflective of the fact that we have a winner-take-all system. I suspect that your statement would read more fishy if we had a proportional representational parliamentary system, because that way, there is less burden to try and strategically get behind one candidate who will win the whole thing.
Maybe, of course, you would say “Yup, but winner-take-all IS the system we have, so strategically is the only way to go. until that changes.” My response, to be honest, is that you take this duty to vote way more seriously than I do. I vote my preference (or if I have no preference, don’t vote) and if I lose for not being strategic, I lose. My vote was never going to affect the overall total anyway, and had I voted strategically, I’d lose just as much (as the winner would STILL not represent me very well).
You keep appealing to whether there are negative outcomes of not voting or whether it is a duty in the moral sense, but that isn’t the point at all. Rather, the point is conveyed by my example of the person who works in the kitchen. I suspect the trouble may be that this simply is not a kind of thinking you engage in *at all* with regard to anything. But I do. I wonder what it *is* to be a citizen of the US. Just as I wonder what it *is* to be a parent; or to be a teacher. Indeed, what it is to be *any* of the things that matter to me.
This general observation probably applies to the rest too. After our lengthy conversation and then reading the piece, I wonder if we share enough initial assumptions and experiences to even productively discuss this. I just find your perceptions, judgments, and conceptions of the political enterprise and *how* and *why* we engage in it so eccentric, so at odds with my own experience of it, that most of my reactions are variations of incredulity; which, of course, is not an argument of any kind.
Like when you start talking about how “complicated” dealing with a pandemic is. That whole section where you go on and on about it … it’s just so spectacularly *irrelevant*. The point is that even a six year old understands that in an emergency, you can’t have a deranged lunatic in charge. It’s really *that* simple. And one could figure it out from a single example; that’s how egregious it is. (I’m thinking of the early days of the pandemic, when, during a press conference Trump bragged about banging models.) That you would think it complicated suggests to me that you just approach the entire subject from a point of view that I simply cannot adopt. Or that you have a perception of Trump that I don’t see how one could square with demonstrable, right-in-front-of-one’s-face reality.
I live in a country with proportional representation, and I vote strategically too. None of the parties represents me completely, and if there were a party that represented me completely, I wouldn’t vote for it because there wouldn’t be a chance in hell it would be part of the governing coalition. I vote for the best – or the least bad – option.
I made my first trip to the US in 1987. We visited New York, San Francisco, the national parks in California, Arizona etc. We also travelled through Georgia and South Carolina, and there I started to understand that places like NYC and the countryside of Georgia only formally are part of the same nation. They are (or were in 1987) on different planets. In some respects, Georgia and South Carolina were almost third-world countries. We’ve seen poverty that’s only comparable to what we saw when we visited Africa a few years later.
The idea that anyone can represent you and your political opinions during a presidential election in such a diverse nation is unreasonable. You’re expecting the impossible; of course you’re disappointed.
“I suspect the trouble may be that this simply is not a kind of thinking you engage in *at all* with regard to anything. But I do. I wonder what it *is* to be a citizen of the US. Just as I wonder what it *is* to be a parent; or to be a teacher. Indeed, what it is to be *any* of the things that matter to me.”
Yes, I think that we have VERY different ways of thinking here, and I am really enjoying engaging this discussion precisely so that I can try to get a handle on those differences.
I insist on talking about whether there are negative consequences to people deciding not to vote because it seems to me that to argue your point about some obligation to vote (even though I know you are reluctant about that term), you would HAVE to show that a rationale for that is the good consequences of doing it. I am having a hard time conceiving o a civic obligation (or something we should feel a duty to do) without the idea that the justification for that is that the practice leads to some good. And it is demonstrable that everyone deciding to vote doesn’t do any good that only some of us deciding to vote doesn’t do.
I am SURE I have something about your thinking wrong here, but I can’t quite get my finger on how you are thinking about this. Like in our private conversation you said something to the effect that I should feel a duty to vote even if I decide my vote by coin flip. I can’t see how that even remotely makes sense or has force. You can. Not sure how.
As for how I think of what is entailed in being a citizen, it is really strange for me to think a felt obligation to vote or participate in democracy is one necessary element (unless you can show me that there is something good it does for democracy for me to do this, and you can’t, because such findings don’t exist). If anything, I’d say that we have the ability – the right and maybe privliege – to do this, and if we want to help choose leaders, we are obligated to do so that way and not through other means. But I cannot feel any force to the idea that since I was born in a representative democracy, I should thereby feel compelled to actively participate, any more than I can feel the force of a similar argument that since I was born in a place where protest is important and matters, I should feel duty bound to protest any old random shit just so I can say I participated.
“This general observation probably applies to the rest too. After our lengthy conversation and then reading the piece, I wonder if we share enough initial assumptions and experiences to even productively discuss this.”
For my money, that is where I am finding the most profit in our discussion. I doubt we share enough common ground to be persuasive to the other. But I think what you are doing for me (and hopefully I to you) is pushing each other to articulate those very things that we may on our own have felt no need to articulate.
“The point is that even a six year old understands that in an emergency, you can’t have a deranged lunatic in charge. It’s really *that* simple.”
Don’t take offense here Dan, but this is exactly the type of response I get from each side of this thing. (For Biden-haters, it is “You can’t really let this thing be managed by a 78 year old clearly going through the initial stages of dementia!). At very least, both sides presentation of the thing in such stark terms – one one side, sound leadership and on the other, the worst incompetence you could imagine! – makes me suspicious both about whether they are treating their enemy with any charity (or attempt at it) and also, whether they are taking seriously the “meh” choice they have on the “other side.”
But I’ll also say this. You are treating the presidency as little more than a figurehead who we rally around or not, the person whose role is little more than to be the figure we look to as the head of our fine nation. But a look into our constitution tells us that the president does more than that – s/he signs bills into law, hires/fires a cabinet and figures in the administrative state, etc. And as I said in our private conversations, a few Trump supporters I’ve met make an interesting separation: yup, Donnie T. is an ass as a figurehead, but if you look at his actual policy decisions (at least they say), they are often quite measured and responsible. And rightly or wrongly, those folks care more about the latter than the former. On that (and only that) I agree with them: whether the president has made decent choices beyond his twitter feed and speeches IS absolutely relevant.
Wow! I’m continually amazed at the ignorance of very intelligent people such as yourself. How to be smug and self-satisfied, all by your little-old-lonesome, by voting third party. So above the fray -the slug-fest between the two parties. Purity over process! Meanwhile the U.S. is in a steep decline, while Totalitarian China is on the ascendent. I maintain that twenty years from now it will be obvious how Trump’s 2016 election and subsequent Presidency was the turning point, the beginning of the decline of American Power and influence. Trump has maintained his power and popularity by taking advantage of a vast eco-system of disinformation, following in the footsteps of Hitler, Putin, and Kim Il Sung. This eco-system is malevolent and mutating, with QAnon, the black hole of conspiracy theories, swallowing all the other theories into a convenient one-size-fits-all apocalypse. The word “Fascism” doesn’t even begin to describe what is now slouching towards Bethlehem. Orwell’s 1984 comes the closest, but the internet has accelerated this whole mess via warp speed. We are standing on the edge of an abyss. I can see it and feel it, and I see it as my duty to warn others of this existential danger to our civilization. Go ahead and dream about your pure libertarian philosophy while the world burns around you!
This is absolutely facile.
1. Biden was pro the Iraq war. By voting for him you in effect acquiesce to his awfulness. That is certainly your right and privilege, but don’t expect others to laud you for your moral rectitude.
2. Go look up Arrow’s Theorem. Ranked choice voting system (which exist in Australia) are very easy to game in favour of the incumbent.
3. Go study some political science. Non voters are polled as well and they display the same statistical preferences as voters. Oh… and do you actually know who Australia’s Prime Ministers have been?
I quite enjoyed this article overall. The pragmatic take on politics struck me as refreshing in this time of silly moral absolutes. Here are some thoughts that your article left me with.
1. People have the naive view that they live in a direct democracy where every vote matters. The truth is that most of us live in representative democracies where only the votes of swing voters in marginal constituencies matter. If voting for a third party is a ‘waste of a vote’ then why is not voting in a constituency where you have no way of displacing the incumbent also not a ‘waste of a vote’?
2. Where does this fantasy of seeing politics as a winner take all sport come from? Maybe it’s because I live in a parliamentary democracy that this feels strange to me. I have many times seen an opposition party push through legislation. Often just having an opposition moderates the ruling party’s actions.
3. I find it amusing the importance people place on a single National election once every few years, but the same people often take no interest in the multitude of local and regional elections happening all the time. I wonder if it’s due to a cognitive dysfunction that views politicians as leaders rather than representatives. Real-world politics is neither top-down nor bottom-up but has components of both. It’s possible to create effective change locally without worrying about whether Tweedledum or Tweedledee is POTUS.
I’ll leave it at that for the time being though I am curious as to how this whole discussion will go…
“his actual policy decisions (at least they say), they are often quite measured and responsible”. I think this is disingenuous, since you actually have your own policy preferences. Even if you were President, you would still have to compromise about which goals you could achieve.
The Australian “compulsory voting” system, where I live, actually only requires one to complete a ballot – plenty of people still vote “none of the above” even in our (ranked) preferential system. Many have pointed out that the winner in a preferential system is the “least disliked”.
I wrote in Assange/Manning. I figured they had the guts to look the Beast in the eye and not blink.
I see it as strategic, rather than tactical. Just because the mob is nailing you to the cross, making you drink the hemlock, burning you at the stake, locking you up and throwing away the key, doesn’t make you a loser.
For those of us with some actual sense of history, this situation is terminal and it is necessary to start looking beyond it.
Here is a essay I wrote on medium, still in draft, because the publication I submitted it to hasn’t responded yet;
Thank you Kevin, this is an interesting take on things. And it lead to a lively discussion. My problem is that you reproduce an attitude towards voting (and politics) which is too passive for my taste, but which is widespread. Paul Ricoeur writes: “we ought simultaneously to improve the political institution in the direction of greater rationality and to exercise vigilance against the abuse of power inherent in State power”. (Ricoeur: Political and Social Essays, p. 209f). Domination (i.e. political power) needs to be under the control of power-in-common of the citizenship. What I like about Ricoeur is the idea that politics requires political activism from the citizens – see Black Lives Matter. Voting is not all there is to living in a political community. We need actively to scrutinise and challenge the exercise of power. We need to become involved, beyond voting. Some, like us, write, others demonstrate, etc. This is something that needs to be instilled from early on (education), and ideally by example.
You might give the impression that if you don’t feel represented, then there is no point in voting and no point in getting involved in politics. I suspect that this is not your position.
Just wanted to pick up on something Dan said: “Sort of like someone who works in a kitchen but neither preps nor cooks nor cleans”.
Except in this analogy, if the kitchen is supposed to represent Congress or Parliament, none of us ordinary citizens actually work in the kitchen, only politicians do. We don’t prep the resolutions, stir the committees, or cook up legislation. That’s what we elect legislators for. We the public are actually sitting in the dining room of the restaurant because we heard the food was better since they hired a new chef named Joe Biden (former sous chef under Obama). And since there are only two full menu restaurants in town, both owned by the same wealthy investors (i.e. Wall Street, Pharma, oil industry, Silicon Valley, and other mega donors, etc,), we essentially have only two main choices — the only other places to eat being a couple of food trucks (i.e. third parties). When one of the restaurants isn’t doing well, the owners shut it down for four years while they pour money into the other one. Speaking of which, the other restaurant recently closed after its chef Donald Trump proved to be incompetent. Turns out he had no knife skills (due to his tiny hands), no taste palette, refused to allow immigrants to eat there, tried to build a wall around the open kitchen, thought all the customers and food critics were wrong about the lousy food, kept firing most of his staff, the rest of his staff were indicted, hired his sons and daughter to work the bar, constantly lied about the ingredients, had repeated health code violations, and most egregiously, poisoned 250,000 customers. Apparently, he thought salmonella was a Chinese hoax.
Our waiter (congressional candidate) comes around to our table, asks us what we want, and takes our order. We order off the prix fixe menu of policies, and hope for the best. The menu is often quite extensive and the down ballot choices can help make the voting/dining experience more memorable. This year, however, Biden’s Cafe is only offering a very short tasting menu, promising nothing bold. Such is the way with older chefs. But if he wants to earn a second term (Michelin star), he’ll need to get creative. Now if our favorite waiter wins our district, he/she can help us with our whine pairings, such as a deep red cabernet to signify deficit spending, or a dry pinot grigio to go with something fishy in a Justice appointment. The one thing we can’t do no matter how awful the food is, is send it back. We can try to impeach the chef, but that’s usually futile. All we can do is complain to our waiter.
Out of curiosity, was wondering if Dan won any bets this election cycle?
Thankfully, this time I lost.
Clever touch-up on Dan’s analogy, and I think rather apt.
But then, isn’t Kevin’s position rather like Bartleby the Scrivener as restaurant customer?
“What would you like to order, sir?”
“I would rather not.”
I seem to recall Bartleby starving to death at the end of it….
Dear Kevin, I enjoyed reading your provocative piece and it has certainly performed its task of generating healthy debate. You seem to belong to the ‘A Plague on Both Your Houses’ Party – a party that most of us, at times, have felt like joining! . However, much of the persuasiveness of this argument is only possible because you say nothing at all specific about your own points of disagreement with T & B. Not supplying this information leaves us with an over-generalized debate about principles – leading to what I think Wittgenstein had in mind when he speaks of ‘language going on holiday’. Therefore, the only conclusion that I think we can draw from your argument as it stands, in the absence of any reference to your specific political dilemmas over this specific election, is that it would require an impossibly idealized world to get you to vote.
I don’t think the restaurant analogy is analogous in any real way.
“What would you like to order, sir?”
“What are the options?”
“We have x and y. Those are the two choices. Feel free to choose one.”
“I don’t really like either of those. Not at all appetizing. Thanks for your time. I’ll just make something at home.”
“How dare you shirk your duty as a restaurant customer?!”
First, I choose to go to a restaurant. And even if I didn’t – say that I am forced to use that restaurant to get food because it is the only food source in my area – I don’t see why my happening to be in that situation imposes any moral obligation on me to order its food if I think I can get food in other ways and don’t find its food appetizing.
There is one and only one way the restaurant analogy could help make what I think Dan’s case is: I might have some sort of duty/obligation/etc to buy from a restaurant because there is some duty to keep the restaurant afloat and the fewer people buy there, the worse the restaurant does. That, of course, is not at all how democracy works: however few or many people decide to vote literally doesn’t affect the efficacy of democracy at choosing leaders in the slightest.
“You might give the impression that if you don’t feel represented, then there is no point in voting and no point in getting involved in politics. I suspect that this is not your position.”
You’re right; it’s not. In fact, there are very few times I’ve felt that candidates – especially mainstream ones – have aligned with my values and preferences. But I am still quite into and attentive about politics. I would even say that my third party votes have at least some strategic element: my hope has been that the more visible votes there are for third-party candidates, the more attention those parties may get in the future and the more major parties, if they want those votes, might strategize accordingly.
You also said something interesting and that I agree with in the previous paragraph: “the idea that politics requires political activism from the citizens – see Black Lives Matter. Voting is not all there is to living in a political community. We need actively to scrutinise and challenge the exercise of power. We need to become involved, beyond voting.” One thing that bugs me about so much attention on voting is that there are a lot of better ways to affect change. By the numbers, your chance of affecting change by your vote is only a hair more than nil. I like to say that i’d have a better chance of affecting the vote totals by standing outside of voting centers and passing out flyers in support of my candidate. In the amount of time it would take me to cast one ballot, I could possibly change a few others’ votes. And if we take a wider view of the political good, I’d be better off spending that time volunteering somewhere, canvassing neighborhoods for good causes, etc.
I disagree with you in several areas. I regret that what you detected was smugness. I was quite pissed off when I wrote this, and throughout a lot of the election cycle, precisely because I generally do vote and couldn’t see a viable way to do it. My last straw, in fact, was that I wanted to pencil in Andrew Yang or possibly Tulsi Gabbard, only to find out that those two are not eligible to receive write-in votes in NC. That means that in the most literal sense possible, my writing them in would be a throw-away vote, as it would appear on no NC records of the 2020 election, wouldn’t be counted toward anything, etc.
As for Trump as the turning point, I disagree with that too. First, I think George W. Bush was almost certainly the turning point if we look back, the point where America became drastically different, paving the way for Obama (who essentially continued all of Bush’s foreign policy, oversaw the expansion of mass surveillance programs and a ballooning of what we now call the deep state), etc. I think Trump is a symptom of many problems to do with media, governance, etc, but I do not think he is the cause of them. Nor do I think Trump being out of office will actually change much because the problem wasn’t him, but those other features. (You can even look at Trump’s very bad immigration policies. As bad as they were, they weren’t MUCH different from Obama’s. The big difference was that families were separated. But aside from that, Obama’s foreign policy was just as restrictive. The media was chummy with him and he seemed very stately, so we all gave him a free pass and agreed not to look too hard. No reason I see to think Biden will be different.)
As for my so-called purity bearing some sort of blame for where we are today, I think the opposite. Everyone every four years shouts enthusiastically that we must vote the lesser evil this time; next time we can go back to being idealistic. Only next time never comes. And what happens when we consitently vote the lesser evil? Candidates get worse and worse. Until we get an unhinged reality tv star and the best candidate we can think of to replace him is a 78 year old going through at best the normal state of cognitive decline you’d expect and has few stated positions on anything and a history of going wherever the winds blow. THAT was a result of consistently voting the lesser evil; they keep getting worse, and we keep voting for the best of the worst.
I keep thinking about some stuff Dan said above: “I can’t understand not voting on purpose. At least not when one is a citizen of a participatory democracy, like we all are. Indeed, I don’t really understand what it is *to be* a citizen of a participatory democracy who doesn’t, well, *participate* in its most basic, fundamental functions.”
I think Dan would say that we are citizens of participatory (really, representative) democracies and that as such, citizens should feel an obligation to participate in the mechanisms and channels that our government operates on. This is strange to me, and I am struggling to articulate why. But here are two examples that I think are analogous and SHOULD at least get you to a somewhat different conclusion than Dan’s.
You get hired by a company. This company really values employee input and tells you that, as such, it has a program where every week, it sends out a request to solicit ideas about how the company can be improved, new products or markets to pursue, etc. But it tells you that this is not obligatory. It’s just that if you have an idea, they want to hear it, and the more participation – the more ideas tossed into that ring – the more the company thinks it can improve.
You have no ideas one week. Should you participate? I say no, for a similar reason to why I think you shouldn’t vote just to vote if there are no candidates you think would be good representatives.
Second: we live in a country that has a proud tradition of protest, so much so that it guarantees this right in its constitution. The more people are willing to protest, the more positive change seems to get affected.
Does that fact mean that everyone should. feel an obligation to protest at least once every four years? I say no, because the quality of protests depends not just on whether they happen and how many bodies are involved, but whether the thing protested is a matter of conviction for the bodies involved.
The Scottish comedian Billy Connolly is credited with the quote, “Don’t vote. It only encourages them.” A joke, and yet . . .
Both of the major political parties have amply demonstrated their inability or unwillingness to nominate any but knaves and fools. As the candidates offered by the two major parties become increasingly objectionable, is there no point at which both may be considered unacceptable?
The case for Trump’s unacceptability is too familiar to repeat. As for Biden—suffice it to say he was rejected in prior years for good reasons, even before he collected a credible claim of sexual assault. Despite his election, however, the more fundamental objection to Biden is his obvious and significant cognitive decline—not the residuum of a stutter, but visible confusion, inability to complete thoughts, and loss of focus. Not always, but regularly enough to be cause for concern, particularly as decline may be slowed but not reversed, and the rate of decline cannot be predicted.
Those who dismiss the issue by reference to the provisions of section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment—for involuntary removal of the president by the vice-president and the cabinet—are seldom familiar with either the Twenty-Fifth Amendment or with politics, but, as there has never been an involuntary removal under section 4, the opportunities for such a process to become a political debacle are amplified and multiplied, and neither political party has shown the least scruple over prejudicing the interests of the United States and its citizens for its own partisan purposes.
If both of the major-party candidates are unacceptable, is the alternative to abstain? Flip a coin? The Dems and Reps read the details of presidential elections with Talmudic care and astuteness. A principled abstention from voting genuinely is discarding one’s vote, because in such post-election analyses, it is indistinguishable from a merely apathetic non-voter. A more reasonable and principled strategy may be a third-party vote, not for the election of such a candidate, but rather to increase the rate of voter migration from the Dems and Reps as an incentive (and warning) to the major parties regarding the quality of their candidates.
No one can credibly argue that the current nominating processes, having produced Trump, Biden, and Hillary Clinton, are in no need of reform. Those processes, and the two major parties’ ability and willingness to manipulate those processes, create the circumstances that end in the voting booth with the voter cursing the choices.
As another commenter has noted, in the example given regarding “participation,” perhaps the two major parties are better cast in the roles of the kitchen personnel. The voter is the diner—one with the ability to send bad dishes back.
I’m confused about this:
> the quality of protests depends not just on whether they happen and how many bodies are involved, but whether the thing protested is a matter of conviction for the bodies involved.
What do you mean by “quality” here? Please give examples of high-quality protests and low-quality protests.
Compare two examples:
A) A protest is attended by a great many people, but few of them have strongly held convictions about the issue being protested and are there only because lots of others are. Lawmakers nevertheless make the desired policy changes.
B) A protest is attended by very few people, but all of them have strongly held convictions about the issue being protested. Lawmakers ignore the protest and make no policy changes.
Which protest is of higher quality?
> an unhinged reality TV star and … a 78 year old going through at best the normal state of cognitive decline you’d expect ….
Look at the quality of the staff and administrators each will appoint. I expect that Biden’s administration will be far more capable than Trump’s has been.
Rather than try to respond to everything and everyone specifically, I’m just going to follow up on my remarks here.
First, a number of you have run off to the races with my restaurant metaphor, missing the point entirely. I was not offering an argument or an analogy that was supposed to stand in for an argument that would justify the claim that Kevin is *wrong* for not voting and that he *ought* to have voted. Yes, I used the language of civil obligation in my private exchanges with Kevin, but it was more for lack of a better expression than it was meant to be taken literally. I don’t think Kevin should be forced or otherwise made to vote, and I don’t think he should suffer social sanction for failing to do so. So the question of obligation is really not what this is about.
I was simply trying to express a sense of bewilderment at the thought of a person who is a citizen in a participatory democracy, yet who refuses to engage in its most fundamental activity. If the restaurant metaphor is inapt, I’m happy to replace it with another one. I’m not wedded to it.
Now, surely, “engaging in the fundamental activities of X” is not *necessary* in some philosophical sense, for *being* X. That was never the point. It’s more like “barring some extraordinary circumstances, one would be a very strange sort of X, if one refused to engage in the most fundamental activities of X’s.”
And this brings us to the meat of the issue and to my dear friend Nick McAdoo’s point, which really gets to the heart of what I was saying much better than what I wrote. You’ve said nothing to provide evidence of such extraordinary circumstances. Rather, what you’ve done is point out some mundane, common, everyday, pretty-much-every-fucking-election-for-*someone* characteristics of elections. That you think these *do* provide such evidence either suggests ignorance regarding what kinds of things modern elections in modern democracies are or indicates a substantial overestimation of the importance of you getting what you want in a candidate.
Donald Trump is, of course, extraordinary, and in all the ways that make his removal an obvious practical necessity. I appreciate your efforts at a “both sides say that” move, but this equivocation only adds to the impression that you really don’t understand American politics at all. Not everything is a matter of opinion and not every reaction you get from an interlocutor is equivalent to every other. Each must be considered in its particularity and judged on its individual merits. They are not abstractions that can be swapped around like philosophical chits. Joe Biden is *demonstrably*, by every reasonable, educated, historically-aware measure, a very standard, ordinary, mainstream American politician. Indeed, this mundanity is precisely what the progressive, Woke faction of the Democratic party so disliked about him.
That such an ordinary, common American politician is so off-putting to you that you cannot bring yourself to vote for him, and *especially* when his defeat means retaining in office a person so demonstrably and spectacularly unfit to be the head of state of a great nation and *especially* at a time of two national (and to a degree international) emergencies suggests that you are of a very extreme and eccentric political orientation, which is why I said that in such circumstances, I would wonder about myself, rather than about the 150+ million other people or the candidates.
And that’s really all I was getting at. It is interesting to see the process that led you to decide not to vote, but the considerations you point to as being responsible for bringing you to that point really don’t tell us anything that can be generalized beyond your own highly idiosyncratic — and in my view, confused — case. As biography and psychology, the story is fascinating. But as political philosophy or even politics itself, it fails to yield much by way of useful insight.
‘Now, surely, “engaging in the fundamental activities of X” is not *necessary* in some philosophical sense, for *being* X. That was never the point. It’s more like “barring some extraordinary circumstances, one would be a very strange sort of X, if one refused to engage in the most fundamental activities of X’s.”’
Okay, this may help clarify some of what we MIGHT be disagreeing over. I don’t see democratic processes as that terribly central to the functioning of the United States overall. I see it as a thing we do every few years as the way we’ve decided our leaders will be selected. But almost all of my time in the United States is spent doing stuff whose only connection to democracy is loose (as an understatement). AND it is not like the United States was founded and we said “We shall institute democracy because it is the spirit of this great nation!” We said, “We shall institute a type of democracy because we think it will be a better way to choose leaders than other alternatives.” If the former were what we did, I think you’d have a stronger case: if democracy is in some way the spirit or core of who we are, my not participating would amount to refusing that core. But since what we did was the latter, I think I am fully okay declining to be part of that governance process THAT WORKS AS WELL WITHOUT MY PARTICIPATION.
“You’ve said nothing to provide evidence of such extraordinary circumstances. Rather, what you’ve done is point out some mundane, common, everyday, pretty-much-every-fucking-election-for-*someone* characteristics of elections. That you think these *do* provide such evidence either suggests ignorance regarding what kinds of things modern elections in modern democracies are or indicates a substantial overestimation of the importance of you getting what you want in a candidate.”
Not sure I understand what you refer to with “or such extraordinary circumstances.” I suspect what you mean is that this election is the momentous one and I’m treating it as ho-hum. I have no idea what else I can say except that refusing to choose between two options does not itself indicate being ho-hum. Part of this is that I do not, as you do, see Trump as the cause of what ails the US, but if anything, a symptom. My fear is that you will all cheer alleviating the symtom as if what we’ve done is alleviated the causes, and because of that, will miss the entire mark. (We call the tendency toward fundamental attributions an error for a reason.)
The other thing I should say here is that I find interesting the chasm between your enthusiasm about democracy as this thing so grand that all citizens should feel a duty towards it and your insistence that if I think democracy means actually having the possibility of “getting what you want in a candidate” I am naive! They seem so opposed to me. If no more can be said for democracy than that every few years we get an opportunity to cast a vote between two shitty leaders that will be aggregated into a final appointment, that doesn’t seem the type of thing that justifies the enthusiasm you are showing. Or the shock that I’d – one time! – not want to participate in such a wonderful exercise!
“And that’s really all I was getting at. It is interesting to see the process that led you to decide not to vote, but the considerations you point to as being responsible for bringing you to that point really don’t tell us anything that can be generalized beyond your own highly idiosyncratic — and in my view, confused — case. As biography and psychology, the story is fascinating. But as political philosophy or even politics itself, it fails to yield much by way of useful insight.”
And I was not shooting for that latter thing. Lest you think you just missed the part where I concluded with reasons why I think this is a sweepingly genrealizable argument that should apply to all, I assure you that your eyes are fine. I didn’t write that part. Because I didn’t mean that part.
Sorry to post so much here, y’all. But I’m really enjoying the discussion, and it has me thinking lots of ticklish thoughts.
First, I really really really want to clarify something: I am NOT particularly interested in defending Trump, and maybe because of the venue, it probably seems like I am doing more than my share of Trump-defense. I didn’t vote for him, twice. For a reason. For many reasons: immigration policy, trade policy, him being a general ass, several points at which he had the opportunity (as maybe Obama would have) to really unite folks and used them to dig wedges even further, his nods to the alt-right, among others. AND I assure you that in an alternative universe where this were published at the Conservative Agora or Electric Populist, I’d be coming off just as hard as a Biden supporter.
Second, for anyone who is wondering how someone who is anything but an alt-right or conservative populist could refuse voting Biden, here is an interesting take by Matt Taibbi. Matt does well to point out that Obama did, and Biden probably will do, little more than perpetuate all the noxious Bush doctrines regarding foreign policy, is very unlikely to bring about substantive criminal justice reform, etc. I know, I know; we can’t always (or ever, it seems) vote for anyone other than the least horrible, and expecting anything but voting that was is an afront to democracy (cue “America the Beautiful”), but I just cannot see why anyone with interests in ending wars, not perpetuating new ones, creating a less restrictive immigration policy, criminal justice reform, etc can really think that it matters terribly if we get Trump out because Biden will now be in.
(If we aren’t allowed to post links, see the clip in question at youtube by looking up “Matt Taibbi dangerous moment democratic party.”
I can appreciate that, and that this omission is potentially problematic for my case. Dan and I talked for a bit about whether I should include it (and initially, I had a paragraph on it as a footnote). But I think the consensus was that the piece should not be a nitty-gritty rundown of the candidates, as that would be too pedestrian. But yes, I can see where that omission makes my case all the harder to either understand or be persuaded fully by.
I’ll say this; I like very little about Trump save for his penchant for deregulating industry and the fact that he’s the first prez in a long time not to start new wars; and I like nothing at all about Biden. (That’s a small difference, though.) So, what I dislike about Trump is his ass-ness, his immigration policy (which is not that different from Obama’s save for separating families instead of just locking them in detention centers together prior to deportation), and his tariff and trade policies towards China especially. I would like that he cut taxes, but for the fact that he forgot to balance them – as every president after Clinton has forgotten – with spending cuts. What I dislike (rather than being ‘meh’ about) about Biden is his insistence on raising taxes in at least 12 ways (and making a tax scheme TOO progressive can have really bad disincentives for those bound by them), the fact that he seems to see the solution to every problem as putting more money into existing programs rather than trying to reform or redesign them, and how he’s been on the worst-kind-of-law-and-order side of every criminal justice reform initiative that he’s seen since the 1990’s. I also have no reason to think that he will do anything on foreign policy different than Obama did, which is in effect a re-perpetuation of the Bush doctrine. In fact, a recent story I saw had a headline where Biden was telling all the big heads of state the “America is back!” and I’d like to think I don’t know what he means but fear I kind of do.
Again, my intent isn’t to get bogged down in policy with this articulation. It is to illustrate WHY I really do think these two candidates suck pretty uniquely and pretty equally (though in different ways). And I get Dan and others’ points about how at least Biden is stately and presidential. But while that is good in some ways, it is bad in others, as it means the press won’t scrutinize him the way they (aptly) did with Trump. As a recent meme says, what we think will happen is ‘at last, no more kids in cages.” What is more likely to happen is “At last, no more media coverage of kids in cages.” IF the latter were to happen, Biden’s presidently-ness would be a negative, not a positive.
Oh, I left that vague because I didn’t want to go there and didn’t see the clarification as affecting my case. Let’s just assume that whatever you, dear reader, think is the sign or indication of a good protest is in fact a good protest. And let’s say that I live in a country that believes that the more good protests we have, the more our political system will benefit. Does that obligate me to feel guilty for not protesting things or feel like my not protesting things indicates a coming up short in fulfilling my role as citizen?
(The only way I can see a ‘yes’ answer to that question is IF there are things I really believe are wrong with the existing system that a protest would likely help fix or at least draw attention to. If I’m a typical person – even a typical citizen – who really doesn’t see anything that sticks in my craw enough to make me want to (undergo the costs of) protest, I can’t see how that makes me a worse citizen.)
Your characterization of the emotional tone and resonances of the various commitments you assign to me is pretty far off. It *could* be because I was catastrophically unclear in the way I presented my attitudes in this area, but I don’t think so. Also, you’re perceived opposition at the end is nothing of the sort. At least not in any logical sense (or emotive one, for that matter).
You persist in failing to recognize that in the American system, with the exception of foreign policy, the President’s primary role is as a representation of the nation; a role that in a Constitutional Monarchy would be played by the sovereign. Consequently, that he behaves like a low-tier mafioso and shit-talks like a middle schooler and is derelict in rudimentary, fundamental duties — like doing everything he can to maintain public morale during a deadly pandemic and serious civil unrest — is *everything*, not the inconsequential thing you make it out to be.
Anyway, I suspect that succeeding rounds, here, will yield diminishing returns, so maybe we should leave it to the live conversation we are going to do on this for BloggingHeads.
One more thing: I would maintain that Trump’s behavior, now that he has lost the election, is further confirmation of my characterization of him as having been unfit for office and thus, as it having being incumbent upon *any* citizen who cares about the well-being of the country and who is *not* in a coma to have not just voted in the election, but to have voted *against* Trump.
you seem to think that there is no ‘moral’ obligation to vote, yet there is a ‘moral’ obligation to only vote for a representative of one’s own political aspirations.
I don’t believe morality has anything to do with this discussion. The ‘civic duty’ to vote is a construct of the social contract; consequently, there is no moral or legal impulsion to vote, but there are consequences of failing to live up to one’s contractual obligation. One essentially becomes a passive observer of the political process, and whatever benefits are realized from mere citizenship are largely gifts in legacy to one’s birth.
Between the ages of 18 and 25, I never voted. I was first a Yippie, then an Anglophile punk rocker, then a staunch Emma Goldman quoting Anarchist. I was convinced that either the system would topple from the corrupt top down, or that the growing detachment of people like me would reveal the government as largely an unpopular joke. Neither of these events transpired. Instead, America took a radical right turn with Ronald Reagan, and when it was clear that most Americans approved of his wholly illegitimate war in Granada – and there were other events that washed over a generally unconcerned electorate – it became clear to me that my reading of the political scene was entirely mistaken. Although this will sound somewhat like bravado, by 1984 I was warning people that this turn rightward would eventually lead to some phenomenon like Donald Trump.
But by the late ’80s it was also becoming clear that the leftists I had aligned myself with as an Anarchist were essentially jumping off a cliff into irrelevance, leaving them powerless to make any cohesive case to American voters. America may be a misogynist, racist, monopoly-capital oligarchy – I sometimes am pretty sure of it – but that doesn’t mean that well-motivated rhetoric cannot sway voters towards better rather than worse choices in an election.
I remember that by 1992, I had adopted my current persuasion – rather whimsically, in the climate, as a New deal Democrat – but I had also come to think that Chomsky was probably right that Washington was inhabited by two factions of a “Businessman’s Party,” and that the two party system was largely illusory. Nonetheless I campaigned for Clinton. As I told more perceptive friends, it was precisely because the “two party” illusion is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of a stable politics in America. Indeed, as things fall apart with and after Trump, this is partly because some partisans of the two parties are convinced that whatever is the opposite party must be crushed, wiped from existence. That leads to civil war, not politics. (It’s the Hobbes in me that needs to remember that always.)
The implication of the essay I wrote, Basket of Deplorables, is that it is quite possible the American experiment in representative democracy has simply failed. I don’t have a solution to that, nor do I know what this failure will look like in exact detail. Certainly it may still involve Trump and happen very soon. If it does, and as it does, one has every right (if ‘right’ is a meaningful term without some constitution) to take to the hills and tend one’s garden, as Roman farmers did as barbarians tore down their city. But I am grown weary of the ideal of the ‘clean and perfected politics of the sacred vote.’ I think Taibbi is largely correct – but he has earned that by participating in the public conversation concerning such matters. That’s part of the social contract. We’re here to play what is often a dirty game. So what? I look back on my non-voting, non-participatory years and consider them wasted time, politically. I could have done so much more. Would that have effected anything; no; but at least I would not be left wondering where I would be, had I participated.
I suggest you read Bartleby the Scrivener – or again, if you already have, more carefully. Bartleby’s sickness is that there is something about the mundane and everyday that just turns him off so much that he finally refuses to participate in anything at all.
When William Burroughs was asked what he meant by the term “naked lunch,” which he used as a title to one of his books, he replied, “it’s the moment you realize what is at the end of everybody’s fork.” No matter what one eats, it’s a dead thing; and if one looks closely at it, it can be seem monstrous and ugly. But – we eat it anyway.
I am reminded here of Hegel’s criticisms of “The Beautiful Soul,” the moment in the dialectic (in the Phenomenology) when consciousness at lasts achieves a true sense of virtue, and then withdraws to protect that sense by refusing to engage the often conflictive experience of social activity. It’s virtue without action, and hence remains mere hypothesis. At some point, in order to move forward, one has to dive into the social world just as it is. A world where one can only choose a restaurant, and one can’t get home at all.
Here’s my problem with your attitude, Kevin. You don’t recognize the significance and importance of Trump. First, that such a malevolent incompetent could get elected in the first place. And how a major party could pave the way for it – (that’s another story!) Second, how the so-called “checks and balances” could completely fall by the wayside, ie. be so impotent, right in the greatest time of need, while Trump was and is egregiously abusing his powers as President. Third, the ominous quality of his decisions and behaviour – encouraging cruelty against refugees and immigrants, sucking up to murderous dictators, insulting allies, trashing alliances, opening the floodgates to corruption, approving tax breaks for billionaires and trying to get rid of the food stamp program in the midst of a pandemic, and pushing for the abolishment of Obama-care during a pandemic, and actually making a pandemic worse by contradicting public health experts and giving truly dangerous advice, while doing actually less than nothing to coordinate or lead a response to the pandemic. I could go on, but I don’t have the time, nor do I wish to try your patience. I’ll try to condense it all in a few principles if I may. Libertarians are purists who stand above the political fray, believing in a minimal state and maximization of personal freedoms. But reality is messy. In reality, societies are very large and complex and growing ever larger (although the opposite, where societies grow smaller and less complex, eg. die out, is also possible) Large size and complexity entail that problems generated will also be larger, hence the need for government to grow in size in order to deal with the growing size of problems. Suppose you do shrink government down, or do what amounts to the same thing – allow government to stay in gridlock and do nothing in the face of crisis and social problems. There will be people who will suffer because of this. But being a Libertarian, you will not be moved by this suffering because you believe it’s not the job of government to help people who ought to help themselves. Thus, you will be OK with a Trumpian approach of cutting off free medical care and food stamps and mistreatment of refugees, because those people should have gotten it together to improve themselves, or, they are not citizens of this country, and I am not my brothers keeper. Therefore you distance yourself from these unfortunate people and you also, in doing so, become less sensitive or aware when groups of people are being dehumanized through propaganda. Next stop concentration camps! The parallels between Trump and Hitler are there. The main difference was that Hitler joined the army and became a corporal, whereas Trump was born on third base.
So Reagan deciding debt doesn’t matter wasn’t a tipping point, that might have led to a bankruptcy skating con artist having wriggled his way the top of a society that’s been living on the equivalent of a national home loan for the last forty years? Yes, debt doesn’t matter, until it does. How many other countries and empires have bankrupted themselves over the ages, because they were too big and important to fail, until they did. All the pearl clutching over Trump has always been a distraction from the real issues.
Guess what? The show is over. The future we’ve borrowed against has arrived.
“Don’t take offense here Dan, but this is exactly the type of response I get from each side of this thing. (For Biden-haters, it is ‘You can’t really let this thing be managed by a 78 year old clearly going through the initial stages of dementia!’).”
So? Aren’t you capable of assessing these claims on their own merits? Why are you stuck in limbo, thunderstruck at the existence of similar, competing claims? I can’t imagine you’re experiencing some deep aporia over dual claims of attempts to steal the election, but hey, maybe you are. As for speculation about Biden’s incompetence and mental unfitness (as opposed to the out-in-the-open instances for Trump), all I can say is, how lucky are we that he isn’t at the head of a cult of personality?
“At very least, both sides presentation of the thing in such stark terms – one one side, sound leadership and on the other, the worst incompetence you could imagine! – makes me suspicious both about whether they are treating their enemy with any charity (or attempt at it) and also, whether they are taking seriously the ‘meh’ choice they have on the ‘other side.’”
Are you treating either side with charity right now? This touches on one of my main annoyances with the essay. It’s not that you defend the refusal to vote. It’s not that you fail to see the urgency of getting Trump out of power. It’s that I don’t think I learned anything substantive about how you arrived at your position. I don’t even truly get why you think both candidates are equally awful. As here, you seem more concerned with your positioning, your branding, between two generic, free-floating “sides” while not saying anything of consequence about either. “You’ve got two sides making similar claims and I’m just the sensible guy stuck here between them!”
“I feel like the atheist watching every religion and sect say with full and equal confidence that theirs is the only God, and if you can’t see it, you’re just blind.”
If your point is that for many people politics is a matter of blind faith, in effect a religion-substitute, I agree with you.
But you seem to be pushing the analogy further than this. By implicitly defining yourself as a political atheist you are, in my opinion, conceding too much to those for whom politics is a religion (just as actual atheists often turn their position into a religious-like one).
My view is that there is nothing wrong with not voting or voting for a non-viable candidate. It can signal a protest against the system. But your reasons as articulated here suggest to me that you have an idealized image of what politics is or could be. You talk about sincerity and personal values.
I see politics as an unfortunate necessity, all about putting constraints on megalomaniacs and totalitarian movements. Personal values motivate us politically but it is mistake in my opinion to expect our personal values to find political expression.
“Second, for anyone who is wondering how someone who is anything but an alt-right or conservative populist could refuse voting Biden, here is an interesting take by Matt Taibbi. Matt does well to point out that Obama did, and Biden probably will do, little more than perpetuate all the noxious Bush doctrines regarding foreign policy, is very unlikely to bring about substantive criminal justice reform, etc. I know, I know; we can’t always (or ever, it seems) vote for anyone other than the least horrible, and expecting anything but voting that was is an afront to democracy (cue “America the Beautiful”), but I just cannot see why anyone with interests in ending wars, not perpetuating new ones, creating a less restrictive immigration policy, criminal justice reform, etc can really think that it matters terribly if we get Trump out because Biden will now be in.”
Trump hasn’t done much to undermine the Bush Doctrine. Far from it, he very, very nearly got us in a war with Iran after assassinating one of their senior generals, a far more dangerous proposition than the war in Iraq. And at the beginning of a global pandemic. Let’s also not forget, that just because it didn’t happen doesn’t mean that we’re out of the woods after that immense escalation. His withdrawal talk has largely come up short. There have been withdrawals, but there were also increases and just moving troops around, with the final count in the middle east just being a notch less than what existed when he came into office. People can’t justifiably kid themselves that he’s a “dove” candidate or “just the same”. He’s erratic, aggressive, and at best UNCLEAR about consequences. Trump just ignores his original approval of the Iraq invasion. Biden seems chastened by Iraq. He was one of the less hawkish voices in Obama’s circle. Would I gamble on him or Trump? Jesus Christ, obviously Biden.
Biden was not in charge of immigration policy under Obama, and his proposals are considerably more lenient, so I don’t know what you’re expecting here.
Biden rightfully gets flack for the crime bill in the 90s, but people often gloss over that even Bernie voted for it. The thing about Biden is that he tacks staunchly to the center of his party, and the center has moved left on criminal justice reform (even for Republicans, even before George Floyd). So has his platform. I don’t think it’s sufficient because I’m more hardline on that issue, but again, I don’t know what you’re expecting here.
“By voting for [Biden] you in effect acquiesce to his awfulness.”
Better his than Trump’s That’s the very definition of “lesser of two evils.” Except that Biden, while occasionally foolish (even very foolish), has never been evil; Trump is.
I think such a discussion inevitably is about the voting system itself, and not about the right strategy in the given system. How I understand what Kevin is saying, is that it *would be* great, if you wouldn’t have to think so hard about how others will vote, you wouldn’t have to make so big compromises, you wouldn’t be forced to vote against something instead of voting for something. And that is a question about the voting system, and it’s hard to argue that it’s good or it couldn’t be better. And, for me at least, this is the most important question, as in the current setup there doesn’t seem to be much incentive for compromise in any of the parties. Biden won but I don’t see a reason to believe that polarization will decrease, and that is a big problem.
Kevin and I are going to record a live video debate on this, so stay tuned!
There isn’t any perfect voting system. There have been mathematical analyses which show that there are unavoidable problems.
In any case, I’m inclined to think it a mistake to ignore the role of cultural traditions. In the aftermath of the recent election, we saw that Trump wanted to steal the election. It was the force of cultural tradition that prevented this. If most Americans thought about elections the way that KevinCK thinks about them, then maybe Trump would have gotten away with stealing the election. But the voters actually care deeply and insisted on those traditions.
Maybe KevinCK is just telling us that he prefers to stand aloof from those cultural traditions.
I just got around to reading this and I apologize for not having read all the comments above for lack of time, but I don’t understand the point in question.
Trump is a demagogue, corrupt, a liar, brags about abusing women and is now refusing to accept the results of a fair election.
Am I wild about Biden? No, not at all. He has a history of political opportunism, is too old, voted for the Iraq invasion, and talks in clichés, but obviously, he is superior to Trump.
I live in Chile. In 1989 I voted for Patricio Aylwin, a centrist from a Catholic party (Christian Democrats), against
Hernan Buchi, Pinochet’s ex Finance Minister in the first democratic election after 16 years of the Pinochet dictatorship. Did Aylwin (who had originally supported the 1973 coup against the democratically elected Socialist president Salvador Allende) “represent” me? No way, I’m pro-choice (Aylwin wasn’t), I’m far more social democratic and less pro free market than Aylwin, etc., but the point was to keep Pïnochet’s annointed successor,
Buchi, out of the presidency. Aylwin won and I’m happy for that. In fact, he turned out to be a better president than most of us on the left expected. He had cojones: he stood up to Pinochet (still head of the Army) on several occasions. Maybe Biden will be better than expected. In any case, he will not be worse than Trump.
Yes, Bernie voted for the disatrous1994 Crime Bill, but he at least now says he regrets it. https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/28/politics/bernie-sanders-not-happy-terrible-1994-crime-bill/index.html
Biden by contrast is still defending it: https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/06/politics/joe-biden-crime-bill-2020-campaign/index.html
Biden was a vociferous supporter of the Iraq War, a war hawk who helped Bush sell the war to the American public.
“Count me in the 90 percent,” Biden said in the weeks after the 9/11 attack. There was “total cohesion,” he said, between Democrats and Republicans in the challenges ahead. “There is no daylight between us.” https://www.jacobinmag.com/2019/07/joe-biden-iraq-war-hawk-presidential-candidate
When it comes to war, there is never any daylight between Democrats and Republicans. Defense contractors fund both parties.
Biden has never fully recanted his support for the Iraq War, except in a deflective way.” “It was a mistake,” Biden said. “It was a mistake to assume the president would use the authority we gave him properly….[…] It was right to give the president the authority we gave him. It was wrong to assume that he was going to know how to handle it. Look, there’s nobody out there, including the president now, that talks about having conducted this war properly.” https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/17/politics/biden-iraq-kfile/index.html He’s saying the Iraq War itself was not a mistake or even wrong, the only mistake was in believing Bush would conduct the war properly.
Biden is definitely not lenient when it comes to immigration. Here he is in 2006 bragging about the Secure Border Act he voted for, which allocated over a billion dollars for hundreds of miles of double-layered fence, and how harsher penalties on employers were needed to combat the “tons and tons and tons” of drugs coming across the border. I guess Mexico was not sending their best even then. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2019/05/joe-biden-2006-vote-border-fence Sound familiar?
It’s true that Biden was not in charge of immigration policy under Obama but he supported the cages and concentration camps that Obama built, and he still does. But even Kirstjen Nielsen, who was the evil face of Trump’s callous immigration policy had the decency to resign her DHS position. Obama presided over the deportation of more undocumented immigrants than any other President in US history, including Trump. https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2019/sep/13/joe-biden/fact-checking-biden-use-cages-during-obama-adminis/
Last year, Biden’s most senior Latina staffer resigned over her frustration with Biden’s outreach attempts on immigration policy. https://www.politico.com/news/2019/11/25/biden-senior-latina-adviser-quits-073553
Now Biden is talking about bringing back DACA and having a “pathway to citizenship”, since the Democrats lost a lot of Hispanic votes to Trump in 2020. Talk about being erratic, and unclear about consequences.
For what it’s worth, some years ago I wrote an article defending the claim that voting systems should include a “none of the above” or NOTA option. I argued that three reasons support this view.
It is justified as a valid vote for three categories of voter: the uninterested, the undecided, and the protest voter.
It is justified as a small step towards more a democratic system. Such a vote would have meaning indicative of political health or illness – it helps us to find a clearer signal in what otherwise is construed as noise.
And it is one of the few achievable steps towards political reform, where political reform is much needed but almost unachievable, given the current party hold on power.
“Yes, Bernie voted for the disatrous 1994 Crime Bill, but he at least now says he regrets it.”
Good for him. It was still disastrous. I would’ve voted for him anyway against Trump, because Jesus, who are we kidding? For every notch against him or Biden on any given issue, tell me, how is Trump even a toss-up here? I mean, your dead silence on Trump resounds considering the question at the heart of the essay. Where’s the comparison?
“Biden by contrast is still defending it”
Biden was also defensive in the primaries when he was called out for spearheading a Democratic shift against bussing, but it’s not like I expect him to pursue an anti-desegregation policy as president. As is, he ran one the most progressive criminal justice platform of a presidential candidate in the history of the country. See a level-headed overview here:
I don’t consider it sufficient to the moment, but again, what does Trump have to offer? A full-throated, authoritarian embrace of the notion of policing and complete denial of all of the problems at hand. His knock against the crime bill was purely opportunistic, with no platform to back it up.
“Biden was a vociferous supporter of the Iraq War, a war hawk who helped Bush sell the war to the American public.”
The Jacobin article is a fair broadside against his handling of the run-up to the invasion. He deserves the criticism he gets for it, and that’s one of the reasons I voted against him in the primaries, even though it was largely symbolic by my later state primary. That said, the question arises again, how does that measure up to Trump, the guy who nearly got us in a war with Iran (at the beginning of a global pandemic) because he thought assassinating a general was a good PR stunt, the guy spitballs assassinating foreign political leaders, the guy who says we should’ve expropriated Iraq’s oil? Biden, by contrast, had a rep as the contrarian in the Obama War room. He was sour on the Libya intervention, sour on an Afghan surge, and generally skeptical of use of force. Again, who do you think I’d rather roll the dice on?
“Biden is definitely not lenient when it comes to immigration. Here he is in 2006 bragging about the Secure Border Act he voted for, which allocated over a billion dollars for hundreds of miles of double-layered fence, and how harsher penalties on employers were needed to combat the ‘tons and tons and tons’ of drugs coming across the border.”
So? More fencing and harsher penalties on employers. Probably the biggest impact would’ve been the deflection of migrants to more dangerous routes, but my impression is that the most egregious effects in that direction happened under Clinton anyway. This doesn’t address his platform on immigration or (once again) even bother to compare said platform to Trump’s. So what do you think you’re actually arguing here?
“It’s true that Biden was not in charge of immigration policy under Obama but he supported the cages and concentration camps that Obama built, and he still does. But even Kirstjen Nielsen, who was the evil face of Trump’s callous immigration policy had the decency to resign her DHS position. Obama presided over the deportation of more undocumented immigrants than any other President in US history, including Trump.”
I’ve made the latter point many times. I’ve made it on this site even when Dan chided Democrats for having been too soft on illegal immigration. Obama was callous; Trump is malicious and cruel. The cages were built as makeshift facilities for a huge wave of unaccompanied kids before their transferral to HHS. Trump’s administration purposefully ripped children from their parents as an act of psychological warfare, and weaponized detention facilities as places to stuff migrants beyond capacity resulting in unsanitary conditions and gross abuses. I don’t see anywhere in your links where Biden embraces this. He certainly didn’t in the debate. And again, it doesn’t address his proposals at all.
“Last year, Biden’s most senior Latina staffer resigned over her frustration with Biden’s outreach attempts on immigration policy”
“Now Biden is talking about bringing back DACA and having a ‘pathway to citizenship’, since the Democrats lost a lot of Hispanic votes to Trump in 2020. Talk about being erratic, and unclear about consequences.”
Uh, what? That’s what he ran on, not positions he adopted after the election. Seems you ran out of steam on your googling here.
I finally read through all the comments and you do a very good job of arguing for your position, although at the end you don’t convince me.
What I see is that you are very well-informed about politics and a skillful reasoner with a superior intelligence. Why would you as someone who is much more well informed about politics and with an intelligence far superior to the average expect the major parties in a two-party system to nominate a candidate who represents you? You are not an average person and the parties are obviously going to nominate candidates who appeal to the average person (bell shaped curve, etc.) because if they gear their campaigns to people with your intelligence, they will not elect anyone.
That’s a problem with democracy which Plato talked about in the Republic about 2400 years ago and I don’t see any solution (since Plato’s solution has many drawbacks which he did not see, some of which even Aristotle saw) except to adapt your voting patterns to what average people are into.
I haven’t read all the comments, so I’m open to the possibility that there’s something I’m missing, but to echo S. Wallerstein, I don’t understand the point in question.
Trump is a vindictive, ignorant, odiously narcissistic man-child and inveterate liar who mongers asinine conspiracy theories. He’s abandoned any pretense of wanting to remain in a reality-based world. He is bereft of even a modicum of honour or integrity. His fascistic tendencies have been well-documented. He’s a racist, at least an opportunistic one, inciting white supremacists and launching his presidential bid with a speech calling Mexican immigrants rapists. He was a major champion of the idiotic birther conspiracy. He has said, several times, that he would have sex with his daughter if he weren’t her father, and he agreed with Howard Stern that she’s a “piece of ass.” He’s been accused by 23 women of sexual assault. He cheated on his wife with a porn star and then paid her hush money. He mocked a disabled reporter before tens of thousands of his followers. He might be clinically insane.
And then, of course, there’s his (utterly predictable) response to the pandemic, a horrifying failure that has resulted in, and continues to result in, tens of thousands of needless deaths.
A recent USA Today poll (Oct. 22, 2020) found that half of Trump followers believe in QAnon.
White evangelicals overwhelmingly support Trump, and many of his followers think that Obama is a Muslim (some polls show that two-thirds of them think this). (Speaking anecdotally, I have acquaintances who fervently believe that Trump was sent by God to cleanse the White House of “that devil Obama.” They casually admit that, if it were up to them, all Muslims would be deported.)
It beggars belief that anyone who’s aware of the foregoing would nevertheless maintain that Biden is no better than Trump. I’m mindful of Matt Taibbi’s tireless work, which I respect, but where’s the evidence that Trump gives a shit about endless wars except insofar as pretending to give a shit about them appeases those who hate the Clinton/Obama crowd. It’s rich, incidentally, that all the obloquy heaped upon the Dems for perpetuating the “noxious Bush doctrines” are *Republican* doctrines.
[…] a recent piece at The Electric Agora, Kevin Currie-Knight, a moderate libertarian, expressed what I see as an […]
I wrote a column back in the early 90s arguing that Ross Perot and the moment associated with him had fascist tendencies, precisely in the sense that it was hateful towards All of the establishment indiscriminately and enshrined the masses of people with a sense of their own innate virtue which I considered then dangerous. Many people who was Perot as independent and incorruptible were not pleased with my verdict. I think I was more right than even I had realized and what we are seeing with this idea that everything establishment is the same and equally bad is a potential for totalitarianism. Note I say potential. it is not fully fledged. That there is goodness and good ideas among people who like this type of politics is to me actually irrelevant; it is like single issue voting, in this case the good guys versus the bad guys is the single issue.
I am most appreciative for your take on the current scene. It seems borne of wisdom and political experience over many decades.
Australia also has a ranked-choice voting system (in addition to compulsory voting). The outcome (in theory) is that a winning lower house candidate has more than 50% of the support of the electorate.
While you’re borrowing elements of the Australian electoral system, I’d suggest an independent electoral commission wouldn’t go astray, though that’s probably a reach.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I actually agree with a lot of it. I will let you have the last word if you like. I just wanted to close with a few final thoughts.
So Trump “very nearly got us into a war with Iran”, whereas Biden actually did get us into a war with Iraq. But Trump is better on this score how?
Biden’s promises on criminal justice are just that…promises. I’m 60, and have been alive long enough to know the dubious value of platform promises. Candidates can say and promise anything they want on their website, it doesn’t mean a damn thing because there is no accountability. Political platforms are not legal contracts. I am sure we could both provide a litany of broken promises from all Presidents past. Thankfully, we don’t even have to take Biden at his word, we need only look at his record, you know, what he ACTUALLY did. Like the 1994 Crime Bill which extended the death penalty to 60 new crimes, stiffened lesser sentences, provided financial incentives to build more prisons, created civil asset forfeiture laws that allowed police to confiscate property, assets and money, immediately on the mere suspicion of proceeds of crime. Its immediate effect was to explode the prison population. Biden not only wrote the Bill, he championed it. He was proud of it and defended it, and still does. Biden also voted for the Patriot Act and DHS which was like the 1994 Crime Bill on steroids. It allowed for all kinds of extra judicial arrests, killings, and punishments of ordinary citizens on mere suspicion. And don’t get me started on Biden’s VP pick Kamala Harris, who locked up parents of truant school children, fought to keep nonviolent offenders in prison to work as cheap prison labor, refused to prosecute criminal banker Steve Mnuchin, fought against a judge’s ruling to allow evidence that would exonerate death row inmates, etc. Talk about “full-throated authoritarianism”. Yet you want us to believe that Biden has suddenly changed his spots and he is now some sort of progressive social justice warrior? And that there’s no comparison between Trump and Biden? C’mon, man.
I could not find any evidence that Joe Biden was “a contrarian in Obama’s war room”, was “sour on the Libya intervention” and “sour on the Afghan surge”. However, it is likely Biden will re-enter the Iran Nuclear Agreement, which I guess is a good thing.
My argument about Biden’s attitude on immigration is that it varies little from Trump’s. Only the rhetorical tone differs. Trump’s is more crude for certain. Trump also ripped kids from their parents, something Obama did not. The fact remains, however, that the Obama/Biden era deported more people than any administration in US history. And Biden has never said a critical word about this legacy, which is why his Latin staffer faced problems with outreach to the Hispanic community. Again, on this issue as on others, there are indeed comparisons to be made with Trump. The comparisons are striking.
My intention is not to defend Trump but to highlight the similarities with Biden that tend to get glossed over. No doubt Biden will make a better statesman and bring a calming influence, and hopefully repair some of America’s damaged image abroad. But let’s not kid ourselves about policy, or overstate Biden’s progressive agenda.
Biden is already filling his transition team with war hawks from neo-con think tanks and weapons manufacturers, Big Tech lobbyists and consultants from Amazon, Uber, and AirBNB, and congressmen with ties to the fossil fuel industry. Looks pretty swampy so far, with not a progressive in sight. Biden has also promised he will not be investigating Trump’s crimes.
Remember, Trump used to be a registered Democrat, and hung out with the Clintons all the time. Kamala Harris is now fist-bumping Lindsey Graham, and Dianne Feinstein was even hugging him without a mask. With the exception of Bret Cavanaugh, the Democrats have fast-tracked all of Trump’s SCOTUS nominees, and passed most of Trump’s legislation, albeit some in altered form. These politicians we elect hang out with each other all day, go to the same dinner parties, golf together, attend the same charity events, and sit on the same committees. Tiffany Trump is best friends with Joe Biden’s granddaughter Naomi. If they sometimes pretend to hate each other, it’s all kabuki theater and professional wrestling. In reality, they all look out for each other and their donors in the end. That’s why the policies the general public most want or are concerned with almost never get implemented (see the famous Princeton study by Gilens and Page: https://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/mgilens/files/gilens_and_page_2014_-testing_theories_of_american_politics.doc.pdf )
Like comedian George Carlin said, “It’s all One Big Club, and we aren’t in it”.
“Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I actually agree with a lot of it. I will let you have the last word if you like. I just wanted to close with a few final thoughts.”
“So Trump ‘very nearly got us into a war with Iran’, whereas Biden actually did get us into a war with Iraq. But Trump is better on this score how?”
Like I said, Biden deserves criticism for his early support of intervention in Iraq, but him and Trump were in totally different positions here. Biden could’ve come out vigorously against it and the authorization would surely have passed anyway (more than two thirds of the Senate voted in favor). Trump wasn’t a single vote in the Senate. He was the chief executive in an administration that initiated an act of war against a foreign state with a more powerful military than any we’ve fought in decades. Word has come out that he’s sought to push the envelope further against Iran now in his lame duck period (which we can only hope doesn’t pan out). Let’s not kid ourselves. Trump is easily the more dangerous bet here.
“Biden’s promises on criminal justice are just that…promises. I’m 60, and have been alive long enough to know the dubious value of platform promises. Candidates can say and promise anything they want on their website, it doesn’t mean a damn thing because there is no accountability. Political platforms are not legal contracts. I am sure we could both provide a litany of broken promises from all Presidents past. Thankfully, we don’t even have to take Biden at his word, we need only look at his record, you know, what he ACTUALLY did. Like the 1994 Crime Bill”
Again, same goes for Bernie obviously, whom you seemed to want to let off the hook because he said he regretted it. Perhaps you might even want to appeal to his proposals. But unless you’re going to throw in with total political nihilism, you’re at least going to use a candidate’s statements, platform, etc. to establish in what kind of ideological space their administration will function.
“Yet you want us to believe that Biden has suddenly changed his spots and he is now some sort of progressive social justice warrior? And that there’s no comparison between Trump and Biden? C’mon, man.”
I’m afraid I’m more coldly realist than you here. I don’t think Biden has had some come to jesus. He’s not an ideological politician. I think Biden reliably tracks the center of his party and his party has moved left on criminal justice in thirty years, and he’s simply followed them. Even before the 2016 election cycle, people like Charles Koch were jumping on the criminal justice reform train. This isn’t an environment where Democrats will be pursuing 1990s crime legislation or whatever you’re implying. Trump, meanwhile, despite his initial salvos towards reform, has responded the George Floyd protests by doubling down not only on a 1990s mentality, but a 1950s mentality, throwing his support entirely behind police unions, weaponizing DHS officers for police actions completely outside their mandate, berating governors across the country to make a Tienneman-style crackdown on the protests. C’mon? Yes, C’mon.
“My intention is not to defend Trump but to highlight the similarities with Biden that tend to get glossed over. No doubt Biden will make a better statesman and bring a calming influence, and hopefully repair some of America’s damaged image abroad. But let’s not kid ourselves about policy, or overstate Biden’s progressive agenda.”
I think it’s obvious I don’t have fuzzy feelings for Biden and don’t think he’s some progressive hero, so you’re arguing with a different audience. But right now, I see you listing grievances without providing further context for comparison or proper generalization. If it just ends in a hand-wavy, “I don’t want to defend Trump, but I think Biden isn’t so great either” I don’t think you’ve even begun to tackle the choice here.
“I could not find any evidence that Joe Biden was “a contrarian in Obama’s war room”, was “sour on the Libya intervention” and “sour on the Afghan surge”.”
I mean, “Biden Afghan surge” or “Biden Libya intervention” pull up plenty of results touching on this stuff.
“Biden is already filling his transition team with war hawks from neo-con think tanks and weapons manufacturers, Big Tech lobbyists and consultants from Amazon, Uber, and AirBNB, and congressmen with ties to the fossil fuel industry. Looks pretty swampy so far, with not a progressive in sight. Biden has also promised he will not be investigating Trump’s crimes.”
What search words should I plug in for this?
“My argument about Biden’s attitude on immigration is that it varies little from Trump’s. Only the rhetorical tone differs. Trump’s is more crude for certain. Trump also ripped kids from their parents, something Obama did not. The fact remains, however, that the Obama/Biden era deported more people than any administration in US history. And Biden has never said a critical word about this legacy, which is why his Latin staffer faced problems with outreach to the Hispanic community.”
The examples you offered of policies he supported were pretty weaksauce. And it’s simply false that he hasn’t acknowledged Obama era mistakes on immigration. That’s one of the main talking points and thrust of his campaign’s proposals on immigration reform. And even without the Senate, with so many abuses having been exacerbated by executive actions, that’s one of the areas he’ll be able to start making changes most quickly. Just consider DACA alone.
“Remember, Trump used to be a registered Democrat, and hung out with the Clintons all the time.”
He was a Democrat because he was a real estate mogul in a primarily Democratic city where it paid to hobnob with local officials. If you want to adopt the Trumpian “we’re all awful” argument, that’s fine, but that doesn’t benefit immigrants, minorities, or the poor. That benefits Trump, McConnell, and other political nihilists. Full-stop.
[…] Kevin Currie-Knight and I debate the issues raised in his recent essay. […]