On Voting (Annotations on the Aftermath)

/ Filed under Column, Self

If you’re voting today, good for you. I hope you didn’t have to wait in line too long. Now we know only half of eligible voters showed up. As Tuesday night’s results are starting to sink in, I wanted to return to this election day post and see how it looked in the bright cold light of the dawning Trump Era. In the aftermath of Trump’s victory, some friends I really respect have been taking to social media to ask – furiously but sincerely — whether those of us who voted third party are regretting it now. I reacted defensively at first but I think it’s important to hear them and respond honestly. These annotations are just an (unwanted, self-regarding) attempt at addressing that question.

I went to my polling place in Philadelphia this morning intending to write-in Monica Moorehead and Lamont Lilly, the candidates for the Workers World Party. I was going to vote for Moorehead and Lilly because they best represent the policies I wish to see implemented in the United States. Monica Moorehead promised, “Not only will the resistance continue but it will intensify.” The first national conference of the WWP is meeting tonight at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Center in New York. Day 1 of the Trump Era brought news of hate crimes committed by white nationalists emboldened by their electoral victory. It was also a true Day of Rage with massive protests breaking out in cities and campuses across the country. Unfortunately, the write-in function didn’t work on the voting machine I used at the Russian Orthodox Church of Our Lady at 20th and Green in Fairmount. When you press the ‘write-in’ button, and a little slot is supposed to pop out, like a cuckoo clock, and you write in your candidate there. I mashed the button a dozen times and nothing happened, so I got flustered and punched the Democratic party candidate for all rows except the top one. Then, without too much hesitation, I hit the button to vote for Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka and sheepishly crept out of the booth. I regret not trying harder to figure out how the write-in function worked so I could have cast a purer protest vote, not a compromise with the Green Party. Sure, I’m more anxious than most, but it did make me think about the steel nerves it takes for a member of an oppressed class to vote if a twenty-something white cis man in a middle class metropolitan neighborhood can be intimidated out of voting his preference simply due to faulty voting equipment. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not comparing myself to a victim of voter repression, that would be absurd. I just realized that it doesn’t take much to get somebody to opt out of voting the way they want, or voting at all. I recall reading a tweet by Ayesha A. Siddiqi right before Election Day, where she said that voting was far too insignificant an action to take when weighed against the risk of physical violence. If you’re genuinely afraid of getting hurt at the polls, she said, don’t feel bad about not going. (I hope she thinks my paraphrase here does justice to her point.) On my way out the door I grabbed an “I Voted Today” sticker, not to show off my civic pride but so I could prove to my boss why I was going to be a half hour late for work. I was closer to an hour late. Truly I am a hero of working class resistance.

It didn’t feel like a proud exercise in democracy, and frankly, why should it? Standing in a confessional booth for forty-five seconds and checking a box next to a half a dozen names is an effectively pointless exercise. Still though, I think I fared better than the woman who made the mistake of bringing her stupid kid into the booth with her, who subsequently smashed the green “Vote” button and cast a blank ballot on her behalf. I heard the woman gasp and then leave the booth a moment later. She stuck an “I Voted” sticker on her son’s little sweater and said, exasperated: “You definitely earned this one.” I’m confident this was a Clinton voter. I wonder if little Buster got punished for his first foray into civic engagement.

There was also the middle aged man in a business suit who loudly announced to his fellow voters on his way out, “Well, I did it. I held my nose and did it. Now I need to go take a shower.” At the time I assumed this meant he voted Clinton. But when I look into the faces of Philadelphia’s white business class whom I see on the street, I get this creepy feeling like they’re all Trump supporters, grinning to themselves. A woman in front of me in line turned around and shot him the dirtiest look she could muster. And to be fair, I saw a handful of women who looked clearly and truly proud after having cast their ballot for (I’m assuming) Hillary Clinton. Obviously I have very few kind words to say about Clinton. But I would be remiss to ignore the very real hurt that this election caused people, particularly women like my mother, a ’60s radical, a Second Wave feminist, a nurse who has been on the front lines of many public health crises, both epidemiological and political. She voted for Sanders in the primary, for me and my sister, she said. She looked at the demography of the Brexit referendum and was determined to add her voice to the youth vote. But she was still very excited to vote for a woman for president, even though she thought the candidate was flawed. To have her lose, like this, to him, was like a physical slap in the face, she said. My mom got home from work on Wednesday, curled up into a fetal position under her covers, and didn’t get up until Thursday morning. I feel awful for her and other women, especially of that generation, who supported Clinton. But more so, I’m really pissed off that there wasn’t a woman in the race that she could really get excited about. I’m frustrated my mom couldn’t say “I’m With Her” without equivocation, because the “her” in question was so compromised.

Jill Stein, Anti-War, Anti-WiFi
Jill Stein, Anti-War, Anti-WiFi

On my way to work, in fact, a beaming African American parking enforcement officer gestured at the “I Voted” sticker on my lapel as I passed her and gave me a thumbs up. This is the weirdest moment of the day, and it seems so strange in retrospect that I wonder if I exaggerated it in my head because I was feeling particularly Woke that morning. Why would this woman have assumed I (again, twenty-something white guy with stupid glasses) was not a Trump voter? I suppose it wasn’t until Tuesday night that more people realized how many Trump voters are among us. I certainly don’t think I would have gotten that smile if I went out with my “I Voted Today” sticker on now. Just today, I was in a meeting at work with a middle aged African American woman and an older (late 50s, 60s) white man. Both are from South Carolina. He has a strong southern accent and a voice rather evidently deepened by years of smoking. She has natural hair and no accent. I didn’t pick up on any overt tension in the room — which is to say any aggression was too micro for me to perceive through my white blinders. I guess if there’s anything to be said about this banal encounter, it’s that I expected something ugly to happen. That’s the reality of the Trump Era. I saw group of young women wearing hijabs coming out of a polling station and I hoped that they’d feel a little relief after Donald Trump loses. I also walked by the same dozen or more homeless people I see every morning and knew that nothing is going to change for them as a result of today’s election. Nothing makes my heart ache more than the fear that’s now gripped my friends. A dear former professor of mine who is from Egypt told me her teenager daughter was beside herself this week, worried that “they are going to do to us what they did to the Jews in Europe.” A twenty-four year old Saudi Man died in Wisconsin this week after being beaten a few weeks ago an apparent hate crime. When asked by a journalist whether his proposal for a “Muslim registry” resembled Nazi policy, Trump responded, “You tell me.” That answer is bone-chilling. He meant it to be.

Here I also betrayed my utter confidence that Trump would have been exiled back to his gilded goddamn tower by now. Every election cycle I say I’m not going to be taken in by the horse race coverage, by the media hysteria, by whatever idiot narrative they’re trying to push on us. Turns out I got tricked again. I’m one of the assholes who was deeply shocked by Trump’s victory. I let myself believe, I suppose, that Americans wasn’t racist enough to inflict a Trump administration on their most vulnerable neighbors. I certainly didn’t ever think that two thirds of white women would opt for a known rapist and abuser and scumbag.

No, I don’t believe that Jill Stein is a good representative of the independent left, nor do I like her weird, weaselly position on whether she thinks vaccines are dangerous. The Green Party has been around for a long time and I don’t think their failure to mobilize a principled leftist ‘third way’ can be wholly attributed to the rigid two-party system. Time to toss the Greens. I don’t regret my protest vote, but I do regret not associating my protest with a more worthy candidate.

Gary Johnson, Clown
Gary Johnson, Clown

Gary Johnson is a hardline reactionary who masquerades as a hip, weed-smoking Baby Boomer while advocating for the demolition of the social welfare state. His brand of libertarianism calls for the withering away of the state in order to replace it with an even more anti-democratic corporate power. If you look at his record as governor of New Mexico, it reveals his hatred of organized labor and his deep affection for private, for-profit prisons. Johnson’s turnout was surprisingly good, and it’s likely that many of his votes are ones he managed to pull away would-be Trump voters. The Libertarian movement is alive and well in the U.S. and if there should be a major fracture within the two parties, there is certainly room for a more purely libertarian alternative to build momentum if they have a good enough candidate to rally behind. (This paragraph is just one my periodic reminders to major news publications that I am fully capable of writing horseshit campaign banalities if they want to pay me. “Gary Johnson got votes, not many votes, but it is possible that, in the future, he or someone like him may get even more votes.” If there’s one thing we can all learn from this election, it’s to never again listen to anyone who could conceivably be described as a pundit.)

It should go without saying that Donald Trump is a sexual monster, a blowhard bigot, and a spoiled rotten rich boy. He looks like a botched taxidermy experiment. While I think his rise to prominence within the Republican party can be easily explained in retrospect, it was nonetheless very troubling to watch play out over the last two years. It happened. This bastard’s in charge now. I didn’t really spend that much time talking about Trump during the election, for a couple reasons. A large part of it was that I had no desire to join in the circus of thinkpieces and hot takes and express gobsmacked offense at whatever recent slur he spit up. I thought my time was better spent criticizing the Democrats, shouting our discontent at them, in the hopes that they’d stop redbaiting and punching left. At the beginning, with Sanders, I thought the left opposition had a shot at the White House. That fantasy died when the dirty dealings of Schultz and Podesta came to light. But maybe the biggest reason I didn’t have that much to say about Trump is because he was so obviously hideous and because my cohort unanimously thought this, too. I saw him as the perfect combination of Ross Perot and David Duke, a populist showbiz demagogue. When he threw Jorge Ramos out of a press conference in the summer of 2015, I saw how confident he was behind the podium, how he just nodded so unctuously to his security goon like a mafia don, how much he reveled in all of it. That’s when I started calling him a fascist, that’s when I knew he meant business. But I never really thought he’d make it this far. Looking back now, I can’t explain why I was so confident about that.

Donald Trump, Fascist Party
Donald Trump, Fascist Party

But despite Trump’s apotheosis as the representative of American fascism and white supremacy, I was not about to be strongarmed into voting for Hillary Clinton, who embodies the worst kind of career politicians. She is from that permanent ruling class of aristocrats who seem to always remain in power no matter what the outcome of the elections. For as long as most millennials have been alive, Clinton and her husband have held office in some capacity. In order to last that long in American politics one must be a servant of corporate power and prioritize the advancement of capital above all other interests. Looking objectively at Clinton as a senator, Clinton as secretary of state, and Clinton as paid spokesperson of Goldman Sachs, I think it is plain that she is a very conservative, pro-war imperialist who only adopts socially ‘liberal’ positions when it is absolutely necessary to do so in order to win elections. Remember, it was only in 2004 that Hillary Clinton stood on the floor of the Senate and said that marriage was “a sacred bond between a man and a woman” because that’s what the Bible says.

Hillary Clinton, Conservative Party
Hillary Clinton, Conservative Party

When my finger briefly hesitated over the Clinton-Kaine button, I thought of the Iraq War, and how Hillary Rodham Clinton was one of the leading voices in the Senate that made the invasion happen. I thought of how certain it is that she and her running mate will guarantee expansive US military action in Syria. I didn’t do this so I could have a clear conscience after leaving the voting booth. I did it because a line has to be drawn at some point, where both candidates are so odious that the “lesser evil” calculation no longer applies. If the next election is between Donald Trump and some bloodthirsty General MacArthur-type, I’m not going to vote for Trump because at least he’s not a military strongman. (It was really hard to come up with an example of a kind of candidate worse than Trump.)

So I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton because I don’t agree with her on what I consider the most important issues. And while I do not want Donald Trump to be president either, it’s really important to realize that Trump and Clinton agree on all these issues. It sure seems like they couldn’t be further apart politically, but that’s the illusion created by a media that conspicuously avoids asking candidates questions about subjects that would betray that broad consensus, such as:

  • Forever War in the Middle East and Africa. Both Trump and Clinton will maintain the US imperial policy to secure and plunder other people’s natural resources. Clinton in fact is much more pro-war than Trump. I say this is the most dire issue that Americans need to address in our politics, because the continuation of this policy means that millions of people will continue to die across the world as a result of American militarism.
  • The continued militarization of the police. Clinton says she’s very concerned about how many people are getting killed by cops in this country but has responded with complete indifference when directly confronted about the lynching of black Americans by police. She was the senator from New York when stop-and-frisk was being used to torment communities of color in New York City and did nothing to try to stop it. Trump, of course, would only empower cops to act more like the gestapo on his first day in office.
  • Expulsion of immigrants. The Obama administration is currently carrying out Trump’s deportation plan. Trump wants to build the wall. So does Clinton, but she calls it a fence, which sounds nicer.
  • Forget about the social safety net. Clinton has already given up on the $15 dollar minimum wage and the Democrats have made no substantial efforts to adjust the lowest legal salary to an amount that enables anyone to live off of it. She will not expand Medicare benefits to everyone, which means we’re stuck with the technocratic nightmare that is the Affordable Care Act. Donald Trump doesn’t think poor people have the right to food, shelter, and healthcare, either.

This is just a very brief list of issues that make it impossible for me to vote for either Clinton or Trump. So I voted for someone I agree with instead, with full knowledge that they will not get elected. Like Eugene Debs said, “I’d rather vote for a something I want and not get it, than vote for something I don’t want and get it.”

And while the thought of a Trump presidency is very disconcerting, I refused to be conscripted into voting for a candidate I don’t want because I’m afraid someone worse will win. “Vote” comes from the Latin, “to vow” or “to wish”. Voting for a candidate means making an affirmative statement, a positive choice in favor of something. I don’t believe it’s philosophically possible to vote “against” a candidate, because in denying the vote to one person you are still casting a ballot in favor of someone else. In that sense, you’re always voting against every other candidate. (That’s why I was planning on voting for Monica Moorehead, the Marxist anti-imperialist from Tuscaloosa, Alabama who got her start in political action handing out leaflets for the Black Panthers. But the voting machine was busted and I didn’t have the guts to make a scene about it in the polling station.) I don’t know if I can stand by this argument anymore. It’s not that I wish I’d voted for Clinton instead. I don’t. And that’s not because I covered my ass and checked the numbers to assure myself that my vote, in my particular county, wouldn’t have helped Clinton. Besides, you can always exonerate yourself if you have a guilty conscience, because one vote, taken on its own, doesn’t matter. Rather, what I was trying to get at with voting “for” rather than “against” sounds like pedantic gibberish now, and hypocritical to boot — I didn’t vote for Stein, I voted against the two-party system, against Clinton, against Trump, and against all the moderates and liberals who told me I had to pick a side because there were only two options. What is a protest vote but a vote against? When people ask, “But what was does that protest accomplish?” I say it accomplishes the same thing, on a much smaller scale, as shutting down traffic or boycotting a business run by a bigoted CEO. It says, “Fuck You” and makes people uncomfortable and gets their attention so you can get a few words in after they shout, “Why are you doing this?” 

Democrats don’t want us to think about voting this way because there’s no reason to vote for them otherwise. They’ve have been in power for most of the last half century and they oversaw the dismantling of the welfare state and the consolidation of wealth by the ruling elite. They count on voters settling for them by setting themselves up as the gatekeepers who will protect us from the wolves outside the city walls. But if we keep voting for the lesser evil, the evil will keep getting worse. It was the Clintons, who took the party far to the right and snatched the Republican platform out from under Gingrich and Dole, who enabled the demagogues to take power in the GOP. The Republicans weren’t able to run on pro-Wall Street, anti-union, anti-welfare issues anymore, so they had to turn to appeal to a much deeper and darker aspect of the American psyche in the in order to keep winning elections. And the left, in turn, is folding its hand before the cards are even dealt. How can we expect to bargain for what we want when our initial bid is a very unpleasant compromise? For now on, we bargain on our own terms, without the Democratic party’s corpse weighing us down.

We need to re-think how we vote. This means thinking of a vote as an affirmative statement of beliefs, not a pragmatic acquiescence to power. Moreover, we need to realize that of all the tools at our disposal for political action, voting is really the most pointless. If we forget that, we’re bound to witness the fascist twilight of the American empire.I recommend reading the TeleSUR op-ed from last night, “Fuck The Elections, Let’s Keep Organizing. Here it’s also worth transcribing an excerpt of one of Howard Zinn’s lectures from the early 90s:

(Make sure you read this part. It’s more relevant now than it was on Tuesday.)

“There’s this paradox, it seems to me, that we live in a country that prides itself on its democratic heritage, on something called democracy, and yet we behave towards our leaders as supplicants. We’re just eager to hear every word that they utter, eager to watch everything that they do. And it’s as if our role is a passive one, our role is to observe. And this is not a democratic notion, this is a kind of Machiavellian notion that the Prince is all important. And Machiavelli was not a democrat, exactly.

He was a citizen, but he liked to think of himself as someone who gave advice to the Prince, as someone who hung around the Prince. And in a way, the psychology of the hanger on, of the adviser to the president, it’s a role that we have all been put into, as if we are not active participants in the democratic process, not active participants in the making of policy and deciding what is done in the world and the United States, that we always have to hang back and wait and see what is being done to us and for us, and that is our role. To me that is a very puny definition of democracy, to say that the supreme act of citizenship is to go to the polls every two years or four years and pull down those little levers, and that’s it — to choose, to have this enormous opportunity to choose between two candidates, neither of whom we like. And then to go home and to turn on the television and watch what they do and gossip about what they’re doing. That is a very mealy approach to democracy, it seems to me.

It’s as if we need saviors. There are problems and somebody will save us. And very often this is the way we view our problems, that whenever we’ve had serious problems in the United States, someone has come along to save us. The Founding Fathers saved us from England. And Lincoln saved black people from slavery. And Roosevelt saved us from the Depression. Well, after Roosevelt it gets a little hazy, it gets a little harder to make the case. But still, we have that psychology of looking, we’re always looking. Well, maybe Kennedy will be it, maybe so-and-so will be it, and now maybe Clinton, but somebody will come forward to save us. That seems to me an inversion of what democracy is. It must be more than voting.

…Thoreau said, don’t just vote at the ballot box, don’t just vote with your hand. Vote with your feet. Vote with your whole body. He illustrated that by not just voting, but doing, by protesting, by refusing to pay his tax, by going to jail, by acting the role of a citizen in a democracy. And I said it’s a paradox of American life that we see ourselves as passive recipients of whatever the powers that be want to do.”

So if you voted, that’s good, you did the bare minimum, just like me. But after work today I’m going to do my real civic duty, something that’s way more important than voting, and go get a flu shot. Consider it my vote against Jill Stein. I didn’t get my flu shot yet. But I will. We could all benefit from a little self-care this week.




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