Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Cant of "Can't"

One needn't live in Seattle to enjoy Charles Mudede's writing at The Stranger.

Nonetheless, a post dated September 22 was a bit disappointing, not merely for stating something imprecise, but because the lack of precision matters so much.

The statement appears in his response to Kshama Sawant's endorsement of the Green Party's Jill Stein in the upcoming presidential election. Sawant is a member of Seattle's city council who has won office twice as an avowed socialist, a rarity in American politics post-Cold War. Follow the link in this paragraph to read Sawant's argument in The Nation.

Mudede wrote:

Sawant recommends that progressive Americans vote for a person, Jill Stein, who has no chance of winning instead of one, Hillary Clinton, who does.

He goes on to argue that progressives will be better positioned under a Hillary Clinton presidency than a Trump presidency. He also insists "there can be no doubt about this" with the peculiar certainty that characterizes anti-Trump hysteria, a way of pre-empting further discussion or thought.

Herewith, my stubborn insistence on thinking.

First, the statement that Jill Stein has no chance of winning is not actually correct. She can win: she is on enough ballots to win the 270 electoral votes required to be elected president. What we can predict with reasonable certainty is that she won't win. She would have to run the table, winning nearly all of the states where she is an option. There are a few reasons we can predict this will not happen, and some of these reasons have to do with her campaign, her own flaws as a candidate, and the electorate's receptivity to a Green Party platform. There are also institutional reasons. The system is set up to prevent her from competing effectively for those electoral votes. As a candidate outside the two dominant parties, it is more difficult for her campaign to gain ballot access, harder to raise money, and even after surmounting these obstacles she is prevented from inclusion in presidential debates despite having a numerical possibility of winning the election. These factors serve to portray her as not "real" and tilt the playing field against her, such that she is not even likely to win enough of the popular vote to qualify for federal matching  funds, lowering some of the financial barriers to her participation.

Thus it is more accurate to say she won't win. When we state that she can't, and leave it at that, we are not only being imprecise: we are concealing a reality about "democratic" elections in the United States. The system is set up to protect the traditional parties from competition.

This is why I am dubious about Mudede's argument that the American left will fare any better under a Hillary Clinton presidency. A Hillary Clinton presidency is more appealing than a Trump presidency for a number of valid reasons, but this particular idea is dubious to me because I have yet to see a compelling case for left politics faring better under a President Clinton. It is stated as a self-evident fact. Yet the American left's challenges stand independently of whom we elect President. The American left's challenge is to organize resistance movements, articulate a liberation movement (from, I would hope, capitalist organization and culture), and carry the struggle in electoral and non-electoral work. Not just the ballot box, not just in legislatures, but in the workplace and the marketplace, at our dinner tables and front yards.

We know what we can anticipate from a Democratic administration: support for the TPP, fracking (which intensifies the ecological catastrophe already underway), further privatization, continued surveillance and over-policing in the name of "terrorism," and war, war, war. To say this is preferable to a Trump presidency is not really saying much. It also conceals another important truth: this isn't getting any better as long as we protect the Democratic Party from competition from the left.

So, under the current system, where we still don't have proportional representation, where electoral votes are mostly "winner take all," a system arranged to protect the dominant two parties from competition, we can vote strategically. In votes that are securely "blue" or "red," one can and should vote for Jill Stein if one supports competition from the left. If Stein achieves an impressive share of the popular vote, it can open up matching funds as well as make a compelling case for the Green Party's inclusion in future debates. In "swing" states where the outcome is less certain, where one is worried about Trump carrying the state and winning those electoral votes, by all means think strategically. It is the best we can do in an American election, until we change the system.

Whichever way we cast that vote, our work is not done. The system must be changed and it's not going to happen by wishing or asking politely or posting things on social media. And it's still less likely to happen if we refuse to make clear, truthful statements about the way power is distributed - and protected.

1 comment:

Kelly said...

As you know, I find the Libertarian Party to be the best alternative to the dilemma of Clinton/Trump and I understand exactly what you're saying about can't vs. won't. Third parties will never get the support (media, financial, etc) unless folks make their wishes known by voting for them.

Though I'm not a Trump supporter, I can't agree with your statement that a Hillary Clinton presidency is more appealing. I rather like the following bit I read in a column by Thomas Sowell this past week:

"My own take on this election is that the voter is in a situation much like that of an American fighter pilot in World War II, whose plane has been hit by enemy fire out over the Pacific Ocean and is beginning to burst into flames.
If he bails out, there is no guarantee that his parachute will open But even if he lands safely in the ocean, he may be eaten by sharks. If he comes down on land, he may be captured by the Japanese and tortured and/or killed.
In other words, there are huge and potentially fatal risks. But, if he remains in the plane, he is doomed for certain.
To me, Donald Trump represents multiple and potentially fatal risks. But Hillary Clinton is a certainty of disaster. Her vaunted 'experience' is an experience of having repeatedly made decisions that turned out to be not merely wrong but catastrophic."

That does a pretty good job of summing up my thoughts of the situation. Sure, I would rather see Gary Johnson than either of them, but we know that even if it CAN happen, it WON'T.