Andrew Smolski is a writer and sociologist
John Halle and Noam Chomsky recently published at Halle’s blog their defense of “lesser evil voting”, “AN EIGHT POINT BRIEF FOR LEV (LESSER EVIL VOTING)”. In it they make an argument that by electing Clinton (i.e. by voting for her in swing states) this allows for the continuing growth of the left and reduces the amount of harm that will be caused over the next four years. I do not doubt their desire for radical change, nor do I doubt that they make these arguments because they find them morally justifiable in consideration of the consequences of our actions. Yet, it is dubious whether we can consider Clinton an LEV, just as much as it is dubious whether electing Clinton would enable the growth of the Left. I am not arguing from what they call a “politics of moral witness”, but argue in the same analytic vein that they have placed their brief. That is, is Clinton on topics such as climate change, trade, and militarism actually an LEV in comparison to Trump? Taking their criteria of consequences over rhetoric, there seems at best a “dimes worth of difference” on these topics.
For instance, on climate change they state that Trump “denies the existence of global warming, calls for increasing use of fossil fuels, dismantling of environmental regulations and refuses assistance to India and other developing nations as called for in the Paris agreement, the combination of which could, in four years, take us to a catastrophic tipping point.” What is left unsaid is that Clinton only rhetorically accepts the existence of climate change, that under her tenure at the State Department she pushed for privatization of PEMEX, for more fracking, and has continuously stated she would continue policies beneficial to fossil fuel companies. Further, and known most likely to both Halle and Chomsky, the Paris agreement dropped the more direct language on reparations for ecological debt that were part of the Lima draft agreement, for the less direct language about transferring knowledge and research to aid in reducing effects. Nor has it mattered whether a Democrat or a Republican is in power in terms of global CO2 emissions, which rise in either case, as production is moved around the world-system in accordance with the trade agreements pushed by both parties. Thus, the consequences for the planet are identical whomever is elected. Halle and Chomsky would be hard pressed to dispute that fact.
Together with climate change, the issue of trade agreements is highly pertinent, seeing as the ramping up of production is a major reason why companies want these agreements. It is clear that Clinton has only rhetorically changed her position on TPP, just as Bill did with NAFTA. Those trade agreements are principle mechanisms causing migration, such as in Mexico, where NAFTA destroyed the livelihood of farmers. Further, they increase resentment in the working class, typically alienated due to the weakening of the labor movement, who see their jobs go overseas and their wages slashed. This increases ethnic/racial tensions as the working class is pitted against itself in an ever more brutal competition for declining employment and livelihood, a negative feedback loop breeding racists and reversing the strides made during and post-Civil Rights Movement. The worse of it all, these agreements are entrenching even more the power of corporations, who will now be able to sue nation-states based on the fact that regulations harm profit. This is clearly a grotesque attack on environmental regulations, one much more likely to do damage than rhetorical denials.
On militarism, we have a candidate, Clinton, with a clear record, from Serbia to Libya, from Honduras to Paraguay, of supporting coups, militarization of authoritarian regimes, breaking international law, and genuinely following the neoconservative playbook in trying to make the 21st Century another century of American hegemony and empire. Militarism is highly destructive on the environment, and the US military is one the principal consumers of fossil fuels, on top of dispersing environmentally destructive materials around the world (agent orange, depleted uranium, etc.). When Halle and Chomsky write, “Trump has also pledged to increase military spending while cutting taxes on the rich, hence shredding what remains of the social welfare “safety net” despite pretenses”, this could just as easily apply to Hillary, a candidate who has already stated she would like to expand Plan Colombia-style policy in the Western Hemisphere. Further, we know Hillary supported the destruction of welfare, the repeal of Glass-Stegall, and has pushed for privatizing social security (Bill supported this at the 2012 convention with the Simpson-Bowles budget).
If we focus on domestic racial and ethnic relations, clearly Trump’s rhetoric has emboldened white supremacists and reactionary nationalists. Yet once more, how likely is it that an oligarch whose companies use undocumented labor and maquiladoras is actually going to build a wall or change trade deals? Obviously Trump doesn’t mind lying and saying whatever just to say it, that is basically his entire campaign. It was Obama who has been the deporter-in-Chief, and it is Clinton’s State Department supporting a coup in Honduras that increased the migration of children. The ban on Muslims Trump supports is possible because of the Islamophobia that Clinton herself is a part of stoking, along with the surveillance apparatus that was extended under the Obama Administration. And the Democrats have not used their executive power to curtail police abuses, but only continued to do what they do well, which is the theatre of nothing.
Thus, we seem to have words versus action. Halle and Chomsky say we are supposed to be concerned with action and consequences, yet tell us to vote against words and strategically support the action and consequences as the LEV. It is to take the unknown and make it a bogey, when we know the known is already a bogey. Or stated differently, Trump is a wild card and we really have no clue in many instances what he will do. We know it will be reprehensible, but so will Clinton’s actions. Even on the topic of nuclear weapons, with the Obama Administration recent updating of the arsenal, it is safe to assume that both Clinton and Trump consider them an option (MAD still being official policy, a lunatic with a finger on the gun). Thus, there is no “high probability” of either candidate being worse than the other. In this election there is no LEV, not even slightly.
What we are deciding is to vote for the cause or the effect. Hillary and neoliberalism/neoconservativism in general are the cause of the Trump-style authoritarian populism that now haunts the US. There is little evidence that Hillary is a lesser evil, that her presidency will cause less harm. Actually, it seems we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t with no less damneder a situation on the horizon. Hillary’s presidency would solidify much of neoliberalism and imperialism, and continue to buttress the corrupt, rotten formal institutions of our society. In my opinion, their conclusion is a fool’s bargain: “by dismissing a “lesser evil” electoral logic and thereby increasing the potential for Clinton’s defeat the left will undermine what should be at the core of what it claims to be attempting to achieve.” In an electoral season where people are itching for principle, they call for pragmatism, a pragmatism that has only ever seen in my lifetime the ideological spectrum swing to the right, where now we have a Republican in Democrat’s clothing against a Republican in demagogue robes.
At least we agree, the real work is never this quadrennial circus. That begs the question, why participate in it at all? Green Panther Party anyone?