Election year is upon us once again, and once again, we are presented with two candidates who exhibit their fair share of shortcomings, to put it diplomatically. Like in 2016, Bernie Sanders’ candidacy came and went, bringing with it—and taking with it—the same energy his supporters felt towards the election process. Once my favored candidate, Pete Buttigieg, dropped out, I put my weight behind Bernie because if I couldn’t get wisdom in a younger package, I would accept it in an older one.
Unfortunately for us Bernie supporters, the hidden machinations of corporate advertising and right and left-wing fear-mongering won the day and forcibly expelled our dear candidate, again. I have no problem rationalizing who I’m going to vote for, so I thought some attention should be paid to those who rationalize not voting at all. In performing this dive into the mindset of, let’s face it, individuals who identify as wickedly liberal, I find that, despite their intentions to remain unsullied by compromise, and express stolid indifference towards democracy, this subset of liberals undermine the very values they purport to stand by the rest of the intervening years between elections.
The Lesser of Two Evils
We begin first with the candidates: incumbent, 45th President of the United States, Republican standard-bearer and Leader of the Free World, Donald J. Trump. Prior to his handling, or lack thereof, of the novel coronavirus, things were going swimmingly for his presidency. At the very least, they weren’t going as badly as Democrats had led us to believe things would go. Put aside your disdain for a second and walk with me through the positives, by which I mean, how the actions of his presidency could be framed into positives:
- European Union members will be paying more for their own defense, lowering the burden on the American taxpayer.
- Restructured trade agreements, like NAFTA (re-named USMCA), are now friendlier, Trump would say fairer, toward American producers.
- In dealing with China, the Trump presidency has achieved a greater degree of protection for America’s intellectual properties, a problem often cited but seldom addressed, and certainly not adequately addressed, by prior administrations.
- Trump’s creation of Space Force, as preposterous as that name is, does pay much-needed attention to a space program that for years was recognized as languishing.
- Economic de-regulation has led to historically low unemployment numbers—prior to COVID, of course—and put the United States on an upward economic trajectory that seemingly made the US immune to the murmurs of a global recession that might afflict all other countries.
Generally speaking, Trump’s retreat of America’s toys, America’s money, and America’s values from the world stage simultaneously demanded greater self-reliance from America’s allies and challenged adherents of the liberal world order to better make their case for that order, especially since two powerful players, the US and Great Britain, no longer wanted to play. This will be Joe Biden’s task.
Joe Biden will have to convince Republicans that the liberal world order is worth protecting, strengthening, and solidifying. If anything, he will have to convince them that America’s image matters, even if it chooses to distance itself from the world structures that it created and still benefits from, to this day. Joe Biden doesn’t have to convince the Vote Blue, No Matter Who crowd because they have freely identified themselves as operating under a herd mentality. Progressives, though, Bernie supporters, they’ll take quite a bit of coaxing before they grudgingly lift a finger at the ballot box.
The Great Compromise
This wouldn’t be a Politicks post without the poking of liberal slogans and actions. Since Bernie supporters are withholding their vote for anyone, let’s look at things from their perspective, first. Someone who chooses not to vote believes that the action of voting is worse than futile—it’s actual complicity and expressed approval of a corrupt system that depends on predation of the weak and the economically disadvantaged. Neoliberal power structures kowtow to corporate influence and while those in the upper rungs reap all of the benefit, those at the bottom continue to suffer from degrading and worsening standards of living. This system should not be endorsed; no one should be forced to support it; no one should so thoroughly compromise their values and worldview. Put another way, someone who intends not to vote will not do so because they want to maintain the illusion of purity. Therein lies the problem.
Oftentimes, the decision not to vote is made publicly to virtue signal their adherence to a pure, unsullied worldview. Idealists are admirable for wanting the best. The rest of us who consider compromise a necessary, though tragic, reality are the reason why a better reality does not happen. This better reality is not impossible in the mind of someone who does not intend to vote—it is only impossible because everyone else keeps compromising. Just stop compromising. It’s that easy.
Just distribute the goods of production; it’s that easy. Just ask from each according to his ability, and give to each according to his needs; it’s that easy. Just distribute the wealth; it’s that easy. Just do it, and distribute equally the benefits that come from trademarking the Nike slogan. Why would I vote for either candidate when both repel me with such significant force? Why would I participate in a system I don’t believe in?
The candidate that most repels a non-voter is the one whose transgressions rank higher on the non-voters’ mind. Take Trump, chances are most Bernie supporters don’t like Trump, though there are undeniable similarities in the way both Trump and Sanders decry unfairness. Trump has essentially imprisoned indefinitely Central American immigrants. He has minimally hidden his bigoted viewpoints toward Muslims. He has delayed, perhaps catastrophically, any progress that might have been made under the Paris Agreement. He has recklessly pulled us out of the Iran Nuclear agreement. He’s looked away at pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong—he has embraced democracy-squasher Putin. If Trump wins, immigrants won’t be any better treated, nor will Muslims. Worsening weather patterns will only be braced for, rather than prepared for, month after month. The Doomsday Clock, if it doesn’t move forward, certainly won’t move back for another four years. It’s a dire outlook. But is it dire enough to vote against the guy? That depends on their feeling toward Biden.
With Biden at the helm, it’ll be back to business as usual for the global elites. A flashy ad campaign will distract from the low wages of an outsourced workforce. Countries will pay lip service to the climate crisis, while never doing enough to meaningfully address it. In the interest of democracy and economic stability, intervention that has never worked will be tried, again and again. Pipelines through native territory will be approved, and assurances will be made that will be contradicted by a history of environmental disaster and pollution. We might get a black Supreme Court justice, but the lives of African-Americans will hardly be improved due to systemic racism, police brutality, and an economic system that continuously excludes them, while profiting from their labor and creativity. It’s a dire outlook. But is it dire enough to vote against the guy? That depends on their feeling toward Trump.
Regardless of your choice, understand that you cannot protect all of the people and causes that you care about. It is impossible to live up to an unblemished ideal because your very existence, your successful birth, has already compromised you. Your devices have compromised you. Your standard of living has compromised you. Your air conditioning, your books, your car, your instruments, all of your possessions have already compromised you. By not voting, you’ve taken a stand not to protect any of the people or causes you so publicly support. Sure, you might console your decision by pointing to the grassroots effort you’re involved in—provided you do even that—but at the end of the day, one of two realities will win out: A Trump presidency or a Biden presidency. You may be able to live with either outcome. But can those you care about do the same?
Ultimately, I don’t care whether you vote or not. I only wish you could admit, just as publicly, that apathy toward everything holds greater sway in your mind than any real concern towards anything.