Page Two: All or Nothing Is No Way Forward
Will the most hopeful mass leftist movement in recent years end up handing the presidency to Donald Trump?
What Good Came of Voting for Nader?
Let's start with that question. For those who voted their conscience or refused to support the lesser of two evils, what good came out of that vote? The country moved sharply to the right. There was no widespread progressive correction but many liberal and left causes suffered serious setbacks.
There is lots of tap dancing around this topic but there is a very clear bottom line: Nader's candidacy resulted in Bush's election.
The real world consequences were staggering. The invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, though there is no way of knowing how Gore would have responded to 9/11. But the combination of the Bush presidency, 9/11, those military actions, aggressive Republican gerrymandering (of which the Democrats are just as guilty, but they weren't as ambitious or successful), the growth of right-wing media, and an infusion of conservative money to advance a reactionary agenda together all signaled a certain change of direction in public discourse. The country not only moved toward the right, but a lot of voters bought what was being sold, even when against their best interests.
In a disparaging of "political correctness" the mood became even more anti-government and anti-organized labor and attacking of progressive positions.
They hate when you say it, but there is no getting around it: Some of our most radical and uncompromising citizens helped create this situation.
The political reality is that the government does affect us whether we want it to or not. Who is elected makes a big difference in many people's lives.
Is There No Difference Between the Parties?
Sure, both parties can be frustrating and neither seems to get enough done for most of their supporters. The differences, however, are very pronounced, unless your goal is a left-wing utopian state or a completely imagined reactionary America, in which case you probably lump all who disagree with you, regardless of their beliefs, together. But in the day-to-day real world, especially for the poor, the working class, the unemployed, minorities, women, immigrants, academics, and educators, there is a dramatic difference.
There was a moment when a more progressive future seemed not just possible, but likely. Despite the polls and the pundits, Bernie Sanders was gaining momentum. Bringing together Americans from all walks of life, it seemed like the liberal left was being revitalized as it hadn't been in decades, with Sanders mobilizing a broad swath of citizens wanting serious social, economic, and political change. If nothing else, his candidacy was certain to move the Democratic Party to the left as once-shunned positions became openly discussed topics.
Unfortunately, it now seems that many Sanders supporters felt it was their way or the highway. Completely invested in the man, they seem to care more about his winning than actually achieving the vision he expressed. Instead of investing their future in the admittedly daunting effort of progressive politics, they were firm that, if elected, Sanders was going to be a magic bullet that would cure this country of what ails it. The more it became apparent that wasn't going to happen, the more they turned on the liberal establishment.
There is a political purity that remains untainted when it exists in people's imaginations. Achieving actual goals is neither as neat nor as pretty. Along the way there seemed to be a growing assumption if Sanders was good, then Clinton was evil. If Clinton was winning she must be cheating. Every hint or accusation against her and the party, no matter how absurd, was enshrined as fact.
There are obvious issues with Clinton, as there are with almost any career politician. Having accomplished less legislatively than many, Sanders is far less compromised. Clinton, having been a long-established leader, has always been a target.
The unrelenting, decades-long right wing attack on her has known few limits, accusing her of every crime and misdeed imaginable, with graft, corruption, and even murder blatantly charged. Again and again the conservative establishment has attacked her not just with words but active investigations. This is par for most left-leaning politicians, but few have been attacked so unrelentingly and with such vitriol as Clinton. In almost every case nothing has come of these charges for what should be obvious reasons. Yet many who share her beliefs have come to buy what the right has been selling.
If Clinton is the sellout claimed, why has the right worked so hard and so long against her? Why have so many leading conservative and reactionary voices attacked her at every turn? Is that really all elaborate subterfuge to mislead the American people? Why? Because it has to be pointed out that many who make that charge also argue that Americans are deluded sheeple, leading one to wonder as to why then anyone would go to such lengths to fool them.
Green Party candidate Jill Stein said, as has been oft cited online: "The terrible things that we expect from Donald Trump, we've actually already seen from Hillary Clinton."
Think about this for a second. Citing what Clinton has said on certain issues that is similar to what Trump is saying, Stein claims that Clinton has already done worse than what might happen under a Trump administration. If you buy that, well, there's no arguing with you. It is dismissing what has been achieved by generations of left-leaning politicians in favor of a pure radical revolutionary dream. The claim is not just that Clinton's track record is worse than Trump's rhetoric, but that her political achievements have already damaged this country more than any potential failings of a Trump administration.
Real-world politics is slow and hard. Fantasy-based revolutionary change is very easy, because it only happens in the imagination, not in real life.
The agenda for the left is about the drive for economic and social justice as well as equality and equal opportunity for all citizens regardless of race, religion, sexual persuasion, or ideology. Pushing a lessening of spending on defense while an increase of spending for education, social services, and the infrastructure, it is about a more humane vision, a building up not a tearing down, the push for equal opportunity for all Americans.
Though clearly utopian and idealistic, these are, after all, goals. Those of us who have been involved with progressive and leftist causes most of our lives have come to understand that movement forward is possible. Many work every day toward that vision of bringing us together, rather than splitting us apart. There are victories in economic and social justice, none easily or readily achieved. And there are always far more losses. But maintaining and advancing that agenda is done in a very workaday way by committed folks in the widest variety of jobs.
Sacrificing the welfare of many to make one feel righteous is not particularly progressive. Labeling the choice between Clinton and Trump as the lesser of two evils is a way of privileging personal vision over everyday realities. And if you really believe there would not be much difference between a Trump or a Clinton administration, or if you espouse left-wing politics that Clinton is so bad that Trump has to be better, well, there really is nothing to say.
Many of us are at an enormous disadvantage here, and having worked much of our lives to advance a progressive agenda, we are truly scared that, in the name of political purity, the most hopeful mass leftist movement in recent years is going to end up handing the presidency to Donald Trump.