Going Green, Safely

“Looking for a different angle on the election?” an email headline asked you on Oct. 3. Well, lucky you, because you have the opportunity to hear five young journalists who are (probably) all voting for Hillary Clinton come give it to you, Thursday evening in Johnson Chapel! Five young journalists whose publications haven’t covered the largest prison strike in U.S. history, whose collective coverage of the 2016 election doesn’t stray much from Trump-Bad-Clinton-Good, are here to give you one hell of a diversity of opinion on this coming election. Valid and important as their coverage may be, I doubt you will find a ‘different angle’ at this event. Such a promotion for this event is symptomatic of the lack of political imagination or critical thought that goes into mainstream media coverage of the election, and by and large, the election itself.

I’m not writing to tell you why Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be our next president. She absolutely should. To justify this statement would be redundant and not worth publishing, and insulting to the intelligence of Amherst students. I’m also not even going to write about why she’s still not a good candidate — that has also been done more thoroughly than is worth repeating. However, saying that I believe Clinton should be the next president is not the same as saying you and I should vote for her. If you can afford not to, I highly recommend that you don’t, if only as a meager protest against such limited political imagination.

After Clinton won the nomination, many of my liberal friends seemed to have forgotten that running against Satan does not automatically make one Jesus Christ. As we on the left wiped tears from our eyes and let our Bernie buttons and stickers retire to the desk drawer of forgotten dreams, we faced a choice: Wholeheartedly back the party that had pretty openly sabotaged our insurgent populist campaign, or explore the hinterlands of third party politics.

Don’t get me wrong, the Green Party is wacky — another well-documented fact I won’t go into here. Jill Stein is a big proponent of the sacredness of voting, which is a luxury we can’t afford this year. However, if you care about challenging a two-party system that gives us a crisis-based choice-less decision that forces us further down the road of neoliberalism every four years, we must vote strategically. That means, in states that are already strongly aligned to one candidate, voting for Jill Stein. In an electoral system in which not all votes are equal and only votes from contested states really matter, there’s significant room in safe states, like Massachusetts, for voting for the Green Party without risking any of Clinton’s electoral votes. For those of us registered in deep blue or deep red states, our votes can be used to show the level of dissatisfaction with a deeply flawed electoral and party system. It is a quiet but potentially potent message to the Democratic party elite that the left will not be silenced by the politics of crisis, a formula that proves an easy win as the Far Right gains momentum. Of course, if you are registered in a contested or swing state, or one that’s even remotely close (look at polls in your state), vote Clinton.

A recent Mother Jones (note: the moderator of the “different angle” discussion is from this publication) report on the first presidential debate described this election as a referendum on two competing versions of reality. This is certainly correct — however, what the author does not acknowledge is that liberalism is its own incredibly murky lens through which to view “reality”. The Trump universe is unprecedented in American politics, but liberalism is an ideology like any other and thus not necessarily representative of objective reality. Sorry liberals, but in objective reality (if there is such a thing), there is no “greatest country on Earth”, no multiple choice test that will guarantee if a refugee is a human and not a terrorist, and no reason to think that we will not face catastrophic climate events if we don’t immediately and drastically cut fossil fuel consumption.

Everyone rushes at the low-hanging fruit of taking Trumpism to its logical conclusions, but the same courtesy is not extended to Clinton specifically and liberalism in general. On most issues, liberalism is jumbled, yet some much more than others. Police reform is a big one: some strategies put forth by the Clinton campaign align well with abolitionism, such as use-of-force policy and ending the school-to-prison pipeline. Others dump money into police departments for things like body cameras or into the courts to investigate incidents after cops have already killed someone. Other positions of hers are a bit more coherent, but still confusing. She loves entrepreneurs, believes no one should go into debt at a public university and has repeatedly rejected Sanders’ universal healthcare proposal for “strengthening Obamacare,” a magnificent melange of private firms, public options and best of all, compulsion. Considered together, liberalism’s apparent aimlessness begins to make sense: Clinton’s notable desire to be all things to all people fits well with liberalism’s policy of making everything available for sale or as a right in an age of increasingly global capitalism, blurring the line between government and corporation. Aldous Huxley predicted our choices in this year’s election remarkably well in his 1947 foreword to his novel, “Brave New World,” which is worth quoting at length: “We have only two alternatives to choose from: either a number of national, militarized totalitarianisms, having as their root the terror of the atomic bomb and as their consequence the destruction of civilization (or, if the warfare is limited, the perpetuation of militarism); or else one supranational totalitarianism, called into existence by the social chaos resulting from rapid technological progress … and developing, under the need for efficiency and stability, into the welfare-tyranny of Utopia.” If neither of these options sound compelling to you, I hope you will agree that voting Green Party is a small but necessary step towards broadening American political imagination and discourse and ending this perennial dilemma.

One could argue that the same effect could be achieved by voting Libertarian, but Gary Johnson is nothing but a greatest hits CD of bizarre Republican bungles. The man believes in eliminating minimum wage, complete inaction on climate change and supports the TPP and Citizens United. I’m all for libertarianism in the abstract, but rushing into the kind of deregulation that American self-proclaimed libertarians espouse would only further shift power from a political to an economic elite. “Libertarians” love liberty so much, they don’t care how unequally it is distributed.

All this said, there are numerous other issues you should care about that have been fully eclipsed by this farcical presidential race — for Massachusetts voters, there is a ballot question on charter schools that makes a compelling case for student success but further privatizes public schools; another to legalize marijuana; and of course, every U.S. Representative seat is up for grabs. But most importantly, we shouldn’t confine our politics and political expression to the ballot box. What is most frustrating about the Green Party’s insistence on the sanctity of the vote and the importance of rejecting “lesser-evilism” is that it distracts from more important political expressions. The question we must ask, then, is whom we want in power when the change that starts at the bottom reaches the top. In the immediate future, the answer is easy. But in the long term, we ought to create space for sitting politicians to be openly anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, prison abolitionist, or what have you. That won’t happen if we continue to show that everyone left of center will enthusiastically wave the centrist-neoliberal banner if it’s the only option we’re presented with.

Feel free to blame people like me if Trump wins. But, blaming anyone but Trump voters for the election of Donald Trump echoes the same “boys will be boys” logic that is used to defend patriarchy. ‘Racists, sexists, homophobes and fiscally-conservative-but-socially-liberals will do what they do. But you, third party voter, you should know better.’ I would be inclined to say that American voters deserve a Trump presidency, if the pool of American voters looked anything like the ocean of people who would actually be impacted by such a horrific event. Come November, let’s vote strategically, with the big picture in mind — that means thinking locally, stopping Trump, and, where it is safe to do so, going Green.