As the DNC and RNC reality TV shows wrap up, an Orwellian mood fills the air. We are told from all corners that now is not the time to raise uncomfortable questions about Biden’s record. Right now, one thing matters, and one thing only: voting Trump out. Everything we say, do, and think must serve that end. Now is the time for total ideological conformity. Don’t step out of line! Any deviation and you may be a Russian agent! Trump is such an exceptional threat to our liberty and democratic values that anything other than a vote against Trump is simply irresponsible, if not treasonous!
This hysteria is captured by a Pew Research poll this month which revealed that a majority, 56%, of Biden supporters are voting for him because “he is not Trump.” Meanwhile, “his issue/policy positions” ranked in fourth place, at a measly 9%.
Call me a heretic, but the emperor has no clothes. Do I have to be the one to point out the fact that in a democratic election it is not possible to cast a vote against someone? This is not a matter of opinion. American elections are not up-or-down, yay-or-nay referendums; one can only cast a vote for someone. Yes, you can call your vote for Biden a vote against Trump. You can call it an order for a pepperoni pizza, for all I care. Whatever you want to call it, a vote for Biden is still a vote for Biden.
Why, then, do a majority of Biden voters claim that their vote is not a vote for Biden, but rather a vote against Trump? Various memes have been circulating online that shed light on this question. One meme aims to decouple voting from support:
The meme claims that voting for Biden does not actually indicate support for Biden, but is strictly a repudiation of the exceptional evil that Trump represents. This may give solace to a voter who is uneasy about Biden’s abysmal record of building the system that led to Trump, but it is an opiate, a fantasy.
When you cast a vote, you cast a vote. Every vote carries the same weight, the same meaning. There is no way to add an asterisk to your vote, saying that it was cast unenthusiastically. A reluctant vote for Biden is exactly the same as a vote from his most ardent supporters, whether it’s John Kasich, or any one of the hundreds of George W. Bush administration officials who have boarded the Biden train. Again, that’s not an opinion, it’s an objective fact.
Those on the progressive left are being put under enormous pressure by liberals to settle and vote for Biden, never mind the fact that his candidacy was pushed by liberals under the pretense that he was the practical candidate who would appeal to the coveted moderate Republican voter. Instead of following through on this strategy and phone banking and knocking on doors in predominantly Republican neighborhoods to get out the vote, liberals are expending enormous energy shaming leftists with apocalyptic imagery should we fail to fall in line and not vote against Trump.
Many leftists have fallen in line. After all, voting against Trump is the will of Bernie Sanders. But is that really a responsible justification? Bernie’s relationship with the Democratic Party is long and complicated, and a recent article by Joseph Brunoli reveals a paradox: despite his status as a registered Independent, Bernie is actually more dependent on the Democratic Party for his power than most of his Democratic colleagues. Bernie’s main fear is being denounced as a “spoiler,” like Ralph Nader was, so he has gone to great lengths to demonstrate his loyalty to the party. I greatly respect Bernie, and the way he has awakened millions of Americans to the economic injustices that define our times, but he has his own reasons for promoting Biden and claiming that Trump is the “most dangerous president in American history.” We are sovereign citizens with a responsibility to stand behind our decisions. Justifying one’s vote with “because it is the will of Bernie and I trust him” is an abdication of one’s own will and morality.
Having said all of this, the question remains, what do we do? The system has only given us two choices, and at this point we have to take what they’ve given us, and make a decision.
I will not tell you what you should do with your vote. I have no desire to join the chorus of vote shaming that has been so divisive to the working class. I am merely asking you to be honest with yourself about the reality that whoever you vote for, you are voting for that person and indicating your support for what they stand for. I do not say that to shame you. If you feel shame, it’s worth reflecting: is that shame your own? Do you feel uneasy about casting your support for a party that has made it abundantly clear that it would rather empower a fascist like Trump than a progressive like Bernie? Does it make you uncomfortable knowing that the Obama administration built the cages that the Trump administration is holding kids in? Do you feel conflicted supporting Biden because it’s important to have liberal Supreme Court Justices when Biden played such an instrumental role in getting the ultra-conservative Justices Thomas and Scalia confirmed?
What does your vote really mean? When you cast your vote, what are you consenting to? Perhaps it’s worth considering the possibility that the system doesn’t really care if you vote for Trump or Biden. As long as you vote for either one, you are giving your consent to such a system. You are giving it legitimacy. As the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci argued in the early 20th century, the system’s power is based less on its monopoly of violence than the consent it manufactures through its control over discourse, i.e. cultural hegemony. The system wants you to believe that the two parties are ideologically opposed. They want you to pick a side. That’s how they control you. Is this democracy or is this a hostage situation?
And before you shout out “But I’m voting Green,” consider how voting Green is also lending your consent to the system, because it bolsters the view that voting is the main arena of citizen engagement. The system is even more rigged against third parties than it is against insurgent candidates like Bernie, and would never allow a third party to reach 5%. But they want you to hope that it can. And when it doesn’t happen, they want you to blame fellow members of the working class for not falling in line behind their candidate. Divide and conquer.
As noted by Howard Zinn, civil disobedience is not the problem so much as civil obedience. So, while the system pushes with all its might to get you to cast a vote against Trump as a NEIN! against fascism, please be honest and true to yourself: if you cast a vote for Biden as a vote “against Trump” or because “it is the will of Bernie,” are you relinquishing your will and your morality because the system is demanding that of you? Is that not the totalitarianism of civil obedience that Zinn warned us about?
I don’t claim to have the answer for what we, the multi-racial working class, should do exactly. We can only determine that collectively, collaboratively, and from the bottom up. But before we face that question, it is necessary to sober up and dispel any illusion that we can vote our way to freedom. We can only liberate ourselves through an anti-colonial movement of resistance, and no anti-colonial movement has ever succeeded playing by the rules of the colonizers. Nelson Mandela never said “When those in power deny you of freedom, the only path to freedom is voting for the lesser evil.” He said, “When those in power deny you of freedom the only path to freedom is power.” Power is in the streets, not at the polls, and it is only in the streets that we can submit to the ruling class a referendum on their legitimacy to rule.
Photo: Gage Skidmore