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Why Voting to Stop Trump Is the Only Choice in 2016


After July’s conventions that anointed Hillary Clinton as Democratic presidential candidate and transformed the Republicans into the Archie Bunker party, the left is engaged in heated discussions about its orientation to November’s election.

Jill Stein of the Green party claimed that voting for her party was “saying no to the lesser evil and yes to the greater good.” This may sound good as a slogan, but it makes voting an individual moral choice, replicating the reduction of society to a collection of individuals that is the hallmark of a neoliberal, consumer-choice world.

Is there a mass movement today that is motivated by the progressive policies of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein? While there is a pervasive populist sentiment that has a distorted reflection in the Republican and Democratic parties, political anti-corporatism is concentrated among white liberals. What is certainly going on is an awakening of minorities to their social strength, and at this historical moment among Native, African and Latino Americans there is an overwhelming hostility to a potential Trump presidency. The left is in danger of isolating itself from this movement if it insists on its moral purity.

Electoral activity is no more than a strategic choice in the course of building a wider movement.  In this specific instance, while voting for the Greens in a state like Massachusetts will not affect the overall result, in a state like Michigan it could be crucial. The first-past-the-post electoral system limits the number of viable parties to two, making a vote for the Greens a symbolic gesture at best, and a spoiler at worst.

There are practical effects from voting, as Noam Chomsky points out, whether or not it offends someone’s individual conscience. He challenges the assumption “that voting should be seen a form of individual self-expression rather than as an act to be judged on its likely consequences … The basic moral principle at stake is simple: not only must we take responsibility for our actions, but the consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves.” He recalls the ultra-left faction of the peace movement minimizing the dangers of a Nixon presidency in 1968, resulting in “six years of senseless death and destruction in Southeast Asia and also a predictable fracture of the left.”

A Trump presidency has a high probability of inflicting much greater suffering on marginalized and already oppressed populations than a Clinton administration, he considers; it would even strengthen the elite within the Democratic party because “far right victories not only impose terrible suffering on the most vulnerable segments of society but also function as a powerful weapon in the hands of the establishment center, which, now in opposition can posture as the ‘reasonable’ alternative.” As far as the “lesser evil” argument goes, he says “this sort of cost/benefit strategic accounting is fundamental to any politics which is serious about radical change. Those on the left who ignore it, or dismiss it as irrelevant are engaging in political fantasy and are an obstacle to, rather than ally of, the movement which now seems to be materializing.”

Stein would argue that voting Green is a step in the creation of an independent third party, or as Socialist Alternative suggests, a “new mass party of the 99 percent.” But the history of the US shows that for an independent party to be established, it has first of all to be based on a real movement within society, closely connected with that movement, not outside of it. Socialist Alternative’s activities at the Democratic convention were directed at a political minority, organizing a highly visible walkout and encouraging Sanders supporters who came with them to join the Greens. They may have a limited success with a number of them, but the majority of Sanderistas at the DNC intend to stay within the party and not leave the field open to the right.

Members of the Sanders delegations at the DNC told In These Times: “Most delegates weren’t Bernie-or-Bust. We all understand that, ultimately, Trump needs to be defeated, and that—especially in swing states—you need to support Clinton.”  “Bernie’s not the ceiling of what we can achieve in the Democratic Party. He’s the floor … In the coming years there’s a lot of space for us to fight, both within and outside the Democratic Party. I don’t think all political change is going to happen in the Democratic Party. It’s just one field of battle.” “I think the Democratic Party is a battleground. You can either play on it to win, or you can abandon it to the enemy. And I would rather play on it to win.”

Sanders was the figurehead of a political movement that was oriented to restoring the New Deal philosophy of earlier Democratic administrations. Likewise Trump is the figurehead of a white backlash against the growing status of minorities while their own economic prospects slump. Both express an anti-establishment sentiment in society, but in different partisan ways.  Trump’s supporters are going to vote for him no matter what he may say. That is because their vote is not based on rational choice but on desperation – the major parties have ignored the plight of the working class in the deindustrialized Rust Belt and Trump is the only one speaking to them – and that could be a key issue in the mid-West.

Conservative author J.D. Vance explained: “What many don’t understand is how truly desperate these places are, and we’re not talking about small enclaves or a few towns–we’re talking about multiple states where a significant chunk of the white working class struggles to get by.  Heroin addiction is rampant.  In my medium-sized Ohio county last year, deaths from drug addiction outnumbered deaths from natural causes.  The average kid will live in multiple homes over the course of her life, experience a constant cycle of growing close to a ‘stepdad’ only to see him walk out on the family, know multiple drug users personally, maybe live in a foster home for a bit … And on top of that is the economic struggle, from the factories shuttering their doors to the Main Streets with nothing but cash-for-gold stores and pawn shops. … Trump’s candidacy is music to their ears.  He criticizes the factories shipping jobs overseas.  His apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground.  He seems to love to annoy the elites, which is something a lot of people wish they could do but can’t because they lack a platform.”

The Democratic strategy after their convention is to turn to disaffected middle-class Republicans rather than try to win over the white working class. But its plight is not something that can be written off as a political manifestation of right-wing extremism that can be countered by a left policy, as Stein does. There is a real social crisis here that requires the agency of the oppressed themselves to resolve. A radical, progressive agenda imposed from outside without any meaningful means of achieving it is not going to impress these people because they have been patronized and ignored for so long.

This movement is one driven by economic collapse and complete loss of confidence in the ruling elite. Widespread police abuse legitimized by the “broken windows” and “zero-tolerance” philosophies has undermined state legitimacy, and Black and Hispanic communities have begun to defend themselves; white workers are being written off and this is driving them into Trump’s arms. Clinton is certainly not the answer to these problems, but it will be infinitely easier to campaign on them under her presidency than under Trump’s. He will empower the police and security forces to do more than put protesters on trial: he will arm them to imprison and assassinate his critics.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Bernie Sanders, Democratic Party, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, latino americans, populism, Uncategorized

Why It Is a Mistake for Bernie to Run as an Independent


Now that it’s clear that Hillary Clinton will get the Democratic party presidential nomination after she won four out of five states in last Tuesday’s primary elections, Seattle city councilwoman Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative and Jill Stein of the Green party have started an online petition, #Movement4Bernie, to persuade Sanders to run as an independent, or as a candidate for the Green party.

But this puts a symbolic ideological gesture above the social movement that has supported him. Sanders’s supporters, especially millennial youth, come from within the liberal-labor coalition that has traditionally voted Democratic. There is no social basis for an alternative party of the left at the present time, and there’s no sign that voters are prepared to break from the Democrats, even if some of Sanders’ supporters have said they will not vote for Clinton.

Citing a recent Harvard Institute of Politics poll, Josh Marshall notes: “Millennials aren’t just liberal. They’re getting more liberal. And rather than being liberal on policy issues but alienated from the Democratic party, they’re actually become significantly more identified with the Democratic party during this primary process. Are they wild about Hillary Clinton? No, they’re not. But in a general election context, liberal political views and the importance of the Democrats winning the 2016 election seems to more than offset that disaffection.”

It’s important that Sanders doesn’t isolate himself from the movement against Trump. The major concern for the majority of Americans – especially Latino and African American communities – is to defeat Trump, which means voting for whoever the Democratic candidate might be. This is one reason why Clinton won the African American vote in the primaries, since she was considered pragmatically as the best chance of keeping Trump out.

The intensity of the protests at the mogul’s rallies as he gets closer to the Republican nomination reveals the anxieties in these communities. On Friday, protesters blocked access to the venue for the California Republican convention in San Francisco and forced Trump to leave his vehicle and cross a highway to get to the hotel. Hundreds of protesters tried to storm the hotel, many of them high school and college students from local schools.

The Guardian’s Julia Carrie Wong spoke to Silvia Yoc, a 19-year-old student at College of San Mateo, who said she was protesting to “show support for the Latino community and our parents who came here to give us a better life”. Yoc, who was born in Guatemala, said Trump has inspired “a lot of fear in our community”.

The previous day, Trump spoke to a mostly white audience at the Orange County Fairgrounds and blamed illegal immigrants for a spike in violent crime. According to the Guardian, “a crowd of largely Latino but also white and African American demonstrators shouted and chanted slogans before the event, then returned as it drew to a close. Hundreds of people formed human barricades on an approach road to a nearby freeway, blocked the Fairgrounds exits, and waved banners that said ‘Build a Wall Around Trump’ and ‘Dump the Trump’. Police appeared to be caught out by the protesters and had to call in reinforcements to separate them from the Trump supporters flooding into a large parking lot after the rally.”

The LA Times reported: ” ‘I’m protesting because I want equal rights for everybody, and I want peaceful protest,’ said 19-year-old Daniel Lujan, one of hundreds in a crowd that appeared to be mostly Latinos in their late teens and 20s. … ‘This is the anger people have against Trump,’ said Jose Cruz, 21, as he pointed to the protesters running in the middle of the street. ‘It’s not because he’s white – it’s because of what he’s said.’ Several echoed the comments, saying they were drawn to the streets to counter Trump’s stated policies on immigration and his inflammatory remarks about Mexicans.”

Sanders declared that he will campaign until the Democratic convention so as to get the widest possible audience for his message, and is pressing to get a tangible commitment to a more left platform. “We are in this campaign to win, but if we do not win, we intend to win every delegate we can, so that when we go to Philadelphia in July we are going to have the votes to put together the strongest progressive agenda that any political party has ever seen,” he told a student audience in Indiana.

The Washington Post comments: “He’s hoping for signs of genuine commitment to priorities like debt free college and a $15 minimum wage, and to reforms to the nomination process that might maximize participation among the sort of young, unaffiliated Sanders voters who were excluded from the New York primary.”

Jim Hightower argues that Sanders has already won control of the political narrative. “Sanders’ vivid populist vision, unabashed idealism and big ideas for restoring America to its own people have jerked the presidential debate out of the hands of status quo corporatists, revitalized the class consciousness and relevance of the Democratic Party, energized millions of young people to get involved, and proven to the Democratic establishment that they don’t have to sell out to big corporate donors to raise the money they need to run for office.” As Sanders said recently, “When people respond by the millions to your message, then that message is now mainstream. That changes political reality.”

The break from the political establishment that Sanders’ campaign represented lies in his validation of a return to a New Deal consensus. Noam Chomsky points out that Sanders’ policies are “quite strongly supported by the general public, and have been for a long time. That’s true on taxes. It’s true on healthcare. So, take, say, healthcare. His proposal for a national healthcare system, meaning the kind of system that just about every other developed country has, at half the per capita cost of the United States and comparable or better outcomes, that’s considered very radical. But it’s been the position of the majority of the American population for a long time. So, you go back, say, … to the Reagan years, about 70 percent of the population thought that national healthcare should be in the Constitution, because it’s such an obvious right.”

Even more significant is the organizing thrust among his supporters to continue the campaign’s momentum. After the party’s primaries are over, activists plan a June summit in Chicago to enhance the campaigns for a $15 minimum wage, for a tax on Wall Street speculation to fund human needs and jobs, improved Medicare for All, the fight for free and debt-free higher education, secure retirement through expanding social security, ending HIV/AIDS, achieving Constitutional pay equity for women, and ending deportations and support for DREAMers, among other issues. Speakers include Dr. Cornel West, Naomi Klein, and Roseann Demoro of the National Nurses Union.

As Juan Cole comments: “Clinton will continue to need the left wing of the Democratic Party as she campaigns through Nov. 4. The trick for the left will be to find ways of tying her down and making sure she can’t swing back to the center-right of the party after the July convention.”

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Filed under 2016 Election, Bernie Sanders, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Fight for 15, Hillary Clinton, latino americans, primary elections, Uncategorized