Don’t Vote For Evil

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Earlier this year, I said that I would only write one post about the 2016 U.S. election cycle. Ultimately, I decided to split my commentary into two posts. The first post, which I invite you to read too, is called Don’t Just Vote. The second post, which you’re reading now, is called Don’t Vote For Evil.

These two posts are closely related. They both talk about politics in the United States. In the first post, I talk about non-electoral politics, which includes any political activity other than voting or campaigning for a candidate. In my second post, I discuss my ethical and strategic perspectives on U.S. electoral politics and the 2016 elections.

Both posts talk about strategies for creating positive change in the United States. I see an important relationship between these two conversations about politics, and I believe that we need to be having both conversations about the state of politics in the United States. However, I’m presenting these two posts separately because I want you to consider them separately.

In other words, even if you disagree with the content of Post #2, that should have no bearing on your thoughts about Post #1. [The reverse is also true, but I expect much more disagreement and hostility in response to Post #2.]

Now, for Post #2, let’s talk about Don’t Vote For Evil.

The 2016 Democratic and Republican primaries have generated lively discussion among my friends. Aside from a handful of online and offline discussions with friends and family, I’ve refrained from making any detailed remarks about any of the candidates or the election in general. Now that the field of candidates has been narrowed down to two, I’ve decided to share my thoughts and make my endorsements.

My comments on the 2016 election cycle can be loosely divided into four categories: (1) voting ethics; (2) voting strategy; (3) what’s wrong with the two-party presidential candidates (and their parties); and (4) solutions.


(1) Voting Ethics

The basic premise of my argument is simple. It can be summed up in four words.

Don’t vote for evil.

It’s really that simple. Unfortunately, many otherwise reasonable people who I know personally keep making seemingly reasonable arguments in favor of voting for the so-called “Lesser Evil” in presidential elections. Therefore, I find myself in need of a more detailed explanation of my position on voting and why I refuse to vote for someone who I consider to be the Lesser Evil.

Ethically speaking, voting is an extension of personal choice and therefore personal responsibility. When you vote for a political candidate, you are choosing them as your proxy to act in your place in all public policy deliberation and decision-making at that level of government. Consequently, if you voted for someone, you share some degree of personal responsibility for everything that they say and do in your name. If they vote for something, it’s as though you voted for it. If they issue an executive order, it’s as though you issued that order. If they sign a treaty, it’s as though you signed that treaty.

If they do something wrong, it’s up to you and your fellow voters to try to set it right.

Of course, it’s not entirely your fault if that person does something completely unexpected once they’re in office. If you vote for a pacifist and they randomly start launching nukes, that’s not entirely your fault. But if their history, campaign speeches, and party affiliation indicate that they’re in favor of a certain policy, and they take action in support of that policy, then you share in personal responsibility for that action. For their entire term of office, their actions and your conscience are inextricably linked.

Even if you don’t agree with my assessment of the candidates, or my assessment of political strategy, or anything else I say in this post, take this ethical perspective on voting to heart. Keep this in mind when you cast your vote. You are granting someone the legal and ethical authority to make decisions on your behalf. Are you prepared to accept the consequence of your choice — and their actions?

(2) Voting Strategy

Some voters are willing to concede some of the aforementioned points. They accept some degree of personal responsibility for their votes, and they are concerned about some of the consequences of voting for a Lesser Evil candidate. Yet they still choose to vote for the Lesser Evil anyway.

Why?

They say that it’s a pragmatic decision. They say that it’s the only way to stop the Greater Evil from winning. They say that we should vote for the Lesser Evil for president while we wait for third parties to build the support necessary to present a viable challenge to the Greater Evil. They say that anyone who doesn’t vote for the Lesser Evil is in fact empowering the Greater Evil to win.

I say no.

None of the above arguments are valid. No matter how often I hear die-hard Democrats repeat these arguments, or how many snarky image memes and Tweets and emails Democratic Party operatives circulate, none of these arguments stand up to the most basic of scrutiny.

Voting for the Lesser Evil is not pragmatic. Pragmatic (as used in this context) means taking whatever course of action is most practical and most likely to achieve your goals. Voting for the Lesser Evil is counterproductive to achieving your policy goals because you already know that the candidate you’re voting for is going to violate some goals that are very important to you (or should be). It rewards candidates and parties who have chosen to embrace a certain percentage of abhorrent public policies simply because those policies are “not quite as horrific” as the opponent’s policies. It enables a slow but steady march toward ever-greater evil as the two parties take turns passing unacceptable public policies and then blaming each other for this behavior. It has become the most common justification used to support the many horrific things that our allegedly freedom-loving, justice-seeking, and democratic government does in our name.

“Well, we know that Candidate X is going to take away some of our freedoms, needlessly kill some people at home and abroad, perpetuate the cycle of poverty and oppression in our communities, etc. But it’s okay because they’re not as bad as Candidate Y, and they’ll also do some good things like letting me get married and granting me access to not-quite-affordable-but-totally-mandatory corporate health insurance!”

Can voting for the Lesser Evil sometimes lead to some temporary gain on a certain aspect of public policy? Sure. I won’t deny that. In the short to mid term, you may gain crucial life-saving ground on certain specific questions of public policy.

But it’s a Faustian bargain. You’ve gained one good by sacrificing another. You’ve helped one group of people by harming another. In many cases, you’ve benefitted yourself and those closest to you while harming your neighbors and people in other nations who you may never meet. The people you’ve harmed won’t soon forget what you’ve done and why you’ve done it. And the party that your candidate belongs to won’t soon forget that you’re willing to accept some degree of evil — honest to goodness evils like war, torture, genocide, ecocide, etc. — in exchange for some concessions on other issues that are important to you personally (and that can always be taken away in the next election cycle).

It’s also a bit of an illusion. Was it really your vote for a Lesser Evil that lead to those changes in policy? Or was it the tireless day-to-day struggle of frontline grassroots activists applying political pressure in order to force them to field candidates who were in favor of the policy change? Claiming that you magically created tremendous social change by spending five minutes in a voting booth is a disservice to the frontline community organizers who actually made those victories possible. Yes, your vote did play a role in the final stages of their strategy for social change, but that doesn’t mean you get to claim all of the credit for their hard work. It also doesn’t mean that voting for a Lesser Evil is the only way to bring these strategies to fruition.

Voting for the Lesser Evil is not the only way to stop the Greater Evil from causing harm. There are many other ways to do that. Before the election, you can try to convince as many people as possible of just how bad the Greater Evil is. You can offer alternative ways for them to express their frustration or have their needs met without causing harm to others. You can change campaign finance laws, organize boycotts, etc. in order to deprive the Greater Evil of money and power. You can elect people to other branches and levels of government to keep the power of the Greater Evil in check. After the election, if they are elected, you can actively resist the policies of the Greater Evil and seek to have them removed from office. Before and after the election, you can also seek to change the electoral process so that we are no longer forced to choose between a Lesser Evil and a Greater Evil. None of this requires voting for a Lesser Evil candidate who you know for a fact will cause a considerable amount of harm in their own right.

We shouldn’t vote for the Lesser Evil while we wait for third parties to build a more viable challenge to the Greater Evil. Several of my Democrat friends have complained that the Green Party and other third parties should spend more time and energy and money building their power at the local and state level before launching a serious bid for the Presidency. Some of these complaints are profoundly hypocritical because they come from people who have actively opposed the efforts of third parties to do just that. But that’s a whole nother story. In other cases, these complaints are very sincere and well-meaning critiques of party-building strategy.

I actually agree with this critique, at least in principle. Any third party — especially one like the Green Party that values “grassroots democracy” as one of its core principles — should spend the majority of their time, energy, and money on local and state elections (and possibly non-electoral organizing on the local and state level too).

In practice, there are at least three important points of information that people making this critique may be missing.

The first point is that running national candidates is sometimes used as a strategy for mobilizing support for local and state candidates. Election laws in the U.S. make it disproportionately and unfairly difficult for third party candidates to get on the ballot at any level of government. In order to face this challenge, third parties often do double duty or triple duty in their ballot access petition drives — circulating two or three petitions at once in order to maximize the results they can get out of a single petition drive. Running national candidates is a way to tap into the spike in interest in political organizing that occurs once every four years surrounding the presidential campaign. In theory, on a good day, that enthusiasm for a presidential candidate can translate into new support for local and state candidates.

The second point is that third parties often do run local and state candidates, but these candidates get less attention from the media, political commentators, and (unfortunately) volunteers. If this is your best argument in favor of voting for a Lesser Evil candidate, I say put your money (and time and energy) where your mouth is. Vote for your Lesser Evil candidate if you really must, but then show your support for third party candidates in local and state races in the hopes of eventually building toward a “strong” Presidential candidate down the road.

The third point is that the lack of a “strong” third party candidate in the presidential race still doesn’t mean that you have to vote for the Lesser Evil candidate. It simply means that you have not yet successfully mounted a viable challenge to the evils of the two-party system at that level of government. This being the case, you can either focus your efforts entirely on “down-ballot” races, or vote for a third party candidate in the hope of securing easier ballot access next time. Voting for a Lesser Evil candidate doesn’t help either of these goals.

Most importantly, people who voted for “third party” or “independent” candidates are in no way, shape, or form responsible for the election of the Greater Evil. People are responsible for their own choices and their own actions. The only people responsible for the election of a Greater Evil candidate are the candidate themself, the people who voted for them, and any campaign donors and others who supported their candidacy. That’s it. No one owes their vote to any candidate at all, much less a Lesser Evil candidate who is being shoved down the throats of voters as the only option for opposing a Greater Evil. Rather than blaming people who didn’t vote for the Lesser Evil candidate, a more productive response would be for all of us to work together to ensure that the election process changes and any other problems that fueled the Greater Evil’s campaign are addressed.

[Side Note: Ralph Nader did not cost Al Gore the 2000 election. Seriously. Even if he had, people who voted him would still not in any way, shape, or form be responsible for Bush’s crimes.]

Of course, it’s also worth noting that whether or not you vote for the Lesser Evil, voting alone is not enough. Active participation in political action between elections is an essential part of creating lasting change. Elections that pit a Lesser Evil and Greater Evil candidate against each other as the only viable choices are no-win scenarios. If you want to win a no-win scenario, you have to change the parameters of the scenario.

(3) What’s Wrong With The Two-Party Presidential Candidates (And Their Parties)?

Having said all of that, let’s consider the merits of the two-party candidates in the 2016 election: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

It should be painfully obvious to any reasonable observer what’s wrong with Donald Trump. I’m not going to bother with a detailed analysis of the man himself or his policy stances. He is a living embodiment of the all-too-prominent strands of misogyny, white supremacy, and fascism running through the cultural fabric of the United States. He is also an unstable individual whose mercurial and often aggressive behavior are not good qualities for someone who is vying to become Commander in Chief of the most powerful military in the world. He is definitely the Greater Evil candidate in this election. He is the bogeyman that is being elevated to a position of credible threat by the wealthy and powerful people who fund and perpetuate the two-party system.

It should also be obvious to any reasonable observer that the two most powerful parties in the U.S. — the Republicans and the Democrats — are not in fact “the same” as each other.

My third-party and independent friends who keep repeating this mantra have succumbed to a dangerous misunderstanding of one of the primary methodologies of social control in the United States. The problem with the two-party system is not that the two parties are identical. If they were truly identical, there would be no life to the system — no lively debates, no passion for campaigning, etc. — and even fewer people would vote, and the system would rapidly disintegrate.

The real problem is that the two parties have loudly declared major differences on some issues that are very important to We The People, yet they tacitly agree on other issues that are very important to the wealthy and powerful few who dominate the economic and political institutions of this country. These very real differences allow the two parties to tap into two very distinct U.S. subcultures (using the Southern Strategy for “conservatives” and the Northern Strategy for “liberals”), while the commonalities allow them to push forward a “bipartisan” vision of austerity-plus-incarceration at home and austerity-plus-war abroad.

In other words, Democrats and Republicans have vicious arguments about “social issues” while party leaders quietly agree on key economic and foreign policies that will increase poverty and violence both at home and abroad for the private profit and empowerment of the very few.

Where does Hillary Clinton fit into all of this?

I would like to start by saying that the endless onslaught of misogynistic attacks against Hillary Clinton by the Republicans and her many other political opponents [including some “progressives”] is both appalling and unacceptable. Her political opponents have spent decades slandering and libeling and otherwise harassing her simply because she is a strong-willed woman with considerable political clout who sometimes speak out in favor of “progressive” political causes. This misogynistic crusade against Hillary Clinton on the basis of her identity as a woman is an appalling and completely unacceptable aspect of the discourse around the 2016 election.

Having said that, though, I would like to point out that her gender does not somehow render her immune to any criticism of her actions and stated intentions as a candidate for public office. It would, in fact, be misogynistic to treat her policy stances “gently” because we are afraid of “hurting her feelings” or “being too hard on her.” She is nothing if not a strong-willed and outspoken individual. She is more than capable of defending herself against her misogynist detractors. On the other hand, her detractors with serious complaints about her history and public policy stances should not let themselves be silenced by either Clinton herself or the misogynists who attack her.

As a citizen of the country that she is attempting to govern, I will speak my mind about her policies and all of my concerns about her potential (likely at this point) service as President of the United States. If you already see her to some degree as the “Lesser Evil” choice in this election, what I’m about to say will probably not come as a surprise to you. If, however, you are wholeheartedly in favor of her candidacy and have no major concerns, I urge you to consider what I’m about to say very carefully.

I’m not going to speak to her character. If you want to draw conclusions about her character based on the information that I am about to present, you are welcome to do so. However, I would very much prefer to discuss the policies themselves rather than debate her intentions and her character. I believe that the struggle for justice is a struggle against principalities and powers, not a struggle against individual people like Hillary Clinton. We can leave questions about her motives and character to her biographers. I’m more concerned about the effects that her presidency would have on public policy, on our country, and on our world.

[I’m not alone in my concern, by the way. I’m personally not a Democrat, but many (if not most!) Democrats disapprove of Hillary Clinton from a Democratic perspective.]

The following is a list of some of my concerns about her past, present, and future stances on public policy. This is by no means an exhaustive list. The “Queen of Chaos” has had a long political career, much of which she doesn’t like to talk about with her “progressive” base. While not exhaustive, this list should be a good start for you to pursue your own investigation into what this candidate really stands for and why you shouldn’t vote for her.

  • Hillary Clinton supports war. This is the most obvious and arguably the most egregious policy concern. Clinton is a “hawk.” She has no qualms about using military force to kill large numbers of people in pursuit of “national interest” — which usually means financial and political adventurism rather than responding to any real threats to the people and lands of the United States.
  • Hillary Clinton is making the climate crisis worse. In spite of her much-touted experience as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State, she has not yet recognized that global warming is the greatest threat to national security and global security. President Obama, the Pentagon, and many others have spoken about climate change as a serious national security threat. Even Clinton herself has spoken about the severity of the climate crisis and issues of climate justice. Actions, however, speak louder than words.
    • Clinton’s state department touted coal development. She’s not currently pushing for coal development as strongly now as she was then. However, this speaks to her overall embrace of fossil fuels as a core component of the national and global economy. This backwards thinking is already killing large numbers of people and will get increasingly worse as the climate crisis continues.
    • Clinton’s state department sold fracking to the world. She justified this at times by claiming that it was a cleaner “bridge” fuel. This was a dubious claim even at the time that she first made it. She continues to make variants of the claim, ignoring the fact that she was wrong on the science and has actually made the situation worse.
    • Clinton’s campaign materials do address the question of climate justice, which to be fair is more than most candidates can say. However, her history, her fossil fuel campaign funding, and her overall approach to economic development seem to indicate that she is still in favor of keeping fossil fuels as a core part of our economy and energy infrastructure for far longer than any evidence-based estimate of the carbon budget allows. True climate justice involves stopping the harm caused by our emissions and thus minimizing climate disruptions. It also requires those most responsible for creating the impacts that arise from climate change to bear the proportionate cost of responding to the resulting economic, social, and environmental crisis. She has given no indication that I know of that she intends to support such measures.
  • Hillary Clinton championed so-called “welfare reform” and mass incarceration and continues to champion austerity.
    • Welfare reform severely harmed the poor and disproportionately affected Black and Latinx communities. It was also particularly harmful to women and children, which was an especially egregious offense given the fact that Hillary Clinton is a self-proclaimed feminist. [Other feminists have criticized her approach as white feminism and feminism of exclusion]. The push for welfare reform was also a way to appeal to white racists who didn’t want to give “handouts” to people of color while also retaining the support of white progressives by describing the reform as a “hand-up rather than a handout.” It was her husband’s policy, but she spoke in favor of it and actively organized support for it.
    • Clinton herself admits that her support for mass incarceration was a mistake. But that doesn’t take back the harm caused by mass incarceration. Her support for mass incarceration also included coded racist language like the term “super-predator” to appeal to white people’s fear of Black youth. [This was similar to the use of the word “thug” today.] Her supporters may try to portray this as an isolated incident or a mistake that she has learned from. Yet during her 2008 presidential campaign, when she was running against a Senator from Illinois named Barack Obama, she and her campaign used thinly-veiled racist rhetoric against him, describing then-Senator Obama as “not fundamentally American” and generally feeding into the much harsher and more explicit racism coming from the right at the prospect of a Black president.
  • Hillary Clinton has been attacking single-payer healthcare. This is especially ironic since she herself has extolled the virtues of universal health care in the past. Now, in order to discredit her opponent in the primaries and ingratiate herself to her health insurance industry donors, she has become an opponent of single-payer healthcare.

Any one of the above points would be reason enough for me to withhold my vote. Put them all together and you get a candidate who I would not even consider voting for.  If she were wrong on just one or two issues, you might be able to convince me that she is basically the right choice and we just need to have a serious conversation with her about those one or two issues. Instead, it is obvious that she embraces an approach that involves a considerable amount of violence directed toward the poor, toward women, toward people of color, toward the people of other nations. The other candidate’s stances in no way excuse or vindicate her own unnecessarily violent stances. If I vote for her, I am not only consenting to this violence, but actively facilitating it.

I reject Hillary Clinton’s militarism and imperialism. I reject her exacerbation of the climate crisis and violations of climate justice. I reject her austerity policies, past and present, and the overtones of misogyny and racism that they have entailed. I reject her opposition to single-payer healthcare. I reject any and all other policies of hers that harm the public in the service of private profit and political gain. All of these policies are going to cause considerable harm to many people, up to and including death for some of them. She does not have my consent to enact these policies and commit these harms in my name.

(4) Solutions

If Trump is an obvious problem, and voting for Clinton is a less-obvious-to-some problem, then what is the solution?

I won’t hold it against you personally if you succumb to the fear-mongering that is driving people to vote for Clinton out of fear of a Trump presidency. The system as it exists forces us to choose between terrible options, and we won’t always agree on what choice is best under such terrible duress. What I will do, however, is propose solutions that I would argue are far more ethical and effective than supporting any candidate with the aforementioned problems who is even considered the Lesser Evil by many of her supporters.

My proposed solutions fall into two categories: short term and long term. For long-term solutions, see my other election-related post, Don’t Just Vote. In the meantime, there are many things that we can do between now and November to respond to the very different types of threats posed by Trump and Clinton.

In the short term, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll stop both Trump and Clinton from winning the Presidency. However, given the various harms I’ve described above, we have to do what we can to act in the service of our values and our vision for this country. This involves finding something to do other than voting for either Clinton or Trump.

One short-term action we can take is educating the public about the other options in the presidential race — namely, third party candidates like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson.

jill-2016-logoI’m voting for Jill Stein. I encourage everyone else in the United States to do the same. Her plan and platform, along with the Green Party’s Four Pillars and Ten Key Values, are the best that I’ve seen in any major political party in the U.S. She takes the climate crisis more seriously than any other candidate I’ve seen. She supports the Green New Deal. She wants to save money and save lives with a “Medicare For All” single-payer public health insurance program. She supports peace and human rights. She is the candidate of the Green Party, a party that actually embraces all of these values and goals rather than just paying them lip service during election season. A Stein presidency would move public policy in the right direction — the direction of ecological sustainability, social justice, grassroots democracy, and nonviolence.

Clinton supporters have started claiming that Stein is anti-vaccination (she is not) and anti-GMO (she is fairly anti-GMO). These are apparently the biggest concerns that the pro-Clinton camp can come up with about her (other than the Trump bogeyman and her relative inexperience). I strongly suspect that these rumors are being spread by Clinton operatives in order to discredit Stein, although I haven’t bothered tracing them to their source. The anti-vax rumor is simply false — a willful misreading of her critiques of the undue influence that the pharmaceutical industry and other for-profit entities have over government policy. The anti-GMO tendency does concern me, but is not something that is going to stop me from voting for her. [I can say more about that in a separate post if enough readers express interest.]

I am not concerned enough about either of these rumors to be dissuaded from voting for Stein.

Personally, I will not be promoting Gary Johnson to anyone. His economic policies are a part of the “austerity” movement that leaves working-class people unable to feed and house themselves on full time wages while wealth concentrates in the hands of a very small number of people who did very little to earn it. He also doesn’t fully reject militarism, although he does advocate less of it because he wants to decrease the government’s budget. I’ve also just heard various bad reviews of him from his constituents.

Regardless of my thoughts on Gary Johnson, though, other people may want to consider the strategy of promoting Gary Johnson to Republicans who might otherwise vote for Trump (or not vote at all). This would achieve your goal of drawing support away from Trump without necessarily contributing directly to the many harms that a Hillary Clinton presidency will cause. If you’re concerned about Donald Trump winning, then convincing 10 people to switch from Trump to Johnson would do more to harm Trump’s campaign than your vote for Hillary Clinton will do.

Another short-term action involves looking at Congressional races to see who is running who more closely matches your values than any presidential candidate. Regardless who you vote for for President, you can vote for “down-ballot” candidates who reflect your values and who can keep the power of “up-ballot” candidates in check, regardless of who wins.

There are also short-term actions that involve voting for a third party or independent candidate that you like, but doing so in a way that doesn’t harm the chances of the Lesser Evil candidate winning. Personally, I reject this approach; I say vote for who you want to vote for and try to make that vote count rather than conceding to the fatal logic of Lesser Evilism. But if this idea interests you, you may want to look into safe state voting and vote pairing a.k.a. vote pacting. Again, I don’t recommend these strategies. However, I’m open to discussion and encourage everyone to draw their own conclusions.

Finally, another short-term action is to start educating yourself and others about long-term strategies for social change. For a few months every four years, large numbers of people in this country finally start talking about all of the important public policy issues that they should have been talking about the whole time, but haven’t been because they’re too busy or too disillusioned. Maybe you’re one of those people. Now is a time to take the frenetic energy of the election cycle, direct it away from petty bickering about politicians, and channel it toward the type of social movement building that has the potential to make far more of a difference than any one election.


At the end of the day, as I mention in my Don’t Just Vote post, it’s important to recognize that voting is just one of many political actions that you can take to create positive change (or prevent further harm) in our society. Having said that, though, it’s also important to remember what voting is and what it means. It’s an essential part of political life in a representative democracy. By casting your vote, you are granting your chosen candidate the legal and ethical authority to act in your name on matters of public policy.

Don’t vote for evil — and don’t vote out of fear of evil either. Your vote is an extension of your personal responsibility. It’s a powerful way for you to shift public policy in the direction of your vision for a better society. Vote for candidates at every level of government who match your values, who match your vision, and who bring us closer to the day where We the People truly live in a grassroots democracy rather than the current plutocracy. And when people try to tell you to vote for the Lesser Evil, remember that you can reject the Lesser Evil and vote ethically while still pursuing viable strategies for change both in the voting booth and beyond.

Rather than surrendering to either the Lesser Evil or the Greater Evil, keep working in the service of the Greater Good. It’s going to be a long and difficult struggle, but every step we take in that direction will be well worth the effort.

About

My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois where I write books and serve as director of Gaia House.

Posted in Climate, Green Party, Politics, Voting

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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