I’ve been told that voting for a third party is voting for Trump. This statement is emblematic of the Democrats’ role in politics: gaslighting and marginalizing progressives. Buried in that claim is the idea that Joe Biden is the left’s default candidate. Claiming such a thing is the first step of this process. After all, if you don’t agree that a leftist’s vote belongs to Biden, then a ballot for third parties wouldn’t subtract from Biden’s total—he would have never had that vote to begin with. Progressives would simply be voting for Hawkins. Why, then, are they obligated to vote Biden? If I understand liberals correctly, it’s because he’s the most viable candidate left of Trump. When you need to stop Trump, he’s the alternative with a chance of winning. If you want to fight for progressive policies, they argue, it’d be easier to do that under the Democrats. I can understand why either of these arguments would convince a leftist to pick Biden; however, they don’t entitle him to their vote. In fact, it might be better for them to choose a third party, or to not vote at all.
Votes are an endorsement of a candidate. Landslide wins and high turnouts legitimize presidents, conversely, low participation is often evidence that they lack a proper mandate. Because of that, your vote (or lack thereof) has tremendous value. Candidates who win by large margins have greater power, and losers with a large share of the electorate are given recognition. Your vote, win or lose, can be used to bolster a movement.
The Democratic Party doesn’t deserve that support from progressives. First of all, they oppose and deride crucial policies like the Green New Deal (see: Nancy Pelosi’s comments). Most progressives who operate within the party fail to manifest their goals. For example, the fight for a minimum wage worth $15/hr in 2016 money began with the 1962 March on Washington. After almost 60 years of activism, Democrats have failed to meet a progressive demand issued by our grandparents. That fact alone should be disqualifying—it debunks the idea that leftists can achieve their goals through cooperation with the Democratic establishment. Another argument would be that Democrats are less destructive than Trump. This is true, but harm reduction has its limits. Stopping the Republican agenda isn’t enough when the status quo is terrible; there is nothing productive about keeping an even keel when you’re heading for the rocks.
Biden’s promise to reclaim “the soul of the nation,” without addressing pressing social, environmental and economic issues, is exactly that. Joe refuses to ban fracking, he opposes Medicare for All and once suggested that the police aim for the leg when shooting innocent people. His platform’s only real offering is that he isn’t Trump; at best, Biden’s stated goal is a return to the Obama years. However, they themselves were a compromise on Obama’s vision which, it must be said, was born in the midst of a financial crisis. By any standard, that is unambitious. After all, for a variety of reasons, including Republican interference, Obama didn't fix many of the problems he identified, and popular frustration at this failure contributed to Trump’s. For many, those years of degradation and inaction eroded their trust in establishment politics. Biden’s platform, then, is a return to the conditions which brought demagoguery to America.
Therefore, Biden’s goal of restoring Obamaesque dignity to the White House, without offering meaningful improvements, only works if you believe that our problems are born from Trump. Otherwise, you’re campaigning to be a respectable face to America’s problems, and nothing more. I shudder to imagine what 4, or 8, years of disappointment with Biden will spawn.
In light of that, voting for progressive parties like the Greens, or abstaining, carries two advantages. Firstly, you signal that you aren’t content with a plan to just hit “pause” on our spiral to the right. If nothing else, that might make the Democrats stop taking leftist votes for granted. Perhaps they’ll court progressives instead of moderate Republicans. In addition, you legitimize leftist movements. The argument against voting Greens (and the argument against voting for Bernie)—namely: that they are unelectable—becomes less powerful as they get more votes. Therefore, a stronger Green party, and a narrower Biden victory, both improve the likelihood of success for progressives and, consequently, progressive policies. They make an escape from the vicious two party cycle more realistic. That’s why being the harm reduction candidate, or the biggest opposition to Trump, didn’t entitled Biden to the progressive vote, in fact, it does the opposite.
In response, you could argue that it’s better to move Biden and the Democratic party itself left—create change from within. This strategy has been futile, and will continue to be. The Democrats are opposed to becoming a progressive party. In fact, they are a bigger threat to progressivism, as a movement, than the Republicans; they want to absorb the leftist bloc and then silence their voice.
At its upper levels, the party is dominated by politicians who have more in common with Republicans than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Bernie Sanders. That’s why the Democratic Party’s philosophy of “they go low, we go high” only applies when opposing Trump. The Democrats seem helpless to oppose the GOP, no matter how much power they get. House Democrats, though it horrified progressives, voted for Trump’s military budget while impeaching him. Mitch McConell’s opponent this election is running on the platform that McConnell doesn’t help Trump’s agenda enough—they’re a self described “Trump Democrat.” Then, there’s the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, where Senate Democrats spent their time apologizing to Republicans, lamenting that they were helpless to do anything (which isn’t true) and, as David Sirota and Andrew Perez write for Jacobin, “rushing out to take bargaining chips off the table—chips like ending the filibuster, procedural delays of the Senate, halting the must-pass budget bill and a future expanded court.” They appear incompetent in the face of Trump. What’s worse, they call themselves progressives while doing so; they make progressives seem impotent and ineffectual to the electorate. Why would an apolitical independent vote for a politician who won’t fight for them?
Contrast this with the Democrats opposition to progressives. Pelosi endorsed Joe Kennedy’s primary challenge of the progressive Ed Markey, breaking the party’s own policy of protecting incumbents. For a party which prides itself on following the rules, that is already odd. Taking that to the extreme, there’s the DNC’s decision to covertly rig the 2016 primary in favour of Hillary Clinton. And, of course, there’s the act of “falling in line,” so commonly seen ascribed to Republicans, which we saw before Super Tuesday. In an open attempt to stop Bernie from winning the Democatic Primary, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar dropped out, endorsing Joe Biden. This was unprecedented behaviour from primary candidates, and speaks to a rabid desire to keep progressives from winning. Whatever way you justify that, the fact remains: Democrats are far more cunning, determined and imaginative when fighting their own left wing. Unlike with the Trump they aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Even looking to their analogues across the pond: the British Labour party, a leaked dossier revealed that its establishment sabotaged Jeremy Corbyn because he was too left wing. They, too, fight progressivism for the same reasons.
However, even if their leadership were different, the structure of the Democratic Party precludes a significant move to the left. Their reliance on donations from Wall Street, and every other corrupt lobby imaginable, means that they cannot support radical (read: necessary) changes to the system. If they did, they’d lose huge chunks of funding. The Democratic party is too expensive and large of an operation to start avoiding PAC money, so a decisive shift from it is unlikely. From a financial perspective, I doubt they’d survive a pivot to progressivism. Third parties are not large enough to be similarly fused to this corporate system of funding. They could, in theory, develop themselves without it—it worked well enough for Bernie. That is already a strong argument to abandon the Democrats: if they stand no chance of going without PAC money, then we ought to support a party that can.
Even then, the Democrats are not a friend to the progressive movement. They need its votes to be relevant, but they neither can, nor want to, forward its views. That is why they rely on gaslighting the left. Telling people that Medicare for All is a losing policy, when the majority of Americans support it, is a lie which disempowers the people. As that narrative becomes accepted, advocating for such policies is seen as irrational. You are made to feel insane for hoping that Medicare for All is passed. Once that happens, the Democrats feel justified to limit themselves to petty, “reasonable” reforms. Instead of ending private prisons, they aspire for more female prison guards. Rather than closing the brutal, inhumane concentration camps on the border, they argue that Obama did, and Biden could, run them “the right way.”
Continually saying that progressive policies are unrealistic, and that progressive candidates are unelectable, is doing more to keep both out of politics than the GOP ever could. Such rhetoric convinces people that hoping for substantive policy is too ambitious and creates an electorate without an aspiration for the future. Is that not what Biden is selling us? What policies, which you know to be popular, have you had to accept as “unrealistic” in order to win. Which politicians have you discarded as “likely to be called socialist and turn people off,” only to see Biden compared to Stalin? The reality is that the Republicans will always oppose the Democrats; even Obamacare began as a Republican proposal. The policies and politicians which excite us are just as vulnerable as the boring ones proposed by the establishment. However, since the Democrats don’t want to run leftist candidates, this instilling false hopelessness has been their strategy. This happened to Bernie Sanders, continually happens to Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, and will happen to the next leftist on the scene. The Democrats don’t want you to be ambitious.
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Voting for the Democratic Party, or accepting them as the leaders of progressivism, therefore, is how we continue America’s descent right. It empowers them to continue suppressing and undermining ideas which would make America better. They are the party of “America is already great”—complacency in the face of glaring, systemic issues. There’s a reason why neither Martin Luther King Jr, nor Malcolm X, were fond of liberals. Both argued that they co-opt, mute and ultimately destroy legitimate, liberatory movements. Throwing your weight behind the party which believes that an equitable, sustainable society is unrealistic will not take you anywhere. Eventually, they’ll make you feel crazy for expecting things to get better. Democrats are perfectly happy to demand the votes of people who joined the party for Bernie, but they aren’t interested in supporting their policies. Joe Biden himself declared that he “beat the socialist,” he “[is] the Democratic party,” and he won’t listen to what his progressive wing wants. Right now, he’s considering Republicans for his cabinet.
That being said, voting for Trump because you dislike Biden is the opposite of clever. A fellow columnist’s decision to do so, because Trump is openly terrible, is taking a valid observation about America to an illogical conclusion. If you agree that the Democrats are undeserving of power because they are corrupt, uncaring and opposed to social change, then you can’t give your vote to someone who takes those flaws to the extreme. At that point, you are not rejecting the system, or positing an alternative world view, you are making the semantic complaint that you prefer an honest villain. That is neither constructive, nor helpful. There’s a big difference between fighting for a better future, and accelerating our descent rightwards.
One might look at that and say denying Biden a victory is the same thing as voting for Trump. However, by voting third party, and attempting to perform politics outside of the corrupt DNC, you are doing more than complaining that “at least Trump is honest.” Rather, you are working towards an alternative political landscape. While the Democrats and Republicans have a monopoly on power, our rights will continually be eroded. Every election cycle, the Republicans will push to dismantle something benign, this time it’s reproductive rights. Then, the Democrats will only promise to stop it. At no point will they fight, with any degree of competency, to restore what we lost. Biden’s proposed reversal of Trump’s tax cuts would still have them lower than the Obama years, for example.
Is a third party movement likely to get what it wants to begin with? No, but I think it can learn from the Democrats who, for decades now, have urged us to accept compromises. If you believe that America needs a third party, there’s no time like the present. If you don’t, vote Biden. I won’t argue that Biden is as malicious as, or worse than, Trump. He isn’t. Rather, this is a question of how you understand the Democratic Party’s role in politics. Do you consider it to be, as King put it, the great stumbling block in our stride to freedom? If you do, you have a valid reason to oppose them. Regardless, I’ll always reject the depressing message of the DNC. America deserves, and can achieve, more than it is being promised by Biden.
Dan Reznichenko is a Trinity first-year. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays.