To those who claim, usually with condescending self-righteousness, that a vote for a third-party progressive in the presidential election is the equivalent of a vote for Donald Trump, thank you, but I don’t need your help.
To those who claim, usually with a world-weary sigh, that a two-party system requires the electorate to often vote for the lesser of two evils, please muzzle your good intentions and go stand in front of a mirror and explain to yourself, not me, how voting for evil can be expected to produce good outcomes. And don’t be abstract. Try coming up with some historical examples to show how and when this has happened before.
For those who claim that a vote for one presidential candidate or another will determine Supreme Court decisions for next generation, go bone up on your U.S. history to see how many Supreme Court judges have rendered decisions that no one predicted when they were nominated. This view assumes, first, that the judicial decisions of tomorrow can be predicted today and that judges are unaffected by the time and culture in which judges live. Case in point: Who among you predicted that this Supreme Court would rule in 2015 that states cannot deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples?
To those who claim that the voting in the presidential election is a political act of historical significance, explain to me how the trajectory of American society as measured by, for example, widening economic inequality, militaristic foreign policy (especially since 9/11), privatization of the commons, the militarization of domestic police forces, escalating gun violence, and an inability to address climate change, has been moving in the same direction ever since the presidency of Ronald Reagan and without interruption through the two-term Democratic administrations of both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Tell me again how eight years of “hope and change” produced anything but more of the same old shit.
And while we’re at it, tell me whose interests are served by a presidential campaign season that lasts for at least 18 months out of every four-year cycle. I’ll answer that. The only interests that are served are those of the Democratic and Republican parties, the mass media, and an entire industry of consultants, behavioral modification specialists and spinmeisters—all of which are fed by millions of dollar in donations, a system that favors the wealthiest individuals and corporations. Even worse, the net effect of these painfully long and annoying campaigns is to ignore the pressing problems of the present in favor of fanciful speculation of what might happen in the future after election is over and before the next begins. This is an electoral system designed to prevent political change and its roots are in a Constitution that was written to make sudden change very difficult.
Fueled by donations, the electoral system is lubricated by misrepresentation, ignorance and lies that the mainstream news media reinforces by its lack of critical coverage. For example, for most of his campaign before securing the nomination, Trump received untold hours of free news coverage from the celebrity-obsessed media because he was, after all, Donald Trump, a guaranteed ratings boost, while Bernie Sanders was virtually ignored by the same media even when his rallies were drawing thousands of supporters.
The public doesn’t get off the hook either. When Trump proposes to control immigration from Mexico by building a wall on the U.S. southern border, which he claims will be paid for “by Mexico,” many of his followers accept that proposal uncritically. About 650 miles of that 1,969-mile border has some kind of physical barrier today. Has any Trump staffer or supporter bothered to figure the cost of building, maintaining and operating almost 1,300 new miles of border barriers? Do these supporters know that president cannot unilaterally dispense funds or create laws? Are they willing to pay more taxes for a multi-billion-dollar project that would dramatically increase the power and size of the federal government?
Both parties contribute to the ignorance of the public during presidential elections. Neither party can acknowledge that the nation’s ruling (and unelected) elite are largely unaffected by who occupies the White House, so the candidates wildly exaggerate what they can and will do when president and predict Armageddon if their opponent wins. The two parties both know it would be suicide to acknowledge that their similarities overwhelm their few differences. Trump isn’t fit to be president, but I believe the horror stories of a Trump presidency as imagined by Democrats about as much as I accept the vision of end-times conjured up by Republicans speculating about a Hillary Clinton presidency.
If my criticism of the GOP suggest I somewhat reluctantly favor the Democrats, think again. Clinton and the national Democratic Party have policy track records contributed to the long-term problem identified earlier, so I was delighted that Bernie Sanders sought the presidency, hoping he could challenge the two-party hegemony over the electoral system. My enthusiasm for Sanders waned when, rather than running as an independent or third-party candidate, he sought the nomination of the Democratic Party. In recent decades, the party has modified the nominating process, with features like super delegates, to protect the candidate and the policies favored by party leaders. Documents released by Wikileaks revealed that the Democratic National Committee leadership ignored its own procedures calling for neutrality toward candidates. The DNC offered its “deep and sincere apology” to the Sanders campaign for its failures and, yes, Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned as DNC chair, but the same day she was given a position in the Clinton campaign.
The outrage of Sanders supporters to the DNC chicanery also exposed their naivety. How could anyone have realistically expected the party machinery to be neutral toward a candidate who was never even a Democrat until he decided to seek the presidency? The Democrats have a history of relentlessly crushing grassroots challenges, e.g., the Mississippi Freedom Democrats in 1963, the anti-Vietnam war movement in 1967 and 1971, the Jesse Jackson campaigns in 1983 and 1987, but not in any meaningful way after Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Committee refashioned the party into “Republican light.” Since then, both parties are solidly right of center by any cross-national ideological comparison.
When it became apparent Sanders would not win the nomination, I hoped he would bow out without endorsing Clinton and redirect his campaign toward the future by contributing to a social movement and/or a new political party based on democratic socialist ideals. Sanders, however, capitulated and endorsed Clinton, for which he and his supporters received nothing meaningful in return, save a few scraps in the party’s policy platform.
With the candidates of the two major parties determined, we now move the general election when, we are told by the media pundits, the public will decide the next president. Hold on a moment. Without discussing the Electoral College, which was designed by the nation’s Founding Fathers to impede the popular democracy, there is no guarantee that votes will be fairly counted.
The Electoral Integrity Project, directed by political scientist Pippa Norris, measures perceptions of electoral integrity (PEI), which refers to “agreed international principles and standards of elections, applying universally to all countries worldwide throughout the electoral cycle, including during the pre-electoral period, the campaign, and on polling day and its aftermath.”
In the United States, a country with an already low rate of voter turnout, the Republicans for years have been erecting obstacles to registering and voting with the clear intent of discouraging participation by poor and minority Americans, who are more likely to favor Democrats. In our country, vote counting and recordkeeping is done on the local level, directed by an elected official, the county clerk and recorder in the state of New Mexico, a seat of power that is highly coveted by the established parties for obvious reasons. Congressional district boundaries are drawn every 10 years by the party in control of the state Legislature to ensure its partisan advantage for the decade ahead. The rules at virtually every level are written by either Democrats or Republicans, who have a common interest in discouraging third parties
According to the PEI Index report for 2015, The United States “ranked 47th among all 139 countries…achieving a score worse than all other established democracies. US elections got poor grades because experts expressed concern about the quality of the electoral laws, voter registration, the process of drawing district boundaries, as well as regulation of campaign finance.”
Both parties are intellectually bankrupt and both parties are answerable to a dens network of industrial power that directs the policies they create while funding their conventions, their candidates, and their campaigns. A lesser-of-two evil vote in a presidential election is always a victory for one or both parties. It endorses the status quo and the two-party stranglehold over electoral politics.
Under the existing U.S. electoral system, it is virtually impossible for a third-party candidate to win the president. But significant voter turnout for third-party candidates is a registered statement of discontent with politics as usual and, more importantly, it is a long-term tactic to undermine the two-party duopoly and create the space and opportunity for a political party that could effectively challenge or replace one of the existing two.
Voting for a third party in this election cycle could also have significant long-term impacts simply because public support for both parties and intra-party divisions are greater now than at any time in the recent past. The evidence could not be clearer. Trump captured the GOP nomination, despite once being a Democrat as well as a member of the Reform Party and having publicly excoriated Republicans in the past. Similarly, Sanders, who was never a Democrat until he sought the presidency, almost unseated the candidate most Democrats believed was unbeatable. Both parties are unraveling before our eyes. If there was ever a time to take to the long view and vote for a third-party presidential candidate, it is now.