To Vote or Not To Vote
The only reason I still have a Facebook account is because my mom doesn’t know how to use any other apps. Once a week I log in, skip past the unbridled and stupid fury of the timeline and cut straight to the video chat. All social media has the unique quality of bringing out the loudest and most certain opinions in people. But as the majority of Facebook users are older and more politically reliant on it than, say, Instagram or TikTok users, the peculiar flavour of hellishness that characterises my timeline tends to be very a liberal one.
This week, unusually, I posted something. I guess it’s because I’ve got this absentee ballot sitting here on my desk, waiting to be filled in and sent off. To be honest, I don’t know if I want to vote. I’ve never voted before, having always agreed with Emma Goldman that if voting changed anything they would make it illegal. The way the Democratic Party ratfucked Bernie lends credence to Goldman's view. But the argument for getting rid of Trump is compelling. While I don’t think he’s uniquely bad as far as presidents go (the last four presidents are collectively responsible for literally millions of deaths in the name of US imperialism, while Trump’s big military gambit was killing an Iranian general) I do recognise that he represents an escalation of the sadistic nihilism eating away at the foundation of the American republic. It doesn’t take a political scientist to see that the forces coalescing around Trump are the status quo on steroids.
So with a blank ballot staring me in the face I figured, let’s ask Facebook—home of the JUST FUCKING VOTE liberal tendency, peppered with a few radicals I expected might weigh in. I thought maybe someone could convince me either way, and correctly assumed that the algorithm would bump my post. I wrote:
Help me, if you will, with a little thought experiment.
Let’s imagine that I am in possession of an absentee ballot that needs to be filled in and sent by the middle of this week to be counted. I can fill it in and vote for Joe Biden, or I can—not.
On the one hand, Donald Trump is in many ways a uniquely bad president (though he hasn’t killed nearly as many people as the previous four presidents—yet). The argument is strong, I concede it. But on the other hand, Joe Biden has been at the centre of almost all of the mass murder and mass incarceration that has made the United States such a hellhole for the past 40 years. And the Democrats have proven time and again that they either can’t or won’t fight when it comes to brass tacks. And we find ourselves decade after decade being told that we must vote blue no matter who, never withholding our votes as a block to leverage power, which might be the reason we’re in this mess to begin with.
So, should I fill in the ballot and vote? Or should we start building the party? Or both? Or neither?
Comments and DMs welcome.
The replies consisted mostly of what you might expect. The older, wealthier liberal types chided me smugly for even asking the question. Those who’ve had a harder time either proposed voting for Biden begrudgingly, voting third party, or not voting at all. They understand that Democrats have us by the balls. One of my aunts actually asked if I felt comfortable with Trump representing my country—which, because she’s my dear aunt, I didn’t rejoin that a hunk of rotting meat torn to pieces by plague-carrying insects would best “represent” my country.
Two replies stood out. The first, from a pen pal whose opinion I respect enormously, said—don’t bother. At some point the Democrats have to learn that they can’t just count on us to vote for them because the alternative is worse. He pointed out that once you’ve pledged your unconditional support for a party, you lose leverage. Why would the Democrats, who know they have your vote regardless, listen to your demands? They’ve got you over a barrel. The only way to build working class power is to channel it into an organisation that shares an interest with the working class. My pen pal argued that the death of the Democratic Party is a prerequisite for building that kind of power and forming that kind of organisation.
The second reply came from my good friend and sometimes podcast co-host Norm. He argued that he doesn’t actually deep-down agree with any of the Democratic Party’s reasoning where voting is concerned, but that the alternative is just so much worse it merits drastic action. He used the analogy of a room in the house catching fire: voting Dem won’t put out the fire but it’s like spraying it with something to make sure the whole building doesn’t light up and burn down. Norm has no illusions about what voting for Joe Biden means. It’s a small measure to slow the slide into chaos that the Trump presidency represents. What we do to fix the underlying problem is the first question we should ask on day one of a Biden presidency. And Norm recognises that it might already be too late.
Sorry folks, but I’m not here to give you a definitive answer. You’ll find no closure from me. In the end if I vote or not, I wouldn’t write home about it. Capitalism is in crisis and Bernie was the stabilising element it needed to balance out, a compromise to buy us more time. He never was a revolutionary. Neither were we. But we are now, if we have eyes to see that there's no going back to a pre-Trump pre-corona fantasy world. Change is here, and I don't mean the Obama variety. If Trump wins and the country descends into an ecocidal fascism that sets the rest of the world ablaze, it’ll be in large part because Democrats have been pumping the bellows. Like it or not, we’re the fire brigade. If Biden wins and everybody breathes such a huge sigh of relief that we forget to man the hose and ladder—well, it’ll be the same song and dance but with a four-year prelude. Either way, the house is on fire.