“Rather, piety is what George Santayana and John Dewey defined as the sources of good in our lives, in our move from womb to tomb, our acknowledged dependence on those who came before. I am who I am because somebody loved me, somebody cared for me, and somebody attended to me. I’ll never, ever forget it.
What are you going to do in the short time between your momma’s womb and the tomb? How much integrity, how much decency, how much courage, how much honesty?”
Anybody who thinks that they can make it from womb to tomb and only love people who have the same political ideological view as you, you are in for a highly impoverished life.”
A response to the following letter.
This is going to be a charitable response to a condescending letter. I trust it is not the author’s finest work, as all of the authors of said letter are brave heroes in the fight against corporate rule. We applaud them for their work and stand in awe of their courageous stands against the ruling class. Becoming distracted by counter-productive leftist infighting is a small sin for such heroes and will not be judged harshly.
Let’s begin with the weakest paragraph of said letter, one which will be the least complex to refute: “And finally, if these voters did indeed erroneously believe that it was immoral to contaminate themselves by voting for Clinton or for a Democrat, surely in part that too was encouraged by Green campaigning that treated voting as a feel-good activity (“vote your hopes, not your fears”) as if fear of climate disaster, for example, shouldn’t be a motivator for political action.”
A couple of things are going on here simultaneously. The first is a dismissal of strategical difference, which I urge all the left to get better on. The recent manufactured Bernie-Warren conflict is a good example. Differences aside, these are the two best candidates for President. We should be joining hands. If Warren was offended by Bernie’s sexism, fine. If Bernie was offended by Warren’s political games, fine. But the people on the ground should be joining at the kitchen table discussing the bread and butter issues and how class, gender, race and strategy relate. Don’t become distracted by a ruling class divide.
I would argue too that by outright dismissing third party activism as a strategy against climate disaster, the authors risk buying into the strategic divide. If some working class people want to stop Trump, fine. If some see the third party as the only way to challenge the ruling class, fine. If some like Warren, Sanders, etc., fine. There is no need for this condescending attitude towards one another. This is a challenging time. We are facing the biggest threat to life on earth ever (climate change) coupled with what Noam Chomsky rightly calls the most dangerous organization in human history (the Republican Party) getting taken over by someone who is in many ways revolutionizing this most dangerous organization to be more dangerous (Donald Trump). Today is not the time to be dismissing anyone’s efforts to fight against the corporate rule as “feel-good”.
Now to completely contradict my above paragraph I would like to push back against this war against idealism the authors seem keen on fighting. The authors say we shouldn’t be making arguments such as “vote your hopes, not your fears.” What was a vote for Donald Trump in 2016? It was a vote for fear. Fear of immigrants, feminists, regulators, government, the press, academics, etc. Like it or not, fear, even more than logic, plays a crucial role in our post-fact electoral politics. We should be fighting against fear every chance we get. Furthermore, I would challenge the Democratic Party here. If they want to win an election they would do well to give us something to hope for, rather than just something to fear. This letter echoes the Democratic Party’s sentiment that voting should only be out of fear of the Republican Party. Hope, to the Party, is a dangerous thing. And yet, if the Democrats do want to motivate their base, they should find more strategies than scaring them. I will elaborate on this later, but for better or worse, the Democratic base has more goals than defensive fear. The conservative psychology may very well be motivated primarily by fear, but it is natural that a liberal or left ideology has other goals besides conserving the present institutions, especially when they are in such turmoil.
The letter is not entirely honest in its treatment of Jill Stein, who like the authors, has fought a courageous fight against corporate rule: “If Clinton got Jill Stein’s Green votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, Clinton would have won the election. Thus, the Green Party’s decision to run in those states, saying even that there was little or no difference between Trump and Clinton, seems to us to be a factor worthy of being removed from contested state dynamics, just like the Electoral College is a factor worthy of being removed across all states.”
The first point, which is the most controversial one, is that Jill Stein was not running as Hillary Clinton, but as herself. Just as Hillary Clinton was critical of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, Jill Stein was critical of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The number one purpose of this response letter is to inspire solidarity, but such an expectation cannot be put on to specific candidates who run for President. They are competing for our votes, and thus should not be endorsing each other along the way. Even if Jill Stein stood no chance to win the 2016 nomination, her goal was still to build her own candidacy and party. This double standard for Clinton and Stein is puzzling, especially given Clinton’s recent confession that she wasn’t sure if she would endorse Bernie Sanders if he won the nomination, a claim she later backtracked on.
The second point and this should be less controversial, is that Jill Stein was able to clearly articulate the policies of both of her opponents. While Stein stated the obvious that she wanted neither of them to win the election, she nonetheless aimed to honestly inform the voter on all policies, hers included. Such focus on policy was universally absent from Clinton, Trump and the media in general. If one were to listen to Stein, they would surely find that Clinton and Trump did not literally believe the same things, but that either candidate winning would be, in her view, an unacceptable outcome for the future of the country.
Most alarmingly, we find that it was not Ms. Clinton who raised money to challenge the legitimacy of the election results, but Ms. Stein. Ms. Stein made her biggest mistake when she only chose to investigate the states Ms. Clinton lost, thus exposing her preference and her ultimate interest in stopping Mr. Trump. While I disagree with her strategy here, it also proves the authors to be completely misfiring in their characterization. We should be asking the Democratic Party why they continue to endure their own base having their vote suppressed. Is it because they ultimately have no interest in challenging their own donor base and that voter restrictions in fact keep the party voting to the right, where the Democrats are most comfortable? In this spirit, we should not be turning people away from the polls, no matter who they vote for, but rather be focusing on welcoming all voting strategies.
The letter fails to acknowledge two crucial elements of the Sanders and Warren campaigns. First, a brief disclaimer about Ms. Warren. I have previously acknowledged that while I do prefer Sanders, part of me will always be drawn to Warren because she has a clearer strategy for victory. This strategy likely will include compromises on key issues both before her Presidency and during it. Sanders supporters, many of whom are independent voters, will also be adopting a similar strategy to the Green party of third party, no vote or write-in under the Bernie or Bust logic. Needless to say this is only a small percentage of Sanders’ supporters but given his wide appeal, it is safe to say this number is bigger than the Green Party coalition without Sanders. This is evident in Jill Stein’s proposal to have Bernie Sanders run in her place on the Green Party line.
I too have argued here against ideological purity that personalizes and fetishizes the Presidential election. The above letter rightly calls out the Greens for less focus on local elections: “And weren’t the Greens in the late ’80s and early ’90s winning elections to city councils and other local offices across the country, consistent with a grass roots strategy, though for much of the past 20 years, they’ve largely abandoned local and state contests, devoting nearly all their attention to increasingly harmful races for president?” But couldn’t the same thing be said of the Sanders campaign, one in which the letter endorses?
I would make the argument that it was the very successful campaigner and compromiser Bernie Sanders, far more than the radical leftist Jill Stein, that cost Hillary Clinton the 2016 election. Bernie promised his base very “feel good” things that could never be accomplished in his Presidency. The Sanders agenda, in some ways an ambitious one, could never be pushed through without a radical reckoning with the corporate powers in this country. Worse still, an electoral victory for Sanders is near-impossible in our corporate system and indeed the whole system is rigged against him.
But Sanders, like the writers of this letter, like to have it both ways. They like to say they want to stop Trump, but they also want to radically change the course of the Democratic Party with an agenda completely in opposition to most of their Washington based politicians and corporate donors. If we are being honest about our goal of stopping Trump, we would nominate Joe Biden right now. We would stop this costly primary that only furthers the real divisions between the Democrat’s base and donor class. We would adopt the lovely communist mantra of “Blue No Matter Who” and abstain from all criticism of Mr. Biden, who is the clear frontrunner for not only corporations but many low-information voters.
One could even make the argument we should nominate Michael Bloomberg, who clearly has the financial means to beat Mr. Trump. But let’s give Mr. Sanders credit here. He is better than that. Despite his claim that his number one goal is stop Mr. Trump, there is a deeper ideology going on here.
Such a scenario of an uncontested path to Democratic victory was available in 2016. The Party had largely wanted Hillary Clinton in 2008, and were surprised by Barack Obama’s charisma. Mr. Obama never had much interest in growing the party’s agenda. When he had a blue congress from 2008-2010, he simply didn’t enact his own agenda. Likewise, he didn’t do much, if anything, to help his party win in 2010 or after. Mr. Obama, like nearly all the Democrats, is most comfortable with their hands tied behind their backs.
The criticism of the Green Party’s focus on the Presidential election then could also be extended to the Democratic Party. From what I understand the problem goes beyond party leadership. The consolidation of corporate media and corporate power in general has lead to a very top-down focus. To make this a specific Green Party problem rather than a shift in corporate consolidation of power is perplexing.
Now, this leads us to 2016. Hillary Clinton, the top-down party leadership had decided, was the one to win the primary. The endorsements of her from party officials and insiders was universal, in some ways unprecedented. Bernie Sanders ran a campaign that was very different from Ms. Clinton’s. Yes, he did his duty and endorsed her but by just running a campaign that reflected American’s desires he immediately exposed Clinton as a corporate hack. Had he shut up and stayed home the differences between Clinton and Trump would have appeared wider, given we weren’t so focused on the differences between Sanders and the establishment.
These were his words: I am running against the establishment, the corruption, corporate greed, etc. He did not say, to his credit, I am running against Donald Trump alone. But it’s not even this simple. Say Bernie didn’t run, as the letter advises the Green Party not to do. Would this have changed the lack in Clinton? Would this have made anyone more faithful in our political system? One could argue that we need the specific left language of a Sanders or Stein. Without this all the dissatisfied people would have had no ideological or material grounding for their distrust and more would have joined the fascist Donald Trump, who echoed the same dissatisfaction but with far different specific solutions.
The argument in the letter is that the Green Party should only run its Presidential candidate in safe states, not in swing states. Is such an argument akin to prohibition? I would counter that we have a corporate political class who is failing us, not the other way around. I respect the communist sentiment here. I really do. I, like the authors in the letter, do not believe in democracy.
Now this seems offensive, but I assure you I am not offended by the anti-democratic argument the letter makes. I am not offended that the letter has the audacity to ask a political party not to run in an election. It’s an absurd claim but it is made for the right reasons, reasons I agree with. The reasons being that there are more important rights than the right to vote or the right to self-expression, or even political organization. I would argue that the rights to air, water, food, shelter, reproductive rights, safety, freedom from concentration camps, etc. that Trump is dismantling are far more important than our right to self-expression.
But this is not how the human soul works. I’m sorry. It would be very nice and clean if we all could get in line, shut up, and support the Democrats. We could sure solve the climate crisis quick if we took medicine to get rid of our sex drive. We could all be more well-adjusted by taking the correct Big Pharma corrective. We could all be happier if we stopped with these expectations of justice and just accepted our role as peasants to the corporate class. This would be peaceful, I don’t deny it.
But even if we accept the ruling class thesis that the working class simply is too uneducated and idealistic to ever vote for its own interest, even if we accept this shockingly classist argument laid out in the letter, we would have to concede that such a pivot is impossible for the human soul. Although here we have the letter writers going a step farther than last time. In 2016 the argument I remember hearing was that people should not vote Green. But this time we have the argument that the Green Party should not even run. Has the cynicism about the working class become that great that we don’t even want to give people the option?
Now here I am, exposing my liberalism here. I claim to be a communist, hate democracy, bla bla bla. But no, I am offended by this. I have to admit. If the Democrats want to beat Trump, they need a clearer goal. Either become the corporate monsters the Republicans are (which would defeat the purpose of winning and reckon the ideological split between them and their base to great to overcome) or become grassroots and be cut out of corporate funding, which would make it near impossible to win. Now they have the most winnable strategy, which is straddling the middle. But it’s not a good strategy, per se. It’s just the best option in these corporate times.
This is why Bernie is right. We need campaign finance reform. But this, for the short term, only helps the Republicans. Keep in mind Bernie sets a new gold standard in the same year of Trump. Good for him, but it makes it harder for other Democrats, no? Bernie is playing the long game here. Our democracy thanks him. Humanity’s future thanks him. But so does Mr. Trump.
Now if you get corporate money, you’re corrupt. True enough. But to make this a litmus test obviously exposes the Democrats. I’m sorry. Bernie must know what he’s doing here. Still, he’s right, of course. We need a radical transformation of society. You just can’t have both goals at once. I don’t buy the argument that Chomsky often has which is if you just get your leaders to be a little more liberal you have a greater chance to protest for something better, and so on. No! Once again, this is ignoring real data here. The politics go back and forth between the parties. There’s no ever-greater leftism here that happens naturally as soon as we get centrism in office.
Now we have a deep contradiction in society we have to deal with. The inequality is so unimaginable, the climate crisis so daunting, there needs to be radical solutions for these radical problems. And this is coming from someone who acknowledges the recent New York Times piece that now is better than ever to live or whatever in some kind of neoliberal calculation of pleasure and rights and so on. The violence against the poor and the environment needed to get here is acknowledged. But if you literally are class-blind and blind to human desire, like yeah, now (before Trump gives us all cancer or the water runs out) is one of the best times for some of us. It is that kind of time. But no one is happy. Until you solve that, you aren’t getting some rational incrementalism, or whatever. Politics is not a debate of policy, it’s about power.
This is why Bernie succeeds. I am convinced his success is that he talks very little about specific policy. He is constantly addressing the corporate power in the room and calling them out. This gives people great joy. Our lives are captive to this corporate greed and corruption. We feel helpless as they build and pollute through our lands, lock us up, bomb us, and cut our wages and health care. We hate these people. You have someone come in and say I’ll tinker here and there it doesn’t work. We’re tired of it. Maybe that makes us too full of hope or whatever. Maybe that makes the Green Party too much fun, or whatever. But sorry. Maybe we need some hope. Maybe we need some fun. And maybe we don’t trust anything else about politics. Life isn’t that much fun with the corporate stranglehold around our necks. For many people, life under both political parties just keeps getting worse. Whose fault is that?
Now this is too cynical. We know things get better with the Democrat. We know that the changes made for good are unseen and for many people life is just too hard to keep track of who does what. But that’s by design too. And the Democrats know to never get too appealing or ever do too much for us or else progressive populism would emerge as coherent and we’d have a revolutionary confrontation which wouldn’t be good for any of these people.
These are the dynamics. It’s not rational. It’s not good. It’s merely human. It’s just the natural way to respond. Capitalism has left us so commodified we are alienated from not just the political system, but our own friends, families and souls. But that’s ok. We must love everyone, where they are at. We must do that. Love is the only thing that breaks through this alienation. Although yeah that’s stupid hope stuff too. I get it. I would have no problem voting for Joe Biden. But that’s not a good thing. It just isn’t. I would do it, I follow the line of rationale. However, most people are just better than that. Most people are. For most people they got their bills to pay on that Tuesday, their kids to take care of because daycare is that expensive, their two jobs to work, their joblessness to drug themselves out of. We can’t do this social justice thing in reverse. We can’t be telling people not to despair before we fix the conditions of despair. We cannot be telling people to get over themselves and their distrust in politics before we fix the corporate stranglehold on politics.
It is in this sense I see both Warren and Sanders as positive steps. If the corporate class was smart, they’d roll with them. They’d self-correct and go home with money. But that’s not how the corporate class is either. They are just as irrational and sad as we are. Just as desperate. Not for survival. Not for dignity. Not for peace of mind from humiliation. Not for freedom from abuse. But just desperate for more bullshit. Can’t we see these two sides aren’t coming to the table? The differences in condition are too profound and obvious. The similarities in logic are too incomprehensible not to come to head.
This once again is far too theoretical. Life under the Democrats is better. Trump is a unique danger. The Green Party has no path to victory. Want to have people vote Democrat? Make the party accountable to their electorate. When we do this in reverse we forego democracy. It’s a harder and longer road. It may mean more Trump victories. It may mean the end of the species before we fix it. I’m no radical. I see climate change coming. Why not a little more liberalism before we die? I could beg the electorate for this. A few would change their minds. But not enough. We are dealing with half the country that doesn’t vote. A few more leftists won’t move the needle. I wish we were that important.
But don’t despair. The Stephen Hawking quote being thrown around that humans die from greed and stupidity isn’t all true. We die from idealism and hope too. We die from our recognition that we have rights and that we should fight for them. We die from our sense of dignity. We die from stubbornness and independence. We die from our desire to be free, to be somebody in this cruel world, to make it a better place. And we all do die. One day. But let it be fighting for the collective good. Let this sacrifice be one that makes our world better.
This is the Bernie Sanders gamble. I’m sorry, it is. It’s one that says enough is enough. We won’t take it anymore. And we’ll see where the chips fall. This, at the very least, moves the needle to the left. Now these are unique times. With a unique danger to humanity. I sometimes share that desire for us to be less human. To be able to be realistic, to not feel. Wouldn’t that be easier? But no, our leaders are irrational. Our billionaires aim to kill us all and don’t care. Who are we to be lectured? Let us try, at least.
Now see where I’m joking a little here. I like a guest on the Chuck Mertz program pointing out that “inequality” is the ruling class’s cover for poverty. They are always talking about despair, working-class people so miserable, humiliated and so on. No, it’s much more concrete than that. What we have is billions of people being denied their material rights. It’s not this obsession with the rich, this idealism, this hapless working class. I mean seriously. The ruling class reads too much Charles Dickens. No, people just want their material rights taken care of. This despair is universal. It’s the personalized neoliberalism. We’re talking about politics here. Politics. Get people homes, jobs, water, food, leisure time, air, schools, health care, roads, etc. That’s what it is. No one needs their wildest dreams here. The rich do, and that’s why they destroy stuff.
So yes I was making fun with the above despair bullshit that the letter buys into by shitting on hope. No one is that abstract. Unless you are really rich and literally have no problems. Which is fine, good for you, or whatever. See Chuck Mertz’s new interview on the Trump administration’s empowering of chemical industries. This is an unprecedented turn. I mean it’s literally the people giving us cancer who are regulating the chemical industries who give us cancer now. This is partly idealogical on Trump’s part. It’s beyond typical corruption. Getting him out of office would save millions of lives. Ok, fine strategy. But let’s not get personal. Everyone at least knows someone that Trump is giving cancer, or splitting up their family, or what have you. We’re tired of being dismissed.
So it does offend me. This pivot to shaming hope. I think it is deadly. Take Ryan Engly and Todd McGowen’s wisdom here as a counter to anti-hope. What we should want from our elections is for people to be duped. We need people to be foolish enough to believe they can make a difference. It is only through this faith in the hard work of the democratic process that we can make our voice heard. Note the deep thinking here by Engly and McGowen. They are smart enough to recognize that the Green Party is right, these things don’t do anything magic by themselves. But by our own political engagement, we can turn these elections into what the ruling class says they are: a place for political change.
In short, the letter is all emotion, it lacks any material grounding. There is a projectile of this scary mass of working-class people all being too idealistic and dumb to vote blue. This letter right here is the ideology. This right here is the lack of material grounding. This right here is the hope in the ruling class and the fear of the working class. We can’t shut up and we won’t shut up. The stakes are too high. We can’t afford to point fingers at each other any longer. The future of the species is at stake.
No, now is not the time to endorse magical thinking where some kind of moral absolutism and escape from the hard questions empowers the magical wheels of the political system to flip for the people. Now is the time to love every single person in the room, tell them they are beautiful and tell them the ruling class is trying its very best to kill us all for an extra buck. We must join hands in an organized force against said power and assert that the power of love is stronger than the power of capital. There is a concrete structure here. Love, when multiplied, defies this cynical logic that you are a spoiled brat with dreams.
No, not today! Today your joints ache from the long day at work, the baby is crying, the aunt has cancer, the brother can’t find work, who knows. Fight, why don’t you! Accuse each other of hope. Accuse each other of ignoring reality. Accuse each other of not shutting up and doing the damn job. No, this is the job. The job is hope. The work is hope. The mission is hope. If we can’t believe, who are we?
And I’m not of course talking about a belief in this wonderful political party who polls 1%, and forms a fetish for the ruling class. No. We are talking about a material belief that today’s work will lead to tomorrow’s reward. That if we continue the fight, whatever and however we see that fight, the ruling class will have to answer, at least for a moment, to their profiteering ways at the expense of public health.
This is a political battle for 365 days of the year. Bless this year for its extra day in paradise. 366 days! God bless this month of February. If only it was longer! It’s not just voting. It’s about supporting all of us crazies day in and day out. What is it to exist? Have we gone mad? We must do the hard work of political hope and organization every day. Elections don’t change anything. People do. The madness of people to believe that they can and will make a difference in this brief journey from womb to tomb. The elections will come, and they will go. The people must hold their own organizations throughout the year to challenge whoever is in power to accurately reflect the will of the people.
Note: this is not an endorsement of anyone. I prefer Green, but I am open to all strategies. I would argue for this, as a practical goal. Just get people to get out to vote, no matter who it is they vote for. We know Trump’s unfavorable ratings are very high. It’s just that all his supporters vote. We get the random person engaged, we’ll have better numbers for both Democrats and Green alike. We have an engaged and active electorate, we can’t be fooled so easily. Organize around this positive force. Because fascism will be back. It won’t go away. We have to set people up for a positive experience here. Get people out of the ideology of there is no difference between politicians by showing them that they are right. The politicians do not make a difference. We do. It is only by empowering the people that the politics will change. All of these conclusions are self-fulfilling. If politics are hopeless, they become hopeless for us. So, we must now do the reverse. Inspire hope in the people and one day the politics will follow.
In conclusion, I respect all strategies to make this world a better place. Mr. Trump’s war on public health regulations, clean air and water, immigrants and women coupled with his corrupt and authoritarian administration make him a unique threat to life on earth as we know it. I absolutely understand and respect the strategy of bringing Mr. Trump down at all costs. What I would argue though is that such a strategy ignores the real pain and alienation of the American electorate, and while admirable, is simply not possible given the loss of faith in both corporate parties.
Therefore, even if one does not like those who aim for something more than stopping Trump, such a force is inevitable because of the failure of both Democrats and Republicans to represent the material interests of the working class. This force, as it currently stands, mostly operates in absence, as genuine left populism is sabotaged by the corporations that run our country. It is quite rare to find someone hopeful enough to even take the time to support the Green Party. the 1% of the country who votes Green is nowhere near the size of the half of the country who does not even vote, let alone engage in politics the rest of the year.
Rather than blame the few people who have enough hope to form a political party that they believe in, we should be asking critical questions about why the majority of Americans have lost hope, and what we can do to inspire them into further action. In this spirit, I find any letter telling the Green Party not to run to be unproductive. Rather than blame and shame each other, we should be supporting each other’s fights against corporate rule and Mr. Trump. Just as Mr. Trump is a product of corporate rule, corporate power has been strengthened under Mr. Trump.
We are all on the same side here. In that vein, I thank Mr. Chomsky and others for their contribution to the democratic process and I urge them to reconsider the focus of their criticism.