Voting for the Lesser of Two Evils: a Vicious Circle

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The presidential election is once again upon us, and, once again, I am wondering if I should sit on the sidelines. I have never casted a vote for a president even though I became a US citizen a long time ago. This is not just because I am lazy. That, I might be. But laziness has not prevented me from doing a lot of things in life that I dread, such as going to the proctologist. So, what is it that prevents me from voting for a president? Is voting for Donald Trump or Joe Biden worse than having a colonoscopy?

Ever since I arrived in the US, I have heard people say that they will vote for the “lesser of the two evils.” My first experience with this bizarre logic was in 1968, when Americans had to choose between “Tricky Dick” Nixon or “Dump the Hump” Humphry. I had just arrived in the US and was being inculcated in a high school “civics education” class into believing that voting in America is a duty. As a teenager I wondered what kind of civic duty forces you to choose between two evils. I also wondered what people expected to happen if instead of an evil an angel became president. More than half a century later, after spending a lifetime studying political economy, I am still wondering. But this much I can say without getting bogged down in complicated, theoretical arguments.

There are two major parties in the US and they both represent “capital.” But since defining capital is very controversial among economists, let us simply say that both parties represent money, the kind of money that begets more money. This kind of money is sacrosanct. It is a deity. It is worshiped by almost everyone. Having this kind of money, or being backed by it, is essential for getting elected, especially since most voters rely on advertising before voting for a candidate. Many voters, even if poor, admire and highly respect those who have a lot of money.

Once in office the office holder must make sure that conditions for self-expanding money are kept intact. This means preserving and reproducing existing social relations, particularly by maintaining “law and order.” Among many other things, the class structure must be kept intact. But it is hard to define “class,” and, moreover, the word is tabooed in the US. So, let me illustrate this with a simple, personal example.

In my well-off neighborhood—where a few streets down, the houses on the beach sell for about $20 million each—the language of labor is primarily Spanish. The lawnmower men, the cleaning ladies, the garbage collectors, the maintenance people, etc., are all dark-skinned and have accents. I am not quite sure what the owners of the houses on the beach—who are invariably light-skinned and speak only English—do. But I am almost certain that most of them are engaged in the process of money making more money.

Preserving law and order means keeping the dark-skinned people, who maintain the houses, in their place and assuring that they reproduce for the future preservation of my neighborhood. But since this disparity is not the right image for “America the beautiful,” and is hard to sustain, the workers are told that in this land of “equal opportunity” one day they, or their children, will own one of those houses on the beach. They are also told—assuming that they are not “illegal aliens”—that it is their civic duty to vote. Otherwise, how could the whole setup be legitimate? If these people ever question the legitimacy of this arrangement and take matters into their own hands, then “law and order” must be maintained by sending the police after them; and, if they survive such encounters, they will face the court of law. But, of course, before they engage in an unlawful act, they can always exercise their civic duty and vote for the lesser of two evils, hoping that he, or soon she, will appoint the right federal and Supreme Court judges.

To make the story short, as far as your social position is concerned, it really does not make that much difference which evil comes to power. Your position is kept intact. But when it comes to such matters as selecting the judges, the choice of evil could matter. One party, for example, might appoint some judges that have not been accused of major offenses, such as sexual assault. Also, one party might talk about such things as climate change and devastation of our planet. But when it comes to action, nothing substantial will be done about the main cause of climate change, which is precisely the self-expanding money.

Let me add here that even if an angel from a third party, or a rebel from one of the two parties, wins the election it would not make much of a difference. Assuming that they mean what they say—which in most cases they don’t—and will try to reform the existing system, they will run into a very powerful obstacle: money that makes more money.

So much for the difference between the parties as far as domestic issues are concerned. What about the so-called foreign policy? Here the difference is even more slim. Both parties love “colonialism” and “imperialism.” But since these terms are hard to define and sound radical left, let me put it differently. To assure that money begets more money around the world, both parties consider other countries, where the rule of self-expanding money is also supreme, as allies of the United States. This includes the most corrupt and brutal dictatorships in the world. The rulers of such countries must be supported and protected at all costs. For example, the nasty colonial system in Palestine must be safeguarded no matter what. Its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu—a repulsive fellow who for years has faced corruption charges without any consequence, and has even given a speech to the joint session of the US Congress against a sitting US president—is considered to be the best friend of the US. Or consider the medieval, tribal and brutal rulers in Saudi Arabia. They are some of the greatest allies of the US. Their current leader, Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the sadistic “Crown Prince,” who has waged a genocidal war against the people of Yemen for years and is accused of ordering the killing and dismemberment of a Saudi journalist, is a pal of the US president. He, of course, has a lot of oil money, which can be used by Saudi and American firms to make more money.

However, if you are a government that is not friendly and subservient to the US and its allies, then you are a “regime” that must be overthrown. Take Cuba, a tiny island off the coast of Florida. It has faced the wrath of the US since its revolution in the 1950s and has been under US embargo ever since. Its greatest sin is to call itself a “socialist republic” and defy the US defined world order. Or take a country that I know best, Iran. That country, too, ever since its revolution in 1979 has faced nothing but threats of war and sanctions. That is not because the Islamic Republic treats its dissidents very badly. That, it does. But as mentioned above, the US and its allies have no quarrel with their butcher friends. The reasons for torturing the people of Iran for more than 40 years is that its government has defied the world order as envisioned by the US and its allies, particularly Israel.

When it comes to a country such as Iran both parties follow the same script, which is largely written by Israel and its many affiliates in the US. Some of the most draconian sanctions ever imposed on Iran were during the first term of the Obama Administration. The so-called “crippling,” “paralyzing” or “lethal” sanctions that Hilary Clinton levied against Iran were the precursor of “maximum pressure” policy that has been pursued by Mike Pompeo. The major difference is that a character such as Clinton was an old hand, a smooth operator who managed to unite all European allies of the US behind her wretched policies. Pompeo, on the other hand, is like a wild beast who lashes out and is not very effective in getting what he wants. The recent fiascoes at the United Nations Security Council—where the US attempt to extend a global arms embargo on Iran only harnessed the Dominican Republic’s support, and the subsequent failed attempt to bring back multilateral sanctions against Iran—are testaments to the insane and ineffective policies of the Pompeo gang and their boss in the White House. This, of course, does not mean that the “maximum pressure” policy, similar to the “paralyzing sanctions” policy, has not induced massive pain in Iran. What it means is that once again the US has failed to achieve its goal, which is to overthrow the Iranian “regime.”

To sum up, the foreign policies of the two parties, similar to their domestic policies are very similar, since both parties are ruled not by a sense of what is right or wrong, what is moral or immoral, what is ethical or unethical, but by self-expanding money. And this kind of money has no conscience, no morality, and no ethics.

Having said the above, I have to say that there are some personal differences between Biden and Trump. Setting aside the issue of age and retardation, Joe Biden represents what a “normal” president is supposed to be. Yes, he supported the invasion of Iraq and many other US wars. Yes, he is a liar, a plagiarist, incapable of clear articulation, and might have been involved in sexual assault. But these are normal stuff. Biden has spent a lifetime in the hallways of US politics. He knows how the system works. He knows how to appoint a monster as Secretary of State that is liked and respected by other imperial powers. He knows what a president is supposed to look like and behave. He understands normalcy. He can bring back the aura of presidency and revive the US empire.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is not your normal president. He is, according to his own relatives, a “sociopath,” “clown,” “narcissist,” “habitual liar,” “inept,” and a cheater even when it comes to taking a SAT exam. According to his former aids, he is an “idiot,” a “dope,” a “moron,” “unhinged,” with understanding of “a fifth- or sixth-grader.” To this list one can add many other attributes, such as a white supremacist, an accused sex offender, a semi-literate, etc. He has destroyed the aura of the presidency. He has shown that the US president has no clothes (a very ugly image!). He has shown that nearly 40% of Americans love him and love what he stands for. He has been laughed at by other “world leaders.” He has, as stated earlier, only been able to obtain the support of the puny Dominican Republic at the UNSC when it comes to sanctioning Iran. In short, he has almost destroyed the image of the US empire. If elected again, he could complete the job.

So, what should I do, should I vote for Trump or Biden, or just simply sit it out again? Both candidates represent money that begets money, both would keep the existing social order in the US intact, both would support butchers around the world that are friends of the US, and both will try to overthrow those governments that are not subservient to the US. But Biden will bring back normalcy, will try to resurrect the aura of presidency, and will try to remake the image of the US empire. Trump, on the other hand, will continue on his sociopathic path, will continue to amuse the rest of the world with his idiocy, will make the other “leaders” of the world laugh at his ignorance, and may destroy the US empire from within.

Hmm … this is a tough decision. It is worse than having a colonoscopy!

Sasan Fayazmanesh is Professor Emeritus of Economics at California State University, Fresno, and is the author of Containing Iran: Obama’s Policy of “Tough Diplomacy.” He can be reached at: