We Should Not Disregard or Disrespect Cornel West’s Candidacy for President of the United States

Photograph Source: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ – CC BY-SA 2.0

Maina Mwaura recently wrote an article about Cornel West’s campaign to become President of the United States. If you haven’t already read it, I invite you to do so.

After you’ve read the article, will you share it? Will you invite others to think aloud with you about Dr. West, his career, and the values he articulates? If not, why?

Why shouldn’t you treat Cornel West as a legitimate and sensible alternative to any of the other people who are announced candidates for the highest elective office in the United States? Whether you agree with West or not, why should you refuse to consider his candidacy as a prophetic and politically sensible alternative to any of the other candidates?

Why not weigh his values, vision, and commitment to democracy, inclusion, justice, peace, and global well-being alongside what the other candidates believe? Isn’t that essential for sound decision-making?

I’ve heard people—including those I deeply respect—say that West’s candidacy benefits Donald Trump. They admit that West has taught, written, lectured, advocated, and agitated for decades about matters and issues they care about.

They have a more favorable view of West than Joe Biden. However, these serious-minded people say that West’s Green Party candidacy will benefit Donald Trump by siphoning likely Democratic voters from Biden in the November 2024 presidential election.

I find that viewpoint unsound.

Biden’s approval rating among Black, Latino, Asian, Indigenous, women, the LGBTQ+ community, elderly, and working-class voters has been lukewarm, at best, for most of his presidency. Cornel West is not responsible for Biden’s low approval rating among likely Democratic voters.

It is fanciful to think that those voters will vote for Biden in large numbers if West is not on their ballot as the Green Party presidential candidate in 2024. A convenient fanciful notion is– wait for it– fanciful, no matter how much we might enjoy it. The fact that it is convenient, or even desirable, does not make the notion credible, let alone persuasive.

Voters who hold lukewarm views about Biden’s presidency have several options. Some will vote for him anyway. Others might vote for a third- party candidate (such as Cornel West) with whom they more strongly agree. Some voters might decide to “stay home.”

People concerned about Cornel West’s Green Party campaign for the U.S. presidency do not think that disgruntled and lukewarm Democratic voters are likely to vote for Donald Trump, or for any of the other politicians currently campaigning to be chosen as the Republican Party nominee in 2024. They fear that Trump’s right-wing base of white religious nationalists, neofascist imperialists, military adventurists, and free market capitalists will vote Trump back into power unless disgruntled and lukewarm Democratic voters re-elect Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

But if Joe Biden cannot persuade voters that he deserves their votes, no one should blame Cornel West. Instead, we should admit that those voters are free to vote for a presidential candidate whose record squares with their views and values.

They owe Biden no political fealty and are not required to serve the interests of the neoliberal capitalists who run the Democratic Party, whether West runs for president or not. Their voting preferences should be based on their realities, their histories, and their hopes.

And people should not treat West’s candidacy as helpful to Donald Trump. In the first place, we need to realize that Trump will probably not be on the ballot in 2024 because he is facing almost 100 criminal charges in federal courts in Florida and Washington D.C., and state courts in New York and Georgia.

Trump has every reason to fear that he will be convicted on some of those charges. And Trump knows that if he is convicted in Georgia – a situation he fears above all others – he cannot be rescued by the U.S. Supreme Court that he packed, nor can he expect to be pardoned by whoever becomes the next president.

Beyond that, litigation has already been filed to ban Trump from the ballot in Florida, based on Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It bars persons from holding political office who commit insurrection against the United States or give aid or comfort to persons doing so.

That lawsuit is the first to challenge Trump’s presidential candidacy. It will not be the only legal challenge on Fourteenth Amendment grounds.

Trump’s mounting legal problems will not be solved by political pundits and right-wing talking points. His penchant for bombastic bullying does not work on prosecutors and judges because he cannot bully, intimidate, stall, or frighten prosecutors and judges to get his way.

Instead of thinking about saving the nation from Donald Trump, we should be thinking about saving the nation from Trump’s insurrection-minded followers in the Republican Party, saving it from the neoliberal imperialist mindset that Joe Biden has followed across his political career. We should work to save the nation and world from neocolonialism, imperialism, authoritarianism, and the growing threat of white religious sacralized free market capitalism, white supremacy and racism, white nationalism, sexism, militarism, patriarchy, and xenophobia.

Cornel West stands alone among all the announced presidential candidates concerning these issues. Read his 2004 book, Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism, and realize that West spoke about the issues we now face almost two decades ago. Read The Rich and the Rest of Us, the book West co-authored with Tavis Smiley in 2012.

Then, realize that what West wrote then is plain to see now— that nearly one-third of the American middle class, mostly families with children, were forced into poverty by “the deindustrialization of America, unmatched corporate profiteering and greed, foreign wars, and unregulated tax benefits for the wealthy.” Our political and moral focus should be on these and other realities of what South African liberation theologian Allan Boesak has correctly termed “global apartheid.”

Sadly, we cannot look to news organizations and the usual political commentators for such analysis, or for information about West’s long and consistent record concerning these issues because major networks and newspapers are driven by advertising revenue and wealthy donors. In the same way they did not want us to elect Senator Bernie Sanders in 2016 or 2020, they refuse to tell us about Cornel West and his candidacy.

With the world’s climate poisoned and all life threatened by industrialized profiteering, capitalized war-making, white supremacist authoritarianism, and surging neocolonial fascism, the major news organizations refuse to cover West and his communitarian vision. Instead, they clamor for us to focus on the likely criminal conviction and post-conviction future of Donald Trump, the most sociopathic and culturally and politically incompetent former U.S. president in history.

Like it or not, Cornel West is running for President of the United States as a candidate in the Green Party. Give his record and candidacy serious attention because our nation and shared future deserves doing so.

Choose whomever you will. But don’t accuse West of doing anything less than offering himself as a better candidate than anyone else who seeks to be elected as the next president.

Cornel West should not be blamed because the Democratic and Republican Parties have offered no comparable candidates. But we deserve blame if we disregard his candidacy and choose any of the other candidates out of misguided devotion to the two leading U.S. political parties of “global apartheid.”

This essay was first published on the author’s blog: https://fierceprohetichope.blogspot.com/.

Wendell Griffen is an Arkansas circuit judge and pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark.