A Sick, Dystopian System Worth Overthrowing

Image by Clay Banks.

Many friends and allies, especially younger ones, have been getting The Lecture from older Democratic Party relatives or friends – the Lesser Evil Lecture.

This year the lecture comes not only with the admonition to hold your nose and vote for Joe Biden to get a second term to block the fascist monster Trump but also with the insistence or at least request that you not join in protests of Biden’s funding, equipping, and political, military, and diplomatic protection of Israel’s mass murderous and genocidal seven-month war on the people of Gaza. The lecturers say, “don’t come to Chicago to rise up in anger and cause chaos over Biden’s Israel policy when the Democratic Party meets to re-coronate him as their presidential nominee this August.”

A version of the lecture recently came in the form of a Guardian column in which the senior progressive Democrat and former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich expressed his discomfort with how young people protesting Israel’s criminal US-backed war tell him that “the lesser of two evils is still evil.” Reich also recalled how antiwar protests Chicago during the 1968 Democratic national convention helped elect the vicious authoritarian and racist right-wing Cambodia-bombing president Richard Nixon.

Reich instructs young Americans that “a failure to vote for Biden is in effect a vote for Trump” and that “Trump would be far worse for the world – truly evil.”

Don’t get me wrong. Robert Reich may have written a book with the dumbest title of all time – Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few (that’s like saying “saving cancer for the common good”) – but Reich is no dummy. He was one of the earliest US political commentators to properly and serious identify Trump and Trumpism as fascist back in 2016.

Trump is in fact worse than Biden when it comes to one policy after another. They are both mad dog killers but Trump is a mad dog killer with rabies. He leads a movement for the implementation of Christian white nationalist neo-fascist governance within the US. (I’ve spilled a lot of printer ink on how this is true).

And it’s NOT just about domestic politics and policy. Trump is more strongly behind Israel’s genocidal policies than Genocide Joe, sick as that sounds to say. He would never as president threaten to withhold bombs from the Israel Defense Forces, as Biden has just (sort of) done under pressure from protests at home and abroad. Trump would never have tried to warn Israel against going overboard in Gaza, as Biden did right after the October 7 Hamas attack. Consistent with his promise to re-impose a Muslim travel ban and his opposition to the immigration of any refugees from Gaza, Trump applauds the slaughter of Palestinian families. He’d be perfectly happy to see the civilian death in Gaza hit half a million or more.

So why will I not join Reich in lecturing young folks on the need to hold their noses and vote “for” Biden, and cool their protest jets?

Eight reasons.

First, Reich’s admonition to vote for Biden holds practical relevance in just six or seven contested states. Under the archaic Electoral College, presidential elections are absurdly determined in just a small handful of states. How young folks vote or don’t will not change the outcome in most US states.

Second, the progressive/left reasons for refusing to hold one’s nose for Biden go beyond his abhorrent and central complicity in the Crucifixion of Gaza. Other grounds for refusing to make the lesser evil ballot punch include his provocation and fueling of a deadly imperialist proxy war in Ukraine, his lame response to the Christian fascist war on abortion, his signing off on expanded eco-cidal oil and gas drilling, his failure to confront deadly capitalist food and rent inflation, his failure to order the prompt prosecution and incarceration of Adolph Trump, and his reckless military provocation of China.

Third, the Lesser Evil habit is a disastrously slippery slope that has no clear limits as the whole US capitalist political and governance order moves ever more dangerously to the right. Is nothing out of Lesser Evil bounds? Many liberals and “progressives” seem ready to write the capitalist-imperialist Democrats a big blank check simply because they’re not the party of Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Trump. Are there no red lines that the Weimar/Vichy Democrats must not pass without losing liberal and even “left” support? How about killing Single Payer health insurance, ripping up public family cash assistance, deregulating Wall Street, advancing racist mass incarceration, leading the charge for the corporate-globalist North American Free Trade Agreement, bombing Serbian civilians, and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children through economic sanctions under Bill Clinton? How about re-murdering Single Payer, abandoning labor law reform, bailing out Great Recession-inflicting Wall Street overlords (while leaving working class Americans to drown), blowing up Libya, signing off on Guantanamo, giving George W. Bush a pass on torture, protecting a right wing fascist coup in Honduras, sponsoring and protecting an anti-Russian coup in Ukraine, killing international binding climate emission agreements (in Copenhagen), crushing the Occupy Wall Street rebellion, lecturing Black people on respectable obedience, signing off on escalated North American oil and gas drilling (fracking included), setting new drone kill records, murdering US citizens with drones, rescuing the imperialist and corporatist warmonger Joe “We’d Have to Invent Israel if It Didn’t Already Exist” Biden from the ash heap of history, and more terrible to mention under Barack “The Empire’s New Clothes” Obama? How about fanning the flames of climate catastrophe, raising the threat of nuclear war to new levels, backing GENOCIDE in Gaza, and smearing peaceful anti-genocide protesters as violent antisemites under Joe “Nothing Will Fundamentally Change” Biden?!

Seriously: are there no disqualifying red lines Democrats can cross in the view of the Lesser Evil lectures? At what point, if any, does the lesser evil become too evil?

Fourth, the horrific Democratic Party record partially related above, a reflection of the Democrats’ captivity and allegiance to US capitalism-imperialism, encouraged by lesser evilists’ absence of red lines, opens the electoral door to the Republi-fascist Party by demobilizing the Democrats’ voting base. The dismal Dems’ recurrent betrayal of their progressive-sounding campaign promises costs them millions of votes and helps create quasi-populist space for the Republi-fascists to exploit.

Fifth, the officially diverse and multicultural Dems’ captivity to concentrated capitalist wealth and power helps discredits and delegitimize not just the Democratic Party but “small d” democracy itself. That in turn encourages millions to embrace authoritarian white nationalist narratives on, and (fake) fascist “solutions” to, the numerous overlapping societal problems and crises that capitalism creates and that require big government response.

Sixth, I cannot in good faith encourage people to place their hopes for justice, equality, peace, environmental sanity, and popular sovereignty in voting under an electoral system like the one that reigns in the US. It is a savagely right-tilted Minority Rule regime in which the nation’s rightmost-/Reich-most regions, interests, and people are vastly overrepresented. This comes courtesy of the presidential Electoral College system, the absurdly malapportioned Senate, the undemocratically appointed Supreme Court, the gerrymandered US House and state legislatures, the excessive autonomous power of state governments (“states’ rights”), the absence of proportional representation, and the openly plutocratic and dark money campaign finance regime.

Seventh, as the Biden administration has shown, Democrats don’t really fight, much less crush fascism when they hold office. They conciliate it, keeping it alive with bipartisan compromises while fueling its fires and opening the door for its return to presidential power. So really, what’s the antifascist point of “vote blue no matter who”? If Hillary Clinton had won in 2016, we’d be in the last year of the first Trump administration right now. If Biden squeaks through for a second term, he’ll just be the kind of Weimar/Vichy POTUS who sets up a Republi-fascist presidential victory in 2028.

Meanwhile, regardless of which ruling class party or mix of ruling class parties holds sway in Washington, US capitalism-imperialism and the underlying world capitalist system are threatening the world with ever more imminent ecological and/or military destruction. Time is running out for us to save ourselves and decent lives/life on this planet with socialist revolution.

That’s my eighth reason for holding off on the lesser evil counsel this year. The clock on that shit has run out. I’m not going to vote-shame anybody for doing the Lesser Evil thing, especially if you live in a contested state. I get why many people will go there, actually, but you aren’t going to get Lesser Evil voting counsel from me at this point. It’s not how I want to focus folks’ energies at this stage of apocalyptic capitalism-imperialism.

The comedian Aamer Rahman said something powerful in London recently. He noted how white liberals are tensely saying this to Black and brown anti-genocide activists who can’t and won’t vote for Genocide Joe this year: “is that what you really want? You want Trump to come back? You want to Trump to win?…You think that’s a good idea? Cuz its’ your community that’s going to suffer if Trump comes back. People like you are going to suffer. What do you think of that?”

“What I want,” Rahman told his audience, “is for you to not lecture us on how to respond to a genocide you didn’t try to stop, okay? I think that a political system that ultimately makes you choose between genocidal dementia and cheeseburger-powered fake-tan Hitler is a system worth overthrowing, okay? Maybe that is the conclusion you should be coming to instead of lecturing Black and brown people on why they should worship the Democrats.”

Right on.

Even better are the words of on online friend the other day:

We’re living in a sick, dystopian, Hunger Games world run by imperialists who are long past their use-by date and care nothing about humanity/planet. Look at the obscene Met Gala that took place the other night- celebrities, wealthy people dressed up in expensive clothing as the genocide in Gaza escalated. A ticket to that event was $75000. One woman’s dress was so complicated that she had to be carried up the steps into the building. Props to anti- genocide demonstrators who disrupted that event, making it clear to the world that it was an obscenity, in spite of violent police repression. Eric Adams, the pig mayor of NYC is the Black Guiliani- another pig who serves the interests of this system that needs to be dismantled and gotten rid of.”

Damn straight. That’s what I call telling it how it is.

We are long past revolution time. We need to catch up with our humanity and get serious cuz it’s like a couple German dudes wrote 176 years ago: its “the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large” or the “common ruin of all.”

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).