Since you are reading Unbound, I suspect you are appalled, as I am, by the prospect of a Trump presidency, and that you are going to vote for Hillary Clinton on November 8. According to the binary logic of American electoral politics, the only way to stop Trump is to vote for Hillary. For many liberals and progressives, case closed. Hold your nose, lesser of two evils, and all that, but it comes down to this: Trump must be stopped. Any moderate, liberal, or progressive who thinks differently is deemed to be naïve, muddle-headed, or wildly irresponsible. Those who fall outside the norm of binary politics become targets of disapproval. The procrustean mood of liberal politics is ascendant.
However, I prefer to imagine there might still be some open political space in which to discuss the dilemmas of thoughtful Reformed Christians frustrated with the limits of binary politics. For example, Clinton will work against a just and durable peace in Israel/Palestine. She strongly supports Netanyahu’s unabashedly expansionist, peace-obstructing, and overtly racist Israeli government. Her obsequious speech at the AIPAC (The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee) convention and her manipulation of the Democratic Party platform announce her priorities: the protection of Israeli interests and the marginalization and stigmatization of Palestinian interests. The occupation, continuing illegal settlement expansion, the annexation of East Jerusalem, and the ongoing siege of Gaza are long-standing concerns of PC(USA) policy, but they are glaringly absent from “the most progressive platform in the history of American politics.”
Clearly, we need strong political leadership at the highest levels to reverse the dangerous militarism in our country. Yet, Hillary Clinton has no visible intention of challenging the military-industrial-congressional complex. In fact, she has been hailed by Bush-era neoconservatives as the most hawkish candidate in the field, and they are happy with her approach to foreign policy.
According to the binary logic of American electoral politics, the only way to stop Trump is to vote for Hillary.
We need a creative, comprehensive plan to reverse mass incarceration of minority communities, but this will not come from Hillary Clinton. It was Bill Clinton who cynically took the “tough on crime” page out of the Republican playbook and implemented “the 3 strikes” and mandatory sentencing, which has decimated the black community. (I realize Hillary has a posted plan, but I question where the initiative will come from, given the limited success the current Democratic administration has achieved.)
Moreover, Washington is broken by what Bill Moyers calls “dark money.” There is a strong consensus outside the Washington Beltway that we need a total overhaul of campaign finance law in order to sharply reduce obeisance to powerful corporate interests while greatly increasing democratic responsiveness to ordinary citizen voices. Yet both Bill and Hillary Clinton have built power through corporate-friendly policies and political obligations to those donors and interests. I believe that Hillary can be reasonably expected to suppress this progressive agenda (to be conflicted if she seeks to implement the Party platform’s call to reverse Citizen’s United).
Earth-care demands substantive changes in energy policy and rapid transition to renewables. At best, Clinton’s approach is incremental, and will fall far short of what is needed.
In other words, a vote for Hillary Clinton is indeed the only way to prevent the disaster of a Trump presidency. But it also empowers a Clinton presidency, which will work against the progressive agenda on several fronts.
We caught a glimpse of how much more open and energizing the political landscape could be when progressive values are included in our national political conversation. The candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders functioned like a viable third party.
It seems to me that unless we address these limits in the American political landscape, many features of the progressive agenda such as those mentioned above will remain orphaned, and progressives will continue to find themselves in wrenching dilemmas such as we are enduring in the current presidential cycle. We need to change the political landscape by breaking the binary stranglehold and building a viable third party that will be a true home for progressive values. Interestingly, the Gallup Poll, released on September 30, 2016, confirms that nearly 6 in 10 Americans believe there is a need for a third major party because the Democrats and Republicans do an inadequate job of representing the range of views actually held by the American people.
We caught a glimpse of how much more open and energizing the political landscape could be when progressive values are included in our national political conversation. The candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders functioned like a viable third party, locating itself well to the left of Clinton and championing an ambitious reform agenda that challenged the deep economic inequalities in our country and the corrupting effects of big money politics. Sanders was a bolder, clearer voice on climate change. He drew large, enthusiastic crowds of young voters who heard him forcefully addressing issues rarely discussed in mainstream two-party politics. He awakened the hopes of a whole generation with a message about economic justice, tuition-free college, and single-payer health care.
In response, the Democratic National Committee and the party establishment compromised its neutrality in the primaries by stacking Clinton’s candidacy with hundreds of pre-committed superdelegates, reducing the number of debates, and colluding with corporate media to discredit Sanders’ candidacy. When Bernie folded his tents and joined the Clinton camp, there was profound disenchantment. He had given his passionate supporters a taste of viable progressive politics. What followed was the usual shrinking of political openness as the field narrowed and the American political landscape returned to the limits of binary politics. Hundreds or thousands of young people felt betrayed and disenfranchised, lost interest, and went back underground.
Progressives in battleground states are well-advised to cast strategic votes for Clinton. But there’s a good case to be made for progressives in blue states voting for third parties to build viability and help them gain traction for future elections.
Even a cursory analysis of the Green Party platform reveals a host of positions that align much more completely with a progressive agenda. Yet, given the stranglehold of binary politics, the Green Party is far from being a viable third party. Mainstream media barely mentions political parties that fall outside the binary norm. With virtually no mainstream media coverage – still a powerful shaper of what is important in the American mind – and arbitrary exclusion from the presidential “debates”, it’s nearly impossible for third parties to gain any traction to make a contribution to the national political conversation. Polling at less than 5% nationally, pundits refer to Stein’s candidacy as “quixotic”. Commentators warn against “wasting” votes on third party candidates and the folly of “protest” voting.
Clearly, if Trump is elected, it will not be because of votes cast by relatively small numbers of would-be Clinton voters who instead decide to follow their consciences out of the binary tent. It will be because of a host of factors including (a) the racism at the heart of our history, (b) a global economy which has eroded America’s manufacturing base and the middle class, leaving significant numbers of Americans unemployed and underemployed and feeling like “strangers in their own country”, (c) an educational system that has “dumbed down” many of our fellow citizens so that they lack even the most rudimentary knowledge of civics and critical thinking, and (d) the legacy of a Republican Party that has built power by cynically appealing to the basest human instincts. And yet, the chatter class scapegoats third-party voters as dangerous spoilers, unloading the nation’s burden of anxiety on them, as if they alone would be responsible for the disaster of a Trump presidency.
We need to take seriously the long-term challenge of building a broader, more enlivened base of political involvement in our civic life. Progressives in battleground states are well-advised to cast strategic votes for Clinton. But there’s a good case to be made for progressives in blue states voting for third parties to build viability and help them gain traction for future elections. Starting on November 9, it’s time to build the infrastructure of a viable third party that will be a true home for progressive values.
AUTHOR BIO: Rev. J. Mark Davidson is Pastor of The Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, NC. He is co-founder of The Abrahamic Initiative on the Middle East, an interfaith coalition working for a just and lasting peace in Palestine/Israel, and a spiritual director. Mark writes at the intersection of Christian spirituality and social justice.