A Moral and Philosophical Justification for Voting Third Party in the 2020 Election

This is the second part of a two-part article about the Howie Hawkins/ Angela Walker campaign.

Having outlined in the first part some friendly criticisms I had of the Hawkins/ Walker campaign I felt it was my duty to explain to the public why I have decided to vote third party in such an important Presidential election. Indeed, if there was any litmus test as to the morality of voting third party, this election would certainly be it. Even though I am a member of the US Green Party, I felt it necessary to give a philosophical and moral justification for my decision to vote third party in this, of all elections. In order to give such a justification it is necessary to briefly summarize the history of democracy in the western world, the present state of the Union under Trump, and to explain what a vote in a representative democracy is supposed to actually mean.

A Brief Overview of The History of Democracy in the Western World and the United States

Before I begin this article I’d have to recommend a few lectures by George Novack on the history of Democracy in the western world that can be found on the Trotskyist Internet Archive on the Marxists Internet Archive. The link to these lectures can be found here, I personally recommend the first 3 lectures, the fourth one being an optional exposition of Trotskyist views which depart from historical analyses a bit and give the views of that particular school of thought which I personally have disagreements with.

The underlying premise of a political democracy is that “the people” choose those who govern them. Modern bourgeois (that is, capitalist) democracies typically trace their roots to the democracies of ancient Greece, to the times of the great philosophers of the ancient world; Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato. As Marx and Novack by extension pointed out in the class and socioeconomic based historiography inherent to Marxism, these societies can be classified as both democracies to their political constituents and as class dictatorships at the same time over those who were not a part of that constituency. Because only slave-owners and property owners in both ancient Greek society and early American society could vote respectively, each society was at once a democracy for the property and slave owners and a dictatorship of that class over the property-less classes at the same time.

In the United States political rights were originally the sole domain of the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie while other civil rights were sometimes guaranteed, albeit often inconsistently, to the non-property owning majority; depending of course on their gender, race, and status as freemen or slaves with few exceptions. Certain civil rights (freedom of speech, press, religion, etc.) were likewise guaranteed to non-slaves. Because of the political structure of the United States, namely through rule of law, a separation of powers, constitutional government, and an open society, the country had a generally progressive trend in regards to the gradual realization of its proclaimed and foundational ideals while maintaining its underlying class structure economically. In society’s that did not have these democratic structures woven into them, such as the former Soviet Union, we see the opposite effect– the gradual betrayal of foundational principles as that society progressed. In America, this is why we have seen the emergence of formal declarations of equality for people regardless of sex, class, or race, things that are far more in-line with the foundational ideals of the republic than were the lives of those who originally voiced such ideals. We must also point out that these statements of equality, in truth remain only a de jure equality “before the law”, and even that seems to dissolve when one examines the differences in court procedures between a poor black man without money or property and a billionaire. There is still much work to be done.

This is not to dismiss outright the enormous gains of a democracy or a free society, but merely to state bluntly the current state of affairs. Real equality and justice for all, giving everyone an equal opportunity to succeed in life, does not yet exist, and will not exist in this country until there is a political revolution. Really addressing the problems of, as an example, systemic racism within a capitalist framework isn’t necessarily impossible, but will cost billions of dollars, and the ruling class in spite of its apparently progressive slogans is simply not willing at present, to pay up. Other issues I’d argue, do in fact severely limit the possibility of a truly free and egalitarian society (that is, giving to each an equal chance to succeed in life regardless of where they were born) existing under capitalism.

The process of this gradual realization of foundational ideals I have described meant over time that the formal democratic apparatus of the country was gradually extended to all citizens regardless of class, race, and gender. Though the bourgeoisie, through its great power and wealth, still de facto owned and controlled both dominant political parties and the political and economic system at large, and often had the final say in matters of policy and the electoral process at the highest levels of government. The Republican (and I mean that in the classical sense if the word) nature of our government not only is designed to protect the body politic from excessive populism (which the electoral college failed to do in the 2016 election), which is not necessarily a bad thing, but also protects the ruling class, the bourgeoisie, from the popular and just demands of the common citizens. The existence of PAC’s, SuperPAC’s, supreme court decisions such as Citizens United, and a simple examination of the socioeconomic makeup of legislative bodies throughout the country are but a few examples of how this system of class domination is maintained.

So long as money is inseparable from politics, it is quite irrefutable that the class nature of American democracy is that of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, even if the radical industrial proletariat and the historical role assigned to it by old socialists like Marx, doesn’t currently exist and likely never will exist. In my view Murray Bookchin’s writings on how capitalism could possibly end are far more relevant today than Marx’s, or for that matter of those typically found in the Marxist tradition. Understand that I mean dictatorship in regards to class and not the political sense of the word, as we find in countries such as China, Eritrea, or Belarus today. Internally a free and open society such as the United States, regardless of its class character, is far preferable to the ordinary citizen than a Stalinist, fascist, monarchist, of otherwise authoritarian/ totalitarian social order. In that regard modern America is actually arguably closer to what Marx called a “dictatorship of the proletariat” than any 20th century socialist experiment, at least politically if not economically. When socialists say the bourgeoisie was historically progressive we mean not merely in regards to economics but in regards to politics as well. I think this is true to an even greater extent than Marx himself even realized.

The establishment of a constitutional government, separation of powers, formal declarations of rights, rule of law, etc. were genuinely popular, progressive, and revolutionary demands of their time. It’s a sad fact that such demands still remain revolutionary still in many parts of the world. These gains ought to be, I think, protected and expanded further towards the gradual realization of a genuinely democratic society both politically and industrially. Any “progressive” who naively dismisses such gains as superfluous merely because of their existence as social myths, or as “idealist”, without any consideration of their social utility, does not progress, as they think, beyond capitalism but regresses into feudal barbarism (See my article for 2600 Magazine). But the fact remains that modern America remains a bourgeois democracy, at least for now. As an individual then, you can either take the world as it’s handed to you or change it. The choice is yours.

The State of The Union under Trump

What then of the present? President’s often give State of the Union addresses, but often these are mere political speeches. What is the (actual) state of the union beyond its aforementioned class character and historical precedence? How are things holding really up in 2020 under Trump? It is not at all an exaggeration to say the republic is in danger, and not just the republic but freedom and democracy. I wish I was alone in thinking this, then there would be some credence to the notion that I was insane. Unfortunately however, this is no longer a fringe view.

The past four years have exhausted and are continuing to exhaust the internal institutions that usually act as checks and balances against abuses and excesses of power; namely the public’s political consciousness, the willingness of the people to perpetually challenge government overreach, and the adversarial framework of the free press. In addition to this American civil liberties and their prerequisites are being eroded at an accelerated rate on nearly all fronts, in a continuation of America’s domestic policy shifts following 9/11. Under the Trump administration this process has greatly accelerated, much as was the case under Obama.

The past four years has seen for the first time since anyone can remember, a president whose modus operandi is to divide the people by exploiting their anger and fear, rather than aspiring to unite them. In addition there has been an enormous rise of anti-intellectualism and the emergence of a post-truth era, a historic prerequisite to totalitarianism. The press has generally taken sides on the conflict, often caring more for sensationalism than serious journalism, weakening further people’s trust in the press as an institution. The lack of any sort of fairness doctrine has led to the emergence of explicitly partisan mass media which has only widened the partisan divide and expanded civil strife and conflict on political grounds. Social media platforms designed to keep people using their services as long as possible have no interest in addressing the problem, but rather in exploiting it by creating echo chambers for everyone with every possible opinion and belief by design. That “you cannot wake up someone who is pretending to be asleep” fits the bill when looking at companies who specialize in data and surveillance capitalism.

These are all warning signs of imminent social collapse, and we aren’t even addressing the ecological crisis which Trump is going out of his way to worsen and ignore. Hannah Ardent warns of similar phenomena in her book ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’. There are also many other striking parallels between modern America and pre-Nazi Germany readily apparent to anyone who is paying attention, similarities not only between Hitler and Trump (that I make reluctantly given the tendency of such criticisms to devolve into ad hominem attacks) but between broader American and German society. Anyone interested in this topic should read Ardent’s ‘Origins of Totalitarianism’ and some of Trotsky’s writings on the Nazi movement in the early 1930’s which were far more prophetic, compelling, and were made much earlier than other commonly quoted critics of Naziism such as Winston Churchill. I do not feel it is if use to quote from these writings for this particular essay, merely to point out that they do exist and are quite compelling.

The information age gives to every person with every conceivably outlandish belief not only a platform, which we do call progress, but also ample, seemingly “irrefutable” evidence as to the correctness of every possible opinion or belief regardless of its factual accuracy or basis in objective reality. While this was inevitable, it becomes truly dangerous only when combined with echo chambers. This is not to say people have not at all times held varying views, but that never before have platforms been erected to subjugate the masses to a near constant confirmation-bias for every conceivable view or social division, not exclusively in support of the prevailing ideology as we find in Chomsky’s propaganda model, but for and against every possible viewpoint. Far from the expression of a healthy plurality of opinions (my term for the so-called ‘marketplace of ideas’), what we are witnessing today is the mass emergence of increasingly toxic, divisive, fundamentalist echo chambers everywhere. No one, it seems, from liberals to conservatives to socialists to anti-vaxxers, is immune to this. Without consciously reading and exposing ones self to people who advocate views that conflict with their own, which is the duty of every serious intellectual, no individual growth is possible, only increasing radicalization. The default today of such communities is to discourage dissent from group norms and to facilitate a fusing of ideas held by the group, whatever they be, with the individuals identity or ego. Today’s media and social media platforms are perfectly designed for such a process for anyone who is even mildly opinionated. The result, of course is mass radicalization. This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.

Above all, the most convincing argument against Trump is the one that I haven’t seen prominently made at all: it’s that he is a demagogue, and I mean that in the modern, academic sense of the word. The rise if demagogues all the way back to the time of Ancient Greece has consistently been the single biggest internal threat to democracies ever to come about. Socrates understood this fact and was skeptical of democracy for that reason. It need not be said that the classification of a politician as a “demagogue” can be made independent of one’s political beliefs, and that Trump ticks every mark and then some.

It’s often said that the American political system churns out demagogues left and right and this is true to an extent, but Trump is a demagogue in every possible sense of the word, such that he has no real equal in our country’s history, at least insofar as Presidents are concerned. Yes we had the occasional George Wallace or Joseph McCarthy, but never a proper demagogue like this as the President of the United States. Demagogues thrive only on division, hate, anger, and fear. The role of a good President is to bring people together, to quell the anger, hate, and fear the people have of one another and not to exploit it. From that standpoint alone, Trump is a horrible President.

My opposition to Trump at its strongest lies in the fact that his is a demagogue and that demagogues by their very nature undermine and destroy democracy’s. Generally they are, after perhaps socioeconomic instability, democracy’s greatest internal threat. Even if Trump shared my own political views, even if he stood for most of the things I stand for, I would still be fervently against him for that reason alone— that he is a demagogue. It is the duty of every serious freedom loving person to stand against demagogues wherever and whenever they emerge. Benjamin Franklin’s proposed slogan for the Seal of the United States, later appropriated by Jefferson; “rebellion to tyranny is obedience to God” should, in my view, be amended to say “rebellion to demagogues and tyrants is obedience to God”. Perhaps if it were we would not be in this mess today, but these are just my thoughts. Everything we have seen in the past 4 years is evidence I present for my claim that Trump and demagogues like him are the great destabilizers of democracy’s and should never be given any real power. That he has power is troubling, that his reign may be not even halfway over yet, even more so.

Another 4 years of Trump could easily exhaust the public and the institutions they rely on to the breaking point. Coupled with a terrorist attack or another crisis on the scale of COVID-19, the effect could be as devastating for the United States as a civil war or a dictatorship. Anything here is possible. Why then do I insist on voting third party?

Voting Third Party Under Such Circumstances

One may ask how under such circumstances, one could “throw their vote away” by voting third party, especially with an election such as this one, especially in a swing state. Indeed it seems unconscionable that one wouldn’t do everything in their power to get Trump out of office short of election fraud, even if that meant voting for the lesser of the two evils, even if that meant sacrificing principles. And yet I am voting for Howie Hawkins of the Green Party for President this election season. How could I? What possible justification could I have? First of all let us examine the so-called practical option of voting for Biden.

Several years ago during the 2017 French Presidential election, the philosopher Slavoj Žižek claimed that a vote for Macron (the Biden of France) was a vote for Le Pen (the far-right “Trump” of France) 5 years later. His vote would have likely been for Mélenchon (the Howie Hawkins’ of France). The same was said of the 2016 American elections, that a vote for Clinton was a vote for Trump just 4 years later. Even now in spite of all that has taken place, Žižek says the same of Biden: “Joe Biden is long-term the same catastrophe as Trump”. I reject outright the notion that voting for one candidate is automatically a vote for another– it is often said that a Green vote is a vote for the Republicans, or that a Libertarian vote is a vote for the Democrats, but this is not what Žižek means here.

The classic liberal reaction to Trump is that he was the result of some aberration, a mistake, a fluke in the system and nothing more. The liberal narrative is that Trump supporters voted for him merely because they were racists, or sexists, or otherwise terrible people. They couldn’t handle a black president and were so racist that they decided to vote for the most racist candidate they could think of. We do not deny that a minority of Trump supporters are racist, sexist, or what have you, but we recognize that the emergence of Trump is a symptom of an even greater social ill that is in fact embodied by “normal” political life under liberal figures such as Obama. It goes back to the root of my above summary of democracy’s history in the Western world, it goes back to the nature of bourgeois democracy, and it goes back, in a narrower context, to two-party system. The failures of the Obama administration to live up to its expectations and promises are precisely what led to Trump’s rise to power in the first place, and Biden represents the worst of that legacy to anyone who has studied US policy under Obama and Biden’s horrible track record, which we will not discuss in detail here as it could easily fill a book.

People may assert, though wrongfully, that a vote for Howie Hawkins in the 2020 election is actually a vote for Trump. The underlying assumption is that without Howie Hawkins I would otherwise vote for Biden, but in truth I would never vote for such a man in a million years. Most people voting third party in any election feel the exact same way. I felt the temptation to make the pragmatic choice for a long time, to betray my principles just this once in casting a vote for Joe. But when I thought of his record, what he stands for, I just couldn’t bring myself to it. He stands for so many of the things I am so strongly against that it would be a fundamental betrayal of principles. And principles are everything. Of course in the short term it is true that “if everyone voting third party voted Joe the Democrats would win”, and while that is preferable, it is not what democracy is supposed to mean. The same is true of “if everyone voted Howie the Greens would win”.

This idea of acting on the basis of “oh if everyone did as I did would it be right?” is inherent to Kant’s moral concept of the categorical imperative. It is a guide by which an individual, Kant argues, ought to act. On that basis, being Greens with progressive politics in-line with those of Howie Hawkins, we are morally and ethically bound by our principles and beliefs to vote for Howie Hawkins. We say this not only because we wish everyone would vote for Hawkins, but because we wish everyone would vote for what they actually believed in and for people they actually like and support, not merely for the lesser of the two evils. Even if we accept the liberal argument that we’re “throwing our vote away and voting for Trump” by voting Howie, and even if we switch the language to that of a more utilitarian approach, we would still have to admit, looking at 2016 poll numbers, that the Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, received over three times the votes as the Green Party candidate Jill Stein (who I voted for), and that we in no way “endanger” the odds of a candidate winning who we wouldn’t have voted for anyways. If anything, by this inherently flawed logic “their side” will have given more votes to Biden than ours to Trump. But this is an analysis I flat out reject. As the image below says, “A vote for the Green Party is a vote against Trump, against Biden, and for the Green Party”.

In a democracy I’m supposed to vote for the candidate whose policy positions I support, and a vote for that person is a vote for that person and no one else. If one wants to say my vote for Howie is actually a vote for Trump, we could argue, on the contrary,  that actually a vote for Biden is a vote for Trumpism, only four years later as Biden embodies the very things that made Trump’s rise to power inevitable in the first place. On the other hand, if Howie Hawkins was elected in 2020, I am confident in his policies and abilities enough to say that Trump would never again hold public office at the national level. If Biden was elected in 2020, I strongly suspect he would lose to Trump, or to what Trump represents just 4 years later, maybe 8 if we were lucky. A vote for Howie Hawkins then, is by no means a vote for Trump. It’s saying “I support this man and what he stands for”, period. A vote for Howie Hawkins is a vote for Howie Hawkins. Both Greens and Libertarians are aiming hard for 5% of the national ballot respectively, and I sincerely hope both parties meet their goal.

People who think they are stopping Trumpism by voting for Biden are only fooling themselves. Without addressing the material conditions that led to Trump’s rise to power in the first place, a Biden presidency merely delays the inevitable rise of another Trump 4 or 8 years later. Trumpism is not something to be taken lightly, you cannot simply brush it off and pretend that everything is fine, that we can just go back to last Season’s classics. Unfortunately we don’t have the time to spare, the planet is quite literally on fire. The material conditions that led to Trump’s rise have to be addressed immediately. Only Howie’s platform does that. We cannot delude ourselves into thinking that everything will be fine if we just close our eyes for 4 or 8 more years. Now is not the time for political morphine, we can only try our hardest to heal the wound or let it atrophy on its own for all the world to see, and if it does so I and other progressives will bear no personal responsibility for it.

What the hell is the point of a vote anyways? Am I supposed to vote for what I believe in or am I supposed to let the underlying social superstructure guide me into “freely” making the same decision as everyone else? That is, a compromise for someone whose policies I hate to avoid someone whose policies I hate even more? That is a race to the bottom. That logic is, in addition to the aforementioned conditions, precisely what led to Trump’s winning of the nomination in the first place. Most Republicans don’t like Trump either. Do you really want me to do what Trump voters did in 2016 and just vote for who I think is the lesser evil? Can we really ever hold politicians accountable by refusing to ever withhold our votes from them no matter what they do? I think not.

There is such a superstitious reverence around the act of voting in this country. “Every vote matters”, they say, but underneath the assertion is this cynical wisdom of “oh but only if it’s for one of the two main parties”. If you take seriously a third party candidate you are supposedly an idiot. But I thought the point of democracy was the let the people decide who they want representing them regardless of party affiliation. Our crime then is only that of taking democracy too seriously. This is precisely what Soviet and Eastern European dissidents did during the Cold War, they took the system they lived under too seriously. “Oh but the constitution says I have a right to protest”, etc. I’m not of course equating the two, merely saying that this method of dissent is legitimate.

The political sovereignty of the ruling class is guaranteed by the perpetual maintenance of the two party system and what that system represents. I refuse to “settle” for Biden, to bend over and spread my cheeks for a party that made every effort to slander and sabotage the campaign of the one candidate of that party I actually liked. No, I completely reject both parties. Politics is quite literally a matter of life and death and the overwhelming majority of Americans support progressive policies and social reforms such as Medicare for All that the DNC, the supposedly “progressive” party, refuses to even add to its program. The Democratic Party’s internal structure likewise, is anything but “Democratic”. I have nothing but disdain for it as an institution. In any other sane country, a person with the views of AOC and Bernie Sanders wouldn’t even be in the same party as a person with the views of Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi. The same is true of Trump and Mitt Romney, the latter of whom I actually have respect for.

Now let us turn to what a vote in a representative democracy is actually supposed to actually mean. If a vote is supposed to be your voice in political life, voting for the lesser of two evils is the state’s way of legitimizing its worst excesses on the grounds of “oh but you voted for this person”. It doesn’t take into account who that person was running against at the time, only who they are and the fact that you voted for them. “Yes Stalin is sending you to the gulag and this upsets you? But you voted for him! Oh Hitler was running against him at the time? That may be but you still voted for him”. I have talked to a shocking number of Republicans who voted for Trump solely out of disdain for Clinton, who were and are themselves horrified by some of the things he has done and said. “There has never been a single normal day since he took office”, a tragedy to be sure, but we live in a democracy and you voted for him. We can’t necessarily place all the blame on the individual here either, that’s what the system itself does. But the individual is not entirely blameless either. Everyone bears a certain degree of responsibility for Trump, myself included. The system is designed to manufacture consent and perpetuate the existence of the two-party system. But it cannot function without the popular, even manufactured, consent of the people. Remember that, in a democracy, if the people are free to oppose a candidate and do not do so, the system takes a majority vote for that person as evidence popular support for that candidate, and later as popular consent for whatever that candidate does– even if they were the “lesser of the two evils”, hated by a majority of their electorate.

My argument here is that this is not how a democracy should function. It is not only preferable, but it is the duty of every citizen in a representative democracy to vote for the candidate whose policies and positions they support regardless of how popular that candidate is. Those who voted in 2016 for Clinton because they hated Trump are just as guilty as those who voted for Trump because they hated Clinton here. Voting third party then, insofar as the candidate embodies what one supports and genuinely believes in, is a patriotic duty. Being fully in line with the categorical imperative it is also a moral duty. If you actually like and support the policies of Trump or Biden or Howie Hawkins (Green) or Jo Jorgensen (Libertarian) or Gloria La Riva (PSL), or whoever the hell else is running, then it is your patriotic duty to vote for that person. If you believe the implementation of that candidate’s policies to be in the public interest, you have a patriotic duty to vote for them that supersedes any sort of amoral strategic pragmatism that compromises on matters of life and death. Our liberal reader horrified thus far by what I have said in this essay would be delighted to know that I actually encourage them, the ardent Biden supporter, to vote for Biden and to volunteer for his campaign. While the same is true of the Trump supporter and Trump, I would highly encourage the reader to take seriously my above warnings of such a man before making such a decision. But in the final analysis, it is an individual decision and solely a matter of individual conscience.

If you aren’t voting for what you believe in then what the hell are you voting for? As Eugene Debs said, “I’d rather vote for what I want and not get it than vote for what I don’t want and get it”. Some will say, “But in a democracy you have to compromise”, and to an extent this is true. I have some minor criticisms that I have made of Howie Hawkins, that’s the entire subject of the first part of this two-part essay. But those are minor criticisms, in supporting Hawkins I make only a minor compromise. Compromise is indeed the entire basis of democracy, but if the representatives we vote for do not themselves to a large extent embody what we believe in, then all we will get is a compromise between what we hate and what we hate even more, between what one part of the top 1% wants and between what another part of the top 1% wants. There is an enormous gulf that exists between Biden and Sanders; going from supporting one to the other is not a minor compromise but a major one. It is a fundamental betrayal of principles.

The image above says: You don’t have to settle for a lesser evil in November. 100% clean energy by 2030, 75% military spending cuts, universal healthcare, job & income guarantee, free lifelong education, reparations, rural reconstruction, green manufacturing, H’20 Howie Hawkins Green for President

I know our democracy is broken, is incomplete, is bourgeois; but every citizen has a duty to do their part in fixing it, and casting a vote for who and what they actually believe in is a first step in making the country a genuinely democratic society. I understand what Trump represents and how dangerous he is to our democracy, but I cannot and will not sacrifice my principles for a temporary quick-fix to the issue at hand that does nothing to address the root causes of the problem, that does nothing to address the material conditions that led to Trump’s rise to power in the first place– which is exactly what Biden embodies. I refuse to vote for someone I do not like, who I do not support, under any circumstances. I completely reject the rotten ideology of lesser-evilism and everything it represents. Not only is it anti-democratic, but lesser-evilism embodies the same logic that led to Trump’s nomination in the first place.

Someone has to defend the moral integrity of democracy itself– the act of voting for what a person actually stands for and not merely for the lesser of two evils. It is for that reason that I am voting for Howie Hawkins as my choice for President of the United States. If you disagree you are more than free to do so. Your vote is your voice, so use it wisely.

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