The Bankruptcy of Lesser Evilism
Voting for Hillary Clinton as the lesser evil will not defeat the reactionary movement Trump represents. It will only channel discontent away from the streets, hinder the development of a working-class alternative, and put faith in a leader diametrically opposed to our interests.
October 24, 2016
Each election season, countless liberals, and even many figures who consider themselves a part of the left, urge us to vote for the Democratic candidate, while admitting that candidate’s many flaws, as a “lesser evil” to the Republican. This phenomenon is not new. In fact, it is most likely as old as the two-party system itself. Yet, the exhortations to vote Democrat have become particularly loud this year with the rise of Donald Trump, one of the most reactionary candidates the GOP has nominated in decades.
We do not deny the obvious differences between Clinton and Trump. Trump has called for the forcible removal of all 11 million undocumented immigrants and the building of an "impenetrable" wall across the entire Mexican border. He has said that he would severely restrict the ability of all Muslims to enter the country. He has made countless misogynistic remarks, bragged about sexually assaulting women, and declared that there should be "punishment" for women who have an abortion. Clinton, whose many crimes we will discuss in a moment, still relies on the votes of women, Latinos, and Black people and cannot and would not make such openly racist and sexist declarations. Therefore it would be obviously incorrect to put an equal sign between Clinton and Trump.
Yet, these differences do not make Clinton any alternative for workers, women, and oppressed minorities. Clinton’s long record as First Lady, senator, and secretary of state point to a politician who has consistently acted in the interests of big business against the welfare of working people.
First Lady Clinton gave her blessing to her Bill Clinton’s massive cutbacks in welfare benefits for the poor, through which he planned to bring an “end to welfare as we know it.” He succeeded in his mission. Less than a quarter of families living in poverty today receive cash assistance. She backed his signing of the Crime Bill, which constructed more prisons, made more crimes punishable by the death penalty, would lead to the incarceration of millions more people over the following decades. It is now well known that she supported several free trade deals which lowered workers’ wages — both in the US and abroad, worsened working conditions, and slashed environmental protections, while helping to create record profits for multinational corporations. Most notably this included NAFTA, signed by Bill Clinton in 1993 with the backing of the First Lady. The deal not only led to a downward pressure on wages in the US, but also coincided with a rise in food prices, lowered wages, and rising unemployment in Mexico. Hillary Clinton went on to support multiple, albeit lesser-known, free trade agreements in the Senate and until her battle against Bernie Sanders during the primaries earlier this year, she enthusiastically supported the TPP, calling it the “gold standard in trade agreements.”
As secretary of state, Clinton carried out a strategy of regime change not so different from that promoted by the Bush administration in the preceding years. Her office funded and financed the coup d’état against democratically-elected Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and the widespread repression that followed, along with the removal of President Fernando Lugo in Paraguay. She fiercely banged the drum for the bombing of Libya and the overthrow of Gaddafi, the bloody aftermath of which continues to this day.
And as president, Clinton says she intends to continue Obama’s legacy, a legacy which includes deporting the greatest number of immigrants in US history, expanding unconstitutional surveillance programs to unprecedented levels, carrying out bombings and deadly drone attacks throughout the Middle East, channeling billions of dollars in military aid to the Israeli apartheid state, the military junta in Egypt, and repressive and authoritarian regimes throughout the world, along with the continuing lock up of tens of thousands of Americans each year who are disproportionately Black and Latino, and generally putting the future of our planet in peril through the expansion of fracking and offshore drilling.
All of that is true, these "progressives" will say, but wouldn’t Clinton be at least slightly better than Trump? Even the smallest difference between the two candidates should dictate that we vote the lesser evil, they say. After all, one of these candidates will be president. They even go so far as to claim that not voting for Clinton constitutes a "lack of concern" for the people who would be most affected by a Trump presidency (i.e. immigrants, Black people, Muslims, women, and other oppressed groups.) Only the “privileged,” they say, would not vote for Clinton because they can afford a Trump presidency.
This is a truly cynical argument, given that it is precisely the Democrats politicians who will actually carry out the policies that deport immigrants, kill or lock up Black people en masse, and surveil Muslims. Even the right to abortion, which Democrats long held up as their crowning achievement, has rapidly eroded under Obama. A record number of abortion clinics have closed in the past five years as Democrats have refused to mobilize supporters to defend abortion rights. The lesser-evil logic demands that people accept bombings, deportations, imperialist interventions and cutbacks. It has entirely given up on the possibility that one should vote based on principles; it has abandoned the idea that we can mobilize for something better and instead resigns the people to a presidential candidate backed by Wall Street, the big banks, the military industrial complex, and explicitly or implicitly, a good deal of Republicans.
The lesser-evil logic thus becomes one of the greatest weapons at the disposal of the ruling class. The Democratic candidate need only be slightly preferable to the Republican in order to win the support of the people. Positioning herself as the lesser evil has actually become the central campaign strategy for Clinton, whose campaign ads focus, above all, on her not being Donald Trump. This strategy was exposed in the leaked Clinton campaign memo to the DNC in which Democrats sought to legitimize the most fringe, right-wing Republican candidates such as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in the early stages of the campaign. Clinton’s campaign staff knew that her email scandal and past support for NAFTA and the TPP made her extremely unpopular and vulnerable to defeat by a moderate Republican. In other words, the Democratic party wanted candidates like Trump to win and did everything they could to make sure he won the nomination. And now some think we can fight Trump by voting Democrat?
Once elected into office, the Democrats invariably proceed to make deals with the Republicans against the interests of the majority and in favor of the big capitalists, enacting ever more reactionary, anti-worker policies. We have seen this over and over again, with seemingly more progressive and inspiring candidates, including Obama. In fact, Obama’s current program would have made him the greater rather than the lesser evil just a few decades ago.
More than this, the lesser evil argument has been effective in preventing the growth of a working class and socialist party, since any party other than the Democrats and Republicans is deemed “unelectable” and therefore unworthy of our votes. It prevents any independent political organization from emerging from progressive mass movements like Black Lives Matter, Occupy, or the Fight for $15.
It is not for nothing that Clinton has the lowest approval rating of any frontrunner candidate in history, with 65 percent of voters holding an unfavorable opinion of her. Were it not for Trump being even more repugnant to voters, her showing would be abysmal. During the primary elections, Clinton was exposed in the eyes of millions of people as the favored candidate of Wall Street. From her $600,000 speech to Goldman Sachs — an engineer of the financial collapse of 2008 — to her longtime support for NAFTA and other free trade deals, to the millions she received in campaign contributions from billionaires like Warren Buffett and George Soros, it is abundantly clear in whose interests she intends to govern. Her campaign will likely spend $1 billion this election season with the primary goal of convincing workers, people of color, and the poor that despite all of this, she represents an alternative to the Republicans.
While we can find many differences between the programs put forward by Clinton and Trump, more unites the candidates than divides them. Each are members of the ultra-rich elite (Clinton famously attended Trump’s 2005 wedding and Trump donated over $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation). Both supported the war in Iraq (though Trump now denies it), the war in Afghanistan, and the ongoing “war on ISIS” across the Middle East—wars that have killed at least hundreds of thousands in the past decade and a half. Both cheer Israel’s brutal and colonial occupation of Palestine. Both support the model of free trade — much has been made of Trump’s criticism of NAFTA, but we should remember his comments in the most recent debate that there would be “more free trade deals” under his presidency, so long as they were re-negotiated to be more favorable to American, rather than foreign, businesses.
Given the relatively high support for third party candidacies this year, we must also point out that we cannot support the candidacies of Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson. Johnson, who advocates expanding charter schools, cutting environmental regulations, and slashing taxes for the rich is simply another Republican free-market purist in the mold of Rand Paul. Stein’s candidacy has captured support from a significant portion of the left, along with many Sanders voters who, rightly, could not stomach voting for Clinton. We are encouraged that many thousands of youth are turning away from the Democrats and seeking an alternative. However, the Green Party’s vision of an eco-friendly capitalism offers no way out of the current crisis. Nor has the campaign shown itself to be particularly dynamic—unable to connect to, express and strengthen the most dynamic movements in the US right now, Black Lives Matter and the Native American struggle against the North Dakota Access Pipeline. These two candidates cannot and do not represent the rage against racism and questioning of the capitalist system by large sectors of Americans, and especially young people.
The great American socialist, Eugene Debs, who won 6 percent of the popular vote as a presidential candidate in 1912, described the two-party system best: The worker has “no choice between these two capitalist parties, that they are both pledged to the same system and that whether the one or the other succeeds, he [sic] will still remain the wage-working slave he is today.”
What is needed to confront the current crisis, and with it, the misery, endless wars and environmental disaster, is not the lesser of two evils, but a working class party that challenges the capitalists for power. Neither Trump nor Clinton offer us any hope. To win the world we want, we must mobilize workers, youth, women, and oppressed people, we must organize a political alternative, and we must declare unequivocally: Not With Them.