What’s a Berner to Do?
This has been a rough campaign season for progressives like me.
First Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic nomination, and then he turned around and endorsed Clinton. That left “Bernie or Bust” types like me in an awkward position. Should we vote for Clinton? Should we boycott the election? Or should we vote for a third party candidate?
Cynical commentators have been telling me that I should overlook the fact that Clinton is a two-faced political operative and that she’s the best we can hope for. After Bernie Sanders, I can not longer accept that. His support of Clinton was disappointing, but it has not diminished the optimism that his campaign inspired in me.
Woman and Nature
I am excited about the fact that a woman is running on one of the two major party tickets for the first time ever. And I really want to see a woman in the White House.
And yet, I voted for Barack Obama in part because I wanted to see a Black man in the White House, and that didn’t turn out so well. I have been disappointed by him in so many ways, including his failure to close Guantanamo, his expansion of the surveillance state, his expansion of the drone program, his kid-gloving of the big banks responsible for the financial meltdown, his half-measure health care program which largely benefits insurance companies, his lack of environmental leadership in Copenhagen and Paris, and on and on. Obama turned out to be just another neoliberal trying to maintain the status quo, and Clinton promises to be a less charismatic version of Obama.
On social policy, Clinton and I are largely in agreement, especially on “women’s issues”. But economically, I think she’s in the pocket of Wall Street and will undoubtedly support “free trade”, like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which is really bad for the environment.
Like ecofeminists, I see the oppression of women and the abuse of the environment as related phenomena, both arising from patriarchal power structures of hierarchy and domination. But that doesn’t mean that a vote for a woman is necessarily a vote for the environment.
Though Clinton mocks Trump for being a climate change denier, and although she does have a green energy plan, the fact is that she supports fracking and natural gas. Then there’s that email where she said environmental activists need to “get a life”. She won’t support a carbon tax and she will likely support the Dakota Access Pipeline. In short, she will continue the same policies which have brought us literally to the brink of a prolonged extinction level event (of human civilization as we know it, and possibly of the entire human race).
What Happened to the Climate?
Perhaps even more disturbing than what the candidates have said about climate change is what they haven’t said. We have gone from Bernie Sanders, for whom climate change was front and center (he said that climate change is the greatest threat to national security) to having three Presidential debates (and one Vice-Presidential debate) without a single question on climate change. Only 82 seconds was spent on climate change in the four debates combined.
Climate change shouldn’t just be among the issues — it should be the issue. As Naomi Klein explained in This Changes Everything,
“climate change isn’t an ‘issue’ to add to the list of things to worry about, next to health care and taxes. It is a civilizational wake-up call. A powerful message—spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions—telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet. Telling us that we need to evolve.”
The Perspective of Privilege
The best argument I have heard in favor of the “Clinton compromise” is that it is privileged to vote for a third-party candidate. I can’t argue with that. I’m white, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered, middle-class. And so, a Trump presidency would be less disastrous for me personally than for women, people of color, etc. So, yes, it is easier for me to overlook the evils of a Trump presidency. And yet, I’m not convinced that my privileged position is a handicap in this election.
In fact, I think my privilege gives me a unique perspective: it enables me to look beyond the short term eclipse of human rights and focus the long term eclipse of human life. That’s a terrible calculus, I know. But on the one hand, we have Trump, who would terrorize women and people of color and who would continue policies that will lead to the end of life as we know it. On the other hand, we have Clinton, who would do better for women and marginally better for people of color … and will continue policies that will lead to the end of life as we know it.
Just take a look at the last presidential debate. Both candidates (and the moderator) took the desirability of economic growth as a given. Yet it is precisely this single-minded pursuit of growth that has led to planetary ecological collapse. Our industrial capitalist economic system is fundamentally incompatible with a healthy planetary ecosystem. We live on a planet with finite resources, but our economic system is premised on unlimited growth. Since we can’t change the laws of nature, our only option is to change our economic system — and Clinton is not the candidate who will do that.
The Lesser Evil
I’ve told repeatedly that a vote for anyone other than Clinton is a vote for Trump. Even Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, has succumbed to the logic of the “lesser evil”.
Now, Trump may be one of the worst people to have ever won a major party nomination. What’s really disturbing to me is not the ludicrous things he says, but that because of his campaign, so many people now find it acceptable to be openly racist and misogynist. The racist, misogynist, xenophobic, fascist side of the American psyche was always there — but Trump has given people license to wave it proudly like a flag.
In spite of the deplorability of Trump and many of his supporters, I find something deeply disturbing about the idea of voting for the “lesser of two evils”, especially now when the lesser evil still probably means death to a large part of the biosphere — and especially when there is a third choice.
The Lesser Good and the Equality of Extinction
Right now, the only candidate who is taking climate change seriously is Jill Stein. And Stein’s criticism of Big-Pharma — whether or not it’s the same thing as being “anti-vax” — is not enough for me to label her “anti-science” — especially when she is the only candidate who is taking climate scientists seriously.
I’m voting for Jill Stein, not because she has any statistical chance of winning, but because I want to send a message to the Democratic Party: You can’t shove neoliberal candidates down our throats any more and keep our loyalty. Bernie Sanders permanently changed the political lanscape, and we’re revolting against the plutocracy. Neither the abstract hope of a woman in the White House, nor despair over Bernie Sanders’ loss of faith, nor fear of the threat of a Trump presidency are enough to make me vote for someone I don’t believe in.
Protecting women’s rights, LGBT rights, and the rights of people of color are all important to me and I will continue to fight for them. But no issue matters more than saving the earthly biosphere that is our home. What civil rights activist, James Farmer, has said in this regard is as true as ever:
“if we do not save the environment and save the Earth, then whatever we do in civil rights or in a war against poverty will be of no meaning, because then we will have the equality of extinction and the brotherhood of the grave.”