We, members of the New Politics editorial board, wish to respond to the “Open Letter: Dump Trump, Then Battle Biden,” published in Common Dreams and signed by 55 progressives, including two other members of the board. Given the horrendous nature of Trump and his regime, we understand why the signers have taken this position. Nevertheless, we reject the letter’s call for leftists to vote for Biden as a lesser evil.
The signers include writers and activists whom we respect and admire; all the more unfortunate, therefore, that their letter parodies arguments about refusing to support a candidate who stands firmly in favor of the disastrous status quo that preceded Trump. Take this sentence: “But the message that not voting in swing states sends in 2020 is that we are okay with Trump for four more years as long as we don’t have to sully our hands by voting for Biden.” To portray those who insist on the political independence of the left as fastidious purists who only want to keep their hands clean misrepresents what we have said and believe: We are not “okay” with four more years of Trump, and we are not claiming that the letter’s signers are okay with Biden for four years. After all, the letter acknowledges that Biden, the lesser evil, is evil. Our differences are not about “purity” but how to most effectively combat Trump and the right-wing forces he represents.
First, it is important to note that Joe Biden is a “lesser evil” who has used his power to do great harm. For 40 years, Biden has been an enthusiastic proponent, and often a leading architect, of neoliberal foreign and domestic policies: assaults on public education, bank deregulation, militarized police forces, mass incarceration, gargantuan military budgets, savage wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, full support to Saudi aggression against Yemen and Israeli aggression against the Palestinians. Biden is a member in good standing of what Naomi Klein calls the “Davos class.” His entire career in Congress was bankrolled by the credit card industry. And now, running for president, he famously promised his donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” for them if he is elected. This is a promise that Biden can most assuredly be counted on to fulfill if he can. The neoliberal status quo ante, to which Biden was and is committed, together with a left that remains submerged within the Democratic Party, and therefore unable to make a broad appeal to the vast majority in this country, created the conditions that spawned Trump.
To Biden’s conservative and destructive record, the letter merely comments: “Protestations that Biden is beholden to elites are true but beside the point.” On the contrary, they are very much to the point, because they have everything to do with successfully fighting Trumpism and the extreme right. We have come to this miserable state of affairs in large part because the left has failed to create an alternative to “lesser evils” who, along with the greater evils, have devastated lives and imperiled the planet.
Biden is indeed different from Trump in ways that are important to recognize. Unlike Trump, he does not openly espouse racism and xenophobia and acknowledges the reality of global warming. Yet he stands for a return to the Obama-era status quo, in which millions of migrants were deported, people of color were at the mercy of the police, the prisons were full to bursting, economic inequality grew to immense proportions, and the globe was hurtling toward climate catastrophe. Despite the mostly meaningless promises of the Democratic platform, designed to convince the left to support him at the polls, Biden has made it clear that he rejects such progressive goals as the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and defunding the police. He has not even pretended that he would heavily tax the rich, make massive reductions in military spending (he plans in fact to increase it), restore civil liberties, stop foreign military interventions, or identify legislation he will support to defend workers’ rights on the job, including unionization. Effective solutions to the climate crisis, which threatens life itself on the planet, require a major, sustained attack on the corporate “rights” and privileges which Biden has always fervently defended. Bernie Sanders’s claim that Biden would be the most progressive president in recent history is, at best, wishful thinking. Instead, a vote for Biden in any state is not just a vote to get rid of Trump, but also a vote for a corporate military agenda and a vote to do next to nothing about the climate crisis.
The past few years have seen the biggest, most interracial mass protest movements in U.S. history. Most of the protest has been against conditions that Trump has exploited and exacerbated but were in place before his stunning ascension to power—systemic racism; militarized police departments; public services from medical care to education ravaged by privatization and cuts targeted at the most vulnerable in our society. In the face of this upheaval, leftists are both morally and strategically wrong to advocate voting for a candidate and party that have countenanced and deepened inequality and injustice.
There is no lack of outrage at the rank injustices of the system under which we live. What is in short supply is the vision and hope that something can be done about them. One of the biggest obstacles to radical change is the misplaced loyalty that millions feel for the Democratic Party, despite the lack of enthusiasm that most have for its current leader.
Some of the letter’s signers have opposed voting for Democrats as lesser evils in the past, and they will admit that lesser evil voting has brought us worse and worse evils. But they will insist that the extreme danger posed by Trump means that 2020 is exceptional. We ask what they think will change four years from now, or eight, or twelve, that would prevent them from making the same choice. Even without a raving sociopath like Trump, even with Biden in the White House, the threat from the far right will intensify. That threat can be met only by mobilizing a militant, democratic, independent left, both in the street and at the polls. This is a daunting task, but it is made much more difficult by again rallying the bulk of the existing left in support of the Democrats.
To bar the way to an authoritarian coup or a nascent fascist movement, we advocate direct action, confrontation and civil disobedience on a massive scale, and the formation of an independent political party of the left. “Dump Trump, Then Battle Biden,” says the letter, in effect calling on the left to “stand back and stand by” during the election, and then re-emerge to continue the fight. But this fight will continue to be undermined by the stubborn, irrational belief that the Democrats are the only possible alternative to the right, a belief reinforced by supporting Biden in this election.
The society that spawned Trump and his followers is a society of monstrous class, racial, and gender inequality, a shredded welfare state, rampant brutality by police forces now known to be infiltrated by organized white supremacists, and the glorification of military violence. Its bombs and missiles, armed forces, corporations, and financial institutions enable it to confront the world as a tyrannical overlord. The Democratic Party shares with the Republicans, if not equal responsibility, then a great deal of it for this abomination. Trump is certainly far worse than Biden, but Biden is no alternative.
Emma Wilde Botta
Well said–and much needed. In my personal view, the best hope at present for keeping the revolutionary socialist vision of an independent Left alive is to help support the Green Party candidates by voting for them.
Trump & Barr will eliminate the legal extra-electoral space required for what you want: “mobilizing a militant, democratic, independent left, both in the street & @ the polls.” They’ll use extra-judicial violence, tear gas & even heat rays to break up street protests. And who in their right mind wants to leave vaccine distribution to Trump?Vote Biden
You have described what police departments in several major Democratic cities have been doing for years against lawful demonstrators. Obama even had the FBI coordinate the attacks on Occupy Wall Street protesters and had the National Guard on standby against the DAPL protesters. The only difference with Biden will be that a good fraction of the Democrats will go back to sleep – or brunch.
The DAPL protestors were not attacked, as I remember it, by federal law enforcement but local law enforcement. In the end the Army Corp of Engineers did not give the pipeline approval, and Trump quickly reversed that. Obama did not have unmarked federal protestors kidnap people off the street, did not tear gas peaceful protestors for photo-ops, and did produce a devastating DOJ report about police racism in Ferguson. So the difference is between having a police state and not having one.
Rakesh, you ignore the many examples that have already been given (e.g.,Occupy) of protesters being brutalized by police or other goons in Democratic-controlled cities and states (and the attack on Occupy WAS backed by Obama). The recent violence against Black Lives Matter protesters was even more extreme, and overwhelmingly it took place in Democratic strongholds such as Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Atlanta, etc. And the response of Joe Biden to calls to defund the police and fund more appropriate alternatives has been to call for INCREASING funding for the police. The notion that there won’t be massive repression of social movements if only Democrats are in power is ludicrous.
Trump just praised an extra-judicial killing.
Obama-Biden engaged in extrajudicial killings, as do all US administrations.
Many revolutionaries make a mistake in thinking a Biden vote is an issue of principle. It’s not. Your political purity will not be tarnished if you vote for Biden. It’s a low-level TACTICAL issue, based on practical assessment: A Biden win may afford us continued civil/democratic rights to organize dissent and rebellion. A Trump win probably will not. A bourgeois election is not a test of our revolutionary purity. Surely you don’t think that we’re going to get a revolutionary movement together before November! Thus, your attack on “thinking like this” is smug and smells of feckless sectarian superiority.
If Democrats are interested in protecting civil and political rights, why were Seattle activists’ homes raided by FBI agents with a search warrant for “anarchist literature” in 2012? Why were Ferguson and Baltimore organizers disappeared and killed from 2014-2016? Why did the Obama administration not overturn the Patriot Act or disassemble the DHS? Can you name one tangible act by Obama’s administration — or for that matter, Clinton’s — to broaden the right to civil dissent? All I see are violent acts of suppression and a steady expansion and fortification of the police state.
Contrary to what you imply, there are strategic reasons for leftists to reject lesser-evilism and vote their principles. History is replete with examples (e.g., the US abolitionists in the 1800s, or Canadian labor rights and single-payer activists in the mid-20th century) of leftists using support for a third party and refusal to support lesser evils as a component of their ultimately successful efforts to advance their goals. And it’s ludicrous to claim that opposition to someone like Biden–one of the most right-wing and destructive Democrats in modern history, who to boot has been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women–is “purism.” It is simply having standards rather than a “no bar is too low” approach, and having a vision that extends beyond November 3. It also recognizes the practical reality that committed socialists refusing to vote for Biden isn’t going to tip an election that Biden leads by 10% to Trump (particularly if they are among the vast majority who don’t live in battleground states).
The US is not about to become a dictatorship. Please be realistic rather than far-fetched. There is no desire from the state, the generals or capitalist class to do so. In fact, almost all of them are opposed to Trump who undermines the legitimacy of their state. That being said the growth of the far right is a pressing concern for the left but Biden won’t solve it for us. It requires the construction of an alternative to the left of the Democrats. After all it was Obama’s policies (like the deportations of more immigrants than any Pres in history) and transfer of wealth from poor to rich that laid the basis for a hardened right that could benefit from the ensuing disillusionment while the left was stuck inside the culprit party.
Even if the stakes were higher and a fascist takeover impending, a vote for Biden would only disorganize the left. That’s what happened in 1932 Germany. The SPD spent all their time campaigning for the lesser evil Hindenburg who, once in office, appointed Hitler as Chancellor followed by the Enabling Act and so on. If the capitalist class want fascism they will get it regardless of the candidate that wins. The only way to stop that is via a fighting, independent left that outnumbers, disrupts and disorganizes the fascists rather than one that necessarily defers and gets sucked into a capitalist party.
This fails to recognize that Biden is Only a placeholder for Harris. The key is to get him out by the end of 2021, which is entirely possible. He’d be happy to go out on such a high note and live off Hunter’s fortune.
Harris will do anything.
Astonishing. This article consists almost entirely of truisms that don’t need to be pointed out, since everyone on the left knows them already. The fact remains: the only realistic way to get rid of Trump is to vote Biden in. You admit Trump is much worse than Biden. So vote for Biden if you’re in a swing state, and then fight him constantly once he’s in power. Why is this so hard to understand?? It mystifies me. It’s pure common sense. Has the left gotten so self-indoctrinated that it’s lost the ability to think?
We know Biden is bad! It’s massively obvious. You’re not making any profound or interesting points. The point is that Biden isn’t as bad as Trump! Jesus. Voting is a tactical issue, not some silly means of self-expression.
Moderates and liberals are already doing that. Biden is ahead by more than anyone since Clinton in 1996. Why does he need any help from leftists (particularly the vast majority who don’t happen to live in battleground states)? And your notion of tactics is extremely narrow and short-sighted. There are tactical reasons to stand for principle, too.
Nobody mention the climate change which is the most important issue and main reason why more 4 years of Trump will be a disaster for US and the world. It is not just voting for a lesser evil.
Eight years of Obama expanding and accelerating carbon extraction, backing 50-100 year investments in the dirtiest of fossil fuels (tar sands), with paltry amounts of $$ toward real R&D resulted in climate change pegging at the most pessimistic predictions of models. The Biden admin is taking the fossil fuel industry cash, that’s whose interests they will prioritize.
I have a serious question for the signers of this statement.
Say that two of you lived in the same swing state, that the election hung on the allocation of the Electoral votes from that state, and it turned out that apart from your two votes, Trump was ahead by a single vote. Would you vote for Biden?
If you say no, while acknowledging how much worse Trump would be, doesn’t that seem (despite your protests to the contrary) like a moralistic position unconcerned about the consequences of your action? What possible positive consequences would your action have that would outweigh the harm caused by Trump’s victory? And how would you explain these positive consequences to someone who was, for example, going to lose their DACA protection or right to join a union as a result of Trump’s re-election?
If you say that voting for Biden is a personal matter, different from supporting Biden, then why are you critical of a letter that urges people to vote for Biden, without having to support him?
If you say that you would vote for Biden in the given circumstances because you wouldn’t thereby become enmeshed in the Democratic Party, but others would, doesn’t that underestimate other comrades and your ability to educate people to share your perspective?
In responding to Steve Shalom I write for myself. Other signatories may agree or not. Like Steve I want to see Trump defeated. The question is what will occur if we accomplish that by urging a vote for Biden, as he and many comrades of old “new left” have done. Often the left is not strong enough to mount a successful alternative at the moment against a terribly destructive force. We who support “democracy from below” refuse to accept as the only “realistic” solutions those that prop up dictators and authoritarianism. Often we are told we are impractical. Yet, we think, on balance, “solutions” presented as “practical” will intensify the horrors they claim to solve.
The New Politics mission statement explains the option before us is socialism or barbarism. Biden is absolutely clear he supports policies that created Trump, just as Obama announced in his campaign he would carry out the bipartisan consensus that brought us to economic collapse and the frightening intensification of the right’s power and influence.
Like comrades who urge a vote for Biden, I want to stop Trump. What is even more urgent is turning back the Right, the forces of barbarism. In that struggle I think Biden is our opponent and urging a vote for him is profoundly miseducative about what is needed – an independent left and an electoral vehicle that will fight against the conditions that breed fascism.
As for the morality of my position, as someone who has been a teacher my entire life, I think conscious miseducation is immoral, always. And that is why I will not advocate a vote for Biden.
“political purity”= deliberate strawman, one explicitly repudiated by the article… making your comment a non-response.
Better luck next time, eh?
ooops meant unmarked federal POLICE
As a progressive Canadian I have a some skin in this game, both as a long time former US resident and as someone whose family suffered under the Nazis. I also have US born children whose lives will be impacted, like all of their generation worldwide, if Trump is re-elected.
As a kid my dad watched from his apartment window in Cologne, Germany in the early 1930s as Hitler’s Brownshirt versions of the Proud Boys fought gun battles with trade unionists, communists and socialists. These activists were risking their lives putting up anti-Nazi posters late at night in the years before Hitler came to power. Many ended up on watch lists, to be picked up immediately after the Nazis came to power. I am only alive and sitting here tonight because my grandmother read Mein Kampf and took Hitler seriously. She and my grandfather managed to get themselves and their kids out to London in time.
Trump may sound like a clown a lot of the time, but given the chance he would love to set his “boys” loose on us and would enjoy seeing our heads getting cracked open. Remember the elderly guy in Buffalo who was pushed over on the street and got a head injury for challenging the cops. Trump actually gets a kick out of that sort of thing. I carry a photo of my mother’s first cousin Zalman on my phone to remind myself what fascism is. He was murdered with his parents and grandmother on October 29, 1941 in Kaunas, Lithuania. Zalman was one of the 4,273 children out of the 9200 Jews who were murdered there that day, he was only twelve.
I am no fan of Joe Biden’s, but the argument that we should sit on our hands till after the election and risk Trump getting another four years to continue his racist messages of support to the militias, KKK and neo-nazis is a huge mistake IMO. I am not saying Biden is an angel or that the Obama policies at the border were not also despicable. I fully agree that Biden also obviously does not go far enough on climate either, but he will go a hell of a lot further than Trump of course and because of Bernie and AOC, a lot further than he would have on his own accord. BTW, I support the Green Party and would have no problem voting Green if I was not voting in a swing state.
I am saying let’s fight for more radical change after Biden has won and Trump is no longer sitting with his fat fingers on the nuclear button watching Fox News telling him when to push it. He is undoubtedly also planning to start deporting millions of people lacking the right papers using his border thugs, while also having them pick folks like us up and interrogate us in “dark” prisons whenever he feels like it. We just have to read the reports from Portland for a preview. In Germany this technique of disappearing people was called Night and Fog. Stalin used the same approach as did Franco, Mussolini, Pinochet and the Juntas in Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina. I had family members who suffered under several of those regimes and as a teenager my grandmother taught me to take fascism very seriously.
I don’t think most people have a clear concept of what Trump might get up to if he had no constraints, like another election to win, especially if he has a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court to watch his back.
In this election I stand with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, along with all my friends and relatives in the US.
Dr, Robert Oppenheimer
An alternative approach.
Looks like Workers Liberty has a third approach, added to the ones Comrade Johnson has posted, which argues against a vote for Biden: https://www.workersliberty.org/story/2020-09-30/case-backing-hawkins?fbclid=IwAR0GcJTWPmxi1kN4nSDUM9NNxNBMwPrrQeGYzTPkXhwv_Mq7YTRi62DkFz0
We have less than ten years before the world’s scientists say we go over the tipping points on climate
Biden was part of the “natural-gas-is-a-bridge” Obama administration that took no measures against Keystone until its last month in office (when Trump had been elected and so it was meaningless). Whatever Biden is promising now we know his record, and his current refusal to oppose fracking, etc.
Biden is neo-con on foreign policy and was a supporter of the invasion of Iraq and he is nearly identical with Trump on Palestine/Israel.
The problem is we don’t live in a democratic system. Because of the electoral college and the immense power of organized money it’s extremely hard to grow a third party in the USA.
There is a difference between Biden and Trump. Biden is not as much an authoritarian. In the long run that won’t matter. Capitalism will doom us. But in the short run we’d be able to organize more freely under a Biden presidency. Biden also favors science as opposed to wishes and that matters with the pandemic.
The Green Party has a nice platform and Hawkins is a fine fellow, BUT he doesn’t address one vital question. What would happen if the vote for the Green Party actually made a difference in one or several states and it resulted in the election going to Trump? People would not forgive the Left.
I proposed a strategy last year where like in some European countries the Left could show its electoral strength, but in the final runoff endorse the least worst party. https://newpol.org/an-eco-socialist-electoral-politics-strategy-for-2020/ It’s too late for it now.
I haven’t voted for a Democrat for president since 1972, but I’ll vote for Biden/Harris.
How about this endorsement, “Vote for Biden, a stinking imperialist, but not a practicing fascist”?
I approve that message.