Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Republican Convention (2016)

The Republican Party convention is over and I’m sure you have read, heard, and/or watched plenty of commentary on it.  What I have read has been entirely negative, even from conservative sources.  I suppose this only confirms the law of karma.  Anger and hostility will naturally produce ill feelings in those who witness it, but it was a bit chilling to see how the law of karma did not seem to apply to the delegates at the convention.  They clearly relished the animosity pouring from the podium.  The important question to be answered in November is how representative of the American electorate are the Republican delegates?  My expectation is:  not so much, and that Donald Trump’s acceptance speech has only made his election less likely.  Two surprising remarks and the overall theme of his speech stood out that bring me to this conclusion.

The first surprising remark was Trump’s reference to “LGBTQ” people.  (That he included queers goes beyond even what the mainstream LGBT press tends to countenance.)  Describing the victims of the recent mass murder in an Orlando gay night club as “wonderful Americans,” Trump promised to protect them from the “violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.”  Additionally, he scheduled Paul Thiel, the openly gay founder of Pay Pal to speak earlier that night, but Trump’s remarks show him walking a fine line between a genuine endorsement of the civil rights of LGBTQ people and a tepid gesture toward inviting them into his coalition.  One should note that later in the speech he promised to appoint Supreme Court justices in the image of Antonin Scalia, who can hardly be called an ally of LGBTQ rights.  Furthermore, Trump was careful to fold his remark about LGBTQ people into his promise to protect all Americans form foreign terrorists, but describing that threat as a “hateful foreign ideology” surely must have rankled American homophobes.  It would be hard to know if Trump distinguished American homophobes from foreign homophobes.  Add to this the absence of any mention of restrictions on abortion, and social conservatives must be wondering about his commitment to their causes.

Trump did promise to overturn the restriction on tax exempt organizations (particularly religious organizations) which prohibits them from directly advocating political candidates.  The rationale for the restriction was that tax subsidies should not be available to fund partisan politics.  Overturning this restriction would certainly be welcomed by many politicians as it would open up a vast new source of campaign funding.  It would also we welcomed by church leaders who seek greater political influence, but I doubt that this is an important issue to grassroots social conservatives.  

Social conservatives have long been skeptical of Trump.  So Ted Cruz’s prominent refusal to endorse him, Trump’s failure to call for abortion restrictions, and his seemingly tolerant attitude toward LGBTQ people might well have widened a fissure in the Republican Party.  This year, gay rights may have become a potent wedge issue for use by the Democratic Party and that wedge soon might be driven deep enough to cause havoc in the Republican Party for years to come.

The second surprising remark has not been noted in any commentary I have read, but I believe it too will have a lasting impact on the Republican Party.  In a long and sometimes rambling speech, short on specifics, Trump spent a great deal of time condemning multilateral trade agreements in favor of bilateral agreements that he promised will benefit American workers.  So this second surprising “remark” was actually a surprising paragraph or two in the course of his speech and Trump provided unusual detail to support his position.  He specifically named NAFTA and the TPP as bad agreements.  Both have come under fire from labor Democrats and populist Republicans, but they are favored by the neoliberal, free traders in both parties, including Barak Obama, Joe Biden, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Tim Kaine, and until recently, by Hillary Clinton.   The popular sentiment against the TPP has led many politicians to withdraw or moderate their support for the TPP, but it is hard to imagine that their hearts are really against it after so many years of extolling these agreements and “free trade” generally.  

Certainly Trump’s long denunciation of NAFTA and the TPP might have been intended to appeal to working class voters, particularly Sanders’s supporters, and I suspect he would welcome the chance to be the primary negotiator of a host of new bilateral “deals,” but it isn’t clear to me that he genuinely opposes the substance of these agreements.  His critique of NAFTA and the TPP must have struck neoliberals in the Republican Party like Thor’s hammer.  Rejecting these agreements makes possible precisely those protectionist policies and trade wars that free traders fear most.  If Mike Pence was meant to assuage the doubts of establishment Republicans, Trump’s speech surely must have resurrected and enhanced those doubts; and if his supporters come to see rejecting mulitlateral trade agreements and adopting protectionist trade policies as important planks in their political agenda, the division over trade in the Republican Party could easily become the cause for the irreversible separation of populist Republicans and its neoliberal establishment.  We then have three feuding factions in the Republican Party:  social conservatives, populists, and neoliberals.  How they come together in the coming months and years isn’t clear at all.

However, the overall theme of Trumps speech – “law and order” – is politically and culturally the most important aspect, not just of his speech, but of the entire convention.  I think Trump now understands that this, more than anything, has brought supporters to his campaign.  His appeal for law and order began early in his campaign with a call to build a border wall and deport “illegals.”  It was followed by a call to establish domestic order by prohibiting the admission of Muslims to the country.  It has recently incorporated outspoken support for our police in the face of widespread accusations of violations by police of the human and civil rights of Americans and of the excessive use of force by police.  Howevver in his speech, Trump refined his pitch for law and order in what appears to be an attempt to make his positions less controversial.  Regarding his wall, Trump insisted that it would be merely one element in a larger immigration policy – one which would permit, even welcome, immigration through legal means.  Regarding his ban on Muslim immigration and refugee resettlement, Trump reduced the scope of the ban to only those countries that are experiencing political turmoil.  Both policies – even unqualified – have achieved significant support among many people.  Trump and his convention presented them as methods by which America could be made safe again.

Trump’s support for our police is likely to become a mainstay of his future campaign.  Perhaps more than anything, police shootings of citizens and citizen shootings of police in a context of racial division and escalating protests will promote within voters the sense of insecurity that the Trump campaign has been attempting to foster.  Providing unconditional support for our police is likely to seem to a lot of voters the necessary response to an unravelling social order.  Most of all, it plays into the public image that Trump has been cultivating – that he is a strong leader.  He seeks to reinforce this image at nearly every chance he gets.  This came out in full force during his speech.

Building his wall, destroying ISIS, and bringing law and order to America’s streets are all to be accomplished “fast,” “quickly,” and even “immediately” through tough and, if necessary, violent measures.  Against ISIS, there appeared to be no measure that would be too violent.  The degree of violence would surely amount to a massive commitment of resources tantamount to a full scale war.  With regard to his immigration policy, Trump promised that his measures would take effect immediately upon his inauguration and become effective quickly.  This suggests that he would issue an executive order to increase significantly the deportation of “illegals.”  As there is an estimated 10.9 million undocumented people in the U.S., the deportation force and its legal apparatus would need to be enormous.  Finally, with regard to bringing law and order to our cities, Trump again promised immediate action that quickly would make them safe.  Given Trump’s description of the state of our crime in our cities, this would require an unprecedented enhancement of police operations and resources.  Indeed, even hoping to accomplish this from the Oval Office could only mean mobilizing the National Guard.  If we take each proposal in Trump’s speech seriously, we should expect a new, potentially endless war in the Middle East with profound global repercussions and martial law at home.  The most important question now is how many Americans would welcome this?

Trump’s call for this kind of action might be nothing more than posturing to rally his base.  In office he might be different, but the anger and hostility that animated the Republican convention and the machismo on display by Trump himself is a reflection of currents in our society that pose a grave threat to peace, freedom, and even prosperity.   Perhaps nothing better illustrated Trump’s macho arrogance as when he periodical interrupted his speech to present his profile to the television camera, with a scowl and jutting chin.  It seemed to be a calculated imitation of Benito Mussolini.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Republican National Convention (Day One)

The Republican Convention was both an embarrassment and a bit frightening.  Donald Trump told us that he would be putting on a more “entertaining” convention than past conventions.  I can’t say that was true for me.  At the same time, it wasn't any less entertaining than conventions of the past that I have seen.  It was embarrassing, however, to see that one of our two major political parties can’t offer us an evening in which the issues of domestic safety and national security can be discussed in an intelligent way.  The speeches offered little more than a partisan focus on a unique event (the mayhem in Benghazi) and indignant calls for retribution against inflated enemies, foreign and domestic.  It was frightening to hear rhetoric in speech after speech that seemed at very least jingoistic and sometimes fascistic – and I don’t use that term lightly.  One of the more chilling moments was when a speaker called upon a new generation of patriots to recognize that the arena of war was here in America.  It was not clear whether his perceived enemy was foreign fighters infiltrating America or American citizens not conforming to his ideology. 

The theme of the evening was “Make America Safe Again.”  So one should not be surprised that speech after speech stressed that America is unsafe, despite the decline in the crime rate and the paucity of terrorist attacks in comparison to other countries.   Terror attacks were a persistent theme in the speeches, along with insecure borders.  Of course objectively speaking, if they were serious about making America safe again, they would be talking about auto safety and public health, but politics is about who controls sovereign power.  So terrorism -- which is mainly a political threat to those in power -- is more important to the politically powerful than are the real dangers to Americans.  Those who hold power will always decry terrorism first and foremost and inflate its significance as a danger to citizens. 

Speech after speech was written to promote fear and to uncritically extol the valor of the police and the armed forces.  I do not doubt and I deeply respect the individual valor and self-sacrifice of law-abiding police officers and conscientious members of the armed forces.  So it saddens me to see their dedication to ideals greater than themselves used all too often to prop up injustice.   Even more worrying is that the convention's speeches frequently identified a wide spectrum of people as enemies.  They usually were not named explicitly, but by implication they included “illegal aliens,” Black Lives Matter activists, and of course, Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton.  Explicitly naming “our enemies” as “radical Muslim terrorists” also was a persistent theme, and while Rudy Giuliani was at pains to distinguish this group from all Muslims, Trump’s previous statements give one little confidence that his supporters agree with Giuliani in practice.  The main prescription for “making America safe again” was “strength” as opposed to the "weakness" that was said to be the hallmark of the Obama administration and which could be expected of a Clinton administration.

The idea that the Obama administration and a prospective Clinton administration would be weak or too reticent to employ violence against enemies should be astonishing to anyone but proponents of the most violent response to social and political conflict.  To name only the most prominent uses of force by the Obama administration:  the administration was painfully slow to de-escalate the war in Iraq and periodically re-escalated that war.  It conducted an air war against Muammar Gaddafi's forces in Libya.  It is participating in the war in Syria, both directly and through proxies.  It expanded the war in Afghanistan and it has escalated drone strikes around the world.  Hillary Clinton has strongly supported all of these efforts and shows a strong willingness, even a commitment, to engage in additional war and violence.  But the "weakness" of Obama and Clinton was a major theme tonight.  It is clear that the convention speakers selected by Trump were pleased that he would be yet more belligerent than Obama and Clinton.  The obvious conclusion is that in this election cycle, the Republican Party has been taken over by a more extreme group of jingoists and militarists than have been seen on the political stage since at least the 1960s.

There were occasional references to Jesus, Christianity, and “our Judeo-Christian tradition.”  I am not a Christian as most people would understand that description, but I was pained for the Christians I know and respect that their religion would be appropriated by people who seem so opposed to the beautiful ideals and teaching of Christ.  How vengeance and violence could be associated with a religion whose most edifying tenets are love, peace, and non-violence has always baffled me.  Has Christianity in America really become merely a tribal affiliation of American chauvinists with no relation to the universal love espoused by Christ?  If the Republican Party convention is our authority, then the answer is yes, most definitely.  The phrases “America first,” “American exceptionalism,” and “the greatest country God ever created” (as if God might have bungled the creation of other countries), was heard in the convention speeches.  There seemed no question in the minds of the speakers that this ancient religion that proclaims a message of universal, impartial love and respect held a special place for America and that it justified brutal assaults on its enemies.  For many Republican Convention speakers, God was clearly on the side of the American Christian soldier marching to war, a song which I don’t think Jesus of Nazareth ever would have sung. 

I am still convinced that Donald Trump will not be elected president, but one should not be complacent about our long-term political future when, in the most powerful country in the world, a faction so belligerent and convinced of its divine righteousness takes control of one of the country's two political parties.  I expect women, with the help of Latinos in Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada and blacks in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, will sweep Hillary Clinton into the White House, but that won’t make the angry, hostile members of this subculture change the way they think.  We must find ways to bring people toward the conviction that national and international disagreements must be resolved peacefully though political agreements or everyone will suffer.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The 2016 Democratic Primary and Presidential Election

I recently read several speeches given in the decades leading up to the American Civil War.  They expressed many shades of opinion, from abolitionism to the defenses of slavery.  They addressed both the substance of slavery and the politics related to its suppression, existence, and extension.  As I read, what stood out for me was a subset of those speeches that reflected the debate between abolitionists and anti-slavery politicians who nonetheless sought accommodation with the slave holders.  The accommodationists largely sought political stability, but I'm sure some believed that compromise was a tactic necessity for reaching larger goals.  This made me think of the current debate that is taking place within the Democratic Party over how, in the words of Bernie Sanders, “to transform America.” 

Many writers have observed that the debate between Sanders’s supporters and Clinton’s supporters is a reoccurring debate between “purists” and “pragmatists.”  I don’t think this distinction is apt, but the arguments based on this distinction arise often.  They surfaced dramatically in the 2000 presidential campaign when Green Party activists ran Ralph Nader for president.  Despite the Green Party holding many views on critical public policy issues that were diametrically opposed to Al Gore and the Democratic Party, many Democrats believed that Ralph Nader’s supporters were “self-indulgent purists,” who out of their purity were sacrificing political progress or at very least opening the door to political regress.  The same criticism is now being leveled against Sanders’s supporters in an attempt to persuade them to stop expressing their views and instead support Hillary Clinton.  Too often these arguments (and the arguments used to rebut them) reflect the one dimensional (left-right) simplicity of the popular understanding of the political landscape.  A more accurate understanding of the political space would reveal numerous issues, each with multiple dimensions.  Arraying people along a single political spectrum and then dividing them into only two categories (purists and pragmatists) obscures the complexity of politics.  Real political actors stand on principle on some issues and are willing to compromise on others.  Take for example, Sanders’s principled position on the death penalty and his willingness to compromise on gun regulation or Clinton’s principled position on gun regulation and her willingness to compromise on a $15 dollar and hour minimum wage.  We all have different and complex opinions about a variety of issues and we all make different judgments about long and short term benefits of particular public policies and political actions.  Who is or is not pure or pragmatic are questions that are too crude to describe our politics.

Let me illustrate the artificiality of the purist-pragmatist distinction.  In 2001, I was engaged in a debate within the Maryland Green Party over a party guideline which called upon Green Party candidates to limit the size of any single contributor's contribution  to $100 and donations by the candidates themselves to $400.  This was seen by some in the Party as imposing a needless handicap on our candidates in pursuit of “purity.”  In contrast, I and others believed that it was the only strategy available that could successfully challenge the domination of money in politics.  In our view, we were pragmatists. 

The root of the disagreement within the Party was in large part related to the goals we had in mind and how to achieve them.  The proponents of higher limits sought a better chance to get candidates elected in the current election cycle.  They argued that the more money the candidate had, the stronger the campaign would be, and by electing such candidates, a law requiring public financing for political campaigns would be made more likely.  Furthermore, in their view, higher or no limits on campaign donations would net more money for the campaign.  However, in our view, there was little to no chance that our candidates would be elected.  (Normally, third party candidates get no more than 2 or 3% of the vote in state-wide elections, even when running without contribution limits.)  Even if a candidate was (or a few candidates were) elected from the Green Party, our political influence in the Assembly would not be sufficient pass public financing for political campaigns.  Consequently, we believed the strategy outlined by the proponents of higher limits was doomed to failure.

As a positive alternative, we argued that the strength of a Green Party candidate would come from highlighting how big money corrupts our political system and undermines the political influence of the vast majority of citizens.  Establishing low limits on our candidates’ donations would bring the issue to the public.  My analysis of several Maryland Green Party campaigns showed that whether a Green Party candidate established a $100 dollar limit or a $1,000 dollar limit had no significant effect on the total amount the campaign acquired.  The loss of donations above $100 dollars due to the self-imposed limit was made up for by the number of people willing to make a contribution to a campaign adopting a $100 dollar limit, particularly when the candidate emphasized the donation limit to potential donors.   By running a $100 dollar campaign, we were creating an opportunity for proponents of public financed campaigns prominently to enter the political space on their own terms.  This would be both an equally effective short term strategy of funding Green Party candidates and a more effective long term strategy of bringing about campaign finance reform.  It would also significantly differentiate our candidates from the Republican and Democratic Party candidates, form a coordinated body of voters willing to work to transform our campaign finance system through electoral campaigns, and build the Green Party for future campaigns.  It remains, of course, debatable whose strategy would be more successful, but that there can be such a debate demonstrates the meaninglessness of the “purity vs. pragmatism” debate.

Contrary to much received opinion, one can as easily argue that Sanders is the pragmatist in the current campaign, if the goal truly is to transform America.  During much of her campaign, Clinton insisted that she was a “pragmatic progressive” who got things done and that political compromise was necessary for governing.  Setting aside the difficulty in understanding the meaning of “pragmatic” and “progressive,” Clinton’s recognition of the necessity of compromise “to get things done” inside government is clear and usually correct, but compromise is fraught with drawbacks.  Proponents of compromise often sound like Henry Clay who fashioned the Compromise of 1850.  Clay defended his bill on the Senate floor by observing that the country was divided between forces for and against slavery and that for the contest between these forces to be resolved, each side would need to give something to get something.  It was a classic defense of compromise.  The compromise gave California admission to the country as a free state, but it strengthened the notorious Fugitive Slave Act.  It abolished the slave trade in D.C., but confirmed the right to own slaves in D.C.  In the present political context, the country is said to be divided into “red states” and “blue states.”  Today proponents of compromise are in the same position as Clay.  For a president from the Democratic Party to “get things done” requires fashioning legislation that is to some extent acceptable to the Republican Party.  Proponents of compromise will declare incremental victory, but there are proponents of compromise on both sides of the aisle.  Consequently, incremental victory is also incremental defeat.  One gives a little to get a little.  It isn’t clear if progressive forces on balance make any headway and even less clear that they are transforming America.

During the debates over slavery, abolitionists made up a small minority in Congress and in the country.   Yet their principled stand against slavery divided both the Democratic Party and the Whig Party.  They brought the issue of slavery starkly before the public with powerful moral and practical arguments.  One cannot be certain what might have happened if the abolitionists had silenced themselves in favor of the more conservative Free Soil and Republican platforms of the 1850s, but Wendell Phillips pointed out that all of the arguments made by the anti-slavery forces originated in the earlier arguments of the abolitionists.  A similar dynamic has been unfolding for a couple decades now.

In 2000, the Green Party’s platform advanced most of what Bernie Sanders has been advocating in his campaign (along with additional public policies that reflect social democratic sensibilities).  The Green Party continued its advocacy of these positions in 2004, 2008 and 2012.  As in the 1850s, one cannot be certain what might have happened without the Green Party’s campaigns, but in 2011 the Occupy Wall Street movement was launched.  Though famously without a defined platform, many of the actors in the movement called for prescriptions that appeared in the Green Party’s platforms, and these prescriptions are now openly discussed by the corporate media due to the Sanders campaign.  I don’t mean to overstate the role of the Green Party in bringing about the changes in public discourse.  I only mean to emphasize that sustained, uncompromising arguments in favor of particular public policies can have a role in changing public discourse.

The role of movements like the Green Party, Occupy Wall Street, and the Sanders campaign is historically common and politically effective.  There is a common belief that political movements must take a backseat to electoral politics during elections.  The thought is, “you can’t be transformative if you aren’t elected.”  What this fails to recognize is that political movements are the motivating cause of political change and electoral victories are merely the proximate cause.  Indeed, electoral victories aren’t always necessary for the success of a political movement.  Take for example the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  This legislation contained goals set by the civil rights movement at least as early as the 1950s.  The act was passed by a Congress that was essentially the same as in previous years.  In the 1964 congressional elections, only 7 new Senators were elected and 97 new representatives.  Assuming all of these new members replaced opponents of the Voting Rights Act, their votes were nonetheless not necessary to reach a majority in favor of the Act.  What actually brought about this legislative success was not victories at the ballot box.  Instead, the civil rights movement stirred the conscience of sitting members of Congress and persuaded them to change their votes or perhaps members of Congress simply saw that the civil rights movement was becoming so strong that their political future required that they accede to popular demand. 

Of course in other instances, changes to office holders are important for the passage of legislation, but significant changes to who holds office come about because of pressure from political movements.  After the defeat of Michael Dukakis in 1988, members of the Democratic Party (the Democratic Leadership Council or DLC) determined that the conservative movement which had its origins in Barry Goldwaters’s 1964 presidential campaign and later dubbed “the Reagan Revolution” had become so well entrenched that the Democratic Party’s future depended upon adopting a more conservative platform and by appealing to business and corporate donors.  Running Bill Clinton against more traditional labor Democrats, the DLC won Clinton’s victory in a three-way presidential contest.  Within a year of holding office, Clinton used his political capital to pass NAFTA in 1993, a crime bill in 1994, and welfare reform in 1996.  Each of these measures was originally championed by Republicans and other conservatives in Congress.  One might be tempted to attribute the passage of these bills to Clinton, and no doubt he played a role, but he was mostly the instrument of a conservative shift in the electorate.  The conservative movement was able to effect a change in the Democratic Party.

These two examples – the Voting Rights Act and the laws passed during the Clinton administration – demonstrate the power of political movements to effect change.  Electoral victories and defeats are merely epiphenomena in relation to the movements that bring them about.  This brings us to the “political revolution” that Bernie Sanders has been promoting.

Just yesterday, Bernie Sanders was reported as saying, “the goal isn’t to win elections, the goal is to transform America.”  This stunned those who believe that electoral success is necessary to bring about change, particularly House members who seem to be constantly thinking first and foremost about elections; but as history shows, the motivating cause of change, particularly transformative change, is the formation of a powerful political movement.  If one’s goal is transformational change, pragmatism usually requires that one concentrate on building a movement and not just winning elections and passing compromised legislation.  This was the shocking message that Sanders was bringing to House Democrats.  It would be counter-productive were Sanders to veer from the task of transforming America by silencing the movement's message in support of a single candidate who appears not to be dedicated fully to transformational change.  Happily, the movement for a political revolution appears to be holding together, despite failing to nominate Bernie Sanders; meanwhile, movements that that support factions in the Republican Party and the ideology of neoliberalism in both parties appear to be weakening.

Four important political movements have found an intersection in the Sanders campaign:  the labor movement, the movement to address student debt, the movement for universal health insurance, and the environmental movement.  Three efforts are significant to the labor movement: defeating and repealing neoliberal international trade treaties, increasing the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation, and addressing the country’s profound disparity of wealth.  Sanders made these issues central to his campaign and generated great enthusiasm for them in the Democratic electorate.  So much so, that Clinton has changed her views (or at least her rhetoric) in a number of ways to roughly align herself with most of these positions.  This was not entirely due to Sanders’s campaign as her embrace of some of these policies predated the Sanders campaign, but nearly everyone agrees that Sanders has "forced Clinton to the left."  The same can be said of Sanders’s and Clinton’s positions on student debt.  Sanders has been expressing the full aspirations of students with his call for “free college education,” while Clinton is advocating “affordable college education.”   With regard to health care, Sanders again articulates the full aspirations of the movement, while Clinton advocates expanding the Affordable Care Act.  Sanders also made environmental issues central to his campaign, coming out against fracking, the Keystone XL pipeline, and in support of a carbon fee and dividend plan.  Clinton insists that she is on board with the environmental movement, but her record here is quite mixed.  On the positive side, she has promised support for an infrastructure that will provide renewable energy to 100% of America’s residences, but she supports fracking and remained neutral at best during the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline.   Most recently, her appointees to the Democratic Party platform committee voted down a call for a carbon fee and dividend plan.  All this shows how the most significant motivating movements inside the Democratic Party have raised up a political candidate and are pressuring the establishment wing of the party.  These movements are calling for transformational change and are coalescing in opposition to the neoliberal and corporate control of our society, including the Democratic Party.

One important movement popular among progressives is the Black Lives Matters movement.  It has forced its way into both the Sanders and Clinton campaign.  Both candidates point to previous sympathy for criminal justice reform, but it is clear that both have raised it to a critical priority due to the movement’s effectiveness.  The Black Lives Matters movement shows how a docile political establishment can be pressed into action by concerted grassroots action. 

The movements that animate the Republican Party are different, of course, and they are by and large waning.  They have maintained a successful coalition for several decades and have been able to elect a huge number of officials at all levels of government.  The coalition appears, however, to be coming apart.  It has been composed of social conservatives, libertarians, militarists, white supremists, nativists, and neoliberals (who reside in significant numbers in both parties).   Following the election of Barak Obama, the more radical elements of these movements coalesced into “the Tea Party,” bankrolled by the libertarian Koch brothers.  This movement has had its predictable effect on Republican office holders.  In fear of a primary challenge, many have adopted quite radical "Tea Party" positions.  Again, this is an instance when a movement has been able to achieve success without always winning office; however, over time, the extreme views of the Tea Party have created fissures in the coalition.  The Tea Party movement is showing signs of reaching its peak influence.  Furthermore, the relative popularity of Donald Trump within the Republican Party has alienated many of the coalition’s most powerful elements, deepening the divide between the factions.  It is not clear whether the Republican Party coalition can be held together following the likely defeat of Donald Trump or even if it continues to exist today.

Under the circumstances of a rising social democratic movement and the decline of the movements in the Republican Party, it makes good sense for Bernie Sanders to concentrate on building the social democratic movement and not focus only on elections.  This is particularly true as the administration of the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee is likely to take much more cautious steps toward transforming American politics than the rising movements would like.  In all likelihood, Clinton will be elected president.  Respected poll analyst Nat Silver gives her an 80% chance, and it is hard to imagine that Donald Trump’s astonishingly high unfavorable ratings (60%) can be turned around.  Furthermore, the electoral map strongly favors any Democratic Party presidential candidate.  In the last quarter century, democrats have won five of six presidential elections (counting the 2000 election as a “victory” for Al Gore based on the national popular vote and what the outcome would have been had all of the votes been counted in Florida).  Furthermore, if Clinton wins all of the states that Democratic presidential candidates have won in each election since 1992, she only needs Florida to win the Electoral College votes.  If she loses Florida, there are a host of other states that combined will put her over the top.  Consequently, there is no good reason for the proponents of transformational change to silence themselves in hopes of greater electoral success on the part of a candidate with a clear neoliberal record.

Finally, I should say something about the two-party system.  Much of the pressure to accept compromise and “pragamatism” relies on the argument that a worse candidate might be elected.  Setting aside that this is currently quite unlikely, one should recognize that voting not only adds a tally to a candidate’s total, it serves to give them the illusion that their policies are favored by the voter.  It provides them with a degree of political legitimation when the voter in fact might not favor their policies nor feel they have a legitimate claim to authority.  Given the power of money to determine who can appear on our ballots in November, the winner of an election can hardly claim democratic legitimacy.  Not voting for one of the two establishment-sponsored (plutocratic) candidates is a way of refusing to accord them the basis for claiming a higher degree of legitimate authority.  Additionally, the two-party system will not be dismantled by members of those parties any more than the private funding of campaigns will be ended by candidates who are successful at raising private funds.  By voting for third party candidates, one escapes the trap of legitimating officeholders that one finds illegitimate and one builds an electoral organization that can demand the transformation of our politics to a multi-party democracy. 

Regardless of these considerations, one might still be convinced that voting for “the lesser of two evils” is rational.  I believe this is true at times; however, it is never true for the vast majority of voters during presidential elections.  Given that our electoral process involves state-by-state elections of delegates to the Electoral College, one’s vote for the president counts only in a few swing states.  In nearly all states, one is free to vote one’s conscience without fear that “the greater of two evils” will be elected.  If voting one’s conscience becomes common enough for this to happen, then the movement for a multi-party democracy will have been (or will be on the verge of being) successful. 

Much to the surprise of many of my fellow Green Party members who have heard me make the case for voting for Green Party presidential candidates even in swing states, this election has me concluding that there is a strong argument for swing state voters to cast their vote for Hillary Clinton. I don’t expect this election to be close, even in traditional swing states; but one issue stands out for me that makes me dread the election of Donald Trump:  the unfolding sixth great extinction of species on the planet.

It is not controversial that our population and global industrial society have initiated a precipitous decline in the number of species the planet harbors and that if this decline to continues, we will witness one of the six great extinctions of life on the planet that natural history has recorded.  During the last great extinction, 66 million years ago, 75% of all species were wiped out.  At the end of the Permian period, roughly 250 million years ago, 90% or more of all species were wiped out.  That is, life was nearly extinguished from the planet.  We are currently risking an event of such magnitude by our continuing disregard for critical ecological systems, particularly the chemical composition of the atmosphere and oceans.  Donald Trump appears to be poised to put in place officials who do not recognize the gravity of this situation.  Hillary Clinton, while also not recognizing its gravity, will likely appoint officials who will take it somewhat more seriously.  This might create openings for activists to make progress toward mitigating the effects of our ecological folly.  At this point, the urgency of the problem is so extreme that increasing the possibility for mitigating action, even in the slightest, overwhelms any other consideration.  In relative terms, no issue comes close to averting or at least mitigating a sixth extinction.  Consequently, I believe the political progress that might be made by voting for a multi-party democracy must take a back seat in swing states this election cycle.  If I voted in a swing state and if the contest for Electoral College delegates was close, I would vote for Clinton.