The popular website Twitter has become an eminently reliable hub for cultural and political drama. For instance, a user recently quipped that presidential candidate Joe Biden could “burn crosses in front of Candace Owen’s house and he’d still get my vote.” Though unnecessarily shocking, this statement was comparable to remarks that have been made by mainstream voices. In a controversial article in The Nation, journalist Katha Pollitt declared, “I would vote for Joe Biden if he boiled babies and ate them.” These disturbing sentiments are simply darker versions of a common social media retort utilized by liberals, which is usually some variation of, “I’d vote for a ham sandwich over Trump.”
But progressive voters — including former Bernie Sanders supports and other leftists — aren’t buying into this hyperbole-soaked urgency. In addition to Biden’s recent “you ain’t black” gaffe, the former vice president has apparently put a fair amount of effort into making his platform and ideological tendencies indistinguishable from those of so-called Cheeto Mussolini. For instance, Biden has recently bullied average American workers and voters, clarified his opposition to Medicare for All, expressed support for keeping Israel’s American embassy in Jerusalem, and even released a racist, nationalistic, anti-China campaign ad. It’s almost as if he’s attempting to out-Trump Trump.
The mainstream political narrative is that voters must choose between Biden and Trump. Now that the Democratic establishment has seemingly deterred a progressive insurgency within its party, liberals and conventional Democrats are insisting that progressives overlook Biden’s indefensible record and cringeworthy personal behavior due to the “unprecedented” danger of Donald Trump. They insist that “we” must band together and “vote blue no matter who” in order to defeat this unparalleled threat. Liberals have been using virtually the same line for decades; The current Republican in power (whoever it might be) is uniquely evil. We need to put our differences aside and vote for someone who is slightly, marginally, nominally, somehow less evil in order to defeat him.
The first problem with this line of reasoning is that many progressive voters don’t agree with the assumption that Biden is “less evil” than Trump (Biden has certainly been complicit in killing and deporting more people, for instance). Secondly, this approach also ignores the fact that this strategy might not even work, as it failed to in 2000, 2004, and 2016. Thirdly, when voter shaming in favor of “lesser evilism” does work, it has the broad effect of conceding to corporate interests and pushing the political spectrum further to the right, severely damaging working families in the process.
This “lesser evilism” is a ubiquitous notion that is proliferated by prominent institutions. We’re all aware of the role Fox News has played as an unofficial mouthpiece of the Republican Party, but, on the Democratic side, MSNBC is just as corrosive. In recent years, MSNBC has impaired the critical thinking skills of liberals by espousing and promoting McCarthyite conspiracy theories instead of articulating what substantial opposition to Trump might look like. The obvious reason for this behavior is that top members of the Democratic Party — especially Biden — are also guilty of Trump’s worst offenses. But these monstrosities are consistently whitewashed or downplayed because looking in the mirror is evidently much more terrifying than a quixotic narrative involving Russian bogeymen.
Liberal elites are using their seemingly endless resources to gaslight progressives by using their standards to attempt to shame us into voting for a candidate and a party that we’re morally opposed to. We don’t share their standards or even their worldview. They are clinging to the false dichotomy of “red vs. blue” — the notion that the entire political spectrum starts and ends within the confines of our inherently corrupt two-party system. Furthermore, they believe Republicans represent “the right” and Democrats represent “the left” — a pathetic and infantile supposition. This delusional belief also coincides with the logically fallacious assertion that we’re “taking votes away from the Democrats” by refusing to vote for their atrocious candidate. In short, 2020 may end up being another failure for the liberal voter shaming strategy. Progressives made it clear from the beginning that Bernie Sanders, a rare departure from neoliberalism, needed to be the nominee if the Democratic Party wanted our votes.
To break this down even further, we must observe the fact that Joe Biden is not even remotely progressive. For his tireless promotion of the invasion of Iraq and his complicity in Obama’s violent foreign policy, Biden has the blood of a good (let’s be conservation and round down) one million people on his hands, whereas Trump is nowhere near this figure. However, Trump has played a significant role in reviving the white nationalist movement, inspiring unconscionable acts of domestic terrorism, including the largest pogrom in American history. While not a white nationalist per se, Biden is definitely an old-school racist who supported segregation and said he didn’t want his kids “growing up in a racial jungle.” He eulogized notorious racist Strom Thurmond and wrote the 1994 crime bill that resulted in the disproportionate mass incarceration black Americans. Biden and Trump have both been accused of sexual assault, and they both lie constantly. Comparisons between Trump and Biden could go on for pages, but, in the end, it must be admitted that it is simply impossible to quantify which candidate is “better” or “worse.” It is the sectarian nature of partisan politics that inevitably determines this conclusion for most American voters.
Furthermore, beyond the respective records of these specific politicians, progressives view the two major political parties as being in broad agreement on many policies that are detrimental to the material interests of the poor and working class, both domestically and internationally. Over the last half-century or so, a bipartisan consensus has emerged on issues like endless war, covert meddling in the affairs of sovereign countries (including coups), illegal economic sanctions, domestic surveillance, prosecution of whistleblowers, corporate bailouts, cutting social programs, and austerity more broadly. This bipartisan neoliberalism is the historical process that led to the rise of Trump. As I recently explained:
“Though many liberal pundits decry him as an uncharted divergence from ‘normalcy’, Trump is simply the hideous, unmasked expression of neoliberalism — a ghastly gremlin our decaying society has vomited up after four decades of germination. In short, neoliberalism created Trump. Year after year we witnessed the dismantling of labor unions, the passing of job-killing trade deals, the gutting of social services, and the continued stagnation of wages. These policies tilled the political soil for an outgrowth of right-wing populism that attempts to harken back to the ‘great’ white supremacist legacy of America. It is a faux-populism that scapegoats immigrants and minorities, blaming the most marginalized for the societal rot produced by the implementation of free market fundamentalist ideology. Trumpism as a specific historical phenomenon is certainly new. But, in terms of the systemic nature of this barbarism, Trump is not an ‘aberration’ — he is an inevitable extension of the existing system.”
To clarify this once and for all, progressives don’t see the Democratic Party as automatically “better” than the Republican Party. Both parties are organs of the ruling class, entities designed to protect the interests of capital. To me and others like me, they are virtually the same. And Joe Biden happens to be a perfect poster boy for the two-party system. Whether it was NAFTA, the 2005 bankruptcy bill, the PATRIOT Act, or the repeal of Glass-Steagall, Biden, probably more so than any other modern politician, has had his dirty fingerprints on the legislation that has most profoundly contributed to the decline of the American standard of living and the subsequent emergence of Trumpism. Of course, Donald Trump is monstrous. But we can’t treat the symptoms by electing the disease.