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Why the left's case for lesser evil sounds hollow

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The clock is ticking fast and it is evident that neither candidate is actually going to do anything substantive to save us from ecological catastrophe
The clock is ticking fast and it is evident that neither candidate is actually going to do anything substantive to save us from ecological catastrophe
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We are entering the final stages of the election to decide who will head the most powerful nation on Earth. That inevitably means the progressive and dissident left in the US are again being deluged with arguments to vote for the lesser evil candidate.

It has become such a standard left argument at election time that lesser evil voting even has its own acronym: LEV. Anyone who opposes Donald Trump's re-election come November must set aside their concerns about - and if necessary their principles against - voting for the other main candidate on offer for US president.

According to LEV, it is profoundly irresponsible and unethical for anyone on the left either to refuse to vote in November or to vote for a third, no-hope candidate because it risks aiding a Trump victory. Instead the left must cast a ballot - however uncomfortably - for the lesser evil candidate, which means Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic challenger.

This column is not going to make an argument for or against lesser evil voting, either in general or in the coming election. Everyone on the left must dig deep into their conscience and make a decision based on their assessment of how relatively evil Biden and Trump are, and whether that evil will be minimised by voting for Biden.

What I want to do instead is address why lesser evil arguments are sounding increasingly shrill and hollow to many on the left who fought so hard to earn Bernie Sanders the Democratic nomination rather than Biden, but were once again stymied by the fervent opposition of the Democratic party leadership. These are the people chiefly targeted in the current round of lesser evil arguments.

If the proponents of LEV are going to succeed in persuading the Bernie left to turn out for Biden, in order to stop Trump, they are going to need to address the concerns of the Sanders' camp much more clearly and articulately than they have done so far.

Don't wrestle with pigs

One thing that is clear already is that the appeal of lesser evil voting is becoming increasingly generational. Older leftists think it is self-evident that within an evil system you vote for the lesser evil candidate because small political differences can have big impacts, whether on domestic issues like social security, or on wars abroad, or on the future of the planet.

Their approach towards younger voters on the left who are not immediately impressed by this logic has often been to shame and insult them, labelling them as selfish, ideological purists or exemplars of white privilege. They have also indulged in what looks to many younger voters suspiciously like emotional blackmail, comparing Trump to Mussolini or Hitler. #Its2020.

To the younger left, things look a little more complex and paradoxical. They tend to see lesser evil voting as an example of the chicken-and-egg problem. After all, given that the older left has been trotting out the lesser evil argument for decades, it looks suspiciously like LEV may have actually contributed to the entrenchment of an evil political system that made Trump's election possible. Are the proponents of lesser evil voting not creating the very conditions for political alienation that they then tout as a way to address the product - Trump - of that very political alienation?

If the US has a cynical political system, deeply corrupted by money, younger voters wonder whether adding to that cynicism - with the left always voting for one of two evil candidates - can actually ever change the system or simply reinforces it. The older left has failed politically. But might one of the reasons be that for decades it has acted so cynically? Younger voters want to break with cynical politics. If the left is ever going to start looking more attractive, they argue, it needs to stop engaging cynically with a cynical system.

George Bernard Shaw's maxim comes to mind: "Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it."

Walmart or Costco?

Very much related to this is the concern that decades of voting for evil Democratic candidates mean the progressive left has not just failed to hold the line politically, election by election, but has actively lost ground, especially relative to the biggest problem facing humanity - the imminent end of most life on the planet. The clock is ticking fast, and it is evident that neither candidate is actually going to do anything substantive to save us from ecological catastrophe. The system is entirely owned and controlled by a plutocratic class, addicted to the expansion of its own wealth, even at the cost of our species' survival.

Lesser evilism focuses on the candidates' relative merits and depravities. But younger voters increasingly see that as misdirection. The two evil candidates reflect the depravities of the same evil plutocratic system. On this view, the candidates' marginal differences are nothing more than exercises in marketing. Debating their merits in relation to the fundamental, existential questions facing us at the moment makes as much sense to younger voters as arguing whether Walmart or Costco offer a more ethical model of consumption.

Meanwhile, the two candidates on offer in this election are probably the most deficient and incompetent in US history: one is a fire-breathing, posturing, delusional narcissist; the other the dried-out husk of a once smooth-talking, delusional narcissist. Each is proof that the evil system they are there to obscure has grown so sclerotic, so debased, that it can no longer produce credible salesmen.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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