election 2016

Faithless

With the election of Donald John Trump to the office of the President of the United States, liberals are rightly concerned about the future of the Republic. Trump’s inflammatory campaign largely played on the basest aspects of human nature: misogyny, racism, jingoism, xenophobia, islamophobia. Many of his policies and promises are not very different than any Republican who ran in the primary leading up to the general election. But the tone and rhetoric Trump used throughout his campaign strayed into demagoguery and flirted with fascism.

For this reason among others, a movement has arisen among liberals to convince members of the Electoral College pledged to vote for Donald Trump to become “faithless electors,” to cast their vote for someone else or to abstain, and thus to block his victory. The argument goes that this is exactly what the Electoral College was designed for, to block the popular will of the people, whipped into a democratic fervor, from casting a figure into the executive branch who is a threat to the stability and functioning of the federal government. We are told that Electoral College voters should throw themselves between the people of the United States and fascism.

The problem I see with this is that, as I understand it, the Electoral College played the role people say it was designed to play—where electors weighed their conscience against the will of the people—for less than a decade after it was established. This is a historical fact. For practically the entire history of the republic, Electoral College voters have cast their vote based on the popular vote total in their state. The fact the term “faithless elector” even exists tells us how rare it is for someone to break their pledge. For 37 members of the Electoral College to subvert the will of the people they represent would not only be a coup, it would break with two centuries of tradition.

This is important. A nation is not merely made up of enumerated laws and established structures, it is also made up of mores and folkways, culture and tradition, silent and spoken agreements. In fact, a nation like the United Kingdom has no constitution. Their entire system of government is one big tacit agreement. It is a tradition of government rather than a system of government. The United States does have a constitution of course, but it too consists of traditions of governance, one of which is the functioning of the Electoral College. Liberals can talk until they're blue in the face about what the Electoral College was "designed" to do. But that does not describe what it is nor what it has been.

Okay, but if Donald Trump is the threat to the nation liberals claim, perhaps this break with tradition is warranted. Except arguing for the Electoral College to function in this way is equally threatening. This change would open up an entirely new and untested arena of American political gamesmanship. We already have practically unending Presidential campaigns. Are we willing to extend the campaign beyond the point where the people have cast their votes? Imagine the Electoral College opened up to lobbying, to political favors, to private and corporate donations. Does no one see how ripe for corruption an Electoral College would be that is not restrained either by law or the bounds of tradition? Liberals, Democrats, should be the first to see the potential subversion of democracy this represents.

A change in the way members of the Electoral College cast their vote is necessary. Votes should be tied to the democratic will of the entire nation, not based on the will of the people in each state. But then let us build the power and make the argument toward that change, not subvert our institutions for short-term political gain and open them up to the possibility of tremendous abuse in the future.

Every Vote Counts

Every vote counts. Decisions are made by those who show up. Refusing to vote is not a protest, it’s a surrender. Don’t boo, vote.

When our circle of reality is threatened, common sense aphorisms will be invoked in its defense. Pay attention to these today, of all days. An election is always threatening to the circle of reality because it's a liminal moment, a transition from one narrative arc to another. What we know to be true is called into question behind the veil of the voting booth, so we work extra hard to reaffirm our basic assumptions about the way the world works.

However, an election is also the highest liturgical moment in the circle of reality. Reality requires a “should-be” condition in relation to the present “is.” Sound like anything going on right now? Reality, as we experience it, is part of a meaning-making story told by those who depend on it for power. Those who cannot tell this story are the most vulnerable in our society. They also tend to be our scapegoats. That is, the vulnerable among us, who cannot tell our story, are blamed for impeding the “should-be” from being actualized in the present.

Questioning the value of our political apparatus is met variously with criticism of patriotism or privilege depending on their source on the right or the left. Each "side" strives to meet every threat and re-establish the circle of meaning that maintains reality. This is especially ironic with an eye on the left, because demanding the liturgy of reality be carried out according to plan ensures the vulnerable among us continue to function as a scapegoat—they are structurally necessary. Liberal social justice ultimately cannot address the condition of the vulnerable because social problems are necessary to the continued existence of our circle of reality.

I end up taking an existential view. Can society be a bit more humane for my friends living on the street? Can we show a little more mercy to those who need it? Are the policies we enact in this circle of reality hospitable to everyone? And that's how I vote. But I'm not confused about the limits of human imagination.

The Middle Ground Is for Chumps

I don’t know why I feel the need to say anything about tonight’s debate. Or anything at all. I’m experiencing an unusually vicious onslaught of cynicism (which is significant, as I’ve got a high resting cynic rate), so I’m not sure what to say about the state of politics, or the social fabric, or my own ability to figure out how I feel about all things.

I have vacillated between what it means for a person on the far left (me, in this case) to vote in this election. I have been scolded for my privilege when I consider not casting a vote for Hillary. I have been called childish, foolish, idealistic, unsympathetic to the lives of women and minorities, and all other manner of accusatory names by those who consider a vote for Clinton and the Democrats to be the only option for someone calling themselves progressive in these excessively weird and troubling times.

I have tried to tell friends and acquaintances that my being further left makes it hard to stomach the Democrats' move to the center right. I have tried to explain to them that Hillary’s domestic policies and foreign decisions have made voting for her feel unconscionable to me. I am told that my critique of “warmonger” isn’t enough to justify my “protest vote.” I am told I’m making a protest vote.

I am told that my moral agency is nothing compared to my civic responsibility. I’ve been chastised for how they do or don’t line up in the eyes of those upset with me. But this is the new reality, the magnanimous duopoly. We are a people of A or B, of black and white, of love or hate. The middle ground is for no one.

I agree with this. The middle ground has proved itself inept. Really, that’s where we’ve been living for as long as neoliberalism has made our two major American political parties laughable mirrors of each other. However, admitting that the middle ground is useless doesn’t mean dualism is inevitable. Nondualism, theologically, politically, and socially offers us a three-dimensional way of being. Like the ship in space, we are not limited to forward or backward. We can also float up or down, shirking the bonds of earthly gravity in favor of choices not previously open to us.

You might say that I seem to have made up my mind about the worth of voting for Clinton rather than a minor party option who might offer what I believe to be more responsible and live-giving options on a range of issues. I mostly have, but I have my days. As Adam Kotsko recently pointed out, it’s giving this bourgeois, capitalist system I disdain a lot of credit when I so desperately seek a good candidate. If the system is as ethically bankrupt as I believe it to be, why not ride out the cynicism and vote for a candidate who I acknowledge is better in several key ways than her opponent?

It’s a logical point, albeit a relativist one I struggle to adopt. Holding my nose and marking a ballot for someone I believe to be directly responsible for military policies that left a lot of brown folks across the ocean—women, children, and men alike—dead is still a moral choice. And as I’ve never been one to prefer Mill to Kant, it’s one I’m not sure I can make. But I’ll admit to being unsure how to move as flawlessly as possible despite my being quite the flawed person in a tragically flawed system given power by an overwhelmingly flawed culture.

Nothing is easy here, at least not for me. I don’t begrudge you if it’s easy for you. I don’t give a shit if you’re mad at me because it is easy for you and hard for me.

I’ll probably watch the debates, if for no other reason than to be able to better articulate my own thoughts by engaging in (mostly) silent argument with the person speaking at the moment. I doubt they’ll put anything into focus for me except for, perhaps, my contempt for both candidates and my longing for a better political system that could and should produce a better servant leader. It won’t move me to the middle where most people say they live but so few actually do. Who can survive there anyway? Who’d want to? Not I. Give me the up, the down, the upside down any day. Duopoly and myself in the eyes of those who like the left, right, and middle be damned.

Donald Trump's Truth

“America is already great.”

From the incumbent party in the White house, this is the refrain we’ve heard again and again in the run-up to the Democratic National Convention and at the DNC itself. In politics, I guess you take whatever opening your opponent gives you.

Except the reality for tens of millions of Americans is that the United States is not great. They are left out and left behind. They turn on the news and talk to their friends and don’t recognize the world they live in. The economic recovery of the last eight years has been a recovery for everyone but them. Their life expectancy has dropped for the first time in American history. Their children will do worse than they have done, not better. Their rates of incarceration are rising year after year. The family, formerly one of the most stable units of social cohesion, is in tatters largely due to economic unrest. The church offers them nothing. Their wages are flat, their healthcare is expensive, and their jobs are drudgery. On one side of the political divide they’re called idiots and on the other they’re spoon-fed a constant diet of fear.

Donald Trump is vile. He’s a cartoon character, a melodrama villain, a charlatan, an incarnation of cynical political gamesmanship, and very likely a fascist who would be an epic disaster for the United States and the world. But he has tapped into a truth that speaks to a huge segment of the American population: America is not great for everybody. This is a truth liberals should recognize (and do when it suits them). But here they do not. Why?

Because liberals lack the basic empathetic imagination to recognize this, blinded as they are by their own ideology of inclusion. The pain felt by people who support Trump expresses itself as racist, nationalist, jingoistic, misogynistic bullshit, and so it is dismissed by liberals. But of course it takes that shape! People are using the only language they have been offered to voice their frustrations.

Liturgy defines a space in which participants may grope and gesture toward truth. “Make America Great Again” is a counter-liturgy offered by a fascist demagogue to a public looking for any meaning, any answer outside the status quo offered by technocratic, neoliberal priest/politicians bowing and supplicating themselves before the vengeful god of The Market. The truth Trump’s liturgy points toward is this: “Our country does not feel 'great already' to the millions of wonderful people living in poverty, violence and despair.” Yes, it’s true this counter-liturgy is chanted by a death cult, but I guess the bad tan and worse hair are too distracting for people to notice.

It is vitally important that the social and economic pain identified by Trump be met with real solutions (something Trump and the Republican Party are incapable of). But Liberals think they're exempt from understanding Trump's appeal to hurting people because they hate Trump and everything he represents. So they have offered no compelling alternative to business as usual, which is exactly what Hillary Clinton represents.

Look, Hillary Clinton will win this election because she’s tough as nails. Her campaign is a juggernaut and Donald Trump is a joke. She’ll get things done. Republicans are terrified of her because of her political acumen. She will govern effectively and stand as an important symbol for woman and girls for decades to come.

But mark my words, over the next eight years there will be another economic downturn. Liberals will still have offered no voice to people whipping in the winds of abstract, inhumane domestic and international economic policies which primarily seek the ever-increasing accumulation of capital and the enrichment of faceless corporations at the expense of masses of under-educated, economically depressed people.

The situation will get worse, not only for current Trump supporters but for Clinton voters as well. And Democrats will be left holding the bag this time, not Republicans as in 2008. Then a real politician will rise to take advantage of the liturgy first chanted by Donald Trump.