The debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in Cleveland on Sept. 29 was nothing less than a truly sublime moment, one which thoroughly encapsulated the current state of this country’s mainstream political duopoly.
Through countless interruptions, Donald Trump harnessed his fascistic bully pulpit to spew the usual mish-mash of lies, personal attacks and fear-mongering that are quintessential to any wannabe strongman. Joe Biden, on the other hand, appeared slightly cooler headed, yet weak, consistently capitulating under a barrage of insults and diatribes, offering very little in return. This allowed Trump to dictate the conversation, and it seemed he could barely stave off the repeated calls of being a lackey for “socialists” and the “radical left.”
Furthermore, with the rare exception of Biden getting the notion of antifa correct — being an idea, not an organization — he gave tepid policy responses that are typical to the corporate neoliberal ruling class that created the conditions for this country to slide into blatant autocracy.
While there are certainly differences between Trump and Biden on an individual basis, the macro-level policy proposals being offered by septuagenarians and their respective oligarchic supporters were not all that different. Instead, they offered what Julius Nyerere would call the typical American extravagance of a one-party state masquerading as two.
For example, take the question of defunding police departments and ending practices like qualified immunity, which shield murderous cops from justice. Trump has condemned Black Lives Matter, called for protesters to be shot and utilized the Department of Homeland Security to scoop up citizens in unmarked vehicles inquiring about their ties to “antifa.” Biden, on the other hand, has also called for the arrest of “agitators and anarchists,” projected to give police departments more money for training and has only offered tepid support for reform. Furthermore, in case anyone forgot, Biden was vice president during the Ferguson uprisings and is the progenitor of the 1994 Crime Bill which exacerbated the crisis of mass incarceration to titanic proportions.
Trump and Biden are also unified in their foreign policy objectives. They both wish to continue the violent sanctions and coup against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, which is particularly ironic, given the visceral response from the democratic establishment over Russian meddling throughout the 2016 election. Moreover, both parties wish to continue the rising hostility toward China. Biden’s chief aide on Asia has agreed that Donald Trump correctly diagnosed the “predatory practices” of China; he proposes continuing many of Trump’s policies such as tariffs, rejecting Chinese claims in the South China Sea and containing the growth of the Chinese economy.
To zoom out of the lens of the presidential race, the Democratic Party rejects Medicare for All, drug decriminalization and reducing a bloated military that spends one million dollars a minute. Even in the middle of a global pandemic, there has been no new stimulus package and Congress has pumped almost three trillion dollars into a volatile stock market while tens of millions stand to lose their homes due to no federal rent or mortgage freeze. The Pentagon even funneled money meant for PPE equipment into funding for jet engine parts and armor. Democrats believe in climate change but continuously vote for more military spending despite our military being the world’s largest polluter.
Moreover, with the specter of climate catastrophe on the horizon and orange skies throughout the West Coast, Democrats voted to give almost a million acres of a Nevada climate refuge to the military for a new bombing range. There are countless more examples to show that; even though the Democratic Party arbitrarily stands for more “civilized” governance, there is a unitary consensus in the halls of government when it comes to imperialism, austerity, the perpetuation of mass incarceration and the police state.
So, one can see here how the Democratic Party has no interest in real change; their primary function is simply to maintain a decaying, exploitive social order. Our point with this is that American leftists unquestioningly rallying around Biden — or any other democratic candidate — are making a massive tactical error. Historically, every progressive social change has been the result not of the ballot box, but by mass-organized direct action. Thus, the time and effort spent working for a campaign, or registering individuals to vote, could almost always be spent better by directly engaging with your community.
For example, in the last election, roughly 100 million people made the decision to abstain from voting. More often than not, the reason behind this was that they (rightfully) felt that neither choice could offer them a qualitative change in living conditions. Here, trying to convince a person to vote is in fact a regressive action; they already realize the bankruptcy of the status quo. To be progressive, the correct course of action would be in assisting them to join a mass movement demanding change.
Furthermore, the common liberal narrative of voting as a means of “harm reduction” is particularly chauvinistic. If there is little difference between the candidates’ policies, what real change is there? Thus, this “reduction” is merely an ideological abstraction that masks the inherent violence of our system and allows for its continuation. Again, what is called for in this situation is the radical act of breaking with the standard order; the solution is not to be found within it, but rather in moving beyond it. To quote activist George Jackson, “we are faced with two choices; to continue as we have done, fanning our pamphlets against the hurricane, or starting to build a new revolutionary culture that will be able to turn on the old."
To be clear, we are not proselytizing a renewed complacency or trying to convince anyone not to vote, but rather that the ballot box alone offers no concrete solutions. If we want real, meaningful change, it can only come from pitting ourselves directly against the status quo and demanding justice in every arena. With that, our parting motto is: “Vote where the power is; our power is in the streets!”
Bryce Schlenker is an opinion writer. Contact him at email@example.com.
Colt Hutchinson is an opinion writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Hi, I’m Lauren Sasala, a senior journalism student from Toledo. I’m also the editor in chief of The Kent Stater and KentWired this semester. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important news about Kent State and the Kent community. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate.