Do Elections Matter?

Below is a comment I made to someone who argued that “although elections are important, the mass movement is more important.”

This is a very poor way to frame things at this moment, or any moment for that matter. Don’t elections have a mass character, don’t they draw into them some of the main class and social movements without whom the country will never move to higher ground; and don’t they – and especially their outcome – create more or less favorable conditions for struggle on a broad range of issues. I have to think that the electoral and political arena will figure prominently in any kind of swing of the country to the left in the future – much like it did in Latin America. Damming electoral/legislative struggle with faint praise is no sign of political maturity nor a measure of one’s radicalism.

Setting Our Sights And Steering Our Course

The 1 per cent vs the 99 per cent – the slogan of the Occupy movement – is a broad, big tent notion that mirrors an objective economic reality in which the lion’s share of the wealth created by labor is appropriated by individuals and families at the very top of the income tier. But what it isn’t is an accurate estimate of the balance of class, social, and political forces across the country at this moment. Nor does it capture what the main political challenge is between now and when millions cast their votes in November. The country is far more divided than the Occupy slogan suggests. And the immediate political challenge isn’t to bring to heel corporate capital in toto, but to defeat Donald Trump and his Republican minions – and the sections of capital that support them – in a landslide this fall. In case it needs saying, doing the latter is a necessary step if we are to do the former.

I wish we could set our sights higher. But wishful thinking is never a good strategic, tactical, or programmatic guide. There is no substitute for clear eyed, sober, and dialectical thinking, framed, of course, by a larger political vision.

Which means – like it or not – that we still have ground to cover, stages of struggle to traverse, and tactics to elaborate before the American people square off directly and decisively against the dominant sections of the corporate/wealthy class – the 1 per cent. And even when we do, we will still need a politics that combines soberness and complexity with a readiness to seize the initiative. Simplistic schemes that rule out any change of tempo or tack, any alteration of demands and slogans, and any room for “unreliable and conditional” allies will do little to effect transformative social change – not to mention win the current election battle.

That said, even if the Occupy slogan doesn’t capture the main political dynamic of the present moment, its value lies in the fact that it stretches out our thinking, give us star to steer by, and serves as a reminder that building a sustained movement of the immense majority is a real – not wishful – possibility in the not too distant future.


Trump and His Political Pedigree

From an earlier post on my blog ( on the rise of Trump:

Which brings me back to Trump. If he isn’t a fascist, where does he sit on the political spectrum? Trump in my view is a right wing extremist and demagogue. He’s not alone however. He occupies that space with Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, and nearly all of the Republican Party leadership. Each is a product of the rise and combustible brew of right wing extremism, Christian evangelism, and neoliberalism. But what distinguishes Trump from his other mates is his reckless, unreliable, and unpredictable behavior. He is of the right, but he doesn’t answer to its beck and call. A team player he isn’t. To make matters worse, he embraces, unlike the other rebels and malcontents on the right, a less than consistent class and political ideology, at the level of rhetoric. None of these traits is held in high regard in the elite circles of the Republican Party or capitalist class. In short, he’s the Republican Party’s worst nightmare.

While a degree of autonomy usually operates in the relations between those who rule and those who govern, it is limited and relative. But the fear is that a Trump presidency could rupture that dynamic altogether, that he could become completely untethered from elite circles and destabilize capitalist hegemony and rule. But more immediately for the Republican Party leadership and the entire right wing movement, a Trump candidacy could result in massive defeat up and down the ticket in November and irreparably damage their future and the right wing political project.

Not Economic Issues Alone

Arguments to persuade white workers not to vote for Trump that focus only on economic policy are misguided in my opinion. No less important is to wonder aloud if working families and their children will be well served if the White House – and the enormous power to do good or evil associated with the office – is occupied by someone – Trump – who is so recklessness, erratic, lacking in elementary kindness, and mean spirited toward women, people of color, and immigrants. On its face, this doesn’t speak to “bread and butter” issues, but it does register, at least in my experience, with white working people’s sense of decency, modesty, fairness, human solidarity, and concern for the future.

It’s Complicated

Listening to an MSNBC interview of Norman Solomon, a Sanders’ delegate. He said more than once that change comes from the ground up. True enough, but unless this indisputable point is amended it becomes a simplification of the “process” of change and a disservice to its makers. A quick look at turning points in our history reveals a important place as well for strategic thinking, tactical flexibility, broad unity of diverse social actors and forces, soberness and compromise as well as militancy. and, not least, a deepening of people’s understanding of the change process.

I would further add that as Democrats gather in Philadelphia for their convention and as voters prepare themselves to go to the polls to elect a new president and Congress, each of these elements of the change process should figure prominently in people’s thinking if Trump and the rest of the Republican gang is to go down in ignominious defeat.

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