Bernie Sanders has dropped out of the presidential race, and the Democratic Party ideologues are out in force chiding leftists by saying that a refusal to vote for Joe Biden is a function of privilege and an avowal of support for Donald Trump. Such statements attempt to strike at the conscience of left-leaning voters by suggesting that withholding their votes from the Democratic candidate will inevitably damage the livelihoods of oppressed peoples throughout the US. Let me be clear: this is wrong.
History has shown that presidential elections will not fundamentally shift the balance of power in society; oppressed and marginalized people will continue to be harmed by the status quo. Furthermore, any misguided attempt at harm reduction through voting will shift American politics further rightward, disempowering oppressed peoples by channeling dissent into a defective democracy. Because this appeal to privilege will likely be propagated even further in the coming months, we must remember to vote according to our conscience; it is our right and our responsibility. As a privileged white male, I could simply vote for Biden and go about my life without consequence, but I will not abide while the forces of capitalism and bigotry ravage our society. Instead, I will leverage both the power of my education and my experience as a political activist standing alongside the oppressed to discern the best choice (read: not Trump) in the upcoming general election, even if it earns me ire.
It only takes a cursory internet search to unearth the remains of Joe Biden’s horrific political record. Not only did Biden vote for the imbroglio that was the Iraq War, but he also voted for mandatory minimum sentences and continually supported the Hyde amendment. This is consistent with his bigoted political agenda where he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act and belittled Anita Hill, paving the way for the confirmation of one of the Supreme Court’s most reactionary justices, Clarence Thomas. Especially with a Republican Senate, why would Biden nominate a progressive Supreme Court Justice or pass progressive legislation? Any leftist should be revolted by Biden’s record and to discount it in the name of sanctimoniousness does a great disservice to the future of our society.
The inevitable Democratic retort is that the elections of 2000 and 2016 prove that withholding votes from the Democratic nominee leads to Republican victories. Once again, this is inaccurate. Voter turnout in 2016 was around 56% and voter turnout in 2000 was a mere 50%; about half of the electorate voted in each election. While it is true that many populations continue to be informally disenfranchised, it is undeniable that many voters simply stayed home. Because not everyone chose to vote, the suggestion that voting for third party candidates inadvertently supports Republicans is false; there were still many voters who failed to be convinced by any candidate. In addition, Democrats won the popular vote in each election, but Republicans won the presidency. We can see the problem in front of our eyes, and it’s not the third parties: it is the electoral college. Remember, our democracy is deeply flawed, and voting for an establishment candidate will not change that.
Many well-intentioned voters see voting for a problematic Democrat as a method of harm reduction, voting for the lesser of two evils in order to lessen the amount of hardship they or others will face as a result of the election. While it is possible to understand their point of view, advocates of this strategy do not consider that the lesser of two evils is still evil. Repeated attempts at harm reduction will lead to a dangerous shift in the political conversation. The Overton window, the scope of socially acceptable politics in the US, will shift rightward if leftists continually acquiesce and vote for centrist Democrats. As a result, the limited prospects we have in our democracy may dwindle, defeating its purpose entirely. We can see that this strategy has failed despite the election of Barack Obama, a centrist Democrat, and right-wing rhetoric has intensified unchallenged post-2000. Perhaps we were complacent when we needed to change the conversation.
You retain the right to vote your conscience if it leads you to vote for Joe Biden. But if someone you know, who is opposed to Trump, decides against voting for Biden, do not shame them for not agreeing with you and accuse them of succumbing to their privilege. Not only are such charges unproductive, they only lend support to a political class and system that maintain the unjust hierarchies we all want to see toppled.
And a final word of advice to Biden supporters: Instead of attempting to guilt others into voting for your candidate, please tell undecided voters why they should not vote for Trump.