One, it’s a massive disappointment that Joe Biden is the Democratic presidential nominee. Two, he and the Democratic power structure are bound to let progressives down in almost every fundamental way. Three, any leftist who fails to vote for him is measurably supporting Donald Trump and the dissolution of any actual or potential virtues that remain in the American experiment.
I no longer believe that these three thoughts are incompatible. I spent most of the primary trying to ignore them, even convincing myself at various points that, screw it, if Bernie lost, I wouldn’t vote for Joe Biden and the anemic, corporate version of politics that he and leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer represent. If he fell to Trump in November because there were enough people like me, well, too bad, maybe it would be a pointed lesson to future candidates about supporting Medicare for All and real climate action and other progressive priorities.
But if the primary taught us one thing, it’s that those lessons won’t be learned. Not in America, not in 2020.
It will remain baffling to me until the day I die that a politician like Bernie Sanders couldn’t garner a huge majority of popular support, on the left and the right, but for a variety of social and cultural factors, a progressive movement just doesn’t have the juice. The moderates rose up in unison on Super Tuesday and delivered a lethal blow not just to Sanders and his supporters, but to the very idea that the agenda we support will reach a critical mass in these desperate times. We shouldn’t be surprised. There was exactly one populist economic movement in this country in the 20th century, and it came about during a depression and was led by an unlikely rich guy from a famous family. Anything less than those unusual circumstances, and the majority of Americans are basically bootlickers who feel a sense of shame at the idea of advocating for themselves.
Which is why, as nice as it might sound as we lick our wounds, accelerationism doesn’t work here. Trying to teach the Democrats a lesson won’t work. If they fail again, and if we’re pushed closer and closer to a point of actual political revolution, it won’t be the leftists who win; it will be the fascists. In America, we have on one side a movement pushing for universal healthcare and higher wages and more dignity for all people, and we have on the other a movement based largely on grievance, bigotry, and outright anger that will sacrifice material stability for the emotional thrill of pissing off their cultural rivals through the medium of a con artist who wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire. And if you want to know which side would win if these were the only two sides, just look at which side is winning now.
(And, let’s be fair—there’s no rationalizing the embarrassing way leftists behave when given a modicum of influence. Look at the inevitable capitulation of the movement to neoliberal-friendly, class-unconscious identity politics that are 2% Maoist, 98% embarrassing, and ask yourself: Even if leftists group weren’t comically allergic to power, would you really want them to have any?)
Which means that Democrats—ineffectual, uncaring Democrats—are the last line of defense between America and full-on fascism enacted by the Trump coalition. You either seize that hope, or you abandon it. There’s no third way here. It’s grating that Democrats take progressive voters for granted, but to let that injury to our pride dictate our action is to tacitly join the ranks of the fascists. There is no other option; no three-dimensional chess logic that justifies sitting out.
Believe me, I have indulged in this kind of thinking before. Granted, that piece was written before I thought it was realistic that Trump would win the Republican nomination, and even two months later I was singing a very different tune. But I’ve been there, on the record, publicly and without apology. And even without Trump, I was wrong. To lose now won’t bring paradise closer by forcing a great epiphany on the drowsy American public. Losing is just losing, and the guy on the other side wants to burn it all down right now.
Where’s the hope in all this? Distant, intangible. A common talking point on the left is that a Biden presidency would leave the country more discouraged than ever, and facilitate a smarter, more ruthless Trump in four years—someone like Tom Cotton—along with the loss of both houses of Congress. It sounds possible to me. But it’s also possible that public opinion keeps changing, slowly, and that Bernie Sanders is right that Biden’s platform will pass the very, very low bar of being the most progressive presidential agenda since FDR. Couple that with perhaps taking back the Senate, and the steady political pressure from the growing crop of progressive congresspeople, and maybe there’s a future in which a Biden administration leaves us better off than where we started.
I won’t lie—even this very tepid form of optimism feels far-fetched and naive, but that doesn’t change the fact that every other avenue is closed. It does not feel good to support a party that invites John Kasich, of all people, to speak at its convention, or that limits a star like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to one minute while rolling out the red carpet for ghouls like Bill Clinton. It doesn’t feel good to back a group that is entirely beholden to lobbyists and corporations, that will fight tooth-and-nail against policies everyday Americans need, and who will cynically push symbolic diversity and hollow wokeness in place of real economic action.
It feels bad. But it would feel much worse to support (even in absentia) the man and the party who represent the American death cult, and whose only political move is to push us closer and closer to the terrifying brink, sow discord and mistrust, and then reap the chaotic whirlwind. I don’t know if America is a terminal patient, but I believe it’s worth delaying the expiration date as long as possible in the hope that the pressure points build to something positive within the framework of Joe Biden’s Democratic party. Far-fetched as that might be, it beats total collapse, it beats fascism, it beats hell. Time to bite the bullet.