By Keith Preston
I do not intend to vote in the 2020 election. I have not voted in a presidential election since I cast a ballot for the Libertarian Party’s Andre Marrou in 1992. Nor have I participated in any election since voting to re-elect Lyndon Baines Johnson’s son-in-law Chuck Robb to the Senate in 1994, solely because his opponent was the shady Iran-Contra figure Ollie North. I hold to the anarchist critique of the state. The anarchist perspective defines the state as an organization that claims a monopoly on violence in a geographical territory and a parallel monopoly on territorial resources. The state protects artificially-privileged elites and exploits its subject populations. The state seeks to expand its power both externally (imperialism) and internally (bureaucratic thrust), and maintains a self-legitimating ideological superstructure. In other words, the state is merely “the mafia with a flag.”
Anarchists predictably come in many variations. Anarchism is not just one philosophy but an ecosystem of philosophies that includes left-wing, right-wing, and no-wing variants. Many hyphenated forms of anarchism can be found with varying degrees of suspicion toward hierarchy, authority, or organization. Some anarchists advocate the literal abolition of government. For others, anarchism is more of a philosophical stance. Generally speaking, anarchists are opposed to concentrated power. Anarchists often favor non-voting, although some vote on “lesser evil” grounds, even if they disagree on what the “lesser evil” may be in particular electoral circumstances. However, my anarchist sentiments aside, I continue to refrain from voting largely because I find the whole process and the “culture war” that fuels it to be pointless and silly.
If the rhetoric of the Red Team and Blue Team were to be taken seriously, the implication would be that “our nation” is on the verge of becoming either the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. The hysteria of the two sides, and the way they caricature each other, is at least as problematic as any actual policy positions proposed by either side.
The reality is that Joe Biden, far from being a Marxist revolutionary, could easily be a moderate Republican. Biden is largely interchangeable with GOP figures like Mitt Romney. Trump is essentially a Blue Dog Democrat in everything but name and probably shares more similarities with the late Democratic Mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, than with Mussolini. Trump is portrayed by his enemies as a narcissistic megalomaniac, a claim that is plainly true, but in a way that is more akin to a peep show entrepreneur or carnival barker with an ego than a classic dictator. Trump has not governed much differently than a “normal” Republican typically would, though he may be slightly to the left of conventional Republicans on foreign military intervention, trade policy, and criminal justice reform.
As for the two parties, the Republicans are a far-right plutocratic party similar to those found in some Latin American countries (like El Salvador’s ARENA), and a militarist party similar to Israel’s Likud, with a preference for privatization on the “crony-capitalist” model. The Republicans are the party of “old money,” the armaments and petroleum industries, and the Israeli and Saudi lobbies. The GOP’s principal constituents are the right-wing of the middle class, private sector workers, small to medium-sized business interests, and adherents the Know-Nothing nativist tradition in American political culture.
The Democrats are a far-right imperialist party on international relations and a center-right neoliberal party on economic issues. By world standards, the Democrats are on the right-end of neoliberalism when compared with other democratic countries. Far from embracing socialism, the Democrats have marginalized those with moderately anti-capitalist views in their party such as the recycled New Dealer Bernie Sanders or recycled McGovernite liberals like Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez. The idea that the Democrats represent anything resembling Marxism-Leninism is insane.
The Democrats are the party of the “newly rich,” tech entrepreneurs, Wall Street financiers, media moguls, the left-wing of the middle class, the urban/suburban professional-managerial class, public sector workers, and the elites among traditional out-groups. Their fondness for the public administration state is derived from the influence of the Prussian civil service bureaucracy on American progressivism, and not from Marxism. The cultural leftism of the Democrats is opportunistic, pragmatic, and intended to meet the human resources needs of institutions embedded in the global economy. The Democrats are technocrats, not Marxist revolutionaries.
The urban versus rural nature of the Red/Blue divide has also been identified by plenty of observers, which is reflective of trends that are present in all human cultures. Urban areas tend to be more “liberal” because of their larger, more transient, historically sea-faring, and commercially-oriented populations. Rural people tend to be more “conservative” due to the landlocked, agrarian, sparsely populated, and more insulated nature of rural communities where residents tend to be less accepting of the unfamiliar.
The implicit political theologies of the parties reflect certain traditions within historic American culture as well. The Democrats’ progressivism is largely derived from puritan heresies such as Unitarianism and Progressive Christianity, perhaps with elements of a watered-down variation critical race theory or postmodernism being located among the fringe sectors of the party. The Republicans are reflective of the traditional American civil religion identified by Robert Bellah, but blended with the low-church Protestant tradition rooted in the “Great Awakenings” of the past. To be sure, there are important philosophical differences between liberals and conservatives such as whether human nature is malleable or fixed, the conflict between unconstrained and constrained visions identified by Thomas Sowell, and contending metaphysical outlooks. But it is doubtful the average voter has given much thought to any of this. People vote with their tribes and reference groups, families and communities of origin, or their pocketbook.
Often comical is the way in which partisans insist the fate of the nation, if not the world, if not the entire human species, depends on the outcome of this or that election. Noam Chomsky, the Left’s leading intellectual, has seriously and repeatedly argued that Trump is a greater threat to humanity than Hitler, apparently on the basis of Trump’s inattentiveness to climate change. Equally silly is the rhetoric of those who probably could not find Venezuela on a map but insist that the Democrats will create “another Venezuela” in America. The reality is that actual policy consistently reflects the general consensus of the dominant factions of what C. Wright Mills called the “power elite.” Certainly, there is a bipartisan consensus on virtually all major foreign policy and economic questions. Social issues are arbitrated by the courts based on the consensus of the educated classes. This year alone, the Republican-dominated Supreme Court has issued a series of rulings pertaining to abortion, immigration, and transgender rights that reflect the general leftward drift of American culture and the prevailing views of the elite. In fact, a landmark decision on transgender rights was written by Justice Gorsuch, an appointee of the allegedly fascist Trump.
Tribal divisions in US politics are largely comprised of coalitions of interest groups claiming to be oppressed, usually in wildly exaggerated and implausible ways. An uninformed listener to the rhetoric of the Left might be forgiven for thinking the United States is a society that is bursting at the seams with “racism, sexism, and homophobia” as opposed to being a society where traditional out-group prejudice is at an all-time low. While race relations are problematic, the rhetoric coming from the Left would have us thinking we are in the midst of the Holocaust. But societies that are committed to “racism, sexism, and homophobia” as a matter of principle do not have holidays commemorating civil rights icons or public parades celebrating gay pride.
Of course, the Right has its fair share of those exhibiting comparable histrionics. Fears that the politically correct are on the verge of imposing Stalinist oppression aside, the US continues to have the most liberal protections for freedom of speech and religion in the world, the most liberal gun laws, and lower taxes when compared to many other developed countries. While issues pertaining to immigration are also problematic, the persistent hand-wringing of some on the Right concerning immigration would be ironic if Trump ends up winning because of the Latino vote. Another absurdity is the way in which partisans attempt to portray their opponents with stereotypes derived from the shenanigans of fringe political groups like the Antifa or the Proud Boys, which are largely rival teams of losers and lunatics motivated as much by psychological factors as ideological ones.
The presidency is generally rotated between the two parties every eight years, with control over the Congress shifting back and forth. Republicans dominate the Supreme Court, but as noted, Republican judicial appointees tend become more liberal over time. The states are consistently divided into almost even thirds between Democratic governments, Republican governments, and split governments. Democrats complain of undue Republican influence through the enduring institutional framework of the allegedly archaic Electoral College, along with accusations of voter suppression. Republicans fear the Democrats will eventually establish a one-party state through the expansion of the number of Congressional districts, extension of voting rights, and court-packing schemes. Some degree of truth could probably be found in both sets of accusations. But none of this even remotely resembles fascist oppression of the kind represented by figures like Saddam Hussein.
The above observations should not be taken to mean that there are no real problems in US politics. The most obvious of these is the nation’s abomination of a foreign policy. As Ted Rall has observed:
Because most Americans are self-centered and unconcerned about brown people in other nations, it’s ridiculous yet necessary to remind you that the Afghans we bomb are real people like you and me, that Iraqis are scarred for life when their children are hobbled by American bullets, that Yemenis cry for their dead blown to bits by American missiles, that our insane decision to turn Libya from the most prosperous country in Africa into a failed state with 21st century slave auctions is an atrocity, that we have murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the last couple of decades for no reason that can be justified under common sense or international law.
The United States currently has widest wealth gap the nation has experienced in a century, among the widest in the developed world, and class divisions have been exacerbated by the economic impact of the COVID-19 lockdown. The dismissive attitudes of supply-side fundamentalists toward such concerns notwithstanding, serious thinkers from Aristotle onward have recognized the dangers posed by enormous wealth inequality in a society. The closest thing to world-historical forms of oppression like genocide and slavery in the United States today would be “mass incarceration.” Yes, the US has comparatively high crime rates for a developed country, but overcriminalization is an issue as well. Claims concerning the frequency of murders of unarmed African-Americans by the police are exaggerated, but police misconduct is a real issue and racial disparities are clearly involved. Many of the difficulties associated with policing could probably be reduced or eliminated by ending drug prohibition and other “consensual crime” laws criticized by libertarians.
Many other reforms might certainly be worthwhile. One might be to simply repeal truancy laws and require open enrollment for public schools. I have worked in higher education for years and encountered thousands of students of all racial, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds with middle school levels of literacy and literally zero knowledge of history, science, or philosophy. Making schools compete for students might actually motivate school administrators to ensure that students are being taught something. Repealing zoning laws would have the impact of reducing housing costs. Increasingly the supply of medical services by, for example, easing restrictions on nurse practitioners might help to reduce healthcare costs. However, it is quite obvious that the partisans typically have little interest in practical reforms as opposed to engaging in a form of cosplaying where they pretend to be Weimar re-enactors.
A landmark study of non-voters known as the “100 Million Project” was published last year. The study indicated that the political leanings of non-voters are fairly evenly split between progressives, moderates, and conservatives, findings which dispel the myth that more voters would necessarily help either side. Other analysts have observed that non-voters are likewise divided between those who are merely disinterested in politics and those for which non-voting is an identity. It is also true that the United States has not completed deteriorated into partisanship of a tribal sectarian nature. The “Hidden Tribes” study published in 2018 indicated that two-thirds of Americans collectively comprise a group of political tribes the researchers described as an “Exhausted Majority,” which disdains the rhetorical bloodshed originating from the two parties and their allied media outlets. Given the fractiousness of US politics, a trend with no end in sight, it is likely that the two sides will continue to engage in combative partisanship with a permanent stalemate being the likely outcome, which is not a wholly unfavorable situation. A fragmented government is often a less pernicious or predatory government but one that renders participation in the state coronation ceremony known as voting into little more than an abject waste of time.