We select people to take positions of power which we greatly exaggerate, and turn on them when they don’t deliver precisely the “change” we want because that power is limited in the face of social inertia which is hundreds if not thousands of years old. Anybody who becomes President will be a “warmonger” within weeks to those who feel that politics are run by some group of elites duping everyone else. It’s an easy out – you can be removed from the process of hard work for change which comes slowly if at all – and you can justify what is a glorified apathy as virtuous or even heroic.
Anybody in power has to play the power game, and anybody who veers too far out of the inertia – who does not “hit back” when Americans are killed – doesn’t last long in power. They risk their purity undoing all of the work the movements behind them put into getting them there, and people with shallow understanding assume that they have actually bought in to that inertia (even worse than “selling out”).
One of the more profound political writers of the 20th century was kind of a hack in some ways. Communist and sometimes a bit dogmatic, but also with a profound understanding of how power works – Howard Fast, helped break the back of the blacklist when he wrote the script for Spartacus. Charles Lawton played what some would consider a “corrupt” liberal Senator who publicly supports dedicating Roman troops to put down a “ruffian” slave rebellion with which he privately sympathizes. Later as he’s buying some birds to sacrifice in the temple, a colleague says, “Do you really believe in that?” He responds, “Privately I believe in none of the gods. Publicly I believe in them all.”
He compromises and plays “within the system” until he recognizes an evil which threatens everything he’s fought and compromised for and he veers outside of the balance to take a stand. And it kills him (literally – hopefully you’ve all seen the classic movie by now).
President Carter also veered too far, and was done in by the institutional inertia, because Americans who work hard and worry over their children want to feel safe. And in order to feel safe, many people expect certain overtures, and, they expect blood for blood. It’s changing – slowly – but it’s the reality that anyone who is seriously seeking power must contend with if he or she is going to be effective. It’s just the reality. Society and its body politic are like an ocean liner which does not make sharp turns. It starts slowly and the turn is very gradual – but once the turn begins it’s also very hard to reverse.
As Bernie is screaming to tell you, electoral politics is about positioning. You get what you can. And then, after the election, you push hard and long. That’s how change is made.
Jill Stein can afford to be pure (and boring). She will never be in a position of power and will never have to worry about staying in office and being effective while you are there. It’s a luxury. It’s also very limiting.
I was considering a vote for Stein, and even at the insistence of several friends whose views a greatly respect, I took a good look at Johnson. After all since so many libertarians supported an earnest socialist in the primary season, I thought maybe I could reciprocate. And I actually liked what I saw. I don’t agree with the economic views – the notion that the economy is some sort of organism operating on Newtonian principles with balances upset by excessive regulation – I think sometimes libertarians can be as utopian as the most dogmatic of socialists – works great on paper, not so much in the messy realm of human affairs. And no, I don’t hold the “Aleppo moment” against him. It’s really hard running for office and being expected to keep up on all events and be ready to generate coherent policy positions at a moment’s notice. All pols have their “deplorables” moments, or their, geeze I don’t even know how to pick a representative moment for Trump. And I like Johnson’s anti-war positions. His civil libertarian positions. And I relate to him as a dork.
But my decision to vote for Clinton came in the first debate. I saw an alpha male representing everything I detest in a bully and bigot, and I saw a woman who’s faced down so many people like him over years of relentless misogyny against her responding with professionalism, grace, and character. All of my political disagreements with her, my complaints about her cynicism which has hardened her over the years in some dark ways, and the compromises she has made which affect the integrity of the body-politic – I was able to set all of that aside because during that debate and in light of the subsequent revelations and a campaign which is triggering anxiety in many women who have been victims of sexual assault, all I could hear was the Pete Seeger of my childhood singing “Which side are you on boy, which side are you on?” This election represents distinct visions of society, politics, and culture. A stark contrast between the two major party candidates.
I expect that I’m going to be extremely disappointed at times over the next four to eight years (just as I have been at times over the last eight). There will be moments in which people are killed, because in the course of human events the exercise of power is often lethal. There will be moments in which I regret this vote, especially as my third-party voting friends remind me they told me so. But in this existential moment of American politics I will say that “I stand with her.” I won’t be holding my nose. It will be a conscious vote based upon my values, acquired through my upbringing as well as adult experience.