The Rationalist Papers (22): Third-party protest

You may be so unhappy with your major-party choices this year that you are voting for a third party, or not voting at all.

Let’s examine what your choice actually means.

Why people would rather not choose between Trump and Biden

When offered two suboptimal choices, the mind rebels. You think, is there really no alternative?

This year, here are some reasons you might prefer to vote neither for Donald Trump nor for Joe Biden:

  • Biden is uninspiring and Trump is horrifying.
  • You are a traditional conservative and but you don’t like the way Trump governs.
  • You are a progressive and you don’t think Biden goes far enough in addressing the abuses of unfettered capitalism.
  • You are a libertarian and you feel neither party is going far enough to clear government regulations out of the way of citizens.
  • You think taxes are still too high and you don’t think either candidate will cut them sufficiently.
  • You think people who are suffering need help and you don’t think either candidate will do enough for them.
  • You want free trade but both candidates are likely to put up trade barriers.
  • You want to end the Fed, and neither candidate has says he’ll do that.
  • You think the military budget is way too high and neither candidate has agreed to rein it in.
  • You’re for reparations for slavery but neither candidate has endorsed the idea.
  • You think the deficit is dangerously high.
  • You want a candidate less than 74 years old.
  • You want to vote for a woman for president.
  • You want to vote for someone for president who is not white.
  • You think the American two-party system is fundamentally corrupt and feel you cannot participate in it.
  • You feel your vote, counted for someone other than a Democrat or a Republican, will send a message that the country needs an alternative.
  • You like Jo Jorgensen.
  • You’re a fan of Kanye.

That’s a whole lot of possible reasons. And I feel you. I want better choices, too.

So what should you do?

Realistically, no matter who you vote for, either Trump or Biden will win. What would that look like?

If Trump is reelected, he is likely to continue his policies and behavior. Put aside the traditional policies, like tax levels and spending levels. Consider a few other things.

His officials defy subpoenas from the Congress. There is not enough oversight of his policies.

He can’t get stuff done. Other than tax cuts and conservative judges, the country has done very little of consequence for four years.

There is no plan to fix the economy or address the COVID crisis. There is, quite literally, no Trump platform.

There is a constant push back on electoral mechanisms — allowing states to reduce voting sites, denigrating mail-in voting, supporting gerrymanders that favor Republicans — that fly in the face of fundamental fairness.

There is a massive fiscal deficit that threatens to undermine the government’s finances and the value of its currency, with no suggestion of addressing it at all.

He constantly speaks and acts as if he serves, not all the American people, but only those who support him.

As I’ve argued in this space for 21 posts now, this is it. Once Trump wins, there is no reason whatsoever for him not to do whatever he wants to cement his policies and his personal power in place permanently. He could sweep aside all the remaining norms about what a President is allowed to do.

In the past, when presidents have gone too far beyond what their voters wanted, we’ve failed to reelect them. We did it with George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford.

The difference is, this time, if voters don’t act to throw Trump out, it’s not at all clear that the Republic, as it currently sort-of works, will withstand the next four years. We will slide into autocracy, with no chance to fix it.

Now consider what will happen if Biden is elected.

Taxes will increase.

Tariffs will decrease.

There will be some sort of a plan to deal with COVID, one that may include some restrictions on Americans and how they gather in public.

There is likely to be an economic bailout, as there has been in previous crises.

At some point, there may be liberal justices appointed to the court. There might even be a couple more justices added.

We might see DC and Puerto Rico as new states.

Joe Biden may not be the most vigorous of presidents physically, but he will be surrounded by professionals who know how governments work.

You will survive all of these things. The Republic will survive all of these things, even if you would prefer something different.

What will not happen is the end of America. The politics will swing back, but we will have reasserted our control as voters over the excesses of the presidency. This will not be the end of the American Republic, any more than eight years of Barack Obama was.

There is a reason so many prominent Republicans have endorsed Biden. They value the continuation of government with its normal give and take as the most important thing. They value sane governance over policy.

I like the way that David Sedaris formulated this (he was actually talking about the 2008 election, but no matter).

I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

The only way to preserve democracy and American governance is to toss Trump and elect Biden. Voting third-party will not accomplish this. Failing to vote will not accomplish it. Only voting for Biden will accomplish it.

But just because you vote for Biden does not mean you have to go along with everything that happens after he is elected.

What to do next

If you are a reluctant Biden voter, here’s what you can do after the election to make your choices heard.

  • Sway the Democratic party. Joe Biden’s coalition will be composed of never-Trump Republicans, centrist Democrats, and progressives. Which direction will he go after the election? You can have a say in that.
  • Remake the Republican party. The Tea Party movement vastly changed the Republican party during the presidency of Barack Obama. Your movement could change the Republicans of 2021 and beyond. The defeat of Trump will create openings for traditional free-trade conservatives and libertarians in the post-Trump Republican party. You can influence that.
  • Support electoral forms that boost third parties. Foremost among these is the rise of ranked-choice voting, which is in place now in Maine and is on the ballot in Massachusetts. In ranked-choice voting, you can vote for a third-party candidate without throwing away your vote, because if your candidate doesn’t win, your vote can go to your second choice. This will free people up to vote for third parties, which means some of them will win.
  • In primaries, boost local candidates that will sway the parties. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has influence because her Bronx and Queens congressional district elected someone far more socialist than the typical Democrat. And a decade ago, the same thing was happening with Tea Party candidates in Republican districts. It is far easier to elect a candidate with your viewpoint regionally than at the state or national level. Once they are elected, they can help build a movement.
  • Recruit and support politicians who don’t identify as Democrat or Republican. Former Republican Representative Justin Amash was sick of President Trump. He voted for impeachment. And now he is a Libertarian, the only one in Congress. Maine Senator Angus King is an independent. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is a Democratic Socialist. Former Alaska governor Bill Walker was an independent. At the local level, politicians outside the two-party system can win. And with enough support, they can, at least potentially, form a movement that can change the system.
  • Protest. If enough people agree with you, your protest will show people you are a force to be reckoned with. Don’t protest with your vote. Protest with your feet.

If you feel impotent in your disappointment with the two-party system, the way to show it is not with a meaningless protest vote in an election that could solidify the Trumpist hold on power for a very long time. Vote now for Biden to preserve your chance to have a voice. And then act on your emotions after the election, when things will be in flux and your actions will actually matter.

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  1. Hello,
    Unfortunately, in addition to taxes, other things have been done in the US these last few years at an international level, among them, the breaking of good relationships with other countries, at a world level: NATO, WHO, Paris climate agreement, Iran…while pandering to Russia and North Korea; the insult to other world leaders (such as Macron or Angela Merkel, and even the Canadian prime minister), the use of Trump’s position for commercial gains (commerce with China from his daughter, for example), the empty threats against everybody, the generalized contempt.

    It will take some time to get people to half-respect the US again. No matter what, a President is supposed to be a bit prepared and an example of the good of the people, not that bully-clown-pittiful old creature.

    1. I meant, about this bit: “He can’t get stuff done. Other than tax cuts and conservative judges, the country has done very little of consequence for four years.” :-). Sorry I did not include that at the start of my reply.

  2. I am curious why a vote against Biden, for Trump, or for Jo (or any other permutation of voting except for Biden) would “solidify the Trumpist hold on power for a very long time,” but a vote for Uncle Joe that really no one wants would be one we can survive.

    I question why one President, the weakest of the three branches, can ruin it, would mark the end of America, democracy, and governance (whatever that is). None have and we have had some terrible ones (from both parties) for sure.

    I think you buried the lede: “This will not be the end of the American Republic, any more than [four or] eight years of [Trump] was.” I think we will be fine in 2024 when we have a chance to pick a decent candidate.

    I do not think the world ends because I did not get what I wanted in 2016 or 2020. In Arizona, we have two terrible candidates running our most expensive Senate race and we have four terrible folks at the top of the tickets. (And unfortunately, nothing much better locally, although as you said, that is the place to make change.)

    To quote the late Robert Hunter, “we will survive.” Or if you prefer disco, Perren/Fekaris, “I will survive.”

    1. Your inability to see how Trump’s constant attacks on the press, the congress, the courts, and everything that allows checks and balances in the American system continue to amaze me, Norman. Same with the truly epic level of incompetence in everything Trump does. This isn’t the same as what came before. It’s qualitatively different, in a way that makes me very worried.

    2. When there are already calculations saying that the US will have at least an excess 300,000 deaths because of the non-treatment of the pandemic, somehow your “we will survive” sounds rather empty to me (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6942e2.htm).
      I think the only good thing to have come out of this three years is that it is clear that the system needs more imagination to be able to have a repeat of this destruction from within and from the supposed head.

  3. I agree with Mar.
    Thanks you Josh. This is a fair list of likely policies of Trump and Biden administrations, with positive and optimistic suggestions for individual actions after the election. One dynamic not discussed is the changing nature of work and incomes, and especially the pandemic
    driven acceleration of already ongoing human worker replacement by AI. This will require rethinking the role of work in society, a prospect neither major political party wants to consider. This and other fundamental social issues might motivate the development of a significant third party, but I am not sanguine about this.

  4. In swing states this might be a reasonable appeal, but in most states voting against Jorgensen is just voting to give a mandate to domestic surveillance, kill lists, and bombing campaigns.