The problem with voting


Few things generate as much vacuous and insipid partisan rhetoric as US Presidential elections. Perhaps the most frustrating example is embodied in the tedious slogans of “lesser evil politics”. “Vote Hillary or be responsible for Trump”, we’re told at every conceivable opportunity, in what has by now become perhaps the most uninspiring battle cry of corporate liberal wonks the world round.

I won’t be voting for Hillary Clinton in November (nor Trump, in case that needs saying). To be perfectly candid, I’m not a huge fan of voting as a model of political engagement, certainly not as a primary mode of civic activity. I’m particularly sceptical when voting takes place in what Steven Salaita dubs “a corrupt and constrained system that devalues grassroots organising and tries to limit our imagination to mechanical support of stage-managed icons”. That’s not to say that I underestimate the value of the vote as a symbol of popular sovereignty, or even as a powerful institutional check against tyranny, a hard-won right not held by many around the world. I’m simply wary of the deifying mythology that has emerged around this mode of political participation, its portrayal, to borrow from Conrad, as “something to set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to”.

My decision to not vote for Clinton this November is perhaps made easy by the fact that my vote takes place in a particularly safe blue state. Elsewhere, tactical voting may indeed be something worthy of consideration, and I won’t quibble with those who, after some thought, choose to make such a decision. What I reject and regard as utterly contemptible is the notion that individuals who refuse to kneel at the altar of lesser evil politics are somehow to be held responsible for the outcomes of an odious political regime which displays nothing but disregard (if not open contempt) towards mass political participation, grassroots community organisation, and genuinely democratic social movements.

Lost in this shaming narrative is a rich and moving history, in the United States and around the world, of civil disobedience and political resistance, of active participation in transformative or revolutionary social movements, of challenging the terms of a system which pays no regard to the voices of the weak, vulnerable, and dispossessed. “Lesser evil” slogans are always indicative of someone actively perpetuating, or else being played by, this broken system.

Underlying this narrative is a deeper problem, one which renders accusations of “privilege” directed towards those who reject this model of political participation particularly deplorable. Namely, it reflects a contemporary liberal preoccupation with the politics of language and identity, a politics which, for example, regards racism primarily as a problem of public expressions of prejudice, and not as a system of domination which institutionally privileges some while actively disadvantaging others. It’s utterly unthinkable, on this view, to say something straightforwardly racist (as Trump regularly does in his quasi-fascist rhetoric), but feel free to institute and pursue a policy of the mass incarceration of black Americans, so long as you couch it in fluffy, liberal language that makes no explicit reference to race.

It’s only under this kind of privileged politics of language and identity that Hillary Clinton can be put forward as some kind of feminist icon. As if black American women are expected to rejoice because it will be a fellow woman providing the funds for their brothers, fathers, husbands, or sons to be shot dead in the streets because of the colour of their skin, so long as we agree thatall lives matter. Or perhaps working class women have an obligation to take to the streets in celebration of the fact that a fellow woman is now allowing for the foreclosure of their homes and the subsequent devastation of their lives, all while receiving the political (and financial) support of those same institutions who were at fault. Indeed, why limit ourselves to the United States? Maybe the women of Honduras should delight at Clinton’s role in institutionalising a 2009 coup against a reforming president who had the support of all of the country’s most courageous and bravest people — land reformers, gay activists, unionists, feminists and environmentalists. Perhaps the fact that it was a fellow woman who supported this coup provides some much-needed solace while the country sees the return of death squads on its soil. The women of Iraq and Libya, too, should be proud of their part in a truly historic moment when the drone which decimates their family home is sent by a woman just like them.

Solidarity at its finest, friends. But don’t dare speak up — don’t you know you’ll be aiding and abetting Trump if you do?! How incredibly privileged of you.

Rayan Fakhoury

Rayan studies Politics, Philosophy and Economics.

This article was originally posted on

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