America is gravely ill and entering the ER, and this election is triage. That’s the inescapable reality we all must confront as we prepare for the Nov. 3 election. This election is not a battle of ideals, it is a fight for our lives and our very existence as a people, a nation, and a planet.
Facing four more years of a fascist, racist president who is endangering the American people and the planet, one might expect progressives to unite to remove this cancer, if only to relieve pain and suffering and buy time to help the patient—all of us—recover and survive.
This is not your typical “lesser of evils” election. We’re dealing with a president who empowers white supremacists; enriches the wealthy; eviscerates healthcare; destroys protections for workers and the environment; and enables a deadly pandemic to kill nearly 210,000 Americans (even imperiling himself and many of his staff).
If you are of the “Never Biden” crowd, and planning to either vote Green, write in Bernie, or not vote at all—I respectfully urge you to reconsider.
Yet, three weeks before this life-and-death election, many “Never Biden” folks on the left insist they won’t support the Democratic ticket, even in this scarily close and profoundly crucial election. Instead, they say, they’ll vote Green or write in Bernie, or not vote at all.
If you are of the “Never Biden” crowd, and planning to either vote Green, write in Bernie, or not vote at all—I respectfully urge you to reconsider. It is in fact true that human lives and the planet are at stake, though not for the broad partisan rhetorical reasons we typically hear.
Voting one’s conscience and principles is a time-honored value—but the truth is, voting is never about our ideals, our perfect vision for change; it’s about one choice in one moment between/among flawed human beings. The question is, which human will cause less harm and destruction, and create more possibilities for some modest progress in people’s daily lives?
I get it: you’re not happy about Biden’s politics or history, he’s not your choice, he doesn’t match your ideals. I get it. I’ve voted Green for president many times and have written many articles criticizing corporate centrist Democrats. But right now, lives and the planet are at stake. That’s why Senator Bernie Sanders, Noam Chomsky, Medea Benjamin, Cornel West, Linda Sarsour, RoseAnn DeMoro, Rep. Ro Khanna, and other rock-solid lefties with centuries of experience and wisdom (many of them committed democratic socialists) are all backing Biden in order to Vote Trump Out.
Let’s not cling to “conscience” or some purely principled vote when lives are on the line. It’s not about what we want, or our ideal vision—it’s about this choice, in this moment, to reduce suffering for others while building up movements for real change. Knowing what we all know about Trump, let’s not prize our feelings about our vote over the reality that vote will cause. I may not want to vote for Biden, but I will—even in “safe” California.
This election is not about corporate power or neoliberalism, or fundamental change. We are in a profoundly different moment, and the simple act of emergency-room triage, of stanching the hemorrhaging saving the patient’s life, and giving us a chance to survive, could not be more critical.
The reason we must all vote for Biden is both simpler and more nuanced than we are typically told. Forget any broad notions of hope and change on the one hand, or of corporate neoliberalism on the other. This moment, sadly, is not about political change, not even about going “back to normal,” a.k.a., 2016, which was unacceptably unjust and unsustainable.
This election is about something more concrete and specific: how government functions, and for whom, on a daily basis. It’s about whether those agencies do their job and save and improve lives or undermine their very existence.
This election is about the administration, not just the man at the top—the agencies that enforce laws and regulations that have a mightily real effect on people’s daily lives. Think EPA, Department of Labor, USDA, Health and Human Services, and many more.
Will we have cabinet secretaries and agency administrators committed to enabling and expanding government’s statutory and constitutional mission to improve and protect people’s lives, or ones dedicated to eroding and destroying that mission, as now under Trump?
That’s a big part of what this election comes down to: not whether “the system” is changed, but whether we have more access to healthcare, or less. Will we have more climate action, or none at all? Will we have vigorous enforcement of environmental and worker protections, or even more gutting of clean air and water, worker safety and health, and other vital regulations? That’s the choice.
The tragic reality is that corporate power, vast inequality, poverty and hunger, and our plethora of crises (climate, healthcare, racism, etc.) will persist no matter who prevails in this crazy-scary election. But that doesn’t mean that nothing will change. That’s far too simplistic. A vote for Biden is about mitigating harm, reducing human and planetary suffering. That should matter to everyone.
Our votes in this election are not about our ideals, not about the political revolution we so desperately need. Our votes are about one choice in one moment—a choice between two options in front of us, leading to more harm and suffering, or less.
This election is about how—and if—our environmental and worker protection laws get enforced. Will we have a functioning EPA that vigorously protects our withering and battered environment? Will we have a Department of Labor that enforces worker safety and health laws and regulations, or one that, as now, actually opposes protections for workers? Will we have a Health and Human Services agency that helps enforce and expand healthcare access, or one that continues to erode and diminish this essential human right?
Consider these essential differences: Obama’s Affordable Care Act expanded healthcare access for more than 20 million Americans, while Trump’s rollback ended access for millions, even before the pandemic and recession; Trump has rolled back dozens of environmental regulations protecting clean air and water and combating climate change; even in the pandemic, Trump’s Department of Labor refuses to enforce rules to make workers safer, and has gutted worker protections, directly endangering workers’ lives.
Consider COVID-19. Under Trump’s fumbling inept “leadership,” more than 210,000 Americans have died, and we are nowhere close to “turning a corner” on this pandemic. Trump’s insane reckless attacks on mask-wearing, on truth and science, and on his own administration’s top doctors and public-health experts, have cost thousands if not hundreds of thousands of lives. At minimum, Biden will provide clarity and coherence, a coordinated response, more masks and other PPE, and this will reduce suffering and loss of life.
These are concrete, immediate real-world harms caused directly by Trump, that would be at minimum alleviated and likely reversed by a Biden administration, even one that lefties may loathe and protest for other things.
As one who has voted Green for president many times (albeit in electorally safe California), and who was a passionately dedicated Bernie Sanders delegate, I get it: we must build an alternative political party with real power—a party that rejects all corporate money, that fights for Medicare for All and a Green New Deal and so much more. On November 4, like many other progressives, I will return wholeheartedly to building those essential. Like millions on the left, I’ll be out protesting Biden, pushing his administration hard to pursue the utterly vital and widely popular policies urgently needed by people and the planet.
But this election, right here and now, is one choice in one moment—a choice and a chance to stop the hemorrhaging and reduce suffering. That’s the vote we all must face and live with: more suffering and pain, or less. The patient, America, cannot run or even walk until we end Trump’s reign of madness, lies, mayhem, and destruction. To create any of the changes we need, we must first stop Trump. In order to build the alternatives we need, there is no alternative right now: it’s Biden, or four more years of Trumpian nightmare, death, and brutality. So let's choose less suffering and harm, and a greater possibility of a better life for more people.