A Donald Trump presidency would be a disaster—for the left, for liberal democracy, for most ordinary citizens and especially those who are not white men, and for the world.
There are two simple reasons why: First, it would represent a major rightward shift in public policy. I fear a Trump administration would have no regard for basic constitutional processes; it is not hard to imagine a President Trump declaring a state of emergency or attempting to round up undocumented immigrants or even all Muslims. Second, while a President Trump might face certain governmental obstacles, he has done more than run an unorthodox electoral campaign; he has brought bigotry, hate, and white supremacy out into the open and has mobilized the most dangerous cultural tendencies in society at large. A Trump victory threatens the very nature of civil society.
Yet many on the left remain convinced that Hillary Clinton is the enemy. When I argued on Monday in the Nation that she in fact was not, many of my would-be comrades denounced the article, and me. They really despise Clinton, as an individual politician and as a corporate neoliberal. The latter she may be. But Hillary Clinton is not the malevolent and hopelessly corrupt figure that some on the left—taking up language long cultivated by the Republican right and now embraced by the Trump campaign—make her out to be. She is a centrist liberal and can be pressured from the left. And that is why, in these last days before November 8, I feel compelled to ask my fellow leftists again: please consider voting for Clinton.
Many have made this case. But too many remain unconvinced. They may vote for Jill Stein, or abstain, or even vote for Clinton, yet spend most of their time denouncing her in a way that might well encourage others not to vote for her.
At the same time, the election is just five days away, and the polls show it is very close. A high turnout for Clinton is essential to defeating Trump. And so I want to address those who rallied to Sanders out of a desire to build a more just and hopeful future, and who remain on the fence or averse to voting for Clinton, and to suggest that they ought to vote for Clinton in the name of the very political revolution against her and the Democratic party establishment that is so important to them.
We live in a challenging and an exciting time. Legitimate political alienation abounds. Change is in the air. Our future is at stake. Political forces have emerged that give voice to this future. The Occupy movement that emerged in 2011 was a prelude to this. In 2012, the Obama campaign’s adoption of the rhetoric of “the 99 percent vs. the 1 percent” was an important sign too, as was the rise of Black Lives Matter. And then an exciting ferment emerged within the Democratic party itself, promising real change.
The appearance of Elizabeth Warren as a vocal critic of Wall Street, as an insurgent candidate for the U.S. Senate, and then as the country’s most public, outspoken voice of an economic left perspective, was a breath of fresh air. She became an icon of integrity. And Elizabeth Warren is now a strong, vocal, and active supporter and campaigner for Clinton.
The extraordinary success of Bernie Sanders throughout the Democratic primaries and into the Democratic party convention was even more of an inspiration. His forces profoundly shaped the party’s platform and pushed the party, and its candidate, to the left on many issues, including the minimum wage, free trade, environmental regulation, and worker rights. For some, the label “Sanderistas” is a term of endearment. Others use this term in a less favorable way. But no one can deny that the Sanders campaign mobilized and excited millions of young people, who became dedicated supporters of Bernie’s candidacy and his broader cause of “political revolution.”
After extracting significant concessions at the Democratic convention, Sanders announced his support for Clinton. Since then, he has been a strong, vocal, and active campaigner for her. He makes clear that his support is provisional; she will need to be responsive to his concerns moving forward if the support is to continue. But Sanders is an unequivocal supporter of Clinton in the election because he knows who Trump is and what he could do and because he believes there will be far more political space for a consequential left politics under Clinton than under her opponent. For this reason not simply Sanders, but nearly every important organization that backed the Sanders campaign, also now supports Clinton.
So does every major union, including those that supported Sanders in the primary, every major civil rights organization, every major women’s rights organization, and every major environmental group.
What’s more, many of the most influential left intellectuals and opinion leaders who supported Sanders now support Clinton.
There’s Robert Reich, who for years has been a Clinton critic and whose blog and Facebook posts were key rallying sites for Sanders throughout the primary. There are the editors of The Nation—the country’s premier left publication and one that voiced strong support for Sanders during the primary campaign—who endorsed Clinton with the headline: “Why Progressives Should Vote for Hillary Clinton: A Trump presidency would be a catastrophe, whereas a big win by Clinton creates an opening for change.” There’s Michael Moore, the filmmaker who has perhaps done more than any other American to make attacks on corporate neoliberalism and support for social democratic causes staples of popular culture, and who now strongly backs Clinton, arguing that the “lack of enthusiasm” on the left for voting “is dangerous.”
There’s Adolph Reed, long a supporter of a Labor Party and of other social movements to the left of the Democratic party, and a strong supporter of the Sanders campaign—whose “real payoff,” Reed argues, “will come as the movement-building initiatives bear fruit over the next several years,” which means “the primary national electoral objective for this November has to be defeating Trump. Period.”
In the same vein, take Thomas Geoghegan, a major thinker and activist on the U.S. labor scene, stressing the importance above all of having a Democrat in the White House. Or Angela Davis, an icon of left politics since the 1960s: “I am going to the polls. . . and I am going to vote AGAINST Donald Trump. . . I have serious problems with the other candidate, but I am not so narcissistic to say I cannot bring myself to vote for her.”
I do not mean to imply that all of those I have cited above are obviously right, and that it is your duty to fall into line with them. If we have a duty, as leftists and as citizens, it is for each of us to be true to own our deepest political commitments.
But this is precisely why I urge everyone reading this to reconsider any resistance they have to supporting Clinton’s candidacy.
Casting a vote is an instrumental act and ought to be considered primarily in terms of its consequences. Being part of a movement, especially one seeking a “political revolution,” means linking your fate to others—to values and ideas, and organizations and, yes, to leaders. Every movement has exemplary figures. To join a movement is to allow these figures to energize you and be energized by you.
And when you are inspired and energized by them, and then your own energy and support empowers them, and then at very challenging but also very fateful moment they cast their lot with a political candidate, and do so precisely in terms of the values and the future of the movement that they symbolize, then this ought to matter.
The prospect of a Trump presidency frightens me terribly. If it frightens you too, think seriously about whom to vote for. Think not in personal terms but in political ones. Imagine yourself in dialogue with those political and opinion leaders—Sanders, Warren, Moore, Davis, and so many others—who have cast their lot with Clinton, for now. What are they saying? How much credibility have they earned based on their histories of involvement? Do you really feel able or inclined to counter their heartfelt and strong and reasoned arguments, grounded in histories of serious commitment to the left? Think hard about this, as part of your own internal dialogue, before you vote.
In the end, it’s not about Clinton or, really, about any one leader. The success of our politics does not depend on having a single person at the helm of an organization, a party, or the nation.
Support Clinton not because she is virtuous and not because her fellow centrist Democrats support her.
Support her because a Trump victory would be a disaster for the values we hold. And support her because a Clinton victory would also be a victory for the Sanders-inspired platform of the Democratic Party, for all the progressive organizations that endorse her, and for continuing the “political revolution” whose future a President Trump would put in dire jeopardy. Support Clinton on November 8—or vote for her early. Then, on November 9, continue the hard work of building a powerful movement of the left.
But support her now, because the choice could not be clearer or more urgent: Clinton or barbarism.
Jeffrey C. Isaac is James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington, and editor-in-chief of Perspectives on Politics: A Political Science Public Sphere.