The Death of Electoral Politics

The season has started, and I’m already disgusted by it. The Republican slate of candidates is a circus with Trump as its ringmaster cracking his whip and making all the others dance for our entertainment. Clinton offers four more years of nothing, just the same old mainstream politics that put us in the mess we’re in now. Despite his popularity with white liberals like myself – and I will say that I’m glad he’s in the race if only to shift the discourse moderately to the Left – Bernie Sanders faces his own troubles with the politics of race. O’Malley? Oh yeah, I know him… he’s the guy who was the Mayor of Baltimore at the onset of its “broken windows” policing strategy that put many Black lives (like Freddie Gray) in jeopardy. He’s also the guy who left my state with a massive budget shortfall that caused universities to raise tuition and lower salaries.

The election is a ritualized spectacle wherein all of our hopes and dreams are pitted against all of our worst fears – in the end we are no better off than we were before. Just look at the last 8 years. I’m no Obama hater, but his tenure as President has certainly not lived up to the promise of Hope and Change laid out in his campaign. We still have a divided country, we still have billionaires calling the shots, we still have a broken – if somewhat better – healthcare system, we still have racism running rampant throughout the country, and we are still staring down the specter of climate change and the ongoing destruction of the planet. Paraphrasing Zizek, if we ever get to a point where a genuinely revolutionary President could be elected, then we will have already won.

The totalizing fantasy of electoral politics is itself antithetical to a genuine leftist political agenda. “You wanted a master and you got one” says George Carlin. That doesn’t mean I won’t vote – we have masters whether we want them or not, and voting may be one weak means we have of getting some meager accountability. But voting is a tactic, electoral politics is a tactic, it’s not a totalizing force. It doesn’t change much if it changes anything at all, and it probably does more harm than good by distracting us and sapping our energy for the real work that needs to be done.

I’m actually encouraged by the Black Lives Matter critiques of Bernie Sanders. Not because I don’t like Bernie Sanders, and not because I hope it will change his message or even the tone of the whole campaign. I am encouraged by it and I hope it spreads to the rest of the campaign season because it reveals the poverty of electoral politics in general. None of these people – not Bernie, not Hillary, not Martin, not Trump, Cruz, or Bush – can solve the problems we have in this country. The only ones who can solve these problems – racism, sexism, inequality, climate change, etc. – are us. The only way they will be solved is by a lot of people getting out there and doing whatever they can to solve them – working together to build a new society from the ground up. The Black Lives Matter movement is doing that in a way that we haven’t seen for sixty years. I hope it continues and grows, and I hope this kind of politics – the politics of everyday life – becomes the new game in town. If it does, all of the elections and posturing won’t be worth a damn – at that point it won’t matter who gets elected because we will have already won.