A pragmatic case for voting Green

Ted Grimsrud—November 7, 2016

My post on Friday, “Why, in the end, I can’t vote for Hillary Clinton,” elicited quite a bit of discussion both here on the blog, on Facebook, and on the Mennonite World Review site where it was reblogged, as well as the MWR Facebook page.  I found most of the conversation to be discouraging. The Clinton supporters who responded, mostly personal friends, mostly Mennonites, mostly political progressives, mostly inclined toward pacifism, rarely if ever addressed the heart of my argument.

Problems with Clinton

My argument was not about Trump vs. Clinton but it was about the concerns posed by a potential Clinton presidency, most importantly (I suggest) in the areas of militarism and imperialism. I didn’t imply anything less than a deeply negative view of Trump. I stated that the question about voting for Clinton or not was for me a question that depended on being in a state where Clinton is almost certain to win (or, even more, in a state where Trump is certain to win)—not a truly contested state. Given that dynamic, I suggested that for me a vote for Jill Stein has the virtue of affirming a vision that actually affirms peace as a core commitment.

However, almost all of the negative comments turned it back to Clinton vs. Trump. There was hardly a hint that anyone is deeply troubled by Clinton’s warism—and interestingly, no one felt the need to challenge my assumptions about this warism. So, the basic sense is that yes, indeed, Clinton is committed to greater militarism and imperialism, but this is nothing to be worried about.

Now, my argument did rest on the premise that Clinton almost certainly would win Virginia. One of the ways I supported this premise was to point out that neither Trump nor Clinton was campaigning here, with the implication that both campaigns were accepting that Clinton would win Virginia. Well, since I wrote that, it turns out that Trump is coming here. As I said I would under those circumstance, I am reconsidering my vote.

In the end, an even stronger vote for Stein

This reconsideration is leading me to double down on the vote-for-Jill-Stein decision. I am still as certain as I can be that Clinton will win here, but I have also been impacted by the comments made in response to my post by Clinton supporters (again, mostly Mennonites, mostly political progressives, mostly inclined toward pacifism).

I have a serious question: What is going on when such people, strongly on the peaceable side of our political culture, remain so sanguine about a leader they seem to agree is deeply committed to militarism and imperialism? It’s not that such a person might decide a vote for Clinton is necessary in order to prevent an even more problematic candidate winning—it’s how sanguine about this vote the person seems to be.

We can debate about my sense of Virginia’s safety as a Clinton state or about the relative value of a Stein vote. I would not find such a debate depressing. But it is depressing that the Clinton supporters don’t seem to care about her warism. If I am correct that militarism is our society’s biggest problem and the one problem that renders most of the other big problems unsolvable (of course, also a legitimately debatable assertion—perhaps this is even the central issue in this whole discussion), then this state of affairs pushes me further to acceptance of a more marginalized political sensibility.

If even the most peaceably-inclined voters don’t seem to care much about the likelihood of an even steeper descent under Clinton into the spiral of warism we are currently in, how much chance is there that anything redemptive can come from engaging “within the system”?

A comment by Berry Friesen on the blog’s site helped clarify things for me. He suggested that it might even be possible to see that Clinton is a greater threat to humanity than Trump. This could be so, he wrote, because Clinton “dresses up bloody U.S. interventionism in the pretty clothes of humanitarianism and democracy” and because of “Clinton’s ability and demonstrated willingness to clothe brutality as moral courage.”

Acceptance of being on the margins

Maybe people who think like I do need simply to accept as the nature of our context right now that we can’t actually have a peaceable influence on the larger political scene as “insiders” (people who sanguinely support one of our two-party-system candidates). So, our main task is thinking about ways of resistance and witness, not illusions of governing.

This thought took me back to a blog post I wrote back in 2011, “Are we living under totalitarianism”. I was deliberately provocative with the title, not meaning to suggest that we are actually living under totalitarianism so much as to raise the question of what political faithfulness might look like in a context where one is not shaped by the illusions of governing but accepts that one’s best hope for meaningful action lies more in the areas of resistance and of working on the margins than sitting at the table of power.

This was my concluding paragraph: “People who believe in the supremacy of love, compassion, and universal personhood should (I believe) grow in understanding about the anti-democratic elements in our current system. We should recognize the spiritual dimension of those anti-democratic elements and how extremely powerful they are. And, in light of this understanding and recognition, we should realize just how crucial, even priceless—and also how powerful—it is simply to learn better to disbelieve and to join with at least a few others, and to create humane spaces wherever we can.”

Why the Greens matter

Here is where the Greens come in. I am not active in the Green Party. I get the critiques of the Greens as being disorganized and ineffective (see Joshua Holland in The Nation; but also note a counter-argument by Seattle city council member  Kashama Sawant). Nonetheless…. Right now the Greens provide one of the few voices that are saying what needs to be said about peace, care for creation, economic justice, rejecting mass incarceration, etc.

Clinton’s way is the way of death. Sanguine support for her is not being “realistic” or “pragmatic” in relation to the work that needs to be done to overcome our biggest social problems and cultivate life for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren. Our only pragmatic route to a bearable future is to take the path of life. If the current system does not allow for such a route, we do not empower the system to continue on the path of death. Maybe it makes us feel better to stop Trump and we have a comfortable feeling with the idea of Clinton in power. But I believe she is still part of the problem, not the solution.

So, to vote Green is to add one little piece of support to keep them going, to keep alive this voice that articulates the only way forward—even if the nation right now is not ready to go there. The idea is not that the Greens are a present option to govern. But I think it’s more realistic to recognize that “governing” with the agenda of actually solving our social problems is not an option the system allows for right now. It’s more realistic to think in terms of simply keeping alive the voices like the Greens that do point toward actual solutions.

Living lives of resistance

And, along with a vote to keep the Greens’ voice alive, albeit at the far margins of the public sphere, I think it’s essential also to be thinking about forms of resistance, of bearing witness, of constructing alternative social processes during the near future whether we be facing a Clinton or a Trump presidency. Ideally, these acts and commitments will always involve a self-consciousness about American imperialism and warism. But there can and must be positive, creative expressions beyond simple awareness and no-saying.

It’s an endless list—working for local democracy (including perhaps helping the Greens “do it right”), seeking to be inclusive toward vulnerable people, cultivating economic life outside corporate capitalism (e.g., food co-ops, credit unions, farmers markets, et al), writing and research, investing in life-giving communal life, deepening spirituality, simply establishing and growing friendships. It always looks different for each person.

I’d see an analogy with what I am understanding to be the message of the book of Revelation. Revelation, I conclude, does not guarantee a happy outcome to the human project. What it does is point to a path, the only path the will lead to a happy outcome—the path that involves “following the Lamb” (that is, following the way of Jesus). It’s not that the outcome is certain; it is that to have a good outcome we must follow the path of saying no to Empire and domination and saying yes to persevering love for all people. We must recognize that the “conquering” that aligns with life is done through love and respect, not domination and violence.

This is to say, it’s pragmatic to follow the Lamb not because we know he will “win”; it’s pragmatic to follow the Lamb because his is the only possible way that we can “win.” I don’t mean to equate the Greens with the Lamb. And it is possible that the Green Party with wither and die or will evolve to become another force for domination. Rather, what I understand the Greens to stand for today in our context is an approach to political life that breaks from the empire as a way of life dynamic that characterizes just about all Republicans and most Democrats. Supporting their message seems much better than uncritical support for Hillary Clinton.

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9 thoughts on “A pragmatic case for voting Green

  1. Ted, your previous post (as well as this one) did make me stop and think a little. I, too, have been uncomfortable with Clinton’s hawkish approach to foreign affairs. I thought I had to vote for her to prevent the bigger evil of a Trump presidency, however. You made me pause a moment and think of this election as it really is, which is 50 state elections. And if I thought that Virginia was “in the bag” for Clinton, I would choose to vote third party or not to vote in the presidential race at all. Now Virginia’s race seems to be tightening, and Nate Silver’s blog places Virginia 5th or 6th in the list of state races that are likely to determine the overall outcome of the election. So I’m left feeling very uncertain, but this post of yours today helps a little I think. I especially agree with this: ” I think it’s essential also to be thinking about forms of resistance, of bearing witness, of constructing alternative social processes during the near future whether we be facing a Clinton or a Trump presidency.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts and thought processes, even though they may not be the most popular. You certainly validated part of my thinking and gave me some new things to think about too.

  2. The idea that we are called to be faithful and not successful could be applied here. I’d be happy to have more Greens have success by being elected to office and advance the ten key values of the party. As a Christian on the fringe and as a long time member of the Green Party, I have learned that pressing on in the face of great obstacles is what faith, in part, is about.

  3. Ted, years I have struggled deeply with voting for president. In the end I have voted. In 2008, I shared a challenge with Seattle Mennonite Church that I called “The Delusion of Democracy and the Illusion of Voting.” Nevertheless, I voted. Twice for Obama, not because I had much hope for change — which I considered politically naive, but because the alternative is to support greater death via warism and imperialism. On Obama’s behalf, no prior president has received anywhere near the kind of overt opposition with the blatant intention of making it impossible to lead or govern. An opposition that was racist to say the least.

    And I voted for Clinton. Yes, her imperial warism and wall streetism are more severe than Obama’s and the heart of why I have a hard time supporting her. I vote for her even knowing that Washington is even more likely than Virginia to go for Clinton. I vote for her for several reasons: 1) Trump defies everything I have lived for first as a political organizer for Republicans and for over 4 decades of pastoral and peace ministry. 2) While I would like to support the Green Party and we desperately need to abandon the disastrous 2-party domination, I have been disturbed my Jill Stein’s political naivete. 3) Clinton brings the most diverse and deepest experience to the presidency of any president in modern history. 3) Clinton will be the first women and brings many attributes to the presidency. 4) The Supreme Court! The extreme overt ideological political activism of Supreme Court has been a judicial disaster to put it mildly. 5) And for me most important from my personal pastoral peacemaking experience on the streets of Seattle (as well as in Philadelphia, Wash DC, Cincinnati, and Atlanta where I’ve been) working with friends who are homeless and my experience with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq, I say unequivocally that more people will die from violence at home and around the world if Trump is elected. We dare not be fooled by his pseudo-isolationism which will erratically become blatant interventionism.

    I am sorry this is not the careful thoughtful full faithful articulation that I long to offer in conversation with your heartfelt excellent self revelation. But I felt compelled to offer this even as election has already come. Prayerfully and peacefully, Weldon

    1. Thanks, Weldon, for what I did find to be a careful, thoughtful articulation of your thinking 🙂 But of course we need to sit down together to do justice to these issues. Someday soon I hope.

      But I would have thought you would be all in with Kashama Sawant….

  4. Thanks Ted. I share your desire to spend the time we need for face-to-face conversation. I certainly support Kashama and am very grateful she is leading the way here in Seattle and having an impact beyond Seattle. I ponder becoming a political organizer again and working for her. A dilemma I see is the need to work for alternative parties apart presidential elections because our 2-party system is at the heart of our imperial warring madness. This election has made that more evident with Trump. But even that is part of the “delusion of democracy and illusion of voting” because Cruz is even more dangerous precisely because he is far more ideologically and theologically driven. And it will get worse going into the 2020 presidential election before it gets better. We do well to remember that the meanness and madness of presidential candidates could not exist apart from citizen support that is also ideologically and theologically driven. It is not only The American Way it is The American Idolatry.

    As usual Walter Brueggeman names it prophetically and places us in the biblical counter-narrative: “The tacit dominant narrative of our society is about military consumerism. It is propelled by greed and anxiety and violence. That narrative is a lie. It cannot produce life.”

    Our greatest challenge is knowing that presidential candidates won’t change until the death-lie-idolatry of our national narrative changes. That’s clear from Genesis through the Gospels to Revelation. Have you read Wes Howard Brook’s COME OUT MY PEOPLE and now his new EMPIRE BAPTIZED? Weldon

    1. Yes, I’ve read both of Wes’s excellent books. I actually have a cover blurb on Empire Baptized.

      I think you are right in guessing about the future. Our best hope now is that Clinton will counter these dynamics by creating an effective and progressive administration.

  5. I’m not going to speak to your Yoder question, Steve. I can’t imagine he would have had much patience with my convoluted logic in my posts. I was trying too hard to be “realistic” and “pragmatic” for his tastes, I’m sure. I don’t think any of the flaws in my thinking should be laid on him.

    I plan to write a longer piece with my post-election thoughts this weekend.

    Of course, I never said anything about Trump other than totally negative.

    My question to you is how you spin the election in any way other a complete and total failure by Clinton. She had every advantage and still blew it. The country is going to suffer immensely now, but she will be quite comfortable thanks to the tens of millions she got for her influence peddling with Wall Street, et al.

  6. Steve, let me try to clarify. I do see differences between Clinton and Trump in regard to foreign policy and perceive Clinton to have been the greater threat. That’s primarily why I didn’t vote for her, though there were other reasons besides. I didn’t vote for Trump because I don’t trust his experience, his character, his integrity nor his domestic policy proposals.

    I’m mystified by your “more concrete” reference. Over the past 15 years, the implementation of U.S. policy choices have caused directly or indirectly the deaths of several million residents of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.. That is as concrete as it gets. Clinton supported all of it, regretted Obama’s “restraint” in Syria and intended to redouble efforts at regime change in Russia. Many have said that US-Russian relations are currently as strained as in 1962, amid the Cuban missile crisis. I shunder to think of where a Clinton presidency would have taken us.

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