It can be an interesting intellectual exercise to consider what would actually be best for our country, or another country, or for working class people. Plotting an ideal path to the future is not a waste of time, after all we need a vision to fight for, but neither is it a way to develop sound strategy.
The Brexit vote shows the pitfalls of acting as if we had ideal choices rather than real ones.
There are good reasons for Britains to distrust the European Union. The EU has unelected leaders who manage economies in the interests of transnational capital. It is a system operated on neoliberal principles, aiming for high rates of profit for the few. If the choice in the UK had been between staying in the EU as is or fighting for policies which would actually help the working class, that would have been a good vote to have.
But that is not what was on the table. The Brexit vote, no matter what the proponents (mostly right-wing) or opponents said in their PR campaigns, was for staying in the EU as is, or exiting and leaving the British economy still in the hands of the British ruling class. That was the real choice on the table, and pretending otherwise because we wish there was a better choice is foolish.
The old politics isn’t working anymore
There is a right-wing danger growing in the world. The reality is that the old ways of governing (in the interests of the super-wealthy) are no longer working the way they used to. This leaves a vacuum that the ultra-right is happy to rush into.
The danger of the Trump campaign is not just the dire possibility that he will win the election (though that is dire, for many reasons), it is that he is encouraging, energizing, and providing an impetus for organizing for the most racist, nationalistic, isolationist, militarist sectors of the body politic. Even if Trump is defeated (a much-to-be-worked for outcome), this renewed fascist movement will be a greater and more poisonous part of U.S. politics for years to come.
The old ways of governing are breaking down before our eyes. The shibboleths of the past are not convincing large numbers to let the rulers keep ruling in the old way.
And there is not yet a decisive left alternative. There are signs of change on the left too, new attempts to organize a popular alternative to the old politics. SYRIZA in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Morena in Mexico, and the Sanders campaign in the U.S. all can give us hope for left policies that will actually benefit workers and poor people. But they are not yet sufficiently powerful to implement those policies. Where they have won elections, these new forces struggle with the existing power structure, sometimes with some success, other times with at least temporary set-backs.
So the old politics isn’t working anymore in many places in the world, the left alternatives are not yet strong enough, and right-wing fanatics are eager to exploit this opening to grow their retrograde movements. These forces are encouraged by the Brexit vote, and governments already governed by right-wing parties in some parts of Europe will step up their efforts to impose austerity on workers in their countries, no matter that the impacts on millions of people will be vicious and inhumane.
The choice here in America
In the U.S., our choice is not between a right-wing looney (Trump) and a real left alternative like Sanders, no matter how hard many of us worked for him. It is the choice, baldly stated, between a slightly more progressive business-as-usual on the one hand, and a growing threat of fascism on the other. Those who pretend we have some other choice, at the present moment, are deluding themselves.
Of course we need to work for real alternatives, and there is hope. The Sanders campaign exposed a widespread hunger for positive alternatives to business as usual. Many tens of millions were ready to contribute, vote, attend rallies, and campaign for Sanders, and many more were offered hope for a real change.
But no matter how committed we are to Sanders’ program, that is not the real choice before the working class and people of the U.S.
At issue is not just whether or not Trump personally is a fascist, or whether he will be able to instantaneously impose fascist policies, but about the momentum of the ultra-right movement. Cheney was and is pretty fascist, but it was not just about him and his desires, it was also about the limitations we were able to place on his policies.
We were not strong enough, despite massive demonstrations, to stop the Iraq War, the torture, the budget cuts for all people-centered programs, but we were able to wage struggles against those policies and wage them in a partially democratic space, and success in defeating the continuation of those policies and worse by McCain and Romney. That was the real choice before us then.
Any negative consequences from Britain’s exit from the EU will just be another excuse for more austerity, in Europe and here at home. Right-wing politicians who are not quite the loose cannons that Trump is, like Paul Ryan, will see an opportunity to excuse their demands to cut programs, defund food stamps, raise the retirement age for Social Security even more, raise the age of eligibility for Medicare, and the increased unrest around the world will be a justification for simultaneously increasing the military budget.
There are real reasons for Europeans to distrust the EU, just as there are real reasons to at least distrust Clinton. It is very likely that we will have to wage a peace campaign against continued military adventurism, especially in the Middle East. It is very likely that Clinton will propose some positive reforms that will be killed by Republican opposition-and she can placate some on the left without serious risk to her Wall Street supporters. Clinton will not represent a break with standard operating procedure for the ruling class.
Trump’s election, however, would mean a break, and not a positive one. The success of the nationalistic Brexit campaign should show that pretending we have better alternatives than are actually on the table is a guarantee of massively negative consequences. The danger of a Trump victory is real, and we have to realize the consequences for workers and poor people.
We should not encourage illusions about Clinton, but we should be partisan to the movements which are campaigning for her. Unions, civil rights organizations of many kinds, women, and many others will rally against the Trump danger, and we need to be with them in this struggle.
Watch over the next few months whether or not the ultra-right in the UK, in Europe, and in the U.S. is energized by this vote and the success of the nationalistic, isolationist campaign. Watch whether or not right-wing politicians of all stripes will use the negative consequences for the world economy as an excuse for more austerity and hostility to immigrants, poor people, and rejection of any left alternative policies.
Voting for Clinton is not a strategy for fundamentally changing the direction of our country, but it is a vote against the growing danger of fascism. That’s worth it.