If you think that the worst thing for the country is electing yet another establishment politician to the presidency, what is your best, most principled action? By you I mean the millions of Americans who have supported the candidacy of either Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. They have enormous potential power.
Skip forward to the general election and imagine that both Sanders and Trump have not made it to the presidential ballot, a very likely scenario. Clearly, both Trump and Sanders supporters strongly oppose the political establishment. The status quo of what amounts to more of a plutocracy than a legitimate and effective democracy. Now, what do these angry, disappointed Americans do in the general election? Cave and vote for the lesser of two evils? Or, is there a better solution? There is. It is to not vote for any presidential candidate.
Here is the logic. For authentic anti-establishment, anti-status quo people who correctly see a corrupt political system their potential power is to remove the credibility of the current, broken system. The true revolutionary action is to drive voter turnout to historically low levels. Stop voting! Create a national embarrassment. Stop participating in the corrupt system and send a message to the world that the current delusional democracy is being rejected. Tell both major parties that they are in existential trouble.
If you can not get a true radical outsider in the White House, then show the world that a huge number of American citizens no longer recognize the legitimacy of the political system. Other than violent action, this is the proper form of civil disobedience in the name of rebellion. If both Sanders and Trump do not get to the general election ballot, then the lesson learned should be that participation in the sham democracy is a waste of time and energy. The game is so rigged, especially the primary nomination system, that the establishment can and does control the system.
See presidential elections as mostly a distraction, keeping most Americans from understanding that they live in a money-controlled delusional democracy.
This stop-voting strategy is also far better than voting for a third party candidate. Face facts, the current corrupt two-party duopoly political system has made it fruitless to support third party presidential candidates. Sure, in some sense, this is a protest vote. But history shows us that having several million people vote for third party presidential candidates has had no positive impact on improving or, better yet, reforming the present system. The two major parties have maintained their iron grip on the political system. Withholding you vote and participation is a stronger protest and a greater rejection of the current system. Moreover, every so often votes for a third party candidate help elect one of the lesser evils that you may think is the greater evil.
Now is the time for supporters of Trump and Sanders to send a clear message to the respective parties that if their preferred candidate is not selected for the general election at the party’s convention that they will not vote for anyone else selected by the convention. Those who follow the current primary season should know that if the parties lose the votes of Trump and Sanders supporters they are in serious jeopardy of losing the November election. All these supporters share a common belief that the status quo is far more threatening to the country than electing their respective preferences, either Sanders or Trump. Put that belief into action by sending clear messages that they will not vote for any alternative chosen by the establishment at the two conventions.
The ugly but not unexpected truth is that both major parties are now willing to reject the millions of Americans who will have voted for Sanders and Trump. The establishment in both of them fears both of these disruptive candidates and rightfully so. All the special moneyed interests in both parties see an existential threat from these candidates. Both parties no longer fairly represent the interests and needs of the vast majority of Americans. Whether Trump or Sanders would or could actually greatly reform the political system is beside the point. The highest priority is to reject the status quo and recognize that whoever the establishment accepts instead of Trump and Sanders, or even Cruz, will maintain a corrupt system serving the interests of a rich and powerful minority.
For people passionately against the establishment, they must resist what the Democrat and Republican parties out of fear tell them. Do not accept their argument that if you do not vote for whoever has been put on the ballot by the party, then you will help elect the candidate from the other party. The rock bottom principle must be to not contribute to electing an establishment candidate from your own party. In the end, any establishment candidate, even from your preferred party, is not what the country needs.
And resist the temptation to feel good by writing in the name of someone. It is a selfish action and has no significance. Better to see a boycott of this year’s presidential election as having a better chance to force millions more people to demand fixing our broken democracy.
For the record, Ted Cruz should be seen as an establishment candidate, despite the fact that nearly all establishment politicians greatly dislike him, and many now support him. Remember that he got to be a senator because he successfully navigated the Texas establishment. Moreover, aside from ego-driven actions he never has shown any genuine interest in greatly reforming the whole political system. He is driven by ambition, not a revolutionary spirit.
Now is the time for thinking Americans to withdraw their participation in an election where disruptive candidates are replaced with establishment ones. Otherwise our delusional democracy prevails. We the people need a political revolution. Otherwise, with awful economic inequality condemning millions of Americans to economic prison, violent revolution should not be ruled out. Not in a nation with widespread gun ownership. After all, our corrupt political system presents a type of oppressive government for which the Second Amendment may offer the ultimate solution. Time is running out. This may be the year for seeing whether or not we can vote – or not vote – our way to a democracy we once thought we had.
*Joel S. Hirschhorn was an official at the National Governors Association and the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, and is the author of Delusional Democracy.