With the presidential election tomorrow, calls to get out the vote are circulating with an increasing sense of urgency and commitment. The fate of our democracy itself, we are told, is at stake in a way it has not been before, and only through encouraging those around us to act out their civic responsibility at the ballot box can we hope to protect and extend this democracy.
This urgency has spread to Old Nassau, which, through its student-led Vote 100 campaign, has emphasized voting as a larger push for civic engagement among students.
Few people would deny that the presidential election takes center stage in this push for engagement, or that those clamoring most feverishly for an explosion of civic participation are doing so in support of Joe Biden's candidacy. In the midst of such calls, there have been more than a few astute critiques of certain limitations to democracy as it exists now: from extending the franchise to people confined in prison to canceling classes on Election Day, there is no shortage of concrete suggestions for gains that should be fought for.
But whatever the merits of these individual proposals, they are limited to the framework of a democracy of the ruling class, the structure of which is inherently contrary to the interests of the working class and the oppressed.
Holding your nose and voting for the lesser evil, though it may seem to be the common sense solution, has never gotten the marginalized anywhere, and voting for the drafter of the 1994 Crime Bill will not help the people that he himself managed to incarcerate over the intervening decades.
There are many people who, especially dissatisfied with the victor of the Democratic primary, feel they must suck it up for the all-important sake of getting President Donald Trump out of the Oval Office. But even if so many hold this conviction, it does not mean it should be taken seriously. It is based not on a rational consideration of political history, but rather on impressions whose foundations will soon erode as they always have: the vague, pious and idealistic notion, for instance, that a Biden administration can be pushed to the left by an electorate that is likely to deactivate itself upon Biden’s very inauguration.
Let us take seriously, however, the idea that conditions for revolutionary struggle and civic activism are guaranteed to be better under a Biden administration. To understand the flaw in this logic, it is worth recalling some of the rhetoric we heard after just a week of Trump’s presidency — I remember learning of a left-leaning protestor who said, “If Hillary were President, I’d be at brunch.” And this, summed up by an ordinary citizen rather than a theorist, is precisely the problem: For eight years under President Barack Obama, we were at brunch.
When Obama deported enough immigrants to be dubbed the “deporter-in-chief” by those few who were paying attention, we were at brunch. When Obama oversaw the largest upward transference of wealth in American history, we were at brunch. When Obama prosecuted more conscientious truth-tellers under the Espionage Act than all previous Presidents combined for over a century, we were at brunch. When Obama ordered a multitude of drone strikes, at least one of which killed an American citizen, the older brother of a girl who years later would be murdered by the slightly more evil Trump, we were at brunch.
And among our caterers was the very university that has put so much into a campaign that would see a competent technocrat, rather than a bellicose ignoramus, preside over the machinery of American imperialism. The tradition of waging unprovoked war overseas may be a grand one that the United States and the University both can lay claim to, but we should not consider it ours. While Biden and Trump compete to preside over that inheritance, our business is to dismantle it.
This is not to say, of course, that Trump is preferable to Biden. Rather, the point is that once we buy into the idea that we have a preference between the two, we have already given up on everything, including the very limited demands to expand democracy mentioned above. When we allow ourselves to be persuaded that Biden is our only hope, we have reached the equivalent of no hope at all; all the way to the Supreme Court, our rights have always come through social struggle, as opposed to whoever is on the bench.
It is no surprise that the University has so much riding on restricting our political activity to the ballot box, into which our frustrated energy can be funneled, away from anything even resembling a radical alternative. So, instead of a vote for the Democrats, what is to be done, and why might Princeton not want us to do it? Is there a better option than voting against people who deny science, and for people who accept science in theory but will do nothing about it in practice?
Recently, I have written quite a bit about the Department of Education’s investigation into the University, concluding for now by advocating with Kristal Grant that we advance anti-racism by challenging the University’s administration and Trustees for actual power — the ability to govern our own lives of work and study. And in the same way that we should promote anti-racism and resist austerity by contesting the University’s governance, the working class must likewise contest power from both the Democrats and the Republicans, responding to every aspect of marginalization as best as it can.
Both at Princeton and nationwide (and, truth be told, globally as well) the goal is to unite people around shared interests, interests that are not represented by antidemocratic regimes of any sort. From Princeton to the federal government, from Trump to Biden, all are implicated in imperialism, and ultimately, none respond other than when their hold on power is at risk.
As long as we buy the logic of lesser evil and the rationales of civic duty, any risk to that order will be inconsequential.
Braden Flax is a senior from Merrick, N.Y. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.