Reader Gary wants to see The Atlantic “expand its political coverage to include the election platform of The Green Party.” I asked him to make the case for that third party and here’s his considered reply:
From the media coverage I’ve seen, it’s quite clear that the Democrat and Republican approaches are unsatisfactory. The leadership of the two establishment parties have confused the success of American corporations with the success of the American population, despite many reports of individual Americans having little savings. As long as the share price of corporate America’s stock goes up, the economy is doing fine, ergo American citizens are doing fine, despite the fact that few of them own stock. Plus, the U.S. Equity market can be bought into by the affluent worldwide. Global investors are the real beneficiaries of American economic policy, not the mainstream of the American population.
Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have both noticed the problems of ordinary Americans, but in my view they each represent a political dead end. Sanders wants to spend money he can’t raise and Trump wants a time machine to get back to the way things used to be.
Political dialogue between the two parties is poisoned.
Recently 60 Minutes aired a story revealing that congressmen spend up to four hours a day on the phone fundraising for their party’s Super PAC. The Republican interviewed said his fundraising goal was $18k a day. (The Democrats provided no figure.) Apparently all of this money goes to political advertising convincing voters the other party is some kind of demonic entity. They’re both right. Imagine that money actually being spent on something useful. When Hillary Clinton insists on staying the course and proceeding as usual, continuing this waste is what she’s talking about.
I thought labor was the political left’s major concern, but that’s not the case if we’re talking about today’s media coverage. The left’s priority is identity politics, whereas property rights is the priority of their opponents. Nobody gives a fuck about labor.
That’s too bad, because recent technological innovations have not been labor saving devices; they’re ways to monitor, control and manage human activities. Scientific management aims to increase productivity and profitability. That means fewer laborers, and those who remain are micromanaged to produce more for less for longer. The future that current technology promises is not freedom.
If you’re reading The Atlantic, I’m sure you’ve seen the story about The National Academy of Science releasing statistics reporting the death rates for middle-aged whites has risen sharply over the past 15 years. [CB: Coverage from Olga here and here.] This applies only to those who went no further than high school; their college educated peers are doing fine. The causes of death in many cases were reported to be things people take to self medicate for pain. This is no mystery. The uneducated are more likely to settle in manual labor jobs; there’s a drive in every workplace for increased productivity, continuous production, and shorter lead times; adopting new technologies in the workplace is an added cost.
What does this mean? New and increasing production targets, erratic shift work, lower wages, and fewer benefits. Workers can’t afford to miss work if injured. Their salary can’t support even a modest lifestyle while more is being constantly demanded from them. It’s easy to fall into debt and almost impossible to extricate yourself from it, meanwhile the cost of property and real estate is skyrocketing. All life’s necessities are getting more expensive. Is it really any surprise those who are being worked to death are dropping dead and those who benefit from their exploitation are doing great?
Luckily, Donald Trump has a plan to benefit the American worker: cancel labor and environmental regulations. Yes, because America would be a lot better off with the kind of environmental catastrophes China lives with.
Trump is right about one thing that the electorate has grasped: illegal immigration is a labor issue. If you’re against immigration for undermining labor conditions, pundits insist you’re a racist. I fully support everyone’s right not to live in a shit hole, but it is possible to improve the quality of life in foreign countries to a standard they find in America and to do so without invading them. Making the adoption of Occupational Health and Safety Act and Regulations and an Environmental Protection Act international law with strict enforcement a requirement for free trade agreements might do quite a lot to raise quality of life globally. It would also go some distance to make Free Trade Fair Trade.
Real change won’t come from an old system. I ask readers of The Atlantic to consider a genuine vision for the future. Consider The Green Party in 2016.
If you agree and want to elaborate on the case for Jill Stein—the Green Party candidate for president, featured in the above clip—email email@example.com. Also drop us a line if you’d like to push back on the Green platform or reader Gary in particular.
Several readers are agreeing with reader Gary, who made a pitch for the Green Party by arguing that the two major political parties are grossly inadequate, especially when it comes to the working class and organized labor. Here’s James with a quick nod:
Even though I’m gay, I have come to feel identity politics have become camouflage for the Democratic party’s sellout of the poor, organized labor, and the middle class. So yes, cover the Greens and other real left-oriented movements.
Another reader, Oliver, wants to “voice my strong agreement with Gary’s words”—and does so with many bulleted points:
The Democratic Party’s driving concern in 2016 is identity politics. This is unfortunate given how dire Americans’ bread-and-butter suffering has become since the Great Recession. For those who claim the party can and must do both, history shows that the two inevitably undermine one other. Either we come together as workers or we move apart as identity groups.
Both Sanders and Trump have at least recognized the problem, but both candidates are flawed in the ways described by Gary and in some additional ones as well. With Trump, for instance, there’s a basic credibility gap as well as a philosophical problem. He has said many things which suggest he cares about regular Americans, but whether he means them or not is anyone’s guess.
Hillary Clinton is at this point completely unacceptable on bread-and-butter issues. She presided over the approach to government that led us to this point, all the while taking rich folks’ money for professional and personal gain.
The conflation of opposition to immigration and racism is wrong, unfair, and tragic given that American citizens need assistance now more than ever. For those who still believe illegal immigration is harmless or that free trade benefits U.S. workers, I struggle to see how they justify these positions other than by admitting that they are more concerned with the welfare of foreign workers than U.S. workers. That’s a defensible position, for sure, but not one on which you can win any kind of office in the United States.
For all these reasons—and in addition the reality that there is currently no party in America which takes bread-and-butter issues seriously—you should consider covering the Green Party more. I’m not sure if the Green Party is the way to go, but Gary’s premise that you should be looking to represent more serious voices in this area is 100% spot-on.
Jon, on the other hand, is much more sure than Oliver that the Green Party isn’t the way to go:
While I certainly understand the frustration of having to express one’s political views through only one of two choices [Democrats or Republicans], especially when those views are nuanced and well considered, I don’t really see how increasing that number to three or four choices really improves on that when there are hundreds of very important and very controversial issues that voters vote on. This may lead some to suggest direct democracy. But both this and the evergreen messianism of the third party in American politics simply fetishize process over results. Let me explain.
We vote, in theory, to get outcomes. It’s a way of resolving conflicting ideas about laws and policies. In this primary season we have heard an endless amount of talk about a rigged system, or how this process or that is unfair or undemocratic without any discussion at all about what the outcome should be. Don’t we want good candidates? Have the McGovern Rules produced better candidates and better presidents than the “smoke filled rooms” did? The almost theological assumption in all of this is that the fairest process—whatever that is—will produce the best candidates (defined either as the most able to further your agenda or as most successful overall). What’s the evidence for that? There is none.
Similarly, empowering the Green Party is mostly about process. How many people out there genuinely support 100% of their platform? Don’t tell me that if they were on a level playing field that suddenly the majority of the people would support everything they do? I doubt even most liberals would vote Green if they saw it on its own terms and instead of merely as a “more left wing” party. The Green Party is anti-science and supports what amounts to eco-faith healing to be paid for by socialized medicine, is anti-vax [CB note: That claim seems dubious*], and basically calls for the dismantling of the U.S. economy. Yet we’re to believe there is a wide constituency here that the rigged system is preventing from unleashing?
By comparison, Bernie Sanders’ proposals are within the mainstream of European politics, if not American. Even in Europe there is virtually nowhere that has enacted a substantial portion of the Greens’ platform.
Barring major amendments to our Constitutional system, having more than two parties winning electoral votes would simply render presidential elections meaningless and throw them to Congress, where the vote is by state delegation not population, which will almost always favor Republicans. And even in Congress, the evidence from countries with many parties is that coalitions are unstable and often impotent.
So, are pro-Greens willing to create a permanent Republican presidency coupled with a Congress incapable of moving a single bill simply to have a “fair” electoral process? Bless their little hearts. They are so radical they are willing to do anything except be patient and wait for change to come incrementally.
This next reader, Sandeep, is sympathetic to Gary’s argument but, like Jon, is very doubtful that the Green Party is the way to go, especially given its dissonance with California’s Green Party when it comes to immigration:
My great fear, as a Democrat, is that we will wind up with a party where the elites can invoke social issues relating to identity politics come election time to produce a victorious presidential mandate that allows them to push pro-corporate policies that undermine their own electorate. And that they will be able to get away with this again and again because there’s only two choices in our democracy, which means they will always be able to point a finger at the Trumps of the world to justify themselves as the lesser evil.
But the Green Party has always seemed a bit dissonant to me, like the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand’s doing. I live in California, and right now the state Green Party’s platform supports open borders with Mexico. When Jill Stein ran for President in 2012, she supported border passes for all of Mexico and Canada. [CB note: The national Green Party’s plank on immigration still calls for “permanent border passes to all citizens of Mexico and Canada whose identity can be traced and verified.”] I share reader Gary’s concern that illegal immigration guts the working class (and quite frankly the anger of the Trump base is understandable when you consider that the coast-based liberal elites have mocked their concerns for years with memes like “Dey took er jerbs!”). But you get different sources insisting that the Green Party has a sensible stance on immigration and others claiming the Green Party is alright with everyone in Mexico moving into the States if they want to.
Want to join the debate? Drop us an email. * Update from Jon, responding to my parenthetical doubting his claim that the Green Party is anti-vaccination (since I couldn’t find any good examples online):
That’s fair enough, and some of it boils down to how much you want to hold them to their international associations and the lower levels of those associations. Does using the same name as the parties in other countries mean anything or not? They are apparently at least savvy enough to not make this explicit, but they are verifiably pro-homeopathy and so I ask what’s the difference between drinking herbal tea to cure a disease and avoiding vaccines? Not much.
The best I could come up with is an article that cites a Green Party Councilor in the UK (kind of like a county supervisor in England). So, fair enough that’s not an explicit plank of the U.S. party, but to ask taxpayers to fund homeopathy is probably on the whole worse than just being against vaccination since the latter can sometimes be made unnecessary due to herd immunity, but no one who is diagnosed with cancer is going to go into remission because they are drinking some magic potion.
The homeopathy thing still seems like a small part of the Green Party’s platform; here’s an exchange with Jill Stein on the issue from four years ago, and Stein—a physician, it should be noted—agreed with the moderator that “the Green Party platform here takes an admittedly simple position on a complex issue, and should be improved.”
Here’s a followup from Gary, the Green Party guy who started this reader thread:
I find Jon’s objections less than convincing. His statement here is perplexing: “While I certainly understand the frustration of having to express one’s political views through only one of two choices…I don’t really see how increasing that number to three or four choices really improves on that.” If you’re dissatisfied with the election platforms of both Democrats and Republicans, denying them a vote and electing some other party is a clear and obvious improvement.
As for how many people out there support 100% of the Green Party platform, why not ask the same of Democrat and Republican voters? How many of you support 100% of their policies? Anyone who says yes probably hasn’t done much research, but I invite you to take the isidewith.com survey to see how you do.
This next reader, John, questions Gary’s leading premise—that the left’s priority is identity politics, not labor—and then criticizes voting for a third party:
I think it’s misguided to accuse Democratic politicians of opting for “identity politics” over jobs, wages and benefits for the poor and middle class. First of all, these are not mutually exclusive; they are equally important. Labeling it “identity politics” makes support for gay rights, civil rights for minorities, and equal rights for women seem shallow and “buzz-wordy”—mere campaign gimmicks. Let’s not forget that these are vitally important issues that Democrats for decades have fought hard for.
Secondly, who has fought harder for higher wages, workers’ rights, job training programs, job creation through infrastructure spending, social security, and health care benefits more than the Democrats? Have we forgotten that Republicans have worked diligently to cut wages, benefits and health care spending, while fighting against infrastructure spending and job training?
I get that many of us want Democrats to accomplish more, and that progress on economic issues has been a hard slog. But turning to the Green Party is hardly an answer. It’s just reacting exactly the way Karl Rove hopes we will; Republicans want nothing better than to have a faction of liberals go off on a quixotic Green Party crusade and hand Trump the election.
But this next reader, Joseph, makes a really good point how third parties should focus their firepower on state and local elections, not national ones:
This is an interesting thread, but I’m somewhat skeptical of what would happen if Jill Stein was actually elected. (I say this as a guy who voted for Ron Paul in 2008, so I’m sympathetic to third parties.) The Green Party has no governing power at any level of government, so it’s hard to imagine what a Stein administration could actually accomplish. If the Green Party wants to become a force, it would make more sense to get after local offices like the Tea Party did in the early 2010s. (I disagree with just about everything the Tea Party movement stands for, but that’s the model of electoral change that appears to be working.) [CB note: Molly this morning asks the question, “Is the Tea Party Responsible for Donald Trump?”] For all the talk about how the country is becoming more liberal, you’d never know it from looking at state houses, governors, school boards, etc.
Pat, on the other hand, points to an example where even a tiny representation by a third party can heavily influence national politics:
Since I vote in California, a winner-take-all state, voting for a minority party would be a waste of my vote. However, it is worth reflecting on Australia under the Labor Party (now unseated) where Labor had to hold a regular election, and the result was a split with both major parties having almost the same number of seats. But there were two Green Party candidates elected, as well as an independent, so they agreed to vote as a bloc. And in doing so, they terrified the Labor Government, since these three minority senators could force an election and probably see Labor dismissed.
I had never seen a government dominated by three radical elected individuals, and while I dislike the winner-take-all system, at least it prevents a few from dominating the many.
But why should voting locally and voting nationally for different parties be mutually exclusive? Andy in Kentucky doesn’t see it that way:
Does my Green vote matter? It does to me. I don’t care about the two-party system. I care about whether or not my beliefs and values are represented. Within my state, I can vote Green for president and then vote Republican or Democrat for other offices. I know who to vote for down ticket; I contact those running and pay attention to what they do and say.
Andy’s voting would infuriate this next reader, Doug:
It is incredibly disappointing that everyone doesn’t learn this in high school civics class, but we have a majoritarian, winner-take-all political system, not proportional representation. That means that third parties by their inherent nature split voters with the major party that is ideologically closer, while allowing the “further” more ideologically opposed camp to vote as a unanimous block. What happened with Gore and Nader wasn’t bad luck; it was the predictable outcome of the structure of our electoral system, in exactly the same way that running an establishment Republican third party candidate alongside Trump would guarantee Hillary’s election.
Want to elect someone with a Green platform? You have two options: One, a constitutional amendment to change our system to proportional representation. Then you will have more, smaller parties and can vote for one more closely matching the details of your preferences. Maybe it will get enough votes to join a coalition government. But guess what, even when it does, politics is always about compromise. Take a look at the experience of the Green party in Germany.
Or, more realistically, compete and win in the primary process of one of the two major parties. Bernie wasn’t even a registered Democrat and came remarkably close to doing so. He and Trump offer pretty compelling evidence that the system is open if you can get enough popular support behind you.
But as Bernie also shows, it isn’t enough to have fervent support; you still need to win majorities; that is the operative principle of democracy. If you can’t win a majority of those most ideologically sympathetic to your positions, why should anyone believe you’re going to do better among those more opposed?
Ultimately, the name of the game isn’t even about winning elections; it is moving the ideological center. The right wing (falsely labelled “conservatives”) have since 1980 had 30 years of success at this, such that Nixon and even Reagan would never be nominated in today’s Republican party.
But that demographic and ideological wave has long since crested and is quite obviously receding, and it is entirely possible that the Bernie-vs-Hillary primary may be the template for many elections to come, with Republicans an angry and increasingly irrelevant sideshow.
One more reader, S. Olson in Maine, warns against a third party preference:
You want something better than the Democrats? I sympathize, but voting for a third party is likely to help the Republicans win. As long as we have first-past-the-post voting, a third party increases the chances that one’s least preferred candidate will win. It would be far more effective to work within the Democratic party, as Bernie did.
Nader helped elect Bush; Perot helped elect Clinton. In 2010, in Maine, an independent split the Democratic vote, with the result that the the Tea-Party candidate, LePage, won with 38% of the vote.
Anyone thinking about voting Green should study the 2000 election and think about the fact that Gore only needed a few more votes to win Florida, and thus, the election. Instead, we got Bush, the financial crisis and a decade of war in the Middle East. Think long and hard about that before voting Green and handing the presidency to Trump.
For a big dose of third-party discourse, here’s a 90-minute video of their presidential debate from 2012, moderated by Larry King and featuring Jill Stein of the Green Party, Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party, Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party, and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party—a few names you probably haven’t heard of:
A ton of reader email has come in regarding our discussion of third parties. Here are some of the best ones making the case for the Green Party, starting with reader Robert:
Like your reader Gary, I would also like to see increased coverage of the Green Party’s political platform from The Atlantic, and from media outlets in general. To preface, I am not an official member of the Green Party, and I caucused in support of Bernie Sanders during the WA state caucuses. I am currently deciding between voting for Hillary Clinton and Jill Stein in the November elections. (I don’t think Sanders is quite toast yet, but he is in the toaster and someone’s about to plunge the lever.)
I will put my main argument first: Mrs. Clinton is not offering a concrete or dramatic enough plan to combat climate change. We know that climate change is an existential threat with the potential to radically destabilize human society on a large scale; we know that our food production system is at great risk; we know fossil fuel energy companies have many federal politicians in their pockets; we know that the fight against our own polluting activities will require organization and mobilization on a scale never before seen the history of mammalian life on Earth. (In fact, this exact argument has been made in The Atlantic: “Why Solving Climate Change Will Be Like Mobilizing for War”).
The Green Party is the only party that makes environmental issues the overwhelming top priority that it needs to be for the next 100+ years. I know that national politicians in America right now are loath to touch any environmental issue with legislation due to the risk of obstructionism, but this is the single most important issue that humanity has ever faced, and likely will ever face.
On economic issues, the Green Party is likewise the only party offering meaningful solutions to solve wealth and income inequality and unequal access to opportunity for marginalized groups. While the Republicans are living off the teat of petroleum billionaires, the Democrats are seeking to further enrich the extremely wealthy global super-elite with opaque trade deals and further unregulated globalization.
Free trade is hardly a bad thing, but poorly regulated free trade is certainly a bad thing for many people involved: the American workers who are left with no job opportunities or social safety net, the citizens of developing countries whose then suffer from brutal pollution and work conditions, and the governments—and by extension the public—who cannot collect tax revenue due to enormous holes in international tax policies. Again, here the Green Party is vehemently against many of these aspects of these free trade agreements.
The Green Party is also built on a strong platform of inclusion and social justice. While the Democrats have a very strong record on the “identity politics” that reader Gary elaborated on, there will always be the specter of Bill Clinton’s neoliberal policies and Hillary’s flip-flopping on LGBTQ rights issues. In my region, the Democratic Party and Green Party both work very closely with tribal leaders on a wide range of issues; Republican officials don’t have an enviable record on this front, being the party of intentional obstruction and low-key racism.
My last point here is that the Green Party is outspoken on electoral reform, going so far as to advocate for alternative voting schema more akin to those used to elect the Bundestag in Germany: voting schema that don’t gravitate towards two polar opposite parties and that allow less dominant parties to participate in the political ecosystem.
Another reader, Evan, points a finger at the press:
The strength of the two-party system is a façade. The mainstream media is reluctant to recognize and give coverage to other factions, for many reasons, but the most obvious one is that our minds are designed to fit competing interests into a simple narrative: Red team v Blue team, Good v Bad, Us v Them (see the work of David Berreby, among others). It’s easy: Pick your side, your issues, your arguments, your facts, your made-up stats, and play the game. What could be more fun!
In reality, people have much more complicated clusters of ideas and positions on politics and policy, but the most time is given to the polemics (See Trump’s free media coverage).
Here’s the latest snapshot of how disgruntled Americans have become with the two-party system:
Peter Sloan argues along those lines:
Almost half of Americans don’t consider themselves Republican or Democrat. Why should we all be held hostage by these ossifying political bureaucracies of yesteryear? Why do they get to determine the boundaries of what is “possible”? Why do they get to decide who gets onstage at a debate? Why is ballot access so tilted in their favor?
When in a time of genuine, transcendent crisis and genuine, radical hope, the major parties put up two wholly insufficient options, it is the chance of a lifetime to tell them to go jump in the lake. I believe that Democracy is contingent upon individual voters voting in line with their genuine, personal interests. The system cannot reflect the needs of the people accurately otherwise.
So this November, I’ll be voting for the candidate whose platform I prefer, and that happens to be Jill Stein of the Green Party, who has a Green New Deal plan that does what is required to mitigate the climate crisis. I don’t think she will win, but I do think she can break through the 5% national popular vote barrier to receive federal funding in the future, and maybe get some news coverage, without threatening Clinton’s inevitable victory over Trump.
I think this cycle gives us an opportunity to have it both ways: Trump is so hilariously awful, the Democrats are nearly assured victory, so those of us who have big problems with the Democrats from the left (not just on climate but on finance and military interventionism and health care and education), and especially those of us who don’t live in “swing states,” can use our votes to keep the Democrats accountable: Move too far right, and you throw our votes away.
And if the Democrats choose to continue to move into the place abandoned by the GOP—the place of Reaganesque neoliberal corporatism—then there will simply have to emerge a new party to its left focused on structural democratic and social and environmental reforms. There is a wide space in American politics for such a party—one of Occupy, of #BlackLivesMatter, of radical environmentalists, of native communities. Bernie gave the Democrats the opportunity to become such a party this year. They rejected him, and they rejected us. We have other options.
Connie, on the other hand, thinks we should ignore the Greens:
What has the Green Party done to warrant additional media coverage? If Jill Stein had not tweeted one of the nastiest messages against Hillary Clinton on Mother’s Day, I think I would have happily gone through this election cycle without reading or hearing her name.
If that tweet personifies her and the Green Party, I am happy to and proudly ignore both. Great way to get noticed, JS! You are no different than Trump or Sanders: all bark but no realistic solutions (at least that I have read).
One more reader for now, Paul:
Thank you for raising this important topic. I think the reason a “green party,” or any party campaigning on “labor policies,” would fail is that it has no constituency. If it did have a constituency, it would be natural for the Democrats to talk up pro-labor policies. Democrats talk up identify politics because they do have a constituency. Dislikers of Democrats talk up the Democrats’ abandonment of labor issues because they enjoy calling Democrats (or the left) hypocrites: Wealthy people using the votes of poorer people to obtain what wealthy people want.
While America has a working class, it doesn’t have a constituency for working-class issues. This is because laborers are anti-labor. This 2012 article in The Guardian sums it up pretty well. White working-class folks do not like policies intended to help them. Folks continue to study why, but possible reasons appear to be:
Dislike of the idea that they need help (minorities—who see how unfair life is—can appreciate help from the government. White folks, being in the majority, think that the system is fair—because we see it’s a white folks system. )
Dislike what they see as the corrosive affects of government assistance on friends and neighbors. As that Guardian article points out, the greater folks in an area are dependent upon the government (the more aid they get), the greater that working-class white folks reject such government programs. Interviews with these working folks reveal that they are horrified by the seeming drop in the independence and good character of friends and neighbors once they become dependent upon government aid. (As a liberal myself—and still a supporter of such government programs—I have to admit that their horror gives me pause, and I hope to read further studies of this horror).
In sum, white working-class folks vote for politicians who promise both less government and less taxes. Republicans already have a death grip on those issues. As liberals and Democrats, we don’t believe that less government and taxes is the best way to create the strongest Republic (at least I don’t).
Last thing: Democrats certainly should push labor-friendly policies once in office ($15 minimum wage!). We should keep our heart. But “Greenies” should recognize that Democrats lose votes when they try to keep their heart. Democrats still need to put the most effort into those policies that will continue to get Democrats elected. Labor friendly policies send the votes of white laborers to the opposition.
If you see holes in that last argument and want to fill them, drop us an email.Update: Ask and you shall receive—and less than two hours after posting. Here’s Peter LaVenia responding to Paul:
I’ll preface this submission by saying that I am the co-chair of the Green Party of New York, and I have a PhD in Political Science from the University at Albany, SUNY.
It’s odd to read someone like Paul write that the United States may have a working class, but no constituency for working-class issues. This is summarily false. There are consistent studies that show large majorities of Americans support working-class issues: massive job creation programs like the (Green) New Deal, increasing the minimum wage to a living wage, Medicare-for-all (single-payer health care), affordable housing and rent control, and increased spending on education(to name just a few).
The contradiction Paul raises is one addressed by the author Thomas Frank in his seminal work What’s The Matter With Kansas?, in which he examines why a state known for backing Populists and Democrats became known for electing increasingly conservative Republicans to office. Frank’s conclusion—one he shares with many who have analyzed this phenomenon—is that the Democratic establishment largely abandoned the industrial working class in the U.S. and joined forces with the Republican Party to promote policies that eviscerated American manufacturing, labor unions, and the majority of gains made by the class militancy of labor during the New Deal era. Wall Street and the 1%—what was once more honestly called the ruling class—have gained at the expense of workers. New Democrat third-way triangulation under Bill Clinton attacked workers with NAFTA and continued the slicing of social welfare programs begun under Reagan.
Workers aren’t stupid; they realize quite clearly that the Democratic officials may occasionally mouth words of support for labor, but their policies have destroyed swathes of the country and left behind shattered communities. Candidates like Hillary Clinton support coups like the one in Honduras that have led to labor union organizers murdered by government death squads; at home it’s simply a matter of making it easier for companies to flee from the U.S. to peripheral dictatorships where sweatshop labor, and life, is cheap.
Many, many decades ago, workers had vibrant Socialist and Communist parties here in the United States—third parties!—that ran candidates, published their own papers, had working-class clubs, and built a culture, a consciousness about what it meant to be working class, and what that meant for working-class politics. People debated seriously the idea of what an economy built and run democratically by the working class would look like and how to get there.
These things served as an antidote to vicious right-wing propaganda; Democratic and Republicans worked together during the late 1940s and early 1950s to dismantle those parties and that working-class consciousness. Is it any wonder that in the absence of vibrant left-wing (socialist, communist, anarchist) media and culture, combined with the absolute abandonment by the Democratic Party, many workers have drifted into the right-wing, pro-business echo chamber that is our media and politics?
As a Green (and a socialist, Marxist, thinker and activist), I don’t believe the Democratic Party establishment has any interest in cultivating the working class, or working-class issues. That would jeopardize the income stream of their donors. The political scientist Thomas Ferguson has pointed out time and again that parties build their policy agendas based on what donors, not voters, want.
Yet that working class is there. The support given to Occupy in 2011 (until it was crushed largely by Democratic big-city mayors working in concert with the Obama regime) and the extreme fear it generated in the 1% shows there is a large amount of room for working-class issues and militancy. The Green Party is trying to build a real working-class labor party in the U.S. for the first time in many decades, and in doing so help build a new working-class politics and culture. Ballot access laws and our plurality voting system make it difficult, and they need to be reformed—which is exactly why the establishment parties fight so hard against doing so.
A vote for a Green (or another third party) is, however, the only non-wasted vote a person can make this November. Anything else is simply electing a different face to represent the interests of the wealthy, not the workers.
I’m writing to concur with the argument made by your reader, Gary, that The Atlantic should expand its political coverage to the campaign of Jill Stein, but I’d like to add, in the nature of a free press in a democratic society, that the campaign of the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson is worthy of coverage as well.
Many Republicans are feeling like they’ve been left without a political home by Trump becoming the presumptive nominee, and many Sanders supporters are likely going to feel abandoned by the Democratic Party in the almost-inevitable event that Clinton clinches the nomination. It’s the job of a free press to show all of these people that they can vote for someone else, that it’s still worth voting at all.
Dale makes a simple case for the Libertarians:
I don’t agree with the platforms of the Green Party or the Libertarian Party, but I plan to vote Libertarian for the first time in my life. Why?
The entire political process is corrupted by money.
Both major parties have failed to represent their constituencies for decades.
I hold both major candidates in contempt for different reasons.
I regard my vote as a “none of the above” vote. Oh, how I wish that was a ballot choice. Refusing to vote implies indifference.
If you have a more comprehensive case for voting Libertarian, let us know. A good starting point is Nora’s look this week at the question, “Is this the Libertarian Party’s moment?” Her piece was partly spurred by long-time GOP operative Mary Matalin registering as a Libertarian last week, right after Trump became the presumptive nominee:
Money quote from Nora’s piece:
[W]hen it comes to polls, [Gary] Johnson said, the party is in a catch-22. He explains the problem this way: Polling companies do not test libertarian candidates because mainstream media does not cover them much, and the mainstream media will not cover them much because they say, “‘You’re not polling.’” Of course, Johnson is not polling because “I’m not in the poll!” He did see some encouraging numbers in one late-March Monmouth University survey, in which he was the only Libertarian tested in a hypothetical contest with Hillary Clinton and Trump. Johnson got 11 percent of the vote. In the 2012 election, he received roughly 1 percent of the vote nationwide, a record for the party.
A reader shakes his head:
“Is This the Libertarian Party’s Moment?” No. Nor will such a moment ever come. A libertarian government in nice in theory, but the reality is that the overwhelming majority of people want their government to do things. Many, many things.
But another reader argues that small-l libertarianism has actually been a big success over the past several decades:
Libertarianism (or a watered-down version of it) has actually been mainstream in America since Reagan. In that time, the country moved to a hyper-capitalist society where the rich and big corporations got all sorts of breaks, and they were constrained by fewer and fewer regulations and had no checks on their power. It also became harder for the poor: safety net slashed, social mobility virtually stopped.
We also got more socially liberal: women and minorities obtaining positions of power, legalizing same-sex marriage, recognizing transgender, becoming more secular, [and legalizing pot (highlighted in the beginning of the video seen above, featuring Gary Johnson).]
That’s the crux of a really enriching book I read a while ago, Age of Abundance, written by the Cato Institute liberaltarian Brink Lindsey, who argues that the U.S. since the 1950s has become more and more libertarian—socially liberal, economically conservative (i.e. free market). I hear echoes of that argument in Gary Johnson’s slogan from his previous presidential run, which Molly covered in our October 2012 issue:
Johnson has adopted the slogan “You Are Libertarian,” based on his contention that millions of Americans are already libertarians at heart, even if they don’t vote that way. The vaguely accusatory phrasing also suggests that he is urging people on a journey of self-discovery: you are libertarian, deep down, whether you admit it or not.
Johnson’s belief in his quixotic project has precedent: his experience backing drug legalization. He has been a vocal advocate since 1999, when, early in his second term as governor, he declared the drug war an expensive failure. Though New Mexico was by then accustomed to his unorthodox leadership style—he vetoed hundreds of spending bills and periodically left town to participate in grueling Ironman triathlons—his announcement came as a shock, and his approval rating quickly plummeted 30 points. By the time he left office in 2003, though, it had largely rebounded. His old supporters hadn’t come around; rather, he’d gained different ones—young people and liberals who had come to see him in a newly progressive light.
Does this make any sense? Why should views on (for example) gay marriage, taxation, and U.S. policy toward Iran have much of anything to do with one another? The answer is that it suits the Democratic Party and Republican Party’s mutual best interest to articulate clear and opposing positions on these issues and to present their platforms as being intellectually coherent. The two-party system can come under threat (as it potentially now is in the United Kingdom) when views on important issues cut across party lines.
That’s bad news for [libertarian-esque] candidates like Rand Paul. Nonetheless, the rigidly partisan views of political elites should not be mistaken for the relatively malleable and diverse ones that American voters hold.
Indeed, Rand Paul fizzled early in the GOP primaries. Nick Gillespie, the editor of the libertarian magazine Reason, contends that Paul “got his teeth kicked in” by Trump “because he refused to stick to [libertarian] principle.” And since then, Paul proved himself to be an embarrassment to libertarianism after endorsing Trump last week. Here’s Reason’s Robby Soave:
The libertarian-leaning Republican [Paul] isn’t wrong about Clinton’s awfulness. But Trump—a thin-skinned lunatic who peddles conspiracy theories, encourages violence and censorship, prefers big government, and loathes the free market—is just as bad, and arguably much worse, including and especially from a libertarian perspective. There is virtually no issue where Trump’s views align with libertarianism (his continued support for eminent domain, a policy that virtually no one else in the GOP or libertarian movement supports, is perhaps the best example of this). And while it’s true that some conservatives can be counted on to advance libertarian positions on a handful of issues, this doesn’t apply to Trump, because he isn’t even a conservative. He’s a member of the authoritarian populist right—a segment of the population that shares nothing in common with libertarianism.
If Gary Johnson wants to make it onto a primetime presidential-debate stage as the Libertarian Party’s nominee, he needs to qualify by polling above 15 percent. … Johnson just got good news: A poll released Tuesday morning shows the candidate with 10 percent of the national vote.
As Nora notes, that 10 percent is roughly twice as high as Johnson’s figures from 2012. But that boost isn’t enough to convince this reader, Mark, that Johnson has a real shot:
I would love to support alternative parties in the U.S. However, there are serious problems with current options. To name a few:
Most have very small or no local party infrastructure. The machinery that gets out the vote, arranges campaign events, gets petitions signed, etc., are crucial to national elections. The two most viable small parties, Greens and Libertarians, do have some local support and have had limited success getting local and even state candidates elected. But those successes are few and far between, and have had little effect on party growth.
Because they are so small, they have been refuges for the discontented and malcontents. Having followed Facebook pages and newsletters for Greens, I have been discouraged by the level of internal discourse, with little consensus even on the real role of the party: social pressure group or political party. Without a clear direction, the party flounders on many issues.
Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, the presidential candidates for the Greens and Libertarians, respectively, ran in 2012 and received little national support. Interested in their long-term goals, I’ve been watching their actions since, and I’ve been disappointed that both disappeared from public view until the 2016 elections rolled around. Rather than actively and publicly working to develop their parties nationally, they both did … something else.
This discussion begs the question of whether minority parties are even viable in our Constitutional system. In a parliamentary system, used in most other developed countries, minority parties have an active role in government, working together with other parties to form ruling or opposition coalitions. In our system, the very structure of the government seems to lead by default to a two-party system. Akhil Reed Amar, in America’s Unwritten Constitution, devotes an entire chapter to this issue (Chapter 10, “Joining The Party, America’s Partisan Constitution”). It’s well worth a thoughtful read.
Recent third-party candidates have acted merely as “spoilers,” like Ross Perot and Ralph Nader, who acted to split some votes away from major party candidates. In all cases, that was the specific intent of the candidates, in specific elections, and none have devoted additional time, before or after those specific elections, to develop grass roots party infrastructure.
Unless some serious, nationally prominent candidate or candidates specifically work to create and develop a serious alternative party, it will not happen. Sadly, the Green Party, absent some major revisions, will not become that option.
The common assertion that Nader handed Florida and thus the election to Bush is pretty unimpeachable, but the claim that Perot stole the ‘92 election from Bush Sr. is dubious. Steve Kornacki has repeatedly tackled “the myth that just won’t die.” From his most recent debunking last year:
Yes, Perot did rack up a significant share of the vote in 1992 – 19%, the best for an independent since Teddy Roosevelt in 1912. But there’s never been a shred of evidence that his support came disproportionately from Bush’s column, and there’s considerable evidence that it didn’t.
Let’s start with the basics. Clinton was elected with 43% of the vote, to Bush’s 37.5%, a difference of nearly six million votes. To overtake Clinton in a two-way race, then, Bush would have needed to gain the lion’s share of the Perot vote, about two-thirds of it. But in the exit poll conducted on Election Day, just 38% of Perot’s backers said Bush was their second choice. Thirty-eight percent also said Clinton was. “The impact of Mr. Perot’s supporters on the campaign’s outcome,” wroteThe New York Times, “appears to have been minimal.” The Washington Post’s conclusion: “Ross Perot’s presence on the 1992 presidential ballot did not change the outcome of the election.”
Mark mentioned above that he’s “discouraged by the level of internal discourse” among the Greens. So is this reader, Mike from Vermont, when it comes to the Libertarians:
Dear Libertarian Party Members:
I used to be one of you. I was a volunteer for Gary Johnson in 2012 as a state campaign coordinator. But I noticed a trend within the LP that caused me to leave the party and just be a plain old independent. Despite Johnson (in 2012 and in 2016) being the only electable candidate, I heard then what I hear now: “He’s not libertarian enough with guns, or the wedding cake issue, or whatever.”
NO CANDIDATE IS PERFECT. Get over yourselves. You will never have a successful candidate that is staunch libertarian on every issue. Get over that notion right now.
I left the party why? I realized that the LP is no better than the other two; leaving no room for moderates and only wanting candidates who are willing to be extreme on one end or the other. Ask yourself this: How many Libertarians (with a big L) are home-grown in the party and have been successful at obtaining a spot as governor, Rep/Senate, President? There’s a reason for that. The LP has to depend on obtaining decent candidates from other parties. You can grow your own if you ease up a bit on the yankee-doodle rhetoric.
Case in point: Austin Peterson, the Marco Rubio of the LP. I admire the guy's spunk, but dear Lord, tone down the boilerplate responses. The guy has never held office of consequence, but yet he’s running for President? Same for John McAfee. How about getting on a school board or town council first?
If either one really cares about the LP, then they would back Johnson/Weld. A ticket like that is the only one that will get the Libertarians on the map. Otherwise, they will always be looked at as the “crack pop/Tea Party” spoilers.
Clare Foran reports from Philly on Green Party nominee Jill Stein’s effort to court Sanders supporters:
So, can Stein really lead a political revolution? Her diagnosis of the problems plaguing the country isn’t so different from Sanders’s assessment. Like the senator, she sees a country overrun by big money and corporate power. She wants to make health care a right, break up big banks, and ensure that high-quality education is accessible for Americans. Stein has also embraced positions that put her to the left of the senator. At the Bernie-or-Bust rally, she called for reparations as part of a conversation on fighting racism rooted in the “criminal institution of slavery.”
A reader writes:
One of the Jill Stein supporters in Foran’s article says, “I won’t vote for Hillary....There’s no unity.” Except there is. Clinton won the popular vote and the delegate vote. She’s won over most Bernie voters. [According to Pew polling, 90 percent of Sanders supporters say they’ll vote for Clinton.] She’s winning some Republicans who are terrified of Trump. [According to a new WaPo/ABC poll, Clinton is getting 13 percent of Republicans.] She’s got a powerful endorsement from our beloved president. There is a growing sense of the dramatic difference between her and Trump, and between the Democratic and Republican visions for the country, and Clinton is taking the baton from Obama to carry ours forward.
Stein and the dead-enders who support her are living in a dreamworld. They are the mirror image of the Sarah Palin/Michelle Bachmann tea-partiers—disconnected from reality and the rest of the the country—just coming from the other end of the spectrum. If Stein runs and helps Trump win, she will be the pariah of my lifetime.
A reader debate in May over the Green Party is here if you’re interested. Here’s another reader on Clare’s piece—which is titled, “Can Jill Stein Lead a Revolution?”:
She CAN lead a revolution. But, like most revolutions, it will fail if she insists on working outside the current system. The purists on the left are helping Trump.
When Hitler was running for Chancellor, the only credible force to oppose him were the Social Democrats. The Russians told the German communists not to work with the Social Democrats because they were insufficiently pure and were corrupting the revolution. So the left lost, Hitler was elected.
BTW: The Conservatives thought Hitler was a racist buffoon and, while he might be useful against the leftist government in power, that they could control him. They thought he would not be able to exert much influence in the largely ceremonial role of Chancellor. They were wrong too.
After Hitler took over, he purged all opposition, especially the left. Christians with strong faith were also targeted. And, when he invaded Poland, he cut a deal with the Russians to divide it up.
If you see any holes in that historical analogy, especially if you work in academia, drop us a note—and likewise if you have any thoughts in general about the third party risk to Clinton. Meanwhile another reader, responding Alex Wagner’s new piece, “When Bernie Bros Become Hillary Bros,” predicts “what’s going to happen this election”:
A lot of Bernie supporters will hold their noses and vote for Hillary. She'll get elected and then flipflop on TPP, push for regime change in Syria, reduce regulations on the banks, etc. Progressives will be angry and threaten to primary her in 2020.
But then Democrats will say, “If you do that, Hillary will emerge a weaker nominee and lose to Republicans.” And once again, the left will be forced to hold its nose and vote for the Democrat, even though their first term ended up being a big letdown. If she wins, we’ll get another four years of disappointment. But the Democratic party will say the same thing in 2024: “If you don’t vote for whoever we put up, Republicans will win.”
Does any of that sound familiar? It should. It’s called the Obama years. We’re stuck in a vicious cycle because too many people vote for the lesser evil and then act shocked when that lesser evil breaks their promises.
Update: A group of Atlantic readers debate and discuss that last reader’s comment, largely centered on the question, “How do you hold [your preferred candidates] accountable and make them live up to their promises when the alternative candidate is always going to be ‘worse’?”
The ads are everywhere. You can learn to serve like Serena Williams or write like Margaret Atwood. But what MasterClass really delivers is something altogether different.
Image above, clockwise from top left: MasterClass instructors Serena Williams (who teaches tennis on the platform); Natalie Portman (acting); Gordon Ramsay (cooking); Malcolm Gladwell (writing)
Sometimes an advertisement is so perfectly tailored to a cultural moment that it casts that moment into stark relief, which is how I felt upon first seeing an ad for the mega-best-selling writer James Patterson’s course on MasterClass a few years ago. In the ad, Patterson is sitting at a table, reciting a twisty opening line in voice-over. Then an overhead shot of him gazing out a window, lost in thought like a character in a movie. A title card appears: “Imagine taking a writing class from a master.” It didn’t matter that I’d never read a book by Patterson before—I was hooked. What appealed to me was not whatever actionable thriller-writing tips I might glean, but rather the promise of his story, the story of how a writer becomes a mogul. Any hapless, hand-to-mouth mid-lister can provide instructions on outlining a novel. MasterClass dangled something else, a clear-cut path out of the precariat, the magic-bean shortcut to a fairy-tale ending—the secret to ever-elusive success.
Something fundamental has changed about the ways Americans vote.
As polling places closed on November 6, 2018, the expected “blue wave” looked more like a ripple. Not only had some of the highest-profile Democratic candidates lost, but the party’s gains in the House and the Senate looked smaller than anticipated.
The wave, it turned out, simply hadn’t crested yet. Over the ensuing weeks, as more ballots were counted, Democrats kept winning races—eventually netting 41 House seats. In Arizona, the Republican Martha McSally conceded the Senate race to the Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, who picked up more than 70,000 votes in post–Election Day counting. Democrats narrowed deficits in races in Florida and Georgia too. Republicans were stunned.
No matter what happens now, the virus will continue to circulate around the world.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has sickened more than 16.5 million people across six continents. It is raging in countries that never contained the virus. It is resurgingin manyof the ones that did. If there was ever a time when this coronavirus could be contained, it has probably passed. One outcome is now looking almost certain: This virus is never going away.
The coronavirus is simply too widespread and too transmissible. The most likely scenario, experts say, is that the pandemic ends at some point—because enough people have been either infected or vaccinated—but the virus continues to circulate in lower levels around the globe. Cases will wax and wane over time. Outbreaks will pop up here and there. Even when a much-anticipated vaccine arrives, it is likely to only suppress but never completely eradicate the virus. (For context, consider that vaccines exist for more than a dozen human viruses but only one, smallpox, has ever been eradicated from the planet, and that took 15 years of immense global coordination.) We will probably be living with this virus for the rest of our lives.
My entire nuclear family is incredibly angry with me.
My younger sister is a few years younger than I am. Growing up, I had to care for my younger sister, and tension resulted from me having to include her when playing with friends, etc., despite not wanting to. This tension continued when my sister had mental-health issues and other life crises. Although I didn’t have a great relationship with her, I was responsible for stepping in and filling the role of caregiver. My parents were so overwhelmed and unable to meet my sister’s emotional needs that they turned to me to do so instead. This resulted in much resentment and anger and hurt between my sister and me. My sister craves closeness and my approval, and I just want to be left alone.
The university’s leader has effectively become a spokesman for evangelicalism. Pastors and alumni worry about the consequences for their faith.
As president and chancellor of the country’s largest Christian university and the son of one of the founding fathers of the religious right, Jerry Falwell Jr. has come to serve as a stand-in for American evangelicals. But to those inside the Liberty University community, Falwell’s leading role has lately seemed more like a liability than an asset. On Friday, the executive committee of the school’s board announced that Falwell will take an indefinite leave of absence.
Alumni feel “they have to hide their association with Liberty,” Colby Garman, a pastor who graduated from Liberty and serves on the board of Virginia’s Southern Baptist Convention, told me by phone Friday night. “A lot of pastors feel that way, a little bit, when it comes to the leadership of the school.” (Falwell did not reply to my request for an interview.)
Three predictions for what the future might look like
In March, tens of millions of American workers—mostly in white-collar industries such as tech, finance, and media—were thrust into a sudden, chaotic experiment in working from home. Four months later, the experiment isn’t close to ending. For many, the test run is looking more like the long run.
Google announced in July that its roughly 200,000 employees will continue to work from home until at least next summer. Mark Zuckerberg has said he expects half of Facebook’s workforce to be remote within the decade. Twitter has told staff they can stay home permanently.
With corporate giants welcoming far-flung workforces, real-estate markets in the superstar cities that combine high-paid work and high-cost housing are in turmoil. In the San Francisco Bay Area, rents are tumbling. In New York City, offices are still empty; so many well-heeled families with second homes have abandoned Manhattan that it’s causing headaches for the census.
A virus has brought the world’s most powerful country to its knees.
How did it come to this? A virus a thousand times smaller than a dust mote has humbled and humiliated the planet’s most powerful nation. America has failed to protect its people, leaving them with illness and financial ruin. It has lost its status as a global leader. It has careened between inaction and ineptitude. The breadth and magnitude of its errors are difficult, in the moment, to truly fathom.
In the first half of 2020, SARS‑CoV‑2—the new coronavirus behind the disease COVID‑19—infected 10 million people around the world and killed about half a million.
Which is too bad because we really need to understand how the immune system reacts to the coronavirus.
Updated at 10:36 a.m. ET on August 5, 2020.
There’s a joke about immunology, which Jessica Metcalf of Princeton recently told me. An immunologist and a cardiologist are kidnapped. The kidnappers threaten to shoot one of them, but promise to spare whoever has made the greater contribution to humanity. The cardiologist says, “Well, I’ve identified drugs that have saved the lives of millions of people.” Impressed, the kidnappers turn to the immunologist. “What have you done?” they ask. The immunologist says, “The thing is, the immune system is very complicated …” And the cardiologist says, “Just shoot me now.”
The thing is, the immune system is very complicated. Arguably the most complex part of the human body outside the brain, it’s an absurdly intricate network of cells and molecules that protect us from dangerous viruses and other microbes. These components summon, amplify, rile, calm, and transform one another: Picture a thousand Rube Goldberg machines, some of which are aggressively smashing things to pieces. Now imagine that their components are labeled with what looks like a string of highly secure passwords: CD8+, IL-1β, IFN-γ. Immunology confuses even biology professors who aren’t immunologists—hence Metcalf’s joke.
The electorate is split into separate information bubbles. But unconventional messengers, appeals to patriotism, and even jokes can reach voters who don’t want to listen.
A few weeks ago, I went to a political rally in a farmyard. The Polish presidential candidate Rafał Trzaskowski was speaking; in the background, a golden wheat field shimmered in the late-afternoon sun. The audience was enthusiastic—the host, a local farmer, had spread news of the candidate’s visit only the day before—but the juxtaposition of Trzaskowski and the wheat field was odd. He is the mayor of Warsaw, speaks several languages, has degrees in economics, and belongs to the half of Poland that identifies as educated, urban, and European. What does he know from wheat?
But Trzaskowski was running for president in a country whose other half lives in an information bubble that teaches people to be suspicious of anyone from Warsaw who is educated, urban, and European. Polish state television, fully controlled by the ruling Law and Justice party, was sending aggressive messages into that bubble, warning its inhabitants that Trzaskowski was dubious, foreign, in hock to “LGBT ideology”—which the incumbent president, Andrzej Duda, called “worse than communism”—and beholden to Germans and Jews. The messages, constantly repeated on a wide array of radio stations and television channels, were designed to reinforce tribal loyalties and convince Law and Justice voters that they are “real” Poles, not impostors or traitors like their political opponents.
American conspiracy theories are entering a dangerous new phase.
If you were an adherent, no one would be able to tell. You would look like any other American. You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen. You may well have an affiliation with an evangelical church. But you are hard to identify just from the way you look—which is good, because someday soon dark forces may try to track you down. You understand this sounds crazy, but you don’t care. You know that a small group of manipulators, operating in the shadows, pull the planet’s strings. You know that they are powerful enough to abuse children without fear of retribution. You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive denizens of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world.