Today’s political climate makes it absolutely crucial to balance our tradition’s soaring commitment to social justice with the urgency of a pragmatic solution to preventing a Donald Trump presidency.
As Bernie Sanders reminded us, democracy is messy. I appreciate the recognition that political progress can be sudden and unexpected, and still be the result of slow, incremental growth and compromise. At times, political advancement comes from street-level organizing and mobilizing, at other times, it comes from being present inside the corridors of power. Now it calls for boycotts, now for engagement in insider politics. We need all approaches and do not have the luxury of ignoring any necessary political strategy.
We live in fragmented times, where informed moral and political analysis is in short supply. These words are not so much an exercise in persuading anyone as they are in making public one person’s thinking through complicated issues. May that transparency of a difficult and imperfect series of choices be of service to others, insha’allah (God willing).
Let’s begin with the obvious: We are seeing in Donald Trump the rise of a not-so-thinly disguised White supremacy and ethno-nationalist fascism. In Trump, there promises to be nothing other than chaos and corrupt capitalism run amok. There is an all-out assault on Hispanics, Muslims, the physically disabled, the poor, women and undocumented people. Trump represents a full-on barrage of toxic masculinity, unapologetic stupidity, arrogant disregard of facts and aggressive cruelty that would sink this and any political experiment. And now, he is even musing over the right to use nuclear weapons. And all of this before mocking Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of a dead Muslim soldier.
Without giving them any more publicity, I’ll simply state that the few Muslims who support Trump seem to understand neither politics nor the social justice mandates at the very heart of Islam.
That leaves American Muslims with two viable options: supporting the historically symbolic yet flawed candidacy of Hillary Clinton, or investing in the Green Party.
The Hillary option: A critical assessment
Let me be frank here.
Yes, there is symbolic resonance in having a female president. It is vastly overdue, and a powerful symbol for millions of girls — and boys — about what is possible. And there are many issues on which Clinton is on the right side of history. Pushed by both her own convictions and pressure from Sanders’ sabotaged-by-the-DNC-establishment “political revolution,” there are important commitments to $15-an-hour minimum wage, alleviating debt for college students and other significant societal issues. However, as someone who is not beholden to any candidate or party at this moment, I also want to speak some difficult truth. Let us be open and transparent about some of the significant shortcomings of Hillary the candidate and her campaign before weighing our options.
- The rise of a single female presidential candidate is historically significant, but one should never confuse that with the structural and institutional challenges faced by women and girls in this country. Barack Obama’s presidency did not make us post-racial, and a Clinton presidency will not make us post-sexist. Challenges remain at the structural level. And Clinton’s militaristic foreign policies will mean suffering for millions of women, men and children around the world.
- Hillary’s campaign repeatedly builds on the joint-Clinton legacy. Let us remember that criminalization of Black folks and expanding the prison industrial complex increased under Bill Clinton’s administration. It’s worth reading Michelle Alexander, author of the magnificent The New Jim Crow, on why a Hillary presidency does not bode well for the African American community.
- Clinton represents the interests of the corporate elite, especially banks and Wall Street, who make up her most significant donors. This is a major departure from the poor and middle-class supporters — and the famously $27 average donor — of the Sanders campaign. Regardless of the rhetoric we heard during Hillary’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, there is no reason to think that she would actually enact policies against the very corporate elite who have funded her campaign.
- The Democratic Party has repeatedly and emphatically attempted to undermine Sanders and the progressive faction of the party. The struggle of people like Cornel West to bring a more progressive voice to the Democratic National Committee platform is quite revealing: Their voices are perpetually marginalized, yet the establishment voice celebrates having “the most progressive platform in history.”
- Hillary has positioned herself to the far right of Israeli politics, only seeming to speak of Palestinians in the context of agents of terrorism.
- Hillary has pursued a neoconservative foreign policy, supported the wars in Iraq and talked about the nuclear obliteration of Iran. While President Obama fully endorses Hillary, in 2008, candidate Obama correctly spoke about this language from Hillary as being Bush-like and saber-rattling.
- Domestically, Hillary conceives of putting American Muslims under the surveillance apparatus and a deeply flawed Countering Violent Extremism platform that has not actually yielded actual positive results, and furthermore unfairly targets a Muslim community not on the basis of what we have done but on the basis of how we worship, while failing to apply the same standard to white supremacist groups that actually constitute the majority of hate groups in this country.
These last two points are connected: The Hillary position on Muslims extends the war on terror logic to destroy the lives of Muslims overseas, while holding American Muslims responsible for the actions of Muslim terrorists.
I hope the above points demonstrate that I am not naïve about the shortcomings (as I see them) of Hillary’s positions. Yet here is where we are: We have the two least positively viewed presidential candidates in American history. One of them signals the rise of neo-Fascism and the undead of White supremacy coming back to the largest political platform in America. The other one does not, and continues centrist Democratic policies.
I have a great deal of disdain for Trump and Trump-ism, and also for the significant shortcomings of Hillary as a candidate. So what do we do? Where do we stand? And where do we go from here?
Strategies on defeating Trump in the short term AND building up a grassroots progressive political alternative
I am under no delusion about Hillary. Yet this much I know. We cannot have a Trump presidency. It is not a luxury that African Americans, Hispanics, immigrant groups, poor people, Muslims and women (keeping in mind the obvious overlaps among these communities) can afford. Given the likelihood of the next president appointing two to four Supreme Court justices, his or her legacy may well last for a generation.
I have admiration for the non-interventionist policies of libertarians, but domestically, their policies would be catastrophic for millions of Americans in terms of education and the environment.
The Green Party’s platform lines up very closely with my own ideals, in terms of opposition to militarism, imperialism, racism, sexism, support for Palestinian rights and so much more. In so many ways, the position of Dr. Jill Stein reflects my own heart’s highest and deepest aspirations.
Yet it is also a time for pragmatism, with the mandate of keeping Trump out of the White House. The overwhelming support that Trump enjoys among angry Whites and folks without a college education, augmented by the historic unpopularity of Hillary, makes the prospect of a Trump presidency all too real. We simply cannot afford to invest wholeheartedly in the Green Party. Trump is not Romney. He is not even George W. Bush.
So what are we to do? How do we balance our morals with this genuine situation of concern? Here are my own recommendations:
- Our ultimate concern is not with a presidential election, but with building the Beloved Community. It is as William Barber said: “We must shock this nation with the power of love. We must shock this nation with the power of mercy. We must shock this nation and fight for justice for all. We can’t give up on the heart of our democracy. Not now, not ever.”
- The goal of politics is nothing less than building the Beloved Community through a dirty, messy and imperfect process. Never apologize for our ideals and passion. And let us never invest all our hopes and aspirations in one candidate, one campaign, or even one party. Every campaign is a practical, compromised step toward getting closer to the Beloved Community. And yes, that does mean working with (though not working for) imperfect, flawed candidates and campaigns.
- If you live in a state that is solidly in the Democratic or Republican column, vote for the Green Party. We need to move beyond the corruptness of a two-party system and develop a genuine multi-party system.
- Study what some of the courageous voices from our own community and others have said. Read up on Linda Sarsour, and on Shaun King’s decision-making process through this election. Watch the discussion between Robert Reich and Chris Hedges, both committed to social justice, but one having made the decision to support Hillary Clinton, and the other to move over to the Green Party.
- For those of us who were inspired by Sanders, it’s worth reading his own reasons for recommending people inspired by him to vote for Hillary to defeat Trump. It is true: The political revolution led by Sanders does not and did not belong to Bernie the candidate. It belongs to the people. And the people will decide where to go. But it is worth pausing to reflect on what Uncle Bernie himself, and many of his most ardent supporters, would recommend.
- If you live in a swing state, especially Michigan, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio, Nevada, Colorado and New Hampshire, vote for Hillary. The election will probably come down to these swing states.
- Remember that politics is not a once-every-four-year commitment. Politics is ultimately the concern of being a citizen. Here was the bitter lesson of 2008. So many grassroots organizations pulled together to elect Obama, and then mostly took the next few years off. It was the Tea Party folks who continued to organize in a grassroots fashion. If we are not, we need to become regular, everyday participants actively engaged in the political process.
- Organize from bottom of the ballot up. So much of politics is not as “sexy” as presidential elections. Politics takes place at the local level, school boards, etc.
- If you decide to vote for Hillary, do more than voting for her while holding your nose. Bring your passion. Do more than voting against Trump, but vote with the courage of your convictions, including your reservations. Political candidates are messy and complicated, just as we are. Vote for the issues that you agree with Hillary on, and not just against Trump. As I have argued elsewhere, we cannot out-fear Trump. We have to summon up the twin mandates of love and justice.
- And lastly, organize, mobilize and reach out to existing local and national projects. The American experiment is a deeply flawed one, having been flawed from the beginning with claims of American exceptionalism, the genocide of Native Americans, and slavery. It may be flawed, but it is our Where this experiment goes is up to us. The one option we do not have is to sit on the sidelines or to become inconsequential. That’s why in this election, I for one will pursue a situational policy of working against a far greater evil while continuing to build good, just and local movements from the ground up to incrementally get closer to the more perfect Union that is promised (and so far not achieved) in our founding documents.