As millions of Americans head to the polls today to “have their voices heard” and “make a difference,” many will likely carry out their voting rituals with the intent of electing the candidate they view as the lesser evil. They will vote for Hillary Clinton to stop Donald Trump or vote for Donald Trump to stop Hillary Clinton — at least, that’s what they tell themselves.
Every four years, Americans tacitly accept evil, morally content to accept authority from the candidate they subjectively designate the least harmful. They view this as the practical solution to America’s corruption and inevitable path to destruction. They often mock and chastise those who refuse to compromise their consciences for the sake of participating in a broken system.
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Though these millions of voters fancy themselves strategic and savvy, their technique is failing. And, in fact, it has failed for over one hundred years, as demonstrated in an article published sixty years ago.
In October of 1956, black civil rights activist, sociologist, and historian W.E. DuBois penned an article for the Nation magazine explaining why he refused to vote in that year’s election between then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Democratic challenger, Adlai Stevenson.
His decades-old account is still uncomfortably accurate.
DuBois explained that since the year 1889, when he was 21 years of age, he had followed the lesser evil argument, especially with regard to how politicians approached the issue of black rights.
“In 1912 I wanted to support Theodore Roosevelt, but his Bull Moose convention dodged the Negro problem and I tried to help elect Wilson as a liberal Southerner,” he wrote.
But “[u]nder Wilson came the worst attempt at Jim Crow legislation and discrimination in civil service that we had experienced since the Civil War.”
He detailed every presidential election from 1912 to 1956, pointing out his decision to choose a lesser evil every time — every time noting how each president disappointed him in their willingness to address racism in the United States.
But DuBois’ discontent did not focus only on racial injustice.
“I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no ‘two evils’ exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say,” he lamented.
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Sound familiar? It gets worse.
Two election years sixty years apart — 1956 and 2016 — have even deeper parallels, from perpetual war abroad to injustice and oligarchy at home:
“The present Administration is carrying on the greatest preparation for war in the history of mankind. Stevenson promises to maintain or increase this effort. The weight of our taxation is unbearable and rests mainly and deliberately on the poor. This Administration is dominated and directed by wealth and for the accumulation of wealth. It runs smoothly like a well-organized industry and should do so because industry runs it for the benefit of industry. Corporate wealth profits as never before in history. We turn over the national resources to private profit and have few funds left for education, health or housing. Our crime, especially juvenile crime, is increasing. Its increase is perfectly logical; for a generation we have been teaching our youth to kill, destroy, steal and rape in war; what can we expect in peace?”
But wait, there’s still more:
“It costs three times his salary to elect a Senator and many millions to elect a President. This money comes from the very corporations which today are the government. This in a real democracy would be enough to turn the party responsible out of power. Yet this we cannot do.”
This dynamic only grew more powerful as voters continued to accept lesser evils as “leaders.”
Like an increasing number of Americans today, DuBois elected to simply not vote.
“I have no advice for others in this election. Are you voting Democratic? Well and good; all I ask is why? Are you voting for Eisenhower and his smooth team of bright ghost writers? Again, why? Will your helpless vote either way support or restore democracy to America?” he asked.
But he refused to accept claims this position was counterproductive, as many people similarly claim today when confronted with the idea that voting accomplishes nothing, especially amid the likes of Clinton and Trump. Rather, he viewed his inaction as a positive measure:
“Is the refusal to vote in this phony election a counsel of despair? No, it is dogged hope. It is hope that if twenty-five million voters refrain from voting in 1956 because of their own accord and not because of a sly wink from Khrushchev, this might make the American people ask how much longer this dumb farce can proceed without even a whimper of protest.”
Even DuBois’ parallels to Russia and China are still applicable, especially in light of the Clinton campaign’s unsubstantiated fear mongering about Russia hacking the election.
DuBois was a socialist, and in this essay also lamented the lack of exposure many Americans had toward the ideology. While many will disagree with this worldview, his diagnosis of the problem was disturbingly correct.
“I will be no party to it and that will make little difference. You will take large part and bravely march to the polls, and that also will make no difference. Stop running Russia and giving Chinese advice when we cannot rule ourselves decently” he wrote.
“Stop yelling about a democracy we do not have. Democracy is dead in the United States. Yet there is still nothing to replace real democracy. Drop the chains, then, that bind our brains. Drive the money-changers from the seats of the Cabinet and the halls of Congress. Call back some faint spirit of Jefferson and Lincoln, and when again we can hold a fair election on real issues, let’s vote, and not till then. Is this impossible? Then democracy in America is impossible.”
If over 100 years of voting for lesser evil and avoiding candidates outside the two-party system has produced Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as the two “best” options, it appears DuBois was — and still is — correct.