Most of the critiques leveled at the “Bernie or Bust” crowd smack of arrogance and self-righteousness. This, of course, is expected since the prospect of a Trump presidency rightfully provokes indignation of the highest order from many individuals, but the shaming that ensures is nothing but unproductive. To suggest, as many do, that Bernie supporters simply are not allowed to have that opinion, or are somehow immoral for believing that they should vote for Sanders or Jill Stein in the fall is fundamentally undemocratic insofar as it rejects the political pluralism upon which our system of government is premised. There is no official position that one must take as a Bernie supporter, or as a democrat, or as a progressive. This isn’t to suggest that we ought not discuss the consequences for voting for a third candidate, but that same conversation must be tempered with the understanding that simply dismissing those we disagree with politically is paternalistic, presumptuous, and counter-productive.
That said, that consequences of voting for a third party candidate in such a situation are undeniable. The Trump-Clinton electoral binary is a valid phenomenon and isn’t contrived as some zealous Bernie supporters/Libertarians/Green Party-ers/Ralph Naders might contend. It exists because of both the popular and institutional support behind them (their base of supporters and the significance of their status as presumptive nominees) and the structure of our political system. We must heed the lessons of past-supporters of Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, Theodore Roosevelt, and Robert La Follette. Inaction or voting for a third candidate, empowers those who do act and certainly weakens the candidate whom you could have voted for.
If you believe that Trump is bigoted and sexist; If you believe that he has a poor mastery of policy, has promoted conspiracy theories and spurious assertions, and has a questionable business record to boot; If you believe that he has said so many contradictory things that we have no idea what his policy proposals actually are, and those that we do know of are disastrous and impractical;If you believe that a Trump presidency would be both disastrous for America and for the world at large, then it is, in my point of view, logically inconsistent to suggest a course of action that would promote a possible Trump victory.
It is equally difficult to contend, as Susan Sarandon did, that a Trump presidency would strengthen the progressive movement. It certainly would not advance the progressive agenda in any way. It is hard to imagine how 8 years of George W. Bush particularly strengthened the progressive movement or resulted in any measurable electoral gains. While 2 wars and sweeping tax cuts later, it is very easy to see how it eroded many of the gains made by liberals in the past. Sacrificing the well-being of American citizens for the questionable potential of a progressive victory which would have an even more questionable potential of reversing the full impact of a Trump presidency is an unconvincing option, to say the least.
The Bernie or Bust supporters are entirely entitled to their position, and the pluralism of American democracy demands that we afford them the respect that they deserve. Too often we fall victim to the tendency to vilify and demonize our colleagues over differences in policy or ideology. Yet at the same time we remain stubbornly ignorant of how such tribalism advances political polarization and threatens the socio-political cohesion of our society. Knee-jerk bulverism and vitriolic public discourse has created in age in which we live in what Yuval Levin calls “bifurcated concentration.” We bemoan the inefficiency of our legislators and the divisiveness of our politics, but we never reconcile our complicity in this matter—which is why we must vigorously recognize the validity of the Bernie or Bust position, while stressing the dire consequences of not voting for Clinton in the fall.