Why Chomsky and Zizek are wrong on the US elections

Chomsky and Zizek clashed on voting in the US elections, but the views of both are critically flawed.

Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Zizek
Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Zizek have held opposing views on the US elections [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]

The torturous course and calamitous consequence of the 2016 United States presidential election is bound to sustain a critical course of reflections for quite some time to come – and quite rightly so.

The disproportionately dangerous power of the occupant of the White House and the fact that the peace and sanity of the world at large is very much contingent on a reasonable and sane person to occupy that office requires continued reflections on what is happening in this country and its perilously volatile political culture.

In two consecutive conversations with Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan, two prominent critical thinkers with a global audience have reflected closely on their respective views on the course and consequence of this presidential election.

In a conversation with British Channel 4 aired just before the US election Slavoj Zizek had said he would vote for Trump, for “it will be a kind of big awakening. New political processes will be set in motion,” a point he reiterated later after the election in his interview with Mehdi Hasan.

On the opposite side, the distinguished American linguist and critical thinker Noam Chomsky restated his pre-election position in a conversation with Hassan and famously said leftists who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton to block Trump “made a bad mistake”.

Chomsky then targeted Zizek and compared him with those intellectuals who had welcomed Hitler. Whereas in his pre-election position Chomsky had wisely encouraged voting for Clinton in “swing states”, in his post-election Al Jazeera interview he evidently dispensed with any such stipulation and categorically denounced those who had not voted for Clinton as immoral.

Arcane views collide

To be sure, both Zizek and Chomsky were and remain highly critical of Clinton. However, the former thinks voting for Trump would expedite the necessary changes he as a leftist yearns for, while Chomsky believes such acts, or even not voting for Clinton, let alone voting for Trump, would be morally reprehensible and politically flawed, for one should always opt for “lesser of two evils”.

Both these positions are politically flawed and misguided, morally obtuse and insular, both entirely oblivious of what actually has happened in this presidential election.

The fact is that the American political culture today has reached an historic crossroads where the crude cosmetic liberalism of the deeply corrupt Democratic Party must either be swept away to clear the way for far more radical changes offered by Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein or else the proto-fascism of Trump will destroy any semblance of democracy left in this country.

While it is neither surprising nor strange why Zizek is entirely oblivious to such facts, it is both curious and disappointing that Chomsky does not see this, even after the calamitous results of this election are clear for all to see.

In the encounter between Zizek and Chomsky, as a result, we have two opposing but equally stale and arcane views: one is to vote for Trump while the other is to vote for Clinton.

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One is meant irresponsibly to stir things up, hoping they might get better, and the other equally irresponsibly meant to sustain the status quo for fear of fascism – both out to lunch as to the factual evidence that people have either made a judicious decision to vote for Clinton in “swing states” and refrain from voting for that corrupt warmonger in solidly “blue states”, or else voted for Trump not because they are necessarily illiterate racists but to throw a monkey wrench at a deeply corrupt and heartless system that the flawed logic of “lesser evil” has historically sustained.

The choice of not voting for Clinton, which I among millions of other Sanders’ supporters made, was not out of any political piety to refrain from getting my hands dirty but to help put the factual evidence of a changing political culture electorally on the map. My not voting for Clinton in New York did not cost her anything – she won New York and all its electoral college counts.

From the comfort of an armchair in front of Mehdi Hasan it is of course easy to moralise about the lesser or greater evil. But not if you are at the receiving end of the US or Israeli military rage.

But it did deny her diehard supporters from counting me among her “popular vote” and thus sustain their dangerous delusion that she is really a very popular politician or that the majority of American people are really on her side, as diehard liberal supporters of the nefarious Islamophobe Bill Maher such as Michael Moore is doing as I write.

Immoral choices meet abstract politics

In opting for Clinton or Trump, Chomsky and Zizek both avoid the crucial question of actual voters and how and why they voted the way they did, and are fixated on the abstract illusion of being on the left or right side of a vacuous argument.

Contrary to Chomsky’s high moral horse, it is immoral to vote for a corrupt warmonger who is partially responsible for a pernicious war that has destroyed the entire nation-state of Iraq and murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings, a close partner of Barack Obama in the nearly total destruction of Libya, and deeply in the pocket of the notorious Zionist billionaire supporter of racially profiling Muslims, Haim Saban, and therefore the closest bosom buddy of the nefarious Benjamin Netanyahu, and who as a result even more adamantly than Chomsky himself is dead against BDS, a peaceful act of civil disobedience against the murderous occupiers of Palestine.

From the comfort of an armchair in front of Mehdi Hasan it is of course easy to moralise about the lesser or greater evil. But not if you are at the receiving end of the US or Israeli military rage.

“In Gaza, we aren’t mourning Clinton’s loss,” rightly declares Yasmeen El Khoudary, a Palestinian from Gaza, and yet the august thinkers on either side of the Atlantic, too preoccupied with navel-gazing on who is more “left” in their own estimations, wonder why.

“Hereby, I dedicate Trump’s victory to every democracy-loving American senator … who gambled with our lives and futures in order to win more AIPAC votes.” Shall we not add to the list of dedications that El Khoudary names critical thinkers on whose moral maps Palestine and the rest of the world do not appear when commanding us to choose between the lesser of two evils?

Closer to home

But we need not go all the way to Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya to see the absurdity of “the lesser of two evils” argument. Right here in the US far superior, far more critically intelligent, were positions beautifully articulated by towering critical thinkers such as Eddie S Glaude Jr, the chair of the Department of African-American Studies at Princeton University.

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Glaude’s argument was simple and principled: “Perhaps the most persuasive reason to vote for Hillary Clinton is Donald Trump. Trump is worse. I know that. The prospects of a Trump presidency – what would be a deadly combination of arrogance and ignorance – ought to frighten anyone. It frightens me. But my daddy, a gruff man who has lived all of his life on the coast of Mississippi, taught me that fear should never be the primary motivation of my actions. It clouds your thinking, and all too often sends you running to either safe ground when something more daring is required, or smack into the danger itself.”

If we do not heed the warnings of people such as El Khoudary and Glaude, those who write from experience and pain, not from useless speculations, and through them come to terms with the seismic changes now running amok in the US and around the globe, then the calamitous neoliberalism Chomsky scolds us to choose will surely end up with the neoconservative fascism that Zizek is wishing upon us all.

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.

 The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.