Once again it is presidential election season in the United States and once again progressive critical thinkers who care about the future of our humanity find themselves in a quandary – to get rid of the wicked Donald Trump and his corrupt family and cronies should they or should they not opt to vote for yet another corporatist liberal, Joe Biden. It is deja vu, it is a rerun of a tired old movie, it is Groundhog Day: We had it with Trump and Hillary Clinton last time, and we have it again with the same Trump and even worse Biden now.
I completely sympathise with the leading American public intellectuals caught in this snare.
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Cornel West, the eminent African American philosopher, for example, says he is planning to cast an “anti-fascist” vote for Biden in November despite his concerns about the former vice president’s ties to “Wall Street and militarism”. West knows all too well Biden will betray every single ideal and principle for which West stands, but he is so disgusted with Trump – and rightly so – he is doing what in Persian we call “jumping from one crumbling column to another with hope”.
The same is true with Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned linguist and political activist who is also on the record encouraging people “to vote for Joe Biden and then haunt his dreams” – whatever that may mean. Politicians like Trump or Biden do not dream for us to haunt their dreams. They are the definitions of nightmares. Neither Trump nor Biden is to be trusted, and Chomsky knows that. But he is jumping from one crumbling column to another – is it with hope or is it in despair?
The revolutionary thinker and activist Angela Davis too has said she is supporting Biden for president, calling it crucial to back the candidate “who can be most effectively pressured”. But really? How so? Biden could not tolerate a single BDS-backing Palestinian activist, Linda Sarsour, taking part in his campaign and swiftly moved to kick her out. That is the sort of zealot Biden is. What sort of “pressure” can one hope to exert on him?
Between a rock and a hard place
Still, the terrorising presidency of Trump and the Dark Ages of ignorance and criminal racism he has unleashed in the US, make it perfectly understandable why these and many other eminent critical thinkers who would not be caught dead with Biden are now rushing to declare their support for him. They are jumping from one crumbling column to another and forming a strategic alliance in the hopes that once Trump is out of the picture they can charge ahead beyond Biden’s perilous promises.
But I write this essay to differ with these towering moral figures and openly declare that I will not vote for Biden. This is not to say I am more principled than them or care less about the consequences of yet another calamitous term of Trump. For the future of my own and millions of other American children I hope and wish for a day he is collected from the White House and taken to prison or asylum – whichever is closer.
But still, I will never vote for Biden for I believe the function of people like me is entirely different from even those among the American left with whom I wholeheartedly identify. The task of critical thinking at this point is not to rush to declare we are voting for Biden – an unrepentant racist and self-declared Zionist with a frightening record of misogyny who has actively supported the Iraq war. We had a far superior choice in Bernie Sanders, but twice in a row, the Democratic Party made absolutely sure to kill his chances.
The task at hand is to sustain the course of critical thinking that could not possibly embrace Biden. Voting for Biden is voting for the very foundation of a political culture that has a whole platoon of Trumps and Bidens waiting to surface. If we choose between Trump and Biden today, next time we will have to choose between Ivanka Trump and Chelsea Clinton. This vicious cycle can only come to an end through a sustained and uncompromising course of critical thinking against the very grain of this political culture that demonises the Black Lives Matter uprising, celebrates neo-Nazis, and canonises Hillary Clinton and Biden as God-given salvation against this murderous banality.
A fateful moment
It was Barack Obama’s speech that sealed my decision to never vote for Biden. Up until then, I was thinking to myself that a vote for Biden is not actually a vote for him, but a vote against Trump, alongside other such tall tales and poor excuses. But when Obama took to the podium and began to get emotional and pleaded for people to go and vote for Biden, right there and then, I decided it would be obscene of me to do so, especially with this hypocritical con man on his side.
Every time Obama starts choking up, I remember him crying in public for children who have fallen victim to gun violence in the US, just before going back to his Oval Office to send even more arms to Israel with which to slaughter Palestinian children, or sell them to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to kill more Yemeni children. Are Palestinian and Yemeni children not children? Every single human being stands for the entirety of our humanity. How could this coward be so openly cruel and callous when it comes to children in Yemen, Palestine, Afghanistan and beyond, and still pretend to care deeply about America’s children?
Biden is even worse than Obama in his die-hard Zionism – in his support for the apartheid state of Israel, in his categorical disregard for Palestinians. Voting for Biden means excusing all the times in the past he helped arm Israel to murder Palestinians. Voting for him means, should he become the next president, siding with him every time he signs – and he will undoubtedly sign many – a new arms deal to support Israel and its murderous tyranny.
Why would any decent human being want to do anything like that? Yes, Trump is an American monster but so is Biden. People like me have no candidate in this election.
The ethics of ultimate responsibility
The task of my sort of critical thinkers is not to jump on the bandwagon and rush to vote for Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, reluctantly. Generations of critical thinkers from Rosa Luxemburg to Aimee Cesaire to Frantz Fanon to Edward Said to Arundhati Roy did not live and think and write for us to cast a strategic vote for a reactionary liberal, an unrepentant warmonger, a hardcore Zionist, with a record of racism and alleged sexual abuse. Our task is something else.
In his famous essay, Politics as Vocation (1919), the eminent German sociologist Max Weber made a crucial distinction between an “ethics of responsibility” and an “ethics of ultimate end” that to this day remain a hallmark of a moral choice in politics: “We must be clear,” he told his audience at the University of Munich, “about the fact that all ethically oriented conduct may be guided by one of two fundamentally differing and irreconcilably opposed maxims: conduct can be oriented to an ‘ethic of ultimate ends’ or to an ‘ethic of responsibility’.” These are two identically ethical acts, but in two diametrically opposed directions.
Weber further clarified: “This is not to say that an ethic of ultimate ends is identical with irresponsibility, or that an ethic of responsibility is identical with unprincipled opportunism. Naturally, nobody says that.” Be that as it may, he still insisted: “There is an abysmal contrast between conduct that follows the maxim of an ethic of ultimate ends … and conduct that follows the maxim of an ethic of responsibility, in which case one has to give an account of the foreseeable results of one’s action.”
But in between the two choices Weber left us, emerges a third: An ethic of ultimate responsibility. Our specific and ultimate responsibility today is not to rush to vote for a lesser evil, as I also argued about four years ago when the choice was between Trump and Clinton, but to sustain the course of critical thinking that seeks to overcome both evils. More than 300 million human beings trapped to choose between a Coke and a Pepsi deserve and must strive for a healthier choice. An entire planet at the mercy of US militarism and warmongering most certainly has everything to lose from either of these two American calamities.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.