At this point in time, almost every civic institution has failed the American people. Congress has become the laughingstock of the world’s democracies, so filled with bumpkins and partisan know-nothings that in a time of serious crises most of the nation’s vital business remains undone or not even begun. Our Supreme Court, in a set of perverse legal fictions, has deemed corporations to be people and money to be political speech, leading to an unprecedented flood of unregulated cash that has drowned the last vestiges of integrity in our electoral process. Meanwhile, one major political party—the one that has been taken over by bigots, religious fundamentalists who disdain science, and Ayn Rand devotees—is in over thirty states attempting to purge the rolls of citizens likely to vote for the other major party. The leadership of both parties are the creatures of an unaccountable financial elite that has overseen the decline of America’s postwar middle class over the past thirty-five years; as a result, the US has the most unequal distribution of wealth in the developed world. This has come about through decades of intensive lobbying and deregulation that created a global and financialized economy completely detached from domestic productive activity, and which produced the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression. Since 2007, millions of Americans have lost their jobs and homes, and the unemployment rate of new college graduates hovers at about 50%. The bankers and financiers whose irresponsible and arguably fraudulent practices precipitated this crisis have not only gone unprosecuted; they were in fact rewarded for their malfeasance with an enormous taxpayer bailout, and their profits are as high as ever. In the meantime, roughly 30% of the electorate suffers from a social pathology that sees incipient tyranny in a modest reform of our health care system, while ignoring the fact that two successive presidential administrations—one Republican and one Democratic—have presided over an unprecedented expansion of executive power, which now explicitly claims for itself the right to practice warrantless surveillance, to indefinitely detain (without charges) noncitizens and citizens alike, and to practice torture and extralegal, unilateral killing. In sum, we no longer live in a functional democracy, but rather a kleptomaniacal oligarchy that serves the few, and which has grown adept at distracting the many. War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.
Should you vote in this election, despite this pessimistic situation? Yes. Vote in this election, vote tactically, yes, vote for the perennial “lesser of two evils,” but look beyond elections if you’re at all serious about reversing these trends and reclaiming your future. Consider this: our nation’s founders changed the world without casting a ballot. Retrieve their daring, imagination, and courage, and hold fast to their notion that government ought to dedicate itself to the common welfare of us all. On their account, government is to serve the people, as is the economy, and the moment the people are subordinated to either the people have a duty to revolt against both. Do not fear government, because it rightfully belongs to us. Rather, keep your eyes fixed firmly on those forces that have usurped our democracy; the time has come for these forces to fear us. Remember that authentic dissent is often the highest form of patriotism, and that protest should be more than mere ritual. Look not only to the past for inspiration, but also to the present—to the Arab Spring, to Greece, Spain, Portugal, Québec, and Iceland. Look at what these peoples have done, and are doing. Learn the democracy of the streets. Become citizens in the fullest sense, and demand what is yours. Reclaim your government and your nation from those who have taken them from you. Dare to think outside the ballot box, as others have done before you, and as others are doing now. Look and see, then imagine what a “more perfect union” would look like, and then act to make it a reality. Don’t stop until this future is realized.