During these declining days of the U.S. Empire, everything has become politicized. People demand political participation, if not full on activism (for their preferred positions, of course), from celebrities, corporations, and family members alike. The politicization of everything is, of course, a prelude to totalitarianism: your every action has political implications, and therefore you must always be virtue signaling, demonstrating your loyalty to the cause. My own deep-seated cynicism about politics has been a blessing and a curse. And it’s also why I voted third party.
Being a political nihilist, as I said, has both benefits and detriments. The benefit is that I am not credulous about any particular ideology, nor do I fall under the spell of any political personalities. The downside is that I am left with nothing to believe in, nothing to spark my political passions. Allow me to tell the story, in brief, of my political journey.
I did not become interested in politics until 2003, the year I graduated high school and the year the war in Iraq began. I was against the war. Other than that, I didn’t pay much attention to politics. I knew little, if anything, about political philosophies, I was ignorant of history, and even back then, I didn’t have many strong beliefs about anything. But I was against the war in Iraq. As a result, in the 2004 election, the first one in which I was old enough to vote, I voted for John Kerry. To me, he was the anti-Bush who would set right the wrongs of our war in Iraq. But, Kerry was defeated. Who knows how he would have actually presided over our foreign policy. In hindsight, I think he would likely have been just another status quo president abiding by status quo foreign policy.
Fast forward to the 2008 election. I once again threw my lot in with the Democrats, and voted for Obama. Once again, Obama seemed to me like the anti-Bush. He would get us out of the Middle East, I assumed, and help right the wrongs of the Bush administrations abuses of civil liberties, which had also taken a position of importance to my political thinking. Both of those issues have become constants in my life, even if I’ve nourished a healthy cynicism and nihilism about politics. Alas, Obama was just more of the same that we had in the eight years of my political consciousness prior to his ascendancy. He didn’t get us out of the Middle East, increased the number of countries in which we were militarily intervening (e.g. place like Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria). His skyrocketing (pardon the pun) use of drones, and the secrecy with which the campaign(s) were conducted, was quite alienating, as was Obama’s crackdown on whistleblowers and his lack of transparency about basically everything (even though he had promised the opposite during his bid for presidency).
The result was that I found myself drawn more towards the political philosophy of libertarianism. They, in my eyes, maintained a principled stand against things like war and civil liberties abuses. I voted for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president, in 2012. In the summer of 2013, when the Edward Snowden revelations were in the news, I even flirted with anarcho-capitalism. Thankfully, that ever-present cynicism prevented me from fully taking leave of my senses – humans are terrible and anarchism will never work, even if the underlying logic of the anarcho-capitalist philosophy is beautiful (as opposed to anarcho-syndicalism or left-anarchism, which is bad on paper and monstrous in practice).
Fast forward again to 2016. I was already losing the passion of the newly converted (to libertarianism) at the time, not so much because I didn’t believe in much of the philosophy, but more because I found my fellow libertarians to be irritating. Other libertarians, at least online, are constantly vigilant for heresy in the ranks. Admitting that there was anything non-evil about the government (much less good or necessary) caused immediate accusations that one is “not a true libertarian,” and, indeed, that one is a statist in disguise (or even worse yet, a Democrat, who, along with slightly heterodox libertarians, are the perennial enemies of “true” libertarians, regardless of how many times the Republicans routinely fail to live up to the “true” libertarian ideals). Anything heterodoxy is perceived as wrongthink to these supposedly free thinkers. Thus, we can perhaps graph ideas acceptable to libertarians thus:
And then, to my (perhaps naive) surprise, many of them became fans of Donald Trump.
Now, I’m not one of those #TDS types. I don’t like Donald Trump. I think he’s a narcissist and an incompetent president (an incompetence shared among many of his other endeavors), but he’s no Machiavellian authoritarian, like many of his detractors believe. If that were true, Trump would have swiftly capitalized on the COVID panic, using it as his Reichstag fire to grant himself more executive powers in order to “protect” us from it, rather than viewing the pandemic as an attack on his presidency and therefore something to be downplayed.
My cynicism, in 2016, prevented me from falling under the cult of Trump, but also from being blinded by hatred for the man. I see him for the blustering, imbecilic narcissist that he is. However, once again, this inability to completely throw myself into partisanship has left me alienated from both sides – the Trump devotees and the so-called resistance. But, libertarian Trump is not, which made all the supposedly “true” libertarians acceptance of him all the more baffling. Of course, the “true” libertarian argument usually took one of two routes (or, often times, both simultaneously): either 1) Clinton is worse or 2) WE GOTTA OWN THE LIBS!
I voted for Gary Johnson again in 2016. I even wrote this piece about why we all should accept that the two-party “system” has lost the mandate of heaven. Obviously, Trump ended up winning in 2016. The right views this as validation for their (not always wrong) grievances and left as proof of everything wrong they believe about the right. Trump, however, is not the cause the the U.S. Empire’s woes, but a symptom.
All Empires fall at some point. The U.S. Empire reached its zenith during the 20th century. World War 2, which had comparatively little negative impact on the U.S., and much benefit (at least insofar as U.S. imperial ambitions became both feasible and desirable by the political elites). The end of the Cold War in 1991 brought the loss of justification for such imperial ambitions. Luckily (for those running the Empire, anyway), since the 1970’s oil embargo, the 1979 Iranian revolution, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a slow pivot toward the Middle East groomed a new adversary for the new millennium. The attacks on 9/11 served only to codify and hasten the pivot that was already grinding along throughout the 1990s.
Unfortunately for those who sought to keep the U.S. Empire afloat, numerous other sociological, anthropological, technological, and political issues too numerous to account for here prevented the tactic of terrorism from fulfilling the role that the ideology of communism once occupied. People in the U.S. were comfortable (some may even say decadent) and nurturing an obsession with identity and “brand” – we all wanted to define who we were by what we consumed, and to ensure that everyone knew it (via newly emergent technologies like social media). To paraphrase Voltaire, the wooden shoes had reached the top of the stairway and it was now time to enjoy the silken slippers of descent.
Humans, however, have evolved to pinpoint dangers in order to survive. When most of those dangers are kept at bay, new ones must be invented. This is how the rabidly ludicrous ideas of critical theory came into ascendancy, just as real dangers addressed in the 1960’s victories for civil rights and the end of the Cold War became reality. Growing acceptance of progressive ideas wasn’t good enough; to these radical leftists, there were still monsters to slay. Indeed, these monsters had to be conceived of as bigger and nastier still than any that Martin Luther King Jr. trounced in the mid twentieth century, otherwise people might not believe that there was still a fight to be had. At the end of the Cold War, these crackpot ideas still needed time to incubate within universities, but by 2010 or so, they were ready for primetime, with those indoctrinated finally taking positions of power in the culture-generating institutions of Hollywood, the news media, and human resource departments.
The backlash from the right against this proto-cultural revolution is not completely blameless. Indeed, the sudden and unprovoked revulsion of Obama before he had yet done anything worthy of such enmity by those on the right was as absurd as awarding Obama the Nobel Peace Prize before he had achieved anything worthy of the distinction. From my own personal experience, I know people on the center left who were alienated by this. And while such people are quick to allege racism as the culprit – and, again, from personal experience, I know people to whom race was the impetus for their ire – I don’t buy that racism was the only ingredient in the rightwing opprobrium heaped onto Obama. That, however, is a whole other discussion unto itself.
These mounting frictions – the cultivation of critical theory on the left and the feeling of cultural insignificance on the right – started coming to a head in the 2010’s. The election of Donald Trump in 2016 is just a symptom of these trends, with too many nuances to even list off here, much less discuss them in full. But, back to my own story.
My disillusionment with libertarianism went beyond my distaste for its adherents. My cynicism, once again, ripped away the rose colored glasses. Human nature is not compatible with libertarianism. As corrupt, incompetent, harmful, short-sighted, divisive, and self-serving as the government is – and this, too, is due to human nature – there is still some necessity for small government. The trick is to find that sweet spot where there is just enough government to stunt the evils of humans acting completely autonomously without also infringing too far on that very autonomy so as to create more evil.
As is maybe the case with plenty of others, the outbreak of COVID accelerated by disillusionment. It laid bare both the jaw-dropping incompetence of government and the howling stupidity and stunning selfishness of humankind. Pile on all the other bullshit whatever malevolent God you serve has piled onto this miserable year and, if it weren’t for my persistent ennui and bottomless potential for apathy, I would be overawed by the human capacity for such mind-numbing idiocy.
But my raging misanthropy is not the point of this article. My point is to explain why I voted third party. And, indeed, why I voted for Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian candidate, despite my disillusionment with libertarianism. I would not call myself a libertarian anymore. However, if pressed to admit anything other than animosity and revulsion of everything political, I would have to say that libertarianism is still the political philosophy closest to my own. Primarily on account of my consistent adherence to anti-war and pro-civil liberty policies: end foreign interventions, end the war on drugs, abide by the bill of rights, and just plain get rid of “victimless crimes” from the law books. However, my cynicism prevents me from believing any of these things are even possible, and occasionally even skeptical about whether they are desirable given how inept and ill-adapted humans are to navigating the world we’ve created for ourselves.
Likely things will only get worse before (if at all) they get better. The U.S. Empire, for better or worse, is in its death throes. That truly nihilistic part of me hopes to see it burn to the ground within my lifetime. But, perhaps there is still some whisper of idealism imprisoned within the abyss of my despondency, because I cannot bring myself to vote either Democrat nor Republican, both of which can only feed the fires consuming our crumbling Empire.
And that is why I voted third party.