Beating Trump Isn’t Enough
we have to beat the conditions that got him elected to begin with
When I was 14 I was asked by a friend of my parents if I was proud of being a Puerto Rican. I said, “No.” He said, “What, are you ashamed of it?” I said, “No, I’m not proud of being Puerto Rican or ashamed of it. I can’t be proud or ashamed of it because I didn’t do anything to be Puerto Rican. I didn’t earn it. I was just born that way.”
I still think that way. So if a candidate for President was Puerto Rican, I wouldn’t care either way. That’s not what I look for in candidates. I don’t need my identify validated in that way, and I’m not so tribal in my thinking that I will support someone just because they’re part of my tribe. I’m also not naive enough to think that I can trust someone just because they share that point of identity with me.
I started supporting Bernie Sanders in late 2015 because I’m a political pragmatist, not because I deeply self-identify with a white socialist Jewish male from the NE who is 20 years older than me. There’s not a single descriptor in the line above that connects with me: I’m not white (at least not to the racist whites I’ve known), not socialist (I support distributed private ownership), not Jewish (raised Catholic, briefly atheist, now broadly ecumenical Protestant), and not from the Northeast (Southern California in the 70s!). I started supporting him because I saw how his platform would directly benefit me, and by extension, literally tens of millions of people just like me. And I saw that he meant it: he didn’t develop his platform just to get support. He really is committed to his platform because he really is committed to working and middle class Americans.
I also saw how Sanders’s platform solved numerous problems that we’re facing, and I see how the coronavirus crisis illustrates how his platform points — such as Medicare for All — are desperately needed right now. We have the highest unemployment rate since the onset of the twentieth century, higher even than during the Great Depression, and millions of Americans are still dependent on employer-based healthcare. Does that even remotely make sense? Not to mention savings in costs by having one administrative system over all fifty states, rather than fifty different administrative systems, and not to mention the fact that it seems almost literally suicidal to trust your healthcare to companies that make their profits by collecting premiums and not paying out claims. So long as private health insurance companies are running our healthcare system, they will be trying to pay out as little as possible. They will always try to cut coverage for pre-existing conditions, for example.
I’ve been saying for weeks now that Biden needs to pick a black woman as running mate — for a number of reasons — so I do get that identity politics matter in national politics. But I’ve also been reading some detailed examinations of Harris’s record that have been out there since at least early 2019, and most of them say that she talks progressive but then actually does the opposite on a consistent basis, when it really counts. For example, she talks police reform but has been said to protect the police officers who commit acts of police brutality.
I haven’t followed up on this reporting to verify it for myself, but she was never my first pick, and if these reports are true, she may be another Amy Klobouchar: she may have at some point protected an officer who will be involved in some future killing that provokes more riots. What would that do to the Democratic ticket if that happens between now and November? My impression from her Twitter feed over the past year or two has been that as well: she’s never been a committed progressive so much as a politician committed to advancing her career. She constantly tests the waters to see what policies have the most traction rather than advocating for policies that will address our real problems.
But there’s a bigger picture than even this: we need to account for the fact that Trump was indeed elected president in 2016. He won the popular vote in forty-nine out of fifty states combined, in fact: HRC’s popular vote lead was entirely from the state of California, which she won by over 4 million votes. Biden and Harris represent a political mainstream that many Americans distrust and rejected in 2016.
So, does Harris’s gender and multiethnic identity matter? Not in terms of her politics. There’s no reason to trust her just because of that. We need to look at her record and her donor base. That’s all that matters. After 8 years of Obama, though, I can see that it mattered culturally to have a black president. It outed our racists and gave black America hope. And I have to admit I’m looking forward to the Harris/Pence debate even more than Biden/Trump. She has demonstrated the ability to fight: in her debates with Biden, in the Kavanaugh hearings, and at other times.
The question remains, though: who is she really going to be fighting for? Biden and Harris need to do more than beat Trump. They need to address the situation that led to Trump’s election to begin with, and that’s a political mainstream made up of people who care more about the wealthiest Americans than the rest of us in almost every way that counts. They need to do it through the DNC platform, which I think is not going to give me everything I’d like to see, but which will still be pretty good, but then they need to do it by enacting the platform. That is what will matter.
Only time will tell. If they don’t come through, Trump can always run again. And when he’s gone, there will be others like him. He’s proven that people like him can win, and the next Trump that comes around may be smarter, more savvy politically, and by extension, even more dangerous.