An editorial by Aja Arnold, Elliot Fullerton, & Jamie Jones
This piece was published in the Mainline’s third print issue released for distribution on Thurs., Dec. 19, 2019. It was sent to print on Thurs., Dec. 5, 2019.
While this publication doesn’t like to yield to the current hot topics of the media frenzy to determine its coverage, we felt it would be a disservice not to contribute something to the conversations surrounding the current impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump and the ongoing Democratic debates—especially since the fifth debate was hosted here in our homebase of Atlanta, Ga.
It’s important to remember how we got here. For one, focusing on Trump rather than on solutions did not work so well for Hillary’s campaign in 2016. And still, in 2019, Trump’s impeachment inquiry is a major distraction from other important issues at hand. There is no doubt, none, that Trump abused the power of the executive office for personal gain. But let’s be real: at one point or another, Biden probably did, too. We, the People—the average, uninsured, working-class, underpaid, overly-stressed American viewers—can feel it in our bones. The political machines of both the Republican and Democratic parties are greased by corruption, opacity, and cynical self-interest. In fact, a closer look reveals that these machines are actually just two components of an even bigger machine.
This machine is not democracy, as we’re led to believe. It’s capitalism, and it’s working exactly as designed. Income inequality, the exploitation of resources, our need to be better than our neighbor—these aren’t unfortunate side effects of capitalism; they’re its goal. Under a capitalist system, it’s impossible to address poverty, environmental destruction, and the devaluation of vulnerable lives, because these atrocities are the very mechanisms of the system itself. They’re literally how it works.
So, for now, the bleak but pragmatic question becomes: under the constraints of this capitalist machine, who can beat Trump in 2020?
By the time this editorial finds itself in your hands, the sixth Democratic debate will have passed. However, we don’t expect the political landscape to change significantly in one debate. Therefore, the following basic ideas hold true for us as we enter 2020 and the political onslaught of the American election cycle.
America spends considerably too much time, money, and energy on its campaigns and election cycles. Compared to most other countries where campaigns are only a few months long and are seen as vehicles for change, American campaigns begin about two years out from Election Day and serve as a tumultuous and exhausting buildup to change that rarely sees actual manifestation. Trump, for example, began campaigning for his re-election almost immediately after he took office. Democratic campaigns began as early as 2017—anyone remember congressman John Dulaney?—and Sen. Elizabeth Warren formed her exploratory committee before 2018 was over, as did Julián Castro. There is nothing wrong with enthusiasm and preparing early… except when our planet is dying and we need our elected leaders fighting in Congress and the White House—not on campaign trails—to produce real change. By the time Election Day has come and gone, we are all burned out.
That seems an especially likely outcome for today’s Democratic presidential campaigns and the upcoming elections, which, despite Mayor Pete’s hip campaign dance (if you haven’t seen it, just imagine the hokey pokey, but whiter), feel a little lackluster.
Perhaps this is partly because we are all fatigued by words. Exhausted by how these words—quid pro quo, conspiracy, logjam—seem to simultaneously mean so much and so, so little. Perhaps it’s like body image dysmorphia: if you look at something long enough, you begin to notice everything wrong with it and hate it. After hearing the marathon testimonies of the impeachment inquiry earlier that day, with all the dumb questions asked and all the darker, more difficult ones left unasked, it was hard to get too excited about the fifth debate in Atlanta. And unsurprisingly, the Atlanta debate garnered a significantly lower viewership than did the previous four. This is a shame, since Georgia is slated to become next year’s battleground state and deserves ongoing attention for Fair Fight, the voter protection movement headed by Leader Stacey Abrams.
Yet, when we saw those would-be presidents behind their little glass podiums, splayed 10 wide across a stage at Tyler Perry Studios, attempting to strike the right balance between robotic poise and genuine human emotion, delivering sequences of words in that authentic, relatable way they’ve rehearsed…well, it was easy to see why folks didn’t tune in. Especially when no matter what happens, Biden, the guy who explains he’s not racist by listing all his black friends, still somehow comes out at the top of the polls as published by mainstream media, which is true as of today, Dec. 5, 2019. (Fun fact: did you know that, according to Harvard Business Review and Pew Research Center, many polls are conducted through landlines? And who owns a landline? Mamaw and Papaw.) Truth is, when faced with the absurd spectacle of American elections, it is simply difficult to convince ourselves that any of it means anything.
Our challenge is to remember that it does mean something. The 2020 presidential election has real and significant consequences for some of our nation’s most vulnerable populations. And since, with the possible exceptions of Sens. Warren and Bernie Sanders, no Democratic candidate is offering the kind of real, systemic change that needs to happen in this country, we must ask ourselves: in the meantime, who will take us closer?
Those who probably won’t are the candidates with corporate money in their pockets. If a candidate is arguing against Medicare for All, you can bank on the fact that they’re being paid for such a stance. This past July, the most vocal proponent of Medicare for All, Sanders, made a commitment to not accept contributions from companies that belong to leading healthcare and insurance lobby groups. In contrast, Biden, Medicare for All’s most vocal detractor, held a fundraiser co-hosted by a health insurance executive immediately after announcing his candidacy, according to a report by Politico. There is no doubt that Biden has been bought; it reeks to high heaven.
Then there’s Mayor Pete, the Candidate for the Comfortable. In a notable transformation, Buttigieg attacked Medicare for All more firmly than ever before during the fourth debate in October. What mainstream media failed to comment on, however, is that this transformation coincided with large donations from healthcare executives. In fact, according to Business Insider, as of September, Buttigieg received more donations from the healthcare industry than any other candidate. Whatever the bid, it was high enough to flip the stance Buttigieg took in a 2018 tweet, stating, “Most affirmatively and indubitably, I do favor Medicare for All.”
Meanwhile, Biden decries a $30 trillion hole that Medicare for All would supposedly create over 10 years. He suggests this figure makes Medicare for All not just foolhardy, but impossible; yet, he makes no discernable attempt to figure out a way to do what nearly all other developed nations have somehow already accomplished: creating a system of universal healthcare for their citizens.
Since 2001, the U.S. has funneled $7 trillion into the ongoing War on Terror, which has America in seven wars today. And according to NPR, as of Oct. 16, 2019—hold on to your eye sockets—$564,537,057 has been spent in presidential campaign fundraising this year, including Trump’s campaign. Further, a 2017 International Monetary Fund (IMF) study shows the U.S. spent $5.2 trillion globally on fossil fuel subsidies that year. It’s also worth mentioning that, thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, for the first time in history, the 400 richest families in America now pay lower taxes than those in the middle class.
Now, we all know how budgets work—or claim to anyway. (Please don’t subpoena our financial records.) If we make adjustments to the money we bring in and the money we send out, we, the world’s most powerful nation, can overcome this hurdle and make room for Medicare for All. Especially since, even with the shoddy system we currently have, we still spend more on healthcare than any other country. This is what Sanders means when he calls our healthcare system an “international embarrassment.”
Healthcare isn’t a luxury; it’s a human right.
Healthcare isn’t a luxury; it’s a human right. And Biden’s facile and empty nod to the budget is both a copout and ample evidence that we cannot depend on him to defend healthcare.
In regard to the Democratic debates themselves, we find it especially worrisome that so many complex but important issues are ignored, denying voters a fair chance to develop an informed understanding of the candidates. In the fifth debate, for instance, it was shocking to see moderators give Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and billionaire Tom Steyer the lead on climate change rather than front-runners Warren and Sanders. It is especially bewildering considering that Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently introduced an ambitious Green New Deal bill that Warren co-sponsored. In light of the impeachment inquiry, there was a considerable amount of talk time about Trump and his malfeasance. However, rather than wasting time talking about Trump, who we are all already against, there should have been at least one more meaningful question, such as one focusing on the greatest existential threat facing our planet.
Instead, valuable time was spent asking Andrew Yang what he would say to Putin on his first presidential phone call to Russia. This was a cute question, as was Anderson Cooper’s question in the fourth debate about what relationship candidates have that might surprise us, citing Ellen DeGeneres’ recent elbow-rubbing with war criminal President George W. Bush. Like DeGeneres herself, Cooper and his question seemed to glibly brush off the deaths of hundreds of thousands in the War on Terror. Fluff questions like these provide an almost tragicomical illustration of network media’s reluctance to demand honest answers to difficult questions: instead of uncovering the candidates’ different positions on the seven wars we are currently involved in, we ask them to name their favorite war-criminal buddy.
But, since that’s the way it is, we’ll take it upon ourselves to gather those receipts.
Moving forward, our readers may get the impression that we teeter on a Bernie Sanders endorsement. We aren’t particularly interested in endorsing a specific candidate; we encourage our readers to be independent thinkers. Although, Sanders, as we see it, is The One that the Democratic Party keeps taking for granted; again and again, they choose others before him. Some day, however, it’ll be too late, and he’ll be The One Who Got Away. Having said that, as a publication, we won’t explicitly endorse anyone. Instead, we will continue to examine our political systems and mainstream media through a critical lens, aiming only to express approval of candidates as they align with our values. As it stands right now, Sanders is that candidate. Warren ain’t bad, either. The two should consider partnering up in 2020 as they have before in Congress, such as with the currently drafted Territories Health Equity Act of 2019. That pair knows how to get shit done.
There is one major attribute of Sanders’ campaign that we feel other candidates lack: trustworthiness. Mayor Pete, for instance, has demonstrated inconsistency on issues of racial equality. While some outlets deemed him the winner of the fifth debate (what?), it seems they must have forgotten that he once refused to investigate the apparent lynching of a 16-year-old black boy in South Bend, Ind. And in the fifth debate, in response to Kamala Harris’ concerns about his lack of experience working with black Americans, Buttigieg answered that he “welcome[s] the challenge of connecting with black voters in America.” As one woman in the Atlanta bar where we watched the debate put it, “Challenge? Why is that so challenging for you?”
Although Harris began as a top-tier candidate, she announced her withdrawal from the presidential race on Tue., Dec. 3, due to financial struggles in her campaign. We can’t say we’re sorry to see her go and consider this a positive development. Harris definitely brought charisma and impressive grandstanding skills to the debate stage, but her prosecution record is disconcerting to say the least. While she now claims a strong stance against mass incarceration and supports the legalization of marijuana, her words simply don’t reflect her actions during her time as California’s Attorney General, when her office’s lawyers argued against parole for more prisoners because it would deplete the state’s pool of prison labor. As Sen. Nina Turner might say, it appears both Harris and Buttigieg had an “enlightenment once they decided to run for president.
Longtime politician Biden has many of the same red flags Hillary Clinton had in 2016, except that he has decades in Congress to add to that list. He led the fight against desegregating schools in the ’70s, voted for the Iraq War in 2003, and wrote the bipartisan 1994 Biden-Hatch Crime Bill that resulted in record-breaking mass incarceration in the U.S. In 1993, Biden took to the Senate floor to defend this bill, shouting “we must take back the streets” and “I don’t care why someone is a malefactor of society!” In contrast, Sen. Sanders strongly opposed this bill, labeling it a “retribution bill” that disproportionately punishes black people. Here, as in other areas of policy, he has remained consistent throughout his career.
Demonstrated consistency is about more than the credibility of a candidate; it’s also crucial in predicting who will have the dedication and integrity to walk the walk after they’ve been elected. Under the unrelenting pressure of the capitalist machine and the NRA, who will truly address gun violence? Who will remain committed to policies that end police shootings of black and brown bodies? To policies that end mass incarceration, despite pressure from the astronomically lucrative for-profit prison industry? Who will end our participation in the seven wars we are currently fighting? Who will look the healthcare and insurance industries in the eye and demand that healthcare be honored as a human right? Who will accept immigrants and refugees with compassion and dignity? And most importantly, who will fight against the fossil fuel industry and make the bold strides necessary to stop climate change—which is the biggest existential threat of our time?
Unfortunately, all of these critical questions lead back to our initial bleak but pragmatic one: who can beat Trump in 2020?
If beating Trump is indeed the one indispensable and shared goal of these candidates, then they must each accept that the time we have between now and when the Democratic presidential candidate is selected will be delicate. It will be a balancing act, for them and for all of us along the spectrum of the left. It’s not time to divide up into factions against one another; there is too much at risk, especially for those among us who are denied participation in the political system. As we hurtle toward climate devastation and mass extinction, one side of history has found themselves in the exponentially compounding shambles of capital, while the other much smaller side continues to gain strength, relentlessly erecting walls, both literal and metaphorical, to guard white supremacy and corporate gain. With the stakes this high, our message to the Democratic candidates shouldn’t be “don’t go too left,” as President Obama advised in November. Our message should be, “Don’t move too far away from each other.”
Unity, like many political buzzwords, has been used so often and so mindlessly that its meaning in American politics has shifted from hallowed to hollow. What do we even mean by unity—and an even harder question, how can we achieve it? At this point in time, it’s safe to say that we on the left are united in our desire to limit the damage inflicted by Trump and get him out of the White House. It is to this end that for the past three years, nearly every policy effort exerted by the Democratic Party has been in reaction to the GOP and Trump.
Reacting is reflexive. It’s vastly different than “acting upon” our shared principles, which entails forethought, deliberation, and strategy—something the Democratic Party appears to be short on. If the Democrats have failed at anything thus far, it’s that they haven’t formed a solid platform for Americans to unite behind, to feel safe with against Trump. This may prove detrimental next November, since all that Trump supporters seem to need for unity is Trump himself; they trust him unconditionally.
For a Democratic candidate to defeat Trump, they, too, will need to inspire unity—and a unified left is contingent upon the nomination of a candidate that we can trust. That candidate needs to demonstrate unwavering commitment to progressive causes, such as Medicare for All, economic reform, and antidiscrimination policies. Because if the Democratic Party doesn’t get it together and cut out the bullshit, then we are looking at another four years of Trump. We need to get on the correct path. And the path to justice has never been an easy one.
We must recognize here that the national level of Democratic politics magnifies the worst traits of progressive movements. The national Democratic machine, as we’ve noted, is far from immune to corruption and corporate interests. It is instead the local and grassroots movements that hold the key to the genuine paradigm shift we need. And while this shift would be much easier under a progressive executive office, it will, no matter who wins, require patient and deliberate work that engages the People in new ways. It will not be glamorous and it will not be a quick fix. No, it will require getting off our screens and into the streets, getting our hands dirty. This means turning out for local elections; it means helping others register to vote; it means viewing national politics through a critical lens; it means promoting healing in our communities; it means keeping conversations about ongoing oppression, suppression, and depression alive; it means acknowledging that the mainstream media are as corrupt and driven by corporate interests as our political parties. Ultimately, it means stepping up and being there for one another.
Oh, and that whole impeachment thing. That shit’s gonna work itself out. See y’all in 2020.