It’s cheap. It’s lazy. It’s anti-activist. And above all else, it’s an illusion.
Author’s note: It’s interesting to be a dissenting voice in such an intense air of celebration. While I certainly don’t want to rain on some Americans’ parade after what’s been a traumatizing year, it’s important to not let up and to continue to speak the truth. This article contains criticisms of the people who might appear to have “saved” us from another four years of President Donald Trump. With that said, I’m not here to hate the players; I’m here to hate the game.
ATLANTA — It’s the day after official presidential election results showed Joe Biden as the new president-elect of the United States, effectively ruling out the possibility of another Trump administration. (Although, reason to pause faintly lingers as we await to enter what will likely be a litigation phase, which ultimately appears to hold no weight in legal bearings.)
The city of Atlanta revelled in the announcement, with many neighborhoods blasting music and drivers honking their horns while waving Biden-Harris signs in the streets. In addition to celebrating Biden and his vice presidential running mate, Kamala Harris, there was a secondary wave thanking former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams for her work and organization in the fight against voter suppression. Abrams’ role in this fight was conceived and ignited during her 2018 gubernatorial campaign against then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp. After the election was called, declaring Kemp the winner by a margin of about 50,000 votes, Abrams immediately launched into action to take on the fight for voter protections. She formed the now national nonprofit organization Fair Fight within 10 days of her “non-concession” speech.
Data and post-analysis show that it was through voter suppression tactics that Kemp was ultimately able to claim victory, with Georgia’s exact match policy alone disenfranchising 54,000 voters — and that doesn’t include the massive illegal purges that took place while Kemp was Secretary of State.
Thanks to Abrams, the term “voter suppression” has become normalized in political conversation and mainstream media, despite the fact it’s been the most commonplace and highly utilized tool of oppression in white rage since Jim Crow. Without Abrams and her organizations’ steady fight and mobilization to combat this oppression — not just in Georgia, but in 19 other states — we wouldn’t have the cultivated sense of awareness of voter suppression that we have today. However, this is only the beginning. The Voting Rights Act still carries the void of Section 4(b), which essentially offered legal protections for minority voters from suppressive state legislature throughout the country and was gutted in the 2013 Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder.
The story remains to be told how voter suppression will be eradicated from our systems in a more meaningful way. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party on the national level resisted discussing the topic at their convention or in this year’s campaign messaging, because they believed it would ultimately discourage voters. At the convention, Michelle Obama delivered an impassioned speech focusing on individualism surrounding the vote rather than the system in place that actively suppresses certain communities. Ultimately, this creates an inaccurate impression of what this election was really about: voter turnout versus the number of votes suppressed. Again, it was solely the burden of the American people to vote, regardless whether they aligned with Biden-Harris or not, to “save” the country.
Today, Harris’ position is rightfully being celebrated as a milestone for Black women, as she is both the first woman and person of color to be elected as Vice President. Never has a woman held as high of a position in American politics as where Harris stands right now. Certainly, a glass ceiling has been shattered. The victory is being applauded as a sign of legacy for the Voting Rights Act, the 19th amendment, and leaders like Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to run for president in the U.S. All struggles for civil and women’s rights have apparently paved the way for Harris to ascend to this position of power.
While I truly have almost nothing positive to say about Biden, it appears Trump is leaving. There will be a Black woman one heartbeat away from the presidency in the White House. Georgia flipped blue. It’s a lovely day and it seems there is a light at the end of this tunnel. So why do I still carry a sense of apprehension, waiting for the other shoe to drop? Why could I not honk back at the Biden-Harris signs? Why is it that neighborhoods like South Atlanta remained silent, rather than celebrating?
Because truth be told, for every bit of light there is darkness. And there is plenty underneath the surface of this victory which can’t be ignored in exchange for a sigh of relief.
Yesterday’s energy certainly wasn’t misdirected or unwarranted. In Georgia in particular, there is a lot to celebrate. The state flipped blue during its count for the first time since 1992 and it’s been an uphill battle, especially after Kemp’s move into the Governor’s Mansion. The greatest cause for celebration nationwide (although, not the entire nation was celebrating) was the fact that it seems America has been spared a disastrous pitfall into fascism, at least for now.
The American people undeniably deserve a moment of relief and cause for celebration in what has been an extremely tumultuous year defined by the deadly global coronavirus pandemic and the racial reckonings during the uprisings in the Movement for Black lives. The year has been further punctuated with frightening economic crises, the loss of millions of acres on the west coast in raging wildfires, and a historically stressful, nail-biting election season. But America doesn’t need relief. It needs recovery.
The question truly remains if a Biden-Harris administration will deliver; and all eyes should be on their administration’s transition as much as they are on the Trump administration’s final days in the White House. Similarly, all eyes should remain on Georgia through its recount and likely litigation process, as we are still in well-known suppressor and election stealer Kemp’s Georgia with his man Brad Raffesperger as the Secretary of State. As it stands, two U.S. Senate seats remain on the line as the state prepares for a Jan. 5 runoff.
One troubling aspect of yesterday is our culture’s seeming quickness to prop certain people in the limelight as if they’re idols. Multiple memes and GIFs illustrated this best: Trump comes in for the fight, and heroic images of Biden, Harris, Abrams, Obama, et al., come in for the rescue to knock him out. People across Georgia and other parts of the nation quickly thanked Abrams in tweets and memes decorated with blue heart emojis. Both Biden and Harris’ stories and backgrounds have been embossed and given a glossy cover to serve up another platter of the American Dream: thanks to their hard work and years of service, Trump — our decided antagonist for all things wrong between 2016 and now — will be gone.
This narrative is ultimately a fallacy that only serves to belittle the parts of America that actually “saved” this election and will bring us to salvation moving forward: mass social and grassroots movements that are composed of the most vulnerable in our society. Further, this idea sets the people up for disappointment when our leaders will inevitably make mistakes that should stand to be corrected by immense public pressure. (This will happen.)
Biden, Harris, and Abrams are not saviors when it comes to America’s democracy. Since they are currently at the helm of conversation regarding American politics, with two of them holding the highest ranks in positions of power in the world, let’s take a moment to reflect on why.
The list of reasons why Biden isn’t our savior is long, but I’ll give the short version. While people applaud him for his empathy and “integrity,” my mind can’t unring the bell of the Anita Hill hearings in 1991, the irreparable harm caused by the 1994 Crime Bill, his refusal to support Medicare for All, his fight to defund social security for the past 40 years, his and his party’s terrible response to former staffer Tara Reade’s sexual allegations in the spring, his refusal to take a stronger stance on climate change (why the hell do y’all love fracking so damn much?), and his campaign’s response condemning protesters following the Walter Wallace, Jr., shooting by police in Philadelphia. They say once someone shows you who they are, you ought to believe them; and it appears a majority of Biden voters were either unaware of these issues, didn’t care, or simply dropped them to sustain a vote strong enough to oust Trump out of the White House.
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act — also simply referred to as the 1994 crime bill — still causes harm to communities of color today. The damage it has caused to these communities is greater than we recognize, primarily because that’s how mass incarceration works. We don’t recognize it, because we don’t see it. In short, the bill, sponsored by Biden, continues to hurt these communities in three ways: it added 60 new federal offenses for the death penalty, which is known as a “direct descendent of lynching” and has always targeted Black and Latinx communities; imposed three-strike laws, which consequently ballooned incarceration rates in certain states for Black and Latinx communities; and it levies harsh new penalties for justice-involved youth, essentially expanding the school-to-prison pipeline as it allowed prosecutors to charge 13-year-old children as adults for certain crimes. Additionally, it reinforced the highly problematic Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 which created huge disparities in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine. While Biden has uttered the words “it was a mistake” in response to questions regarding these pieces of legislation during his campaign, he has yet to propose a plan of how to undo the harms done and repair damage caused.
As to whether or not Biden and Harris will lead us to criminal-justice reform, Harris’ record shows she won’t add any pressure to correct these harms to help us get there. While it is inspiring and heartwarming to consider that Harris’ ascent to power is a result of the civil rights movement and the subsequent Voting Rights Act of 1965, the struggles of women like Chisholm, and the suffragette movement, it is a bit misleading.
Harris has been in this system for a long time and her record shows how she’s played in that system. Long story short, Harris’ actions and decisions have directly caused harm to Black trans communities, criminalized poverty through an anti-truancy program, kept innocent people in jail, among other issues in her record. As she and Biden campaigned during the nation’s uprisings, not once did they take a genuine stance of solidarity in the name of Black lives or civil rights. For the sake of this argument, lip service and the performance at the DNC convention don’t count.
Her rise to victory is more so one based on the circumstances of her positioning in American politics on the stage that the civil rights and women’s movements have helped set. But to claim this victory as a form of legacy of these movements is a bit of a romanticized exaggeration, especially since she’s contributed to the very oppressive system that the movements fought so hard against.
On the note of Chisholm, who was a socialist, let’s keep in mind that she was unable to consolidate the votes among women and minorities due to a broad lack of support in her 1972 presidential campaign. When the “unbought and unbossed” candidate made her presidential bid, she called for a “bloodless revolution” and demonstrated a “sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo.” The feminist movement was split over her candidacy as they tip-toed around how to achieve legalized abortion, ultimately seeking to pander to centrist and moderate politics to get it done. Further, having a woman run for president at the time was even more radical than it is today. In 2020, America is still not ready to have a woman president. The results from this last election prove it.
Harris, on the other hand, has played a role in a party that has actively sought to stifle progressive voices throughout this entire election and distances itself from anything that slightly resembles socialist policy in accordance with our modern-day Red Scare. Even now, in this moment of celebration, the party falsely blames Democratic House losses to progressive messaging. Moreover, we can’t ignore the fact that Harris agreed to run alongside a man she openly criticized on the debate stage for his past segregationist policies.
As for Abrams, while she is certainly the symbol for the fight against voter suppression, there were many before her in the struggle that did not have access to the resources needed to affect change the way she has. Although she is a sturdy warrior in the fight of voter protection, she’s not a savior. This isn’t to say we aren’t to give credit where credit is due. Hard work certainly plays a role in Abrams’ and her organizations’ successes, and they played a vital role in flipping Georgia blue. In fact, I’d say they’re completely responsible for it. However, it was hard work and proper placement in an oppressive system that ultimately yielded such results. Sadly, it is grassroots organizations and causes like these that generate a lot of hype and save elections only to be promptly dropped immediately after.
Last year, Abrams accepted $5M from Michael Bloomberg for her Fair Fight organization, and then later defended Bloomberg on the View when asked how she could run a platform for fair and free elections while defending and accepting money from someone who was essentially trying to buy their way into the presidential election. In her response, she compared Bloomberg’s spending to other candidates campaigning with photo opps with their dog. In late April, Abrams parroted Democratic Party talking points on CNN in response to Reade’s sexual allegations against Biden. The party essentially did all it could to sweep these allegations under the rug, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi shrugging off the #MeToo movement, which ultimately exhibited a gross double standard in comparison to the party’s response to the allegations brought against Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Are these critical observations a call to cancel or even belittle Biden, Harris, or Abrams as we move forward in our nation, hopefully towards reform and true justice for all? No. Are politicians and political figures human? Absolutely. Is it more likely that the system is to blame over the people participating in them? Yes. Does that excuse every misstep and harm caused? No, it doesn’t. Is it time that we demand and push for abolition of unreformable systems so we can live in a world where we can reasonably expect politicians to work for the people they serve, rather than playing to serve the “game,” as we all continue to wait? You can bet your ass it is, like the fate of our planet depends on it.
This is why it’s important to keep politicians and our entire political system right-sized: if we don’t, we risk missing the entire picture and forgetting the truths we need to see in order to radically change the system from the top-down and the bottom-up. We can not in one moment criticize the American Dream for being completely elusive and unrealistic and then the next applaud it because we simply want to believe it to be true for our own sense of comfort.
The American Dream is real, but you have to be asleep to believe it. This dream — the lofty yet simple idea that if you just work hard enough, you will reap the rewards fairly and have every opportunity to do so — didn’t win Biden and Harris the election. Neither did it pave the path for Abrams. America has yet to be as good as its promise and neoliberalism could very well be the blanket to tuck the American people back to sleep.
Creating false saviors and idols is lazy. It’s cheap. It’s an illusion. It discounts the true value of mass social movements, their power, and the resilience of the individuals in its make-up. It creates an impression that we need people in high places to save us in a time when, truly, no one is coming. It’s anti-activist rhetoric in that it diminishes the need for and importance of mass movements as long as a select group of people can do the work once we place them in a certain position of power, even when they’ve already proven that they won’t.
While we might want a savior, America, frankly, doesn’t deserve one. Almost half of the country’s voters voted for Trump, which sharply illuminates how sick the nation remains in terms of racism, sexism, nationalism, and lack of urgency surrounding climate change. That’s half of the country’s voters during a global pandemic that’s killed over 230,000 Americans due to a reckless and negligent administration. That’s half of the country’s voters during a year of reckoning for the Movement of Black Lives. That’s half of the country’s voters while the nation’s west coast remains on fire. Half of the country’s voters during record breaking numbers of unemployment. Half the country’s voters as over 80 million Americans have descended into poverty.
Not only is yesterday’s victory not a moral one; it can’t even be rooted in circumstances. There is no one politician or select group of elitists who will do the work to carry the nation out of the systems that allowed Trump to be in the position of power he is in or eradicate the deep, underlying issues that have been revealed throughout his administration. Based on circumstance alone, you’d think this election would have been a landslide. And the uncomfortable conversation remains as to why it wasn’t — and it’s because of the failures of the Democratic Party.
Perhaps this conversation is a bit too soon or too critical. After all, whatever strategies the DNC had up its sleeve, whether that be knocking progressive policies off its platform, actively working against progressives in the party, decrying Medicare for All and the Green New Deal as if they were chosen enemies, pandering to centrists and moderate Republicans, slinkily distancing itself from the movement while somehow presenting a false image of solidarity, it ultimately worked: Trump will be gone and perhaps we shouldn’t overanalyze how we got to this result. It happened, and that’s all that matters.
Under a Biden-Harris administration, we can likely expect not too much to fundamentally change besides the fact that a great number of Americans can return to some place of comfort in not having the grotesque display of Trump in office. This is especially true if Republicans maintain control of the Senate and gain control of the House, which is still unclear as of today. However, it is vital that people in that class of comfort understand that those who are regularly marginalized and harmed by corporate neoliberalism did not show up to vote for Biden simply so they could return to a sense of “normalcy” that we shouldn’t even aspire to return to. We should all take a moment to remember certain things from the pre-Trump era to give us an idea of what a Biden presidency may look like.
The Obama-Biden administration indicted more journalists and whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than any other administration in U.S. history. While their approach wasn’t as in-your-face as Trump’s callous treatment to the media, Obama and Biden set the stage for the restrictions on U.S. media today in a modern form of McCarthyism as well as the ongoing Julian Assange extradition trial. In regards to health care, the Affordable Care Act failed to provide insurance for the poor and most vulnerable, and Biden simply wants to bring another version of it while still avoiding Medicare for All. Biden will now have to answer for his 2002 U.S. Senate vote that led to an invasion in Iraq, which helped kick off the neverending wars that continue to hemorrhage trillions of dollars from the national budget every year. America dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016 as an end to Obama’s time in office, equating to nearly three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day. Similarly to Trump, Biden is opposed to banning fracking, as both parties played “not it!” when it came to the issue. Significant steps towards climate change reform were dropped from the DNC platform earlier this year, as Biden distanced himself from fossil fuel subsidies and the Green New Deal. Biden is pro-ICE and as we can’t forget, it was the Obama administration who installed cages for children in detention centers.
All of this has been deemed permissible and acceptable in order to get Trump out of office, as if centrist policies are the only ones that work. This is the paradigm American politics operate in, even though a majority of Americans want things like universal health care and policy addressing climate change — the two issues that have been somehow been deemed “radical” in our current landscape.
Yes, we were able to evade an attempted autocratic breakthrough this time around. But the election results show the Democratic Party’s strategies worked just barely. There has been no proof that progressive messaging or policies have done anything to harm voter turnout; if anything, non-voters simply feel defeated and depleted in our current system that repeatedly fails to work for them. This election’s results prove that, as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez points out in her recent interview with the New York Times. Latin voters and a large white majority still turned out for Trump, which raises concerns of what the general election may look like four years from now.
And if there is any question whether or not a movement of people remain in favor of Trump: 60 million Americans voted for him in 2016, while 68 million Americans voted for him in 2020. That’s a rather massive and now aggrieved movement that’s been activated and accelerated by Trumpism the last four years. The country we woke up to today is not different than it was before yesterday’s announcement; and none of the issues will fade away once Biden and Harris step into the Oval Office.
So what really happened yesterday? America did not win anything except a step towards a false yet digestible image of decency over a monstrous display of dysfunction. But undoubtedly, the corroding dysfunction of our democracy remains — and no amount of perceived saviors from on high have the power to change that.