“Elections mean a popular vote, not this charade,” said Ivan Zhdakayev, a deputy from Sakhalin Island in the Soviet Far East who criticized the contested results of Russia’s first Presidential election in 1990. An election that took place only a year after its first legislative election in seventy years, the same year a crumbling communist-led Soviet union surrendered the Berlin wall amid a wave of revolutions that left the former American foe on the brink of collapse.
By normal standards, the 1990 election was far removed from a democratic process. Of the 2,250 lawmakers, 750 were directly elected by the Communist Party and its satellite “public organizations” such as the Young Communist League and the Soviet Women’s Committee. Another 399 seats were filled in single-candidate elections, and the remaining 1,101 districts came with a worker collective caveat that directly assisted loyal to the party candidates.
Yet, a growing pro-democracy movement choreographed by the district assembly allowed for a two-candidate runoff between a party sanctioned candidate, Yevgeny Brakov, and an independent-minded maverick, Boris Yeltsin. Shockingly, Yeltsin overwhelmingly defeated Barkov with 89.2 percent of the vote.
“I think this has given perestroika a certain urgency,” Yeltsin said in reference to the restructuring policy underway in the Soviet Union.
Furthermore, in a stunning humiliation for the Communist party, 38 of its regional first secretaries lost in their districts. Though they still held 87 percent of the seats, forming what opposition legislator Yuri Afanasevy termed “an aggressively obedient majority,” the most important outcome of this historic election was the formulation of the Soviet Union’s first-ever parliamentary opposition. Despite their best efforts, dozens of pro-democracy candidates found their way inside the Congress and quickly captured the country’s attention with their daring, articulated anti-regime message that would now broadcast nationwide during live coverage of legislative sessions.
Known as the Inter-Regional Group of Deputies, this political group never made up more than 12 percent of the Congress, but their moral and intellectual authority proved too much for even a communist crafted electoral system to overcome. Those elections offered an important lesson for a floundering Soviet union, as well as the rest of the western world: however entrenched the system might be, the strong public sentiment still finds a way in.
Another lesson it provides is the sheer significance of elections, their direct result on the social fabric of a country’s legislative and political makeup, not to mention the direct effect they offer on regulations and laws that may impact the electorate for decades to come. However, in the 2016 American Presidential election between then-Republican Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, roughly 43 percent of eligible voters did not bother filling out a ballot. According to estimates from the U.S. Elections Project, run by a political scientist at the University of Florida, there are about 251 million voting-age people in the United States. Not all of them are eligible to vote, of course. Several million members of the electorate can’t legally vote because they’re in prison, on parole, or have past felony convictions. Even factoring in those disenfranchised voters, 232 million people were still potentially eligible to cast a vote, but only 132 million did.
Now, ramping towards what is going to be a divisive and fundamentally important Presidential election between the now-sitting President Donald J. Trump and Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, there is still an underlying apathy towards a general election by an electorate fractured by a COVID-19 reality, wrestling with the racial wounds of a country that has directly benefited off of the backs of free labor and legislated discrimination. This election matters; in fact, they all do.
My vote doesn’t matter.
In interviews with two dozen Sanders primary voters in April by the New York Times, there was a nearly “universal lack of enthusiasm” for the former Vice President. In a poll, conducted back in March, four out of five Sanders supporters said they would vote for Biden, with 15 percent of those same voters claiming they would cross over to Trump — the same share of voters that did so in 2016.
“I’ll hold my nose and vote for Biden,” said Kelly Manning. At age 55, Ms. Manning caucused for Bernie Sanders in Burlington and now finds herself, as a letter carrier for the Postal Service, confronting a President willing to disavow her occupation in favor of private corporations.
Her 31-year-old son, Mason Blow, is another matter. A staunch Sanders supporter, he voted for a third-party candidate in 2016. Ms. Manning said she and her sister were “working on him” to vote for Mr. Biden, to prevent a second Trump term.
“He said he won’t vote for Biden, he’s going to write in Bernie this time,” Ms. Manning said. “The younger people, they’re not used to having their dream crushed as we are.”
Scouring through social media and speaking with friends who portray themselves as independent, or in some cases, liberal voters seem content with doing the same as they did in 2016. I must confess as well, that as a 19-year old in 2016, I did not participate in the 2016 election either. My reasons were juvenile, at best. I wasn’t interested in politics, nor was I entertained by the notion that Trump would somehow destroy the fabrics of a country that has withstood seismic tests in its crisp 240-year history. Naive and uneducated, I was — if nothing else — apathetic to the consequences of my absentee vote.
Almost immediately after his election, the now 45th President launched his first assault on fact-based reality in regards to the attendance at his inauguration being lesser than that of the President he was seceding Barack Obama. Trump effectively ordered his supporters and apolitical members of the government bureaucracy to adhere to a blatantly false, manipulated reality. He was even going as far as to induce the National Park Service to produce doctored photographs or compelled the White House press secretary to lie about the size of a crowd.
It was a petty lie, but a small step in what would become a large stain on the American political institution in which the President would indirectly and directly plunge our nation into a crisis by a coronavirus that has no cure with a chaotic federal response, despite being briefed on the potential severity of the crisis in December of 2019. Not to mention, the absolute disappearance of the federal government in which the President deflects blame for his failures to the underfunded and underprepared state legislatures, alongside a ruined economy with more than 40 million Americans filing for unemployment in May.
Additionally, Trump has governed according to a set of principles very different from the populistic agenda his “intellectual” supporters articulated as his moral ideology. He built a Cabinet and an administration that serve neither the public nor his voters but rather his own psychological needs and the interests of his own friends on Wall Street and in business, and his own family. His tax cuts disproportionately benefited the wealthy, not the working class. The shallow economic boom he brags about was engineered to ensure his reelection, made possible by a vast budget deficit, on a scale Republicans once claimed to detest, an enormous burden for future generations. He worked to dismantle the existing health-care system without offering anything better, as he’d promised to, all the while he fanned and encouraged xenophobia and racism, both because he found them politically useful and because they are part of his personal worldview.
This was an inevitable result of a three-year assault on loyalty, competence, journalism, professionalism, and patriotism. More than a hundred thousand people have died because of it, riots have overtaken city capitals demanding change in a country that has never truly confronted its racial history and racial bias, and there remains no light to be seen at the end of this very dark tunnel.
Nevertheless, the President is already taking victory laps. In recent weeks, he has ramped up his nationalistic campaign agenda and stoked culture wars over public health measures recommended by the government agencies he is supposed to be in charge of, but the President is far more focused on the most important thing to him right now: reelection.
Still, some friends and family seem to be of the opinion that “sleepy Joe” is too hard of a choice to make compared to a president who has violated our Constitution and the civic efficacy of an office designed to provide moral leadership. Though he is undoubtedly imperfect, participating in the war on drugs movement as a Senator and failing to support Anita Hill in her accusation of sexual harassment against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1994. However, Mr. Biden remains a responsible, former elected official who provides a moment of reset for a country whose President has sided with foreign dictators and authoritarian leaders like North Korea Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
You can expect Joe Biden to have shortcomings; a Democratic centric official isn’t going to revamp the broken policing system, a corrupted criminal justice system, or a fractured health care system and education system. Though, I feel confident believing that the former Vice President will reinstate trust in American leadership on both the global stage and domestic landscape with even the most minimal policy changes and resigning of foreign policy agreements like the Paris-Climate Agreement and the Iran-Nuclear Deal. He’s a President that I expect to repair the mess left by a corrupt, Trump-first administration.
That being said, there’s a potential for liberal voters to completely ignore our sitting President’s behaviors out of protest of an out-of-touch Democratic ticket — forgetting or entirely ignoring the impact’s of the executive office on our social and legal fabric. Take former Supreme Court Justice Anthony McLeod Kennedy, for example. Retired from the bench for two years now, and nominated by former Republican President Ronald Reagan, Kennedy was critical in upholding Roe V. Wade during Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 and legalizing gay marriage by writing the majority ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges which holds that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry — nationwide. In addition, Kennedy ruled in favor of the Coeur Alaska, Inc. V. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, which allowed an Alaskan mining company to extract new gold from a mine that had been closed for decades. Kennedy was a Supreme Court justice elected by a President in 1988 and effectively-structured the judicial branch of our government for thirty years. If Reagan wasn’t President, who would’ve been appointed? What would be different?
Similarly, in 1933 when then-Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed what is remembered as a model for the tectonic potential of progressive governing: The New Deal. The omnibus programs passed under which would cast a broad social safety net that would protect the poor and the afflicted while boosting the middle class’s strength. However, this monumental piece of legislation rested on the foundation of Jim Crow.
When Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act of 1935, it was designed to exclusively provide old-age insurance and unemployment insurance to a predominant white majority — excluding farm workers and domestics, which were occupations heavily immersed in black communities. Upon its passage, 65 percents of African Americans nationally and 70 to 80 percent in the South were ineligible. The often celebrated G.I. Bill would provide a similar effect, mirroring the country’s insistence on racist housing policies.
Roosevelt, the only four-term President in our nation’s history, was pivotal for our prevailing over the Great Depression and World War II. However, his legislated disenfranchisement of African Americans is also responsible for the current economic stigma in which African American finds themselves apart of today, alongside another 60 years of sweeping disenfranchisement led by both Republican and Democratic leadership. What if Roosevelt was never in office? What if Giuseppe Zangara assassinated the then President-elect in 1933, and we swore in his running mate John Nance Garner?
Knowing the historical ramifications of a single President allows you to understand the formidable power of our vote. That’s not to say, there are no definitive reasons to criticize our electoral system and its plurality design, but those problems can’t change without electing someone to change them — someone who, at the executive level, can shape our country for the foreseeable future. At the legislative level, one man/woman’s vote can change everything. The late Arizona Senator and former Presidential candidate, John Mccain, gave an iconic rebuke to the GOP’s plan to repeal Obamacare in early 2017. What if Mccain resigned amidst his battle with cancer? What last-minute vote would’ve of prevented a Trump-led GOP from removing 20-million Americans from having access to health care?
So, yes, your vote matters. Don’t waste it protesting a candidate not in the running, and don’t pretend as if a second-term Trump administration is not as potentially fatal to a brittle American institution as it presents itself to be, because it is.
I will not sacrifice my beliefs for your betterment.
Of course, for some, it is not a question of whether their vote matters, but a question of whether they will sacrifice a core belief for the betterment of all — a question of whether they will vote for a candidate who supports a core belief they share, despite the potential harm that candidate might do to their country. It’s a risk-reward mentality. The ever-present fear that their vote matters so much that they will risk toxicity and blatant demagoguery for the benefit of their belief being affirmed by their candidate.
The existential threat of “the left” for some Americans has been enough to influence them to swallow bad apples in favor of pushing the threat further away from becoming a reality.
Their logic goes as follows: The nation is dead or dying — so anything you can do to restore it is justified. Whatever criticisms might be made, fairly, of President Trump, whatever harm he has done to democracy or to the rule of law, no matter the corrupt bureaucracy he might partake in or even boast about while in the White House — all of these critiques pail in comparison to the horrific alternative: the liberalism, socialism, moral decadence, demographic changing, and religiousless country that would have been the inevitable result of a Hillary Clinton, and conversely Joe Biden, presidency.
The Republican Senators know this better than most, willing to express their disgust for Trump off the record before voting in February to keep the President in office. So do the evangelical pastors who would normally be infuriated by a President who committed adultery with a porn actress, but out of a stirring fear of an irrational reality in which the United States would allow open abortions in Times Square or force Transgenderism upon random citizens, they ignore Trump’s behaviors and contextualize them with scriptural precedents.
The three most important members of Trump’s Cabinet — Attorney General William Barr, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — are all profoundly shaped by this theocratical, apocalyptic thinking. All three are clever enough to see through the facade, to understand what Trumpism truly means and that the good lord has little role to play in his decision making. Nevertheless, in Anne Applebaum’s cover story for The Atlantic titled, History Will Judge the Complicit, she writes about a former member of the Trump administration (one of the few who eventually resigned) who told her that for both Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo, the Trump presidency is a “biblical moment.” All of the things they concern themselves about — the outlawing of abortion, gay rights, and transgender rights — are under threat from this ominous threat. Time is growing short for them, and they believe “we are approaching the Rapture, and this is a moment of deep religious significance.” Barr similarly, has pontificated about his belief in militant secularists that are destroying the fabric of America, that “irreligion and secular values are being forced on people of faith.” For them, and for many others, whatever evil Trump may commit, it all pails in comparison to the biblical achievements, he may be able to accomplish.
To put it in a more intimate context, I have a best friend, a proud Texan conservative. He’s what most would refer to as a good ol’ boy: hardworking, smart, god-fearing, and kind-hearted. For him, politically, no issue may be of higher precedence than abortion. For him, it is not a question of when or how an abortion might take place but the sheer fact that no matter the stage of the pregnancy, that embryo will, barring a miscarriage, become a child. He’ll concede rape victims, and favor sexual education funding, but that core belief assists in his favoring of conservative politicians that echo a similar belief.
As a best friend, he is aware of my sexuality. He’s supportive of me and my boyfriend’s relationship, a boyfriend who has known him longer than even I have. Like my parents, however, who also claim their definitive support for my sexuality, he will maintain a level of apathy at the voting booth. For them, there are more consequential factors in their vote than my rights, (as a bi-sexual man), the rights of my boyfriend (as a gay man), or the rights of my LGBTQ friends. They neglect those present realities in which their candidates are actively working to strip away those civil protections in favor of their fundamental belief in either the moralistic sin of abortion or, in my parent’s case, the fear of the “undeserving” benefit from governmental assistance while they continue to struggle.
Though they could argue they weren’t aware of it in 2016, and they simply voted for the ideological candidate, now, in 2020, voting for Trump is a direct refutation of those claims of support. You cannot promote my sexuality and the freedom from oppression for my sexuality while simultaneously supporting a candidate who has revoked the health care protection for Transgender people, undermined section 1557, supported religious discrimination, banned transgender people from military service, supported employment discrimination, appointed anti-LGBTQ judges, and once joked about Pence’s desire to “hang” us all. Though Joe Biden is not the staunchest ally, he is not the actual existential threat to my and other’s safety and well being that President Trump has proved himself to be.
All of this is not to suggest the purity of the democratic party or to stoke the immaculate candidacy of Joe Biden. Both are flawed; the number of voters who are willing to sacrifice their desire for rectifying change instead of pragmatic action is a problematic trait of liberal voters. Too many Democratic legislators and senators lack principles worth losing their seats over, often running to the center in fear of being perceived as “too far left.” Biden, similarly, isn’t without blemish either. From his aforementioned history as a Senator to his current mishandling of the protests and the black lives matter movement in which he’s struggled to garner that needed approach to a festering racial wound that will not be solved until we confront it head-on — progressively.
I’ll admit, the “uncle Joe” character isn’t the man we need running for office in 2020. The staunch, battered, and belligerent man who called a voter a “lying, dog-face pony soldier” back in February. I would have preferred a candidate of diversity on the ticket, with a more progressive ideology, and a youth vibrance to counteract Trump’s antiquated world view.
However, I will argue that the crux of who Joe Biden is might be exactly what we need right now. Biden is a man humbled by grief. In 1966, his then-wife Neil Hunter and his 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car accident after a tractor-trailer carrying corn broadsided the family’s Chevrolet station wagon. In May of 2015, his son Beau passed away from brain cancer at the age of 46. A few months later, in September, Mr. Biden was a guest on Stephen Colbert’s late-show, a brother-in-grief who lost his father and his two brothers in a deadly plane crash in ’74. Knowing this while discussing his grief on national television, he said he was “marveled” at how people who have suffered tremendously can rally themselves, “get up,” and help others. “I don’t want to embarrass you, but you’re one of them, old buddy,” he said to Colbert. Near the end of the interview, Colbert mentioned how “This is why I think people want you to run for president.”
America needs revolutionary change, but right now, I would argue we need someone who can fathom the emotional complexity of a country in pain. In an America confronting the racial history of a country built from the destruction of generations of black and brown families, fathoming the erosions of our institutions, and enduring the divisive conflict of a White America that refuses to allow rectifying change that would benefit those in need of it; in that America, few are better suited for the role of leadership than a man who has experienced loss in a way few of us can comprehend.
He’s not the candidate I wanted; he’s not the best choice, or maybe he is factoring in the United States’ spiritual status. Nevertheless, elections matter, and to move forward, we need a leader who shares the humility of what it means to lose — an outfit our current President is incapable of wearing.