Politics and governing are about relationships and access to power. And in democracies, political change often moves slowly, incrementally. Considering the disparate opinions of a nation as diverse as the United States takes time if what we’re after is the best result for the most people. There is no dictator to make unilateral decisions.
Democratic governments are meant to be a reflection of their citizens, a reflection of a nation’s core principles and values. If removing individual biases is challenging work, removing them from our institutions is, too. In short, if the structure of American politics and government has been fucked up for 150 years, it won’t be fixed in 50 years…but it could be better than before.
Or it could be worse.
Democracies thrive or wither on the strength of the relationship between a government and the governed. As a Political Scientist and Professor at an HBCU, I get to see first-hand how tenuous that relationship is. During political discussions in my classrooms and at parties especially, I meet people who casually trot out lines that reek of political miseducation. If I never hear some version of “elections are just a choice between the lesser of two evils,” or “my vote doesn’t count anyway,” or “I been voting and ain’t nothing changed,” it’ll be too soon.
At stake in election 2016 was the prospect that whatever personal, political, or economic progress that slugged along could be gutted to be less effective, or stopped and reversed altogether. When I learned that Donald Trump had won the 2016 presidential election,* I felt sick about what his victory** meant. I remember saying that I hoped Trump won the Republican Primary, proving that the Republican Party had evolved into a joke, and effectively ending the culturally toxic positions that had come to define the party. I hadn’t considered the prospect of something worse – that voters would actually choose the “billionaire” reality tv star, and widely known douchebag misogynist over the woman who had been First Lady, a two-term Senator who drew bipartisan praise during her tenure, and a Secretary of State who was voted “Most Admired Woman in the World” in 2012.
If you cared about healthcare, the humanity and dignity of immigrants, women’s personhood, police violence against Black and brown Americans, racial profiling and discrimination against members of our communities of color, then the stakes in 2016 were high. Selecting Donald Trump was akin to playing Russian (ha) roulette with your future. If you were honest with yourself, you couldn’t have trusted Trump’s campaign promises unless you were White. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in “The First White President,” that “[i]t is often said that Trump has no real ideology, [this] is not true—his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power.” I’d add to Coates’s assertion that Trumpism is also about using the power and influence of the American Government to fortify corporate and White Nationalist interests.
The first 18 months of the Trump presidency confirm that we were right to question Donald Trump’s fitness to be president. He has imposed tariffs on imported goods from China, Canada, India, Mexico, and more. In retaliation, many of the countries have imposed their own billion-dollar tariffs right back. For American business owners, this translates into a higher cost of doing business and further disadvantages industry workers and consumers. Trump’s nativist, White Nationalist policy of separating children from their parents, is a relic of our White supremacist past. Adam Serwer writes, “For the enslaved, who lived lives of toil and hardship as chattel, the forced division of families was among the most agonizing experiences they ever suffered or witnessed.” And finally, Trump has nominated to the Supreme Court, a 53-year-old man who believes sitting Presidents that collude with foreign governments to steal elections, for example, should not be prosecuted. And whose presence on the Court puts women’s healthcare, and the LGBTQ community’s dignity on a collision course with “religious freedom.”
I say all of this to say that elections have consequences. In democracies, voting is ultimate power, and not voting or having your vote suppressed, renders individuals or groups powerless in the only political mechanism the system counts as valid. That’s not to say that voting is the only answer. Voting is, however, a significant one. Midterm elections are coming up in four months. All 435 seats in House of Representatives (currently controlled by Republicans who have no interest in providing checks or balance on Donald Trump’s policy agenda) are up, and 35 Senate seats are up. Remember that “better” is a victory. If better doesn’t move you, remember that things could be worse, and good God, do you even want to know what that looks like?
*Donald Trump’s presidency is illegitimate in my view. Unless and until Robert Mueller’s investigation clears him, he is #notmypresident.