I Hate Presidential Elections
I don’t believe they are a time for hope. I don’t think they are a time for significant change. I think they are a time for fear about how much worse things could get. They are a time for trying to minimize the damage that Americans do to each other and to the rest of the world.
So, I participate ambivalently. I don’t have any illusions about politicians or presidential candidates. I don’t think any of them are on our side. I told my husband that I would likely never support him running for office because almost certainly at some point I would feel morally obligated to organize protests outside that same office. I don’t even trust my city councilors to be on my side, much less people who are even further removed from every day citizens like Senators, Governors and Secretaries of State.
I hate Presidential elections. They remind me of how limited our political culture is and how trapped so many of us feel within it. Black Americans (surely like others) are caught in what feels like a Catch-22: participating in the process at all feels like we are legitimizing a national idea that has never included us as people and has often consumed us like we are animals to be served, to be slaughtered, and to entertain. At the same time, people died so that we would have the right to participate. My grandmother marched on Washington for many things, including the right to vote once she became a citizen. If we don’t participate, if we don’t vote, are we throwing away those dreams and trampling on lives lost, energy devoted?
I hate presidential elections. I hate the rhetoric we have to listen to. Let’s make America great again. This is a line being used both by the candidate I fear the most (Trump) and the one I am supporting (O’Malley). It’s a bullshit line. When exactly was America great? When Native people were first being dispossessed of land and threatened with dispossession of culture and ultimately life? When half the country said it would fight to the death to keep Black people in chains? When the whole country looked the other way as Jim Crow replaced chattel slavery as the means for controlling and destroying Black bodies? When Chinese people were being lied to and brought to the U.S. to effectively work as indentured servants? When Japanese people were being interned? When white people violently opposed Black children sharing classrooms with white children? When the U.S. was playing chess with the lives of everyone on the Korean peninsula, leading to a national bifurcation that continues to this day? When the U.S. was playing chess with the lives of everyone in Vietnam and all over Latin America and all of the soldiers (including a member of my family) who were sent as pawns in the game? When exactly has America ever been great?
America never was America to non-white America.
So, I hate Presidential elections because they are a game of lies, and I feel compelled to consume the lies and decide which ones are the most palatable. So, why do it at all? Because lives are at stake. On my 16th birthday, Bill Clinton dropped bombs on Afghanistan. I remember sitting on the steps of the building where I was volunteering and trying to process that. I was 10 when he was elected, the first Democratic President in my lifetime. For once, my parents let me wave an American flag, at the inauguration, which I had tickets to as a thank you for volunteering to pass out the inauguration press passes in the Capitol building. There I am, smiling in photos at the inauguration. There he is, President Clinton, just steps away from me in a terrible photo I took at the inaugural parade.
There I was 5.5 years later, processing that this same man had enacted a devastating welfare reform, signed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, ignored the pleas of dying people in Kosovo almost until the very end, and was now dropping bombs on a country we were supposedly not even at war with. I processed and learned this lesson on my 16th birthday, one that many victims’ families in the U.S., Latin America, Asia and the Middle East had learned before me: American Presidents are killers. Even the Presidents who are supposed to be on our side are not on our side.
So, in 2000, I supported Clinton’s Vice President Gore tepidly because I knew George W. Bush would kill more people. To this day, I contend that Gore would have killed people, but not nearly as many as Bush did. I think we could be talking orders of magnitude in difference. That matters. It matters that people die at all of course. But it matters that we can reduce the death.
So I hate Presidential elections, and I participate in them. I don’t think the revolution begins at the top. I don’t believe that electing Bernie Sanders will lead to revolution, no matter how many times he says the word.
I think electing Bernie Sanders could be one of the best Presidential things to happen — or it could be a disaster. His stance on immigration is questionable at best and fucking awful at worst. I think he’s unpredictable, and I don’t like that. I don’t know what his plans are, how he would execute any of the things he’s talking about. When he’s been asked for specificity, he’s been vague or caught off guard.
I hate Presidential elections, and I think they are extremely limited in affecting the change we need to see and the change we need to be. I think they are times when Americans magnify the daily lies we tell about what America is and has been. The Presidential candidate I am most excited about is Larry Lessig, in this respect. He’s not telling any lies. But he also won’t have any impact on the campaign or national discourse unfortunately. That’s partly a structural problem and also partly Lessig’s fault.
So I’m supporting Martin O’Malley. Not because I endorse the policing choices he supported as Mayor of Baltimore. I think we all know that the Baltimore establishment has ravaged Black bodies and Black families and then blamed drugs instead of the economic arrangements that allow drug cartels to so affect low-income communities. I think O’Malley should apologize for his participation in this and work toward reconciliation; I know he probably won’t. I think O’Malley should defend the protestors who were recently criminalized for occupying government buildings in Baltimore; I know he probably won’t. I think O’Malley should be more honest about the ties between Wall Street and the Venture Capitalists he’s been courting in the Silicon Valley tech industry; I know he probably won’t.
Still, I’m supporting Martin O’Malley because the other candidates have copied some of the decent things he has said, and it has moved the campaign and the candidates in a better direction — even Sanders.
I’m supporting Martin O’Malley because I think he’s the least dangerous person running for President in the Democratic Primary. I’m also supporting him because when it comes to immigration policy, he’s actually got a proven track record of trying to give people opportunities at life. As a child of an immigrant family, I can’t ignore that. I also think he’s serious about challenging the status quo on guns, which Bernie Sanders isn’t at all.
I think we have a chance to minimize death, and we should take it. I don’t think we all have to agree on how to do this. I held my nose while I donated to President Obama in the last election and then held my nose less when I voted for Green candidate Jill Stein. Then again, I live in definitely-going-Democrat Massachusetts, so that wasn’t a complicated moral choice.
I think we have a chance to minimize death, and insofar as Presidents have control over death, which they do, we should participate in the process of selecting them. Even if that takes the form of disrupting a candidate on stage and forcing them to turn the conversation to #BlackLivesMatter. I don’t think we can peace out on this conversation about who will be president.
This is the most tepid endorsement of a Presidential candidate ever (maybe), but that’s why I’m supporting O’Malley. I’m supporting minimizing death as we can.
But I also support not having illusions about what Presidential elections are. They are not where the revolution happens, and ultimately our energy, our love and our hope for change is most needed at the grassroots level. One of the most exciting things about the grassroots level is that we have more and better leadership options there. The sky is the limit, really. The grassroots is full of possibility that the American political system as set out in the Constitution cannot create room to imagine.
I hate Presidential elections. But I love the possibilities we are imagining and creating at the grassroots level. I love the way that women and gender minorities of color are taking visible roles in fomenting and leading conversation and change. There is real hope and change in that reality.
I hope we can hold and confront these two pieces at once. I think that if we don’t, more people will die than if we do.