Ted Cruz, White Moderates, & Voter Apathy
All this Ted Cruz / Seth Rogen Twitter drama reminds me of that snowy November night when he beat Beto by the smallest margin seen in decades.
I live in Texas, but at the time, I was traveling out of state for a tradeshow with a white male coworker (WMC). The company I worked for booked us on the cheapest flight they could find. It left late in the afternoon and had a layover — all in all, we were predicted to make it to the tradeshow at the very last minute, given that everything went perfectly. But everything did not go perfectly. A snowstorm redirected our first flight, canceled our second flight, and we had to stay overnight in a random city. And during all of that calamity and chaos, I continued to check up on the results, my hopes high as my eyes fixated on the unprecedentedly large blue bar.
As we waited to check into a hotel for the night, the final results came in: Cruz won. But the margin was so unbelievably small.
First, I couldn’t help but be a little proud. Texan voters had come so close to turning our senate seat blue. Our whole lives, we’ve been told that Texas is a red state, but I’ve always believed that we were much more purple. And the fact that the results were so close was pointedly a testament to that. But my pride was short-lived, and disappointment quickly followed. We were so close. I was moved and heartbroken at the same time. Thinking over and over again:
If only a few more people had voted.
WMC and I stood in line with the rest of our flight as I processed the results. Look at how close it was, I said, showing the results to WMC. It sucks that we traveled on voting day, I continued, Did you have time to vote this morning? And WMC looked me straight in the eye with a smirk and said, “Nope.“ I didn’t say anything. But I maintained my eye contact, awaiting sincerity. Then he spoke again, this time more earnestly, “I never vote. I just don’t see the point.”
The point was staring us in the face. Cruz had won by a measly 2 percentage points — the closest Texas senate race since 1978. Those 2 percentage points translated into 200,000 votes — rather, 200,000 voters. Or, the way I see it, 200,000 Texans who decided not to vote for the candidate who wanted to increase federal aid to low-income public schools and the one who would end the “militarization of our immigration enforcement system.”
I’m not saying Beto was a flawless candidate. As an anti-capitalist, abolition-supporting member of the left, most of the democratic candidates’ politics do not even begin to touch on the reimagined society I would like to live in. But out of Beto and Ted Cruz, a man who voted against a bill that aimed to prohibit discrimination based on sex and voted for the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline with a route through federally protected indigenous lands, I’m going with Beto.
Now, of course, there’s voter disenfranchisement, and I’m sure there were more than 200,000 people who wanted to vote for Beto but couldn’t. So that’s why the burden lies with the people who can vote. And my disappointment lies in those people who choose not to.
I’m not a voting stan, like I was in 2018. I no longer think that it’s the only (or best) way to impart change. I now understand that voting can’t ever radically change the system — it was specifically designed not to. The white, slave-owning, land-holding males who created the U.S. didn’t want the common white male to have too much say over the government. They believed that the everyday man couldn’t possibly understand what was best for him. And as Black men and finally women were allowed to vote, this idea was solidified. That’s why we don’t vote on every issue; we elect officials who vote for us. They create policies that (we hope) will reflect our best interests. And that’s why we must elect officials who we think will do the most good and remove officials who continue to do harm.
For me, voting is like being told you can help edit a book. You can change the content here and there, maybe add some headings, remove some outdated language, but the context — the framework — will remain the same. The slave-holders of America’s founding ensured that voting could only change so much because they needed to guarantee that the framework stayed the same. This is not to say the modest, little content changes don’t help; they do. They allow people to live better lives within the context of the book. But best believe that the book (Entitled Imperialism + Capitalism: Profits over People) is still saying the same thing. Personally, I want to burn the book and write a whole new one. But my desire to do that doesn’t stop the current book from existing, nor does it stop it from containing the rules by which we’re forced to live our lives.
We can elect officials who will allow trans people to serve in the military, but the military itself will still continue to exist. Though I’m fully against the U.S. military-industrial complex and how it polices and exploits resources across the globe, I know that it’s not right to prohibit someone from joining based on their gender identity. And for the trans people whose life dream is to join the military, now they freaking can. Congrats! Enjoy it until we burn that shit down.
Though I don’t get hard for voting like I used to, I still understand its importance. I stopped expecting voting to make the radical changes I wanted to see and accepted it for what it could make: nominal changes. Small changes that could drastically improve the individual lives of certain marginalized groups. To say that voting doesn’t do anything is to ignore the lives of the people who it does affect — who you’re choosing to affect negatively with your inaction.
DMLKJ said that the white moderate is our greatest stumbling block to freedom. “…the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’;” And, in the case of WMC, whose inaction leads to the continuation of the capitalist-imperialist society in which he’s doing just fine.
“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]
Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz is a menace. But I don’t blame him for winning. He’s just being who he is. Spineless, gutless jellyfish aren’t expected to have a backbone, and neither is Ted Cruz. (And no disrespect to jellyfish; they’re dope af.)
I also don’t blame the right-wing voters who voted for him. They wanted someone who represented their money-first, old-ass, and sometimes-racist views, which their Zodiac Killer-esque candidate has in spades. I don’t blame the third-party voters either. I think it takes a lot of courage to vote for someone who represents your views, even in the face of everyone telling you that you’re “throwing your vote away.” If you’re casting your vote honestly, then you’re not throwing it away. But there is one way to throw away your vote, and the white moderates who choose not to vote do it every election.
I blame the white moderates every single time a terrible person is elected or re-elected to office. I blame the white centrists who claim to believe in Black lives but won’t do the minimal effort to show it. And I especially blame the white liberals who are so unaffected by the outcomes of elections that they truly believe there is no point in voting.
For Black and/or Indigenous people, I understand when we don’t want to vote. I understand that it implies that we support this country and that we respect its sovereignty. And it can feel sickening to salute and endorse a country that forcibly captured us, seized our land, killed and raped us, and continues to reign heedlessly and mercilessly over our lives. But for white people? There is no excuse.
For white people, voting isn’t a right, it isn’t a privilege; it’s a duty. Though your everyday life may not dramatically or even modestly change, to say that it will do nothing is to see your power and selfishly choose not to exercise it because the outcome won’t affect you directly. It is to ignore the people who are counting on you to care about them just a little bit. To do the smallest amount to help make their lives just a little bit better. And it doesn’t cost you anything other than your time.
“I just don’t see the point,” I hear WMC’s voice ringing over and over in my head. The point is the marginalized people who are affected by your inaction. Whose lives escape your myopic view of the world. Whose struggles you know nothing about, and when given the option, you would opt for a perceived sense of contentedness rather than learn of their troubles. And because you choose not to see them, you couldn’t possibly see the little changes that voting makes. And because you don’t see the changes, you wholeheartedly believe they couldn’t possibly be there.
Fuck you, WMC, and all the other moderate whites who actively choose not to help marginalized communities. Who earnestly believe that nothing exists outside of themselves. It must be dour with your head so far up your ass that you don’t see how elected officials create policies that can either help or hurt our society’s most vulnerable. You chose not to vote for Beto, you chose not to vote for Bernie, and you’ll choose not to vote for the next progressive candidate whose policies would make this shit sandwich we call U.S. politics a little bit easier to stomach.
I wish I had told WMC all of that and more when he used his whole chest to say that voting didn’t matter. But I didn’t. Instead, I turned away, phone in hand, staring at the outcome of the choices of 200,000 voters who, like WMC, had decided that the lives of the people they didn’t see did not matter. And I let one tear escape. WMC looked away from my pain, pretending not to see it.