The presidential election is over, and Joe Biden, buoyed by the largest voter turnout in U.S. history, will become our 46th president. Forty-six is such a small number when you think about it. It puts into perspective just how young this settler colony really is.
The election was close — too close. The electoral map displays the honest division within this country. Donald Trump is such a neglectful president that not only did he fail to protect his constituents from COVID-19, he couldn’t even protect his staff, family, or himself. It seems much easier at this point to ask who hasn’t contracted the virus at the White House than it is to list who has. Yet despite being such an abhorrent president, Trump still received more than 73 million votes.
Throughout his campaign and into the transition, Biden has positioned himself as a unity candidate. He has said consistently that he would be a president for all Americans, not just Democrats. Biden is a moderate who courted endorsements from Republicans and is rumored to be appointing some to his cabinet; like President Barack Obama, he will likely try to reach across the aisle to compromise on legislation after taking office. But we learned this lesson during the Obama presidency. Progressive ideas get shafted no matter how sorely they’re needed. Congressional Republicans, led by Senator Mitch McConnell, have demonstrated precisely zero interest in working with Democrats or brokering fair deals; instead, they’ve stonewalled meaningful pandemic relief, crusaded against the Affordable Care Act, and stacked the federal courts with conservative judges who can derail any progress on progressive priorities. Since the election, conservatives have also dismissed Biden’s unity message as hopelessly misguided. So why are we still acting like we can get along with these people — or would we even want to?
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Take police violence. According to a report conducted by Mapping Police Violence, the police killed nearly 2,000 Black people from 2013 to 2019. In response to George Floyd’s killing this year, calls to abolish the police received unprecedented attention. The efforts were co-opted and pushed aside in favor of more mainstream calls to reduce funding for the police. Yet while the summer’s unrest helped drive Democratic voter turnout, the defund movement is now being blamed for losing Democrats seats in the House. The movement may have mobilized Republican voters to support their candidates too. But rather than stick up for their base as the GOP does, Democrats are, as ever, running to the center.
The same story is true with the economy. With mass evictions and an economic recession spiraling into a deadly, lonely winter, we need massive spending on programs that protect and uplift working-class people. We need, as a start, monthly payments that will allow people to stay at home and a complete suspension of rent and mortgage payments. During this once-in-a-generation crisis, we should fund people’s basic needs through aggressive taxation on the 1%. Yet the Biden administration is stacking itself with the same neoliberal figures who helped get us into the current mess we’re in.
Since we have a system that is dominated by two parties, the larger political discourse is often reduced to a debate between preferences rather than a matter of life and death. Politics is more than just something that happens once every four years. Politics happens every day, and for those of us who are systematically oppressed in this country, it is not something we can choose to opt out of.
Elections push people to look at their political ideals in an overly simplistic way. Within the Democratic Party, anti-capitalists and abolitionists were told to support Biden even if they didn’t agree with his record, platform, or personal history. The president-elect was framed as the lesser of two evils. But there is a fundamental difference in the way that capitalists and anti-capitalists see the world and what our political goals involve. I don’t want to see a “kinder” capitalism that still forces people to work while they’re sick and take on multiple jobs just to get by. I want to live in a society that ensures people’s basic needs — like housing, food, health care, and a clean environment — by creating programs like universal health care and de-privatization of housing.
While it might seem that the country is uniquely divided right now, the U.S. is rooted in contradiction and divisiveness. It was founded through the genocide of Indigenous peoples and flourished through the enslavement of Africans. At its core, America’s values are white supremacy and capitalism. That is true no matter who has been in office.
Biden’s call for a “united America” boils down to nationalist propaganda. Americans have never been united, and have been kept apart and pitted against one another by the state. From geographic segregation to immigration bans and racist policing, the U.S. has privileged the lives and security of some residents at the expense of others. Why should people who have been systematically oppressed — and who have struggled against the government for true freedom — be asked to hold hands with their oppressors?
When it looked for a moment on election night that Trump might take crucial swing states, I sunk into despair and fell asleep. When I woke up and it had become clearer that Biden was going to pull through, I didn’t feel excitement or even safety. I felt exhausted. The next four years will be very different from the Trump era, but they will still be a battle.
In some ways, the fight for liberation will become harder, as many of those who had grown critical of the U.S. under Trump will likely be more forgiving now that Biden is president. I know that the faces of imperialism and capitalism will be more diverse, and that I’m expected to celebrate that a Black woman is now next in line to be the head of an empire. I’m not. The only political unity that we should be trying to strive for is with those who are trying to build the world we actually need.
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