Like many African-Americans, I’m lactose intolerant. I discovered this just over a year ago when I began suffering from phantom headaches and a general malaise. These symptoms were really uncomfortable and made it difficult to focus on tasks requiring analytical thinking. You see, I had an addiction to coffee doused with cream, and since giving that up wasn’t an option, I sought a solution that would soften the symptoms and thereby permit me to continue to poison my body. Within days, Doctor Google prescribed lactase, the enzyme most humans produce on their own to process lactose. I tried it and it worked. I was beside myself with elation. The headaches weren’t as severe, and the malaise subsided—but in time, side effects emerged that were just as annoying as the symptoms they replaced. Still, I just wasn’t willing to give up my coffee and cream. I needed it.
I love America, and a quick survey of the world reveals what you probably already instinctively know: on most measures, America scores higher than every other country. But I’ve always believed we ought to be primarily concerned with being great, not just winning.
I don’t know about you, but I have a headache pills can’t eliminate. I’m listening to a reality TV star degrade women, denigrate minorities, praise egomaniacal dictators, suggest that people take up guns and do something about his Democratic opponent, and amid all this, relentlessly promise that he alone holds the elusive key to making America “great again.” On the other side of the aisle, and with particular emphasis during the recent Democratic National Convention, I hear leaders of the Democratic Party establishment assure concerned Americans that our nation is better than ever and that we should remain confident in the strength of our institutions.
In my studies of American politics, I’ve found that something happens over and over again: we Americans are sold, and continually buy, the substantively decrepit notion that things are good simply because they could be worse. Something truly horrific underlies this intellectual framework: an implicit request, or hope, that voters not rigorously assess the status quo and call out its shortcomings as an objective matter on the merits—but rather, within the context of, or in comparison with, how bad things could be if we opt for some greater evil.
The corporate wing of the liberal establishment wants you to vote for Hillary Clinton because Donald Trump is crazy (he isn’t, and that’s the scary part). They want you to vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s not a bigot, and Donald Trump is. They say cast your vote for Hillary in the fall because Donald Trump could send this nation into a geopolitical tailspin, and with it, the fate of the rest of the world. It is, in essence, a request that we short-circuit our imaginations and accept mediocrity. Hey, things could be worse right? You could live in Russia and be subject to the whims of an egomaniac who’s already ascended to the presidency of his country.
I’ve spent the last year watching—probably a little too closely—this farce of a presidential election process. I’ve consumed just about every single debate, I’ve watched most of Trump’s televised speeches, and I’ve seen Hillary Clinton make her case as well—and move to the left under pressure from a severe Bern. I’ve also watched the house of cards that is the Democratic National Committee come tumbling down—in my eyes anyway—with the revelation of an internal scheme dedicated to the elimination of Bernie Sanders and his Democratic-Socialist movement while publicly feigning complete neutrality. If you’re now tempted to consult Doctor Google for a quote from Clinton or her campaign decrying the actions of the DNC, actions that served to undermine what little remained of the public’s confidence in democratic political processes, let me save you the trouble: there’s no there there.
Sadly, I must admit none of that surprised me. I must also admit that I’m not really shocked by anything Trump says or does, though members of the media—left and right—still pretend to be. Donald Trump is a demagogue, plain and simple, and he’s doing what demagogues in this country have done since 1789: use privilege in tandem with fearmongering around particularly important and sensitive issues like economics and race to galvanize support not for a slate of programmes, but for themselves and their own personal pet interests. Here comes a not-so-new news flash: that’s precisely why he hasn’t shown any urgency to articulate serious policy positions, or to conform to the standards of what “proper presidential candidate behavior” looks like, whatever that means and whatever that’s worth.
Hillary Clinton is not, in my humble opinion, a demagogue. She’s done far too much for too many people to be accurately characterized as totally self-interested. But let’s also be clear about who Hilary Clinton is. She’s a centrist Democrat—and she’s been this way since the 1990s—who’s doing her level best to bend, however slightly, to an increasingly vocal, progressive wing of the Democratic Party without irreparably ruffling the feathers of her white conservative base. And while I’m honestly ecstatic about the possibility that we may elect—in successive cycles mind you—our first African-American president and our first non-male president, I feel compelled to let you in on a little secret, one I hope will help to alter the popular assumption that this year’s election constitutes merely a binary choice between mediocrity and unmititgated disaster: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are products of the same morally and politically corrupt system, and puppets of the same class of oligarchs who probably couldn’t care less about whether you’ve got quality healthcare or whether your children have access to opportunities that were denied to you and/or your parents. And consider this: maybe, for a litany of reasons I won’t call out here, Hillary ought not be the first female president. Just give it some thought.
Trump’s demagoguery and legitimate suspicions around Clinton’s progressive bona fides (not to mention trustworthiness) have begun to make many Americans, across the political spectrum, doubt the viability of the system that has produced these as our best alternatives in 2016. And the Bad Guys want you to believe you’re stuck. If you listen for just five minutes to one of the cable news networks, you’ll hear at least one talking head respond to a question highlighting Clinton or Trump’s “problem” with some iteration of the phrase, “What voters have is a choice between Clinton and Trump, so it’s clear that you’ve gotta vote for [Candidate A] because [Candidate B] is unfit to be commander-in-chief.”
This is precisely the wrong way to think about our decision in November. Americans are confronted this fall with something more than a binary choice between a liberal-leaning corporate establishment candidate and a dog-whistling bigot. Rather, we face the choice of whether or not to keep fortifying a system that systematically rejects the premise that it exists to serve the people, to protect the meek and weak, and champion policies that will spur opportunities for the most marginalized. Am I bothered by the fact that a Clinton State Department-approved $29 billion deal to send jets from a Boeing-led consortium to the Saudis was preceded, by just two months, with a $900,000 payment from Boeing to the Clinton Foundation? Um, yeah. Does the ease with which Trump is willing to shift (and in some cases, totally reverse) positions, and his willingness to flat-out lie about matters that implicate national security raise serious questions about his preparedness to serve as commander-in-chief? Absolutely. But as important as these questions are, they pale in comparison to this one: what does the fact that these are our primary choices for leader of the free world say about the country that has permitted their ascendancy?
We have, and likely will continue, to sweep our problems under a HUGE carpet—it’s really HUGE (see what I did there?). But let me offer this strong warning to my fellow Democrats, and to Republicans on the other side of the aisle: the American political battle raging right now has very little to do with Clinton or Trump, and pretty much everything to do with what action we are prepared to take regarding those who claim to represent Americans across all lines and a system that thrives on—nay, depends on—our willingness to stand by and do nothing.
In June of this year, in a blog post titled, “America Needs Donald Trump”, I argued that a Trump presidency—in effect, American bottoming out—is what we need to wake people up out of the delusion that progressive change can come from the Two-Party system as currently constructed. With the passage of several months, I can no longer defend that position because I now believe Trump could literally destroy this country. But it does not follow that a Hillary Clinton presidency is the antidote. Why do Democrats keep giving her a pass? Is it because we really don’t care about her emails? Surely not, right? Is it because her bad acts are less politically incorrect than Trumps’? Have we really come to that point? Are any of these explanations valid responses to the substance of the legitimate questions dogging her candidacy?
Let’s not forget what I deem to be the ultimate lesson of the Obama experiment: hope and change are pretty words that amount to nothing more than stagnant characters on a crumpled handbill without both a leader and an electorate equally committed to putting in the hard work to give those words life. Look at the numbers since 2008: black folks—people who voted in record numbers to get Obama in—are still disproportionately underemployed and underrepresented in the economic, social, and political mainstream of American society. I know what you’re going to say: “It’s not all Barack’s fault.” I couldn’t agree more. But that should be the beginning rather than the end of the conversation. What are we prepared to do now? I get that it’s tough stuff, but that’s exactly why we can’t let the status quo creep back in every single time we do something big. There’s just too much at stake.
So in November, while I’ll likely vote for Hilary Clinton (the alternative is not voting at all, and I just have a hard time with that), I’m more concerned with the action down-ballot, and taking part in efforts to help folks shift their focus from the undercard matchup—the presidential election—to the main event: the referendum on the viability of the system that produces a choice among two of the most unpopular, untrustworthy presidential contenders in the last century.
Can we please stop consulting Doctor Google and go see a board certified MD? I know, I know—enough with the analogies already, right? I’ll just let one of the great 20th Century poets tell you why we can’t stop shining a light onto all this foolishness:
“ . . . I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world. And that’s our job, is to spark somebody else watching us . . . I don’t know how to change it, but I know if I keep talking about how dirty it is out here, somebody gonna clean it up.”
Shots fired? Absolutely. Tag, you’re it.