There is a clear choice, but not for the reasons you think.
People want a government that will improve their lives, and are hard-pressed to know how to get it.
Pundits and propagandists divide the world into a MAGA monolith and a socialist mob diametrically opposed to it. The reality may be that a majority of people are disgusted by the polarization, and struggle to get a clear picture amid the noise and disinformation.
MAGA may not be such a monolith as it seems; some people of good faith are afraid to openly challenge the views of their MAGA-entrenched spouse or neighbors. Others who do not wear the red-white-and-blue-polyester uniform are planning to vote for Trump but are equally afraid to let anyone know.
With record early voting, polls may lead to complacency by predicting one outcome. How many of the nearly 4 in 10 who sat out 2016 will vote this year, and how will they vote? Respondents may lie to pollsters, so the outcome is certainly not open-and-shut.
The Presidential election is not a black-and-white choice between two politicians, because one maintains he is not a politician, even though he has occupied the highest political office in the land for nearly 4 years! And he lashes his opponent for nearly a half-century in government, as if experience were not a positive attribute in a job applicant.
Not red-or-blue either
The election is not red-or-blue either, or at least not a contest between the Republican and Democratic parties we thought we knew. The Democratic party is still like herding cats, and struggling to reconnect with the working class it once represented. It has not done nearly enough to help middle America transition to the new economy. For too long it has abandoned rural communities crushed by the flight of manufacturing and industrialization of agriculture, then finished off by opiates supplied by corporate drug-dealers. In its neglect the Democratic party opened the door to MAGA faddism.
But at least it is still a functioning, center-left party, with some shared vision and sufficient health to “co-opt more palatable aspects of the far [left], isolating and draining energy from the more radical elements that threaten to destabilize the system,” to borrow from a New York Times editorial.
Not so the Republican party. It is no longer the party of Lincoln, it is not even the party of George W. Bush. It has aligned itself so much with Trump that it did not even bother to present a platform in the 2020 election. The Republican party has devolved to a rear-guard action to cling to power against the current of demographic change in the country.
GOP leaders know time is against them maintaining their minority rule, so some (like Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah) are starting to talk openly about doing away with democracy altogether. The singular and hypocritical focus on stacking the federal courts is a defensive fortification against what they perceive as barbarians at the gates. Recall that the leader of Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell, pledged in 2008 that his number one priority was to make sure that Barack Obama — the first Black person elected as President — had only one term.
But this election cannot be reduced to black-and-white in any sense of a contest between people who identify as Black or White. Plenty of either will vote for either side in the election. Certainly, Black Lives Matter will have a tremendous impact on how many voters act: in mobilizing the Black community, their White allies, and the many more who are recently “woke.” Indeed, the election may be decided by the growing number of Americans, especially Whites, who support equality and understand that “newcomers strengthen American society.” On the other side, much of the language of this campaign has been coded instruction to fear the rise of non-White political power.
To think of the 2020 election as a contest between Blacks and Whites is to leave out the blended rainbow of other people who are engaged. To do so would elevate race as a political wedge against a population of humans that are not neatly distinguished by two monochrome colors. Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris is Black, but much more. I’ve never had my ancestry determined through my DNA, but I doubt it all (or any!) tracks back to European nobility. We have racial divisions, to be sure, but they are not based in biology. We need to get through this election so we can finally deal with the historical traumas and systemic racism at the heart of those divisions.
The Presidential election is black-and-white in the sense that we have only two real choices. Binary choices work for computers, but they are increasingly limited in society. Going forward, we need electoral reform so that we have more choice. If Republicans and Democrats will no longer reach across the aisle to compromise, then we need more than one aisle.
Mediocrity over mendacity
Incredibly, the Presidential race has come down to choosing which over-70 white man to vote for. We don’t know how good a President Joe Biden would be. He could be mediocre, especially if a rump Republican Party maintains control of the Senate. We do know what kind of President Trump has been, and most of it has been a lie. I’ll take mediocrity over mendacity any day.
The maddening thing is that our political development is so out of sync with progress in our country. We have made incredible advances: we can peer billions years into the past to the origins of the galaxy; we can beam our live image around the world from our living rooms; we’ve had people living in space for 20 straight years; clean energy is within our reach; we expect a coronavirus vaccine in record time; we can feed everyone. But our politics has returned to the Stone Age, and not delivered for ordinary people. The incumbent knows only how to wield a club, and his Congressional enablers line up behind the image of an alpha male.
We are not just choosing between two men, but between two paths. One leads to greater autocracy, the other begins a return to democracy. One has been blowing a dog whistle to incite violence, the other appeals to the better angels of our nature.
This election is not black-and-white, but there is a clear choice. It is about choosing continued division or the possibility of building something greater. Between climatic apocalypse or a last chance to avert it; between ignoring or battling a pandemic. It is about nostalgia for a certain idea of the past or embracing inevitable change.
It is our choice between hate and decency.