Earlier this week Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders dropped out of the 2020 Presidential race, leaving former Vice President Joe Biden as the last man standing for the Democrats. Millions of Americans, the enormous grassroots base that Sanders has amassed over the last decade, gave a collective cry of agony. The electoral math was already pretty clear, but Sanders’ announcement made it official. The choice will be Joe Biden or Donald Trump when Americans take to the polls in November.
While Sanders, the only Presidential candidate to whom I have donated in the last two elections, was my strong preference, I am not among those who are risking COVID-19 infection to go out and buy themselves a hanging rope or a gun to end the misery of it all. There is still plenty of work to do, and Joe Biden may not be a Progressive, but the work hasn’t changed. With that in mind, let’s take a step back in Ishmael fashion and look deeply at the choice ahead.
First of all, we’re not electing Superman. There is no one who can simply walk into the White House and start solving all of the problems facing the country. The President does have an increasing amount of power due to the rising popularity of executive orders and signing statements, but nonetheless the President is still accountable to both Congress and We The People to a large degree. Voting is fine, and few enough of us bother to do that, but voting is the beginning of the process, not the end. You still have a duty to stay on top of the issues that matter to you and pressure your representatives to listen to your voice on the matter. Put your representatives in your phone contacts and call them regularly. I am under the sincere impression that Ted Cruz and John Cornyn could care less about my opinions, but that doesn’t stop me from calling them and voicing my concerns as a constituent in Texas. That’s what it means to live in a Democracy – voting, voicing your concerns, and being an activist in whatever way you can.
Second, no, you’re not proving a point to anyone by choosing to either not vote, voting for some obscure party like the Green Party or writing in Bernie Sanders. Statistically, all you’re doing if you’re a Progressive or a Democrat is helping Trump win. Yes, the Democratic National Committee is biased and corrupt, yes, they deliberately made Hillary Clinton the nominee when Bernie Sanders had a great deal more support in 2016, and no, there is nothing we can do individually to fix that – especially not throwing away a vote. What we can do is work to be a part of the solution. Volunteer, get involved, start a blog, join a phone bank, walk the streets of your neighborhood in support of your favorite candidate or issues – but get involved. Sitting out or throwing away your vote won’t change anything, and it makes you look ridiculous when you spend hours of wasted time complaining about it on social media. Take proactive action, even if the first step is voting for someone who isn’t your favorite candidate.
Third, we must learn to compromise again. This country was built on compromise. We have to be able to have conversations with people who have different opinions from ours and gain something – even if it’s just perspective – from those conversations. This was a hard lesson for me to learn because I spent many years on TV and radio being mostly right about the NBA. I had to be the authority and I worked extremely hard to make sure I was. It helped that there were very few facts in dispute thanks to the transparency of game play and easily tracked statistics. I also work very hard to be something of an expert on politics, though it is far less straightforward. Nonetheless, mine is not the only point of view. I may walk away from a conversation with a Trump, Biden or even Bernie supporter feeling frustrated, but there is something to be said for having the conversation. Our friends in Washington DC are no longer interested in hearing the other side’s point of view and it’s tearing this country apart. We have to return to having conversations and compromising for the good of the country.
Fourth, I am going to make yet another pitch for public funding of elections. I have often thought that politicians should be like NASCAR drivers, and instead of wearing suits they should wear jumpers covered with patches from their sponsors. If that were the case, we would understand why some politician is saying he doesn’t “believe in” climate changes when he has huge patches from BP, Exxon/Mobil and Shell across his chest. After all, these companies spend a combined $150 million a year paying key politicians to pretend they can’t see the glaring impact that their products are having on our planet. It would make sense to see politicians saying government sponsored health care can’t work (though they all use it) if they had large patches from Johnson&Johnson, Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb on their backs. After all, these are among the top spenders lobbying against any politician who mentions drug prices being higher in the US than in any other country in the world. Public finding of elections, as they have in Vermont and Oregon, for example, takes corporations out of the picture and forces our representatives to work for US instead. Most of them would rather do that, truth be told.
America’s Democracy, to the degree that we have one, is in the worst shape it has been in since I’ve been alive, there’s no question about that. The middle class and poor were struggling before the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. It will get better, though, if we all work together to make it so. We have to talk to each other, we have to try to understand others’ point of view, and we have to learn to find common ground. When we find the common ground we have to work as hard as we can to move forward with policies that both protect our ecosystem and assure a reasonable way of life for all. If we continue to allow big-money interest groups to provide us with false information and divisive propaganda, we will most certainly fail.