Donald Trump’s presidency has us barreling into a recession, astronomical debt, unprecedented political corruption, a Jim Crow-like fervor for anti-Blackness, existential human extinction thanks to climate change denial and impending nuclear war. It’s obvious that history – humanity survives long enough for history to exist – will paint him as one of, if not the worst presidents in American history. But he’s also managed to do something very few presidents have ever been able to accomplish: He has fulfilled just about every important promise he’s made to his voting base.
Trump ran on the promise of white supremacy. He’s run on the promise that he will lie, manipulate and hate his way to the hearts of people who want to see innocent brown children in cages. The president’s greatest success, however, may have been his ability to shift reality at his whim like a less eloquent Thanos. He’s maintained an ability to shift the political and social discourse – especially in media and politics – further right and further towards his warped interpretation of what’s considered true.
When Trump lies, so many outlets refuse to call him out for it. When he spouts racism, euphemisms like “racially charged” and “racially tinged” get tossed around. When full investigations come out refusing to exonerate him for high crimes, Democratic leaders bristle at the idea of impeachment.
His Republican Party — the same GOP that half a century ago crossed lines to vote to impeach Richard Nixon and just two years ago vociferously recoiled at the idea of following someone like Donald Trump — is outwardly teasing the idea of a third Trump term, stealing Supreme Court seats, enforcing rigged gerrymandered elections and looking more like an evil sect than a political party. Trump has succeeded in shifting the fabric of America so far right, and so far into the uncharted territory of political darkness, that anything remotely left of that looks like a beacon of light.
That’s where the Democratic primary debates come in. By most accounts, Joe Biden is a lock to defeat Trump in 2020. A poll conducted by the Hill has Biden winning by six percentage points. That same poll has Sanders as the only Democratic candidate with even a minute advantage to unseat the president. Biden and Bernie Sanders are tied with the largest advantage over Trump in a hypothetical presidential election according to an Emerson College poll, with 10 percentage point leads each. As a result, especially in Biden’s case, there’s been a tendency to encourage people to vote simply for the person with the best chance to rid us of Donald Trump. That framing of the election has too frequently revolved around who has the best chance of defeating Donald Trump. And part of that framing includes minimizing marginalized people’s demands and wants all under the guise of solidarity.
That solidarity means Black folks being asked to put aside the issues we’ve fought for over the past four years. But we deserve better. Thursday night’s Democratic debate showed that Biden has, at the very least, some concerning issues in regard to race – his busing legislation, his crime bill endorsements, his recent comments about working with Senate racists – that deserve all the pushback it’s gotten. And if Black people see his record as enough to dissuade us from voting for him, we should be able to do so without being shamed into believing we must compromise our demands to bail this country out of a crisis we didn’t put it in. Remember: The majority of white people voted for Donald Trump. The overwhelming majority of Black people did not.
That goes beyond just Biden, of course. If Black folks don’t want to vote for Kamala Harris and her prosecutorial history or Sanders for not being descriptive enough with his plan for African-Americans or any other candidate, then we shouldn’t be rebuffed by people asking us to stay in lockstep with a party that doesn’t meet our needs.
But really this isn’t about Biden or any of the candidates. It’s about a confluence of circumstances that always seem to pop up when Black people have a chance to assert our rights to determine the direction our country is headed. We’re always told to wait. To be silent. To put our needs to the side for the betterment of some larger group that doesn’t ever seem concerned with what we need or want.
We don’t win by settling for pseudo-Republicans simply because they’re “not as bad as Trump.” We win by voting for who wants to meet our needs. So, to Black folks: Vote for who you believe in; who will work with you; who you can challenge; who seems more presidential. Whatever your criterion is, stick to it. We’ve earned that right.
David Dennis, Jr. is a writer and adjunct professor of Journalism at Morehouse College. David’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Uproxx, Playboy, The Atlantic, Complex.com and wherever people argue about things on the internet.