By Darren Barany
Unsurprisingly (and sadly), many Americans relate to campaigns for major elections in ways that reflect the society’s pervasive individualist culture. One way this happens on the right and left is that voting is treated as a form of fervent self-expression and identity formation, kind of like being a superfan of a favorite sports team. Another, probably more common on the left, is that people compose a list of personal deal-breakers (the so-called purity test). With this, just one ding against a candidate becomes felt personally as an affront against one’s identity instead of a single factor put within a larger context to better understand what’s politically practicable, like advancing a net social benefit or considering courses of action in relation to activism around particular issues.
Much chatter is informed by this sort of individualization of the political and ego-investment in relation to political personalities, parties, labels, etc. That said, I still think the bulk of criticism levied at Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is legitimate. To emphasize, I’m definitely not saying to refrain from criticism. I think it’s actually crucially important right now. I just think we need to keep our eyes on the mission and think about what the potential consequences of defeatist and cynical narratives are in the current moment. There are profound problems with the records and past policy decisions of both Biden and Harris, problems that have had oppressive and deep-rooted structural consequences. However, and this is important, Trump is much worse. With a Trump victory, even if the senate is narrowly flipped and the Dems control both chambers of congress, checks on his power will not neutralize him as a social and political threat. As long as he has the mandate and veneer of legitimacy provided by winning the electoral college, and has a mouthpiece, he will continue to incite white supremacist and fascist violence, continue to terrorize immigrant families and children, appoint anti-choice judges, preserve the anti-labor NLRB currently in place, and more.
I think those who’ve weighed in on this like Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and renowned MIT linguist and social critic, Noam Chomsky are right on this one. We have to focus on defeating Trump. Though, we also must focus on keeping pressure on Biden and Harris, hold them to their concessions to the movements, and keep pushing left. Although, it is worth noting. If they win, pressuring Biden and Harris to do what’s necessary – like addressing the ensuing environmental catastrophe, working to implement universal healthcare coverage, implementing an actual plan for managing the coronavirus pandemic response, addressing the current economic crisis, confronting systemic racism and other forms of bias in our institutions, etc. – will be possible only if those moderates who were incensed by Trump’s demeanor and incompetence and who became politicized and activated after November 2016 show up after November 2020.
Darren Barany teaches sociology at LaGuardia Community College and lives in Elmhurst, Queens. He has an MPA from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center. His book, The New Welfare Consensus: Ideologcial, Political, and Social Origins, looks historically at the conservative attack on the American welfare state. He also frequently hurts himself while riding a skateboard. Follow him on Twitter @_BARANY.