By Jay Stevens
It was a hot July day, and I was relieved that my Uber ride had arrived quickly. My driver was a young Black man, who clearly enjoyed interacting with passengers, so on the brief ride to pick up my car at the garage, we did just that.
I normally avoid discussing politics, religion and The Great Pumpkin with anyone I have just met, but something on the radio encouraged my driver to start talking about COVID and politics. I felt it was fairly safe to subtly signal that I was far from a Trump supporter, and here’s where things got interesting.
“I have to tell you, my partner and I got five thousand in stimulus payments, and it was a Godsend. We wouldn’t have known what to do without it, and I have to at least give him props for that,” the driver said.
We really didn’t have much time for further discussion, but I opined that even given his advanced age and cognitive issues, Joe Biden has his heart in the right place, and would have the cabinet to take a stab at our country’s growing list of issues. The driver neither agreed nor disagreed with me, and I left feeling that the most likely outcome this November would be a man who votes for neither of the two major alternatives, and who chooses to sit the 2020 election out. I think on that day I may have met the enemy, and it is indifference.
This year, we’ve witnessed people of all races, backgrounds, and ages unite to show that they’ve had enough of violence committed on black suspects by police officers, and of monuments to Confederate Generals—traitors to our country most people today have never heard of led thousands of young men to slaughter over the right to preserve slavery as an institution. Some have been out in the streets in locales like Portland, Oregon for months at a time, facing tear gas, and the risk of being whisked off in the night in unmarked vans by ‘federal agents’ dispatched by our president.
You can’t get more dedicated than that. There hasn’t been a cause in our history since the anti-Vietnam crusade and the first civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s where more people have been willing to risk getting maced, beaten up, or perhaps even killed than the effort to try to achieve equal treatment under the law for Black Americans.
But if you ask many people under the age of 45,and in particular minorities, what they think about the election choices this November, their answer has all the enthusiasm of what you’d hear from a 13 year-old who has just been asked to clean out the family’s fish tank.
“Honestly, I don’t know who would be the better president out of the choices we have to pick from, and I’m indecisive about it all. I think that it is all a bit much and life-changing, no matter who is chosen,” said ‘Bree,’ a Black mother of four who lives in Rome, and is studying nursing in whatever spare time she has. Something clearly is going on when a young Black woman who is far from the lofty position of the one percenters isn’t sure why Biden might be a better choice for her family’s future.
And then there’s ‘Maria,’ who I met cashing out at a neighborhood store. She’s an extremely intelligent 30-something, with a good grasp of the issues–a natural-born artist with a fascination for the world around us. Maria is White, but clearly supports BLM, equality, and common sense in dealing with COVID-19. Surely Maria is willing to overlook Biden’s obvious flaws to support someone who can use his incremental approach to making the world better, right?
“I don’t play the game at all. Our votes don’t count. With all of the corruption, election fraud, the electoral college…it’s just a façade. Those things are not decided by us. Maybe they once were, but now, presidential elections—politics in general even—are decided for us. If we continue to be against each other, and if we continue to play their game, politicians and the one percent will continue to rule us, as they’ve been. Honestly, revolution is probably the only answer. As it stands, our presidential choices are between a handsy, horny Crypt Keeper and the second coming of a pedophiliac Hitler. It insults our nation’s intelligence that, of all the possible nominees, those two are supposedly “the best” that the Republicans and Democrats Have,” Maria said.
When I was growing up, you still believed that there was always a better choice, but I think 2016 was a prime example of an election where many people of all ages simply didn’t buy the argument. Many of those who found Trump to be a vulgar example of “the ugly American” also could not stomach the nomination of Hillary Clinton, who they surmised had long been bought and paid for by corporate interests.
In June, Politico published a lengthy report entitled “How Young Black Voters Could Break Biden—and Why Democrats are Worried.” Since its publication, Biden has only strengthened his poll position…but many times in polls marking enthusiasm for the candidates, Biden isn’t hitting it out of the park with young voters.
In the Politico piece, Branden Snyder, Executive Director of a grassroots, get-out-the-minority-vote group called Detroit Action says he worries that a lot of young voters will completely out of the system this year. Others cited by Politico say that there are signs many young black men will be problematic for the party. As one Democratic pollster put it, “there’s ample opportunity for Democrats to screw this up.”
In fact, Democratic margins among African-Americans trended downward slightly from 2016 to 2018. And when you consider how close many races on the ticket are these days, that’s troubling. A number of Democratic pollsters Politico surveyed said they are a lot less worried, though, about Trump winning over black men, and more about those who are ambivalent about Biden and the party. The swing voters of 2020, said Nse Ufot, Executive Director of the New Georgia Project aren’t people who swing between parties, but people who swing between not voting and voting. It’s hard to win, in simple terms, if those willing to support you aren’t willing to cut the deal by voting. Winning an election is an example of something where simply getting people to show up really makes the difference.
A New York Times piece on July 27th points out that since taking office, President Trump has lost support among virtually every major demographic group—except Black and Latino voters. In fact, when this story appeared, Trump had close to 10 percent support among Black Americans, and about 30 percent of Latino’s support. Most pollsters aren’t sure why, but one answer, according to Democratic data analyst David Shor could be that a significant minority of Black and Latino voters are more conservative on abortion and immigration policy than the population as a whole. Another may be the weakening of the Black church in recent years, which helped deliver the Democratic vote.
But if Biden is leading in many polls by a mile now, what’s to worry, right? I mean it isn’t like most Democrats are willing to pull the lever for the guy who couldn’t manage the public health crisis of the century, and who probably would put Jefferson Davis on Mount Rushmore if given the chance, right?
To get an answer to that, you have to go back 32 years, where on July 26, 1988, Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis was leading Incumbent George H.W. Bush by a 55 to 38 percent margin in a Newsweek-Gallup poll—an even bigger one than the edge Biden has had in polls during July. Three other polls about that time gave Dukakis a double-digit edge, too.
All it might take is a ridiculous photo op, a poor debate performance against a suddenly re-energized Trump, and some race-baiting ads against Biden to turn the tide this time, too. In the Twitter era, 15 point leads can evaporate in the wink of an impulse in a synapse. But of course, Biden would never make a cringe-worthy gaffe right before election time that becomes campaign ad fodder. The number of cringe-worthy gaffes he’s made in his political career might only be in the lower four-digits.
When you look at Biden’s website, you see a variety of subjects he says he strongly supports. Among them: revitalizing American manufacturing, support for small business, a strong infrastructure plan, ending gun violence; criminal justice reform; and even full protection for the disabled and the LGBTQ community. There’s certainly nothing bad there, and besides revitalizing industry and infrastructure support, it’s nothing we’re hearing from Trump.
The problem may be that for the progressive and minority community—the people who in many cases have been out on the streets in recent months demanding change, while some of these things would get a nod of approval, they aren’t the things they’re fighting for.
When you look at surveys of young voters, race relations and the growing inequality between the one percenters and the rest of us are often at the top of the list. And those same surveys suggest young people are perhaps more interested in issues affecting them that at any time recently. But at a time when many are hitting the streets, does that mean this same group of people will be marking the (election) sheets? After a summer of protests against racism and police injustice, are the things that matter to this group really changing?
It seems to all boil down to what America has become now that we’re in a COVID-19 economy. A second stimulus check, combined with a feeling that nothing we’re doing is fundamentally changing what it means to be Americans could lead to a much different outcome at the polls than that many political soothsayers have been predicting this summer. Just as in 2016, this isn’t an election to take chances with. But in the end, will that warning resonate with the right people?