It’s safe to say that the pending presidential election is making us uneasy. It’s both a source of doom looming ominously over our heads, and also, despite the deep river of cynicism cutting channels in our souls, a surprising well-spring of nascent, extremely cautious hope. It’s a classic Alanis Morissette one hand preparing our dystopian bunker, the other one playing the piano, situation. With that in mind, we asked our writers and editors to tell us about all of their feelings and greatest concerns going into the 2020 election and how they’re approaching their votes.
Drew Gregory, Writer
Since 2012, and especially since 2016, I’ve been reckoning with the way this country treats politics like a sporting event and treats politicians like heroes – and I’ve been reckoning with my own participation in that way of thinking. I liked Barack Obama a lot and when he won re-election during my first semester of college I felt like everything was going to be okay. This was absurd, of course. Likability aside, Obama continued many human rights abuses of past presidents and there are structural problems in this country that go beyond any one leader. These are such obvious statements but due to privilege and a lack of education it really took his two terms for me to gain that level of political awareness.
I’ve tried to approach this absurdly long Democratic primary as humbly and thoughtfully as possible. There were candidates I liked and candidates I didn’t like, but I tried to remove that emotion from my decision. I tried to just listen to people smarter and more knowledgeable than me and study the candidates’ policies. I’ve also tried to remember that the presidency is only one of many races we’re voting on this year.
There was not and is not a single candidate I unequivocally support. But unequivocal support isn’t necessary, because I’m choosing a president – not a best friend, a parent, or a hero. By this point in the process the only two candidates, whose values are close enough to my own for me to support are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
I’ve ultimately decided to vote for Warren because one of the qualities I value most in a leader — or any person really — is the ability to listen, grow, and learn from mistakes. I think she has demonstrated this ability, as well as being thorough in her explanation of how she is going to achieve progressive policy in our very broken system.
I wish that I could feel excited about Bernie Sanders like so many people in my life. He’s the current frontrunner, and if he wins I will avidly support him in the general election. My politics largely align with Sanders’ politics and my hesitation is simply doubt about his ability to practically accomplish his policies and frustrations with his sometimes stubborn refusal to listen to those he disagrees with. But with this stubbornness comes a commitment to principles and I do admire this about him.
Since I was in 1st grade and voted for George W. Bush in a Scholastic News poll — because I thought his dogs were cute — the backbone of my political education has been realizing that I’m wrong. If Sanders wins I look forward to being wrong once again, and if Warren wins I look forward to continuing to hold her accountable. If anyone else wins, it will be disappointing, but we’ll have to simply do much of the same work just under tougher circumstances. And if Trump wins that will also be true.
Who wins the presidency matters — it’s literally life or death for many. But it’s not all that matters. I try to remember that. I try to keep pushing myself to be a more engaged citizen separate from any one election, and I know there’s so much more I could do no matter who wins.
Jehan Roberson, Writer
So much yes to Drew’s comments! I’ve long since let go of complete faith in a single candidate to deliver on all, or even most of their promises. But I want to believe that we will get someone who can move the needle in the right direction. Honestly, this whole election cycle has already left me exhausted. And uninspired. I’m admittedly not paying as much attention as I *should*, that subjective line between being wholly apathetic or wholly consumed by the primary machine. But I do know that I will support any candidate that gets the Democratic election. I hold out hope that will be Elizabeth Warren, but ultimately I will support whoever it is. I also vow to fight my exhaustion and challenge whoever gets the nomination to do their level best to look out for everyone, especially those most adversely affected by the current regime. I agree with Drew that I wish I could be as excited about Bernie as some friends and colleagues, but even though many of his ideologies align with mine, I’m still not impressed with his racial analysis. Still, if it’s Warren or Sanders, I will enthusiastically support their candidacy. I’ll support any of the others too, albeit without the enthusiasm.
I honestly can’t remember when, if ever, I had faith that this country would do the right thing for its most vulnerable folks. I’m not betting too much that a single election can undo centuries of harm, and the rapidity and open cruelty with which that harm is being done under Trump. But I believe in our collective power, the force of our voices together.
Kamala Puligandla, Editor-in-Chief
Wow, I love writing alongside such smart, reflective people! Similarly to both Drew and Jehan, I don’t think the American presidency can change an entire world culture of fuck-up-ness, and I also don’t believe that our country, as a whole, will suddenly start doing right by the people who need it the most because we have a new president. I hate national voting because it reminds me of the distance between the things I believe and what the rest of the country believes is possible. Though it’s a valuable reminder of the tiny margin of the world in which I live — and that even my own privileged intentions around that, my own emotional okayness with being irrelevant in the world at large, don’t cancel out that I still have to be complicit in the fucked-up-ness in order to be here at all.
So those are the cheery thoughts that I bring to voting. I’m not wet for Bernie, but I will say this: I respect someone with an ideology, who knows what they believe in, who uses their whole long life to demonstrate those values and principals, and most importantly, when those values are about equity over equality. I don’t expect anyone who is the acting president of the United States to change this country into a less racist, classist, misogynist, homophic, transphobic, colonialist place, but I do think that person can begin to change the reasons for why there is so little value placed on the majority of its constituents lives in the first place, and that would be epic.
What I do know is that discrimination is particularly violent and effective when it’s wielded with great impact on people at the margins. People whose livelihoods depend on access to healthcare and education and their homes and financial security coming through a door that other people get to vote to keep open or shut. What if we just took off the door so it stopped closing? Capitalism is over, it’s not leading us to any place I want to go. So I have to vote for the person who believes in socialism and most closely shares my ideology — and even having that as an option feels like a weird fucking miracle that fills me with a hope that I find myself appropriately skeptical of. But I figure, if AOC can trust Bernie, I suppose I can too. Plus, Elizabeth Warren reminds me of someone’s white grandmother who accidentally insults me while trying to be on my side, and then wants to hand me $20 to go enjoy myself, like she didn’t just ruin enjoyment. But yes, if I had to, I’d take the $20, like yes, I’d vote for her if she wins the primary.
Himani Gupta, Contributor
The first US election I remember clearly was 2000, when I was in seventh grade. I didn’t fully understand what happened at the time, but I remember thinking that American democracy wasn’t all it was chalked up to be. Growing up, my parents talked a lot about electoral corruption in India, and as I’ve observed U.S. politics over the last twenty years I can’t help but feel disappointed in this country.
It has been a struggle, at times, to hold onto the importance of civic engagement, when I’ve often felt so powerless in a process where money and residing in a swing state seem to be the only things that visibly matter. For the last nine years, I’ve mostly lived in New Jersey, which is one of the last states to vote in the primary and the most densely populated state in the U.S. It’s been hard not to feel like my vote is completely meaningless. In fact, that sentiment kept me from taking time off of work to vote in the 2012 presidential election.
Then there are the “invisible” factors: gerrymandering, voter roll purges, voter ID laws, and all the other vote dilution and voter suppression tactics. In part through educating myself more on those issues, it finally dawned on me how much state and local elections matter, and that is what I hold onto now. So much of the day-to-day that really affects people’s lives are driven by state and local politics — which can have the lowest turn-out and simultaneously seem the most corrupt, the more I read about it. So much of national politics is also driven by state and local laws, as we see with onslaught of anti-abortion and anti-trans healthcare bills currently making their rounds in state legislatures. I made a promise after 2016 that I would vote in every election going forward, no matter how small; so far, I’ve missed one local primary.
Of course the presidential election matters, and I have a lot of opinions about it. I’m furious watching the same gendered bullshit that happened in 2016 play out again in 2020. But at this point, all I can do is look at the field, look at my primary date and accept that I will probably be left to make an awful choice among a set of candidates I really can’t stand. (Unless Warren has a miracle finish next Tuesday, I’m assuming she will suspend her campaign before June. Castro, Gillibrand, Harris, and Booker, all of whom I preferred to the other remaining nominees, have already ended theirs.)
Regardless of what happens in the primary, though, I will do what I can to make sure Trump isn’t re-elected and Democrats go into 2021 with as many Congressional seats as possible because, nationally, that’s what matters the most right now.
Rachel Kincaid, Managing Editor
Like many of the people in this roundtable, my investment in electoral politics, especially at the national level, is limited — many of the institutions harming me and people I love, like predatory debt, cruel immigration policy, mass incarceration and nonfunctional healthcare, were present in other administrations as well, even if they were mitigated somewhat with other presidents. At the same time, some of the policies on the table in this election would be truly life-changing for many people I know, and a lot more that I don’t. If even just debt forgiveness, or Medicare for All, or childcare, etc. could be a reality, it would be a huge change in myself in and others’ lives that would radically change the course they could or could not take. So the stakes feel high, because they are!
Like many people in this roundtable and in my life, the candidates I feel most drawn to support are Warren and Sanders; Sanders’ policies are more in line with my own, including his unequivocal stance on M4A, abolition of ICE and suffrage for incarcerated people; I’m also really impressed by his dedicated and mobilized base, which I think is key both during a general election and into his hypothetical tenure. I do think Warren is a really effective legislator and has proven her ability to get things done within legislative bodies where she doesn’t have a ton of support, which is also pretty crucial for a Dem president right now. Thinking of the organizing adage that we’re electing a target for organizing against, not an ally or a friend, I think Warren has proven in many cases receptive to changing her mind on issues when people put in the work to show her where she’s wrong; on the other hand, over the course of this campaign so far she has yet to fully reverse her position on SESTA/FOSTA, despite plenty of clear evidence that it was a mistake, and she hasn’t addressed Indigenous, especially Cherokee people’s, direct requests that she not just apologize for falsely claiming Native heritage but publicly address misunderstandings about how Native identity is constructed and dispel myths about DNA and false Native ancestry in general. So maybe less receptive than I would hope, actually!
I’m gratified that Sanders is already closer to the policy positions I would want Warren to be nudged to, but I guess I don’t feel clear on whether his admirably engaged base would continue to work to hold him accountable for campaign promises and beyond — I’m hopeful the answer is yes! I am extremely hopeful that I will be able to vote for one of these people in November, and trying to quiet the insistent worry that Bloomberg will prove it’s more or less possible to buy a nomination like a pet goldfish.
Carmen Phillips, Deputy Editor
As queer people, we often have a reputation for being ambivalent (or honestly, apathetic) towards electoral politics. I get it! There is no version of a capitalist, racist, electoral system that was built with us in mind. I also believe that there’s more than one way to be involved in systematic change in our country; particularly that the historic strength of grassroots activism should never be discounted. All that said, I really believe in voting. I believe in democracy. I’ve volunteered on local, state, and national campaigns. I am emphatic about this point — voting is not only a right of citizenship; it’s a responsibility.
That’s just the way I was raised. Faaaaar, far too many black people in this country protested, faced violence, and died for me to sit here in all my 21st century privilege and not take my ass to vote. To paraphrase Shirley Chisholm, it’s my belief that “if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair” because if you aren’t at the table, you are most definitely on the menu. (Statistically, it seems I’m not alone in this belief — 55% of eligible black women voters cast ballots in November 2018, a full six points higher than the national turnout.). In the 2020 primaries, I’m voting for Elizabeth Warren.
I respect a woman with a plan. I don’t find much difference between the policies of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, but I do find there to be a distinct difference in who has a legislative track record in proving they can push the agenda I care about into law. I appreciate that Elizabeth Warren’s campaign is the only one with a dedicated LGBT Outreach Director, and that her director spent his time over the last year gathering in-depth feedback from LGBT community leaders; feedback that’s been incorporated and reflected in Warren’s discussion of some of the issues that matter most to me — including, though not limited to, a moment from The Advocate and GLAAD’s LGBT Forum last fall that centered violence faced by black trans women in a way I haven’t seen from other candidates. As a black voter, I’m encouraged that when compared to other candidates, Elizabeth’s Warren’s plans for addressing racial inequity in this country continue to be exceptionally thorough and a head above her peers when scored by policy experts.
I wish I was more invested in Bernie Sanders, especially given how stunning it is to have a legitimately progressive candidate at the top of the polls, but rhetoric — no matter how powerful — without a plan of action to back it up, does very little to move me. I respect the women of color working hard on Sanders’ campaign, but also find the well-documented distinct misogynistic undertone of some of his supporters, along with his lukewarm attempts to curb them, very disconcerting.
That said, I’m mindful of the ways that Elizabeth Warren’s past actions have also caused harm. Particularly, as mentioned by Rachel earlier, in Indigenous communities. That’s caused me significant pause. And I believe that voices objecting to her candidacy have every right to be seriously considered and heard.
At its core, voting is about picking who you would most like to fight against. With that in mind, I’m spending the rest of this year dedicated to making sure that Donald Trump isn’t re-elected and that Democrats gain as many Congressional seats as possible, because it matters. I’ll ultimately hold it together and vote for any Democrat nominated for President (except Mike Bloomberg) for the same reason.
Riese Bernard, CEO
If you follow me on social media you’re likely already aware that I have endorsed Elizabeth Warren and therefore it’ll come as no surprise that I am here, today, writing about how I’m gonna vote for Elizabeth Warren. I think she has what it takes. She has a strong history of taking relentless action on the issues she cares about and getting results. She listens to feedback and doesn’t let pride stop her from changing her mind. Like Sanders, I trust that Warren’s concern is indeed the American people and a desire to make life better for everybody who lives here — not power for its own sake, propping up the desires wealthy donors and lobbyists, or catering her message with a stronger eye on PR than her own integrity. I voted for Clinton in 2016 but was never really passionate about her as a candidate, whereas I recently spent a somewhat intoxicated Lyft ride home in the backseat with another Warren-voting friend watching YouTube clips of Elizabeth Warren making good points on television (followed by the ceremonial watching of clips of Kate McKinnon as Elizabeth Warren, of course).
I appreciate her awareness of the centrality of racism to every single broken institution in this country and her willingness to say so. She is committed to closing private prisons and eliminating cash bail and erasing student loan debt. I like her. I want to see her yell at Donald Trump. I think she’s uniquely capable of working with people who don’t agree with her. I also wish I could get as excited about Bernie Sanders, as many others have said here, especially because he is leading the polls and is trailed by three men I absolutely do not want to vote for (but will of course if I must). I appreciate that some of his radical visions are in line with my own, but I don’t really have faith that he’ll be able to realize any of them in this political climate. Also I wish Mike Bloomberg would stop sending me mail! I get enough mail as it is. I’m just praying for a Warren comeback. I think we learned in 2016 that truly anything is possible, and the groundswell of support for Warren and her fundraising gives me some hope that the race isn’t over for her.