On Nov. 7, 2020, Joe Biden was elected to become the 46th president of the United States. In his victory speech, he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris brought forth a message of healing and of unity. However, this unity cannot be achieved with constant compromise with a more extreme and hateful Republican Party. We need to organize and deeply uproot white supremacy through liberatory practice and education to unite our country and move in the direction of justice and dignity.
At a moment like this, the rhetoric our President-elect chooses is extremely important. With many questioning and protesting the results of this exhausting election, appeasing Republicans to prevent as much violence as possible and strive for a peaceful transition of power is necessary. Building trust among disheartened Donald Trump supporters and those in denial of the election results that the new leadership is going to work in their best interest is key toward violence prevention.
However, if we have learned anything from Barack Obama’s last few years as president, it’s that under calls for bipartisan progress by a Democratic executive branch and an intransigent GOP-led congress, we observe inaction that leaves Americans disheartened and skeptical of the ability of our government to bring positive change in the moments when it’s most necessary.
There are two strategies for getting things done under gridlock. What we can learn from Obama’s presidency under a GOP-controlled Senate is that you can either put in the work to build bipartisan support or find ways to unify and grow the Democratic Party in order to ensure future protection of the executive actions carried by the president and the executive branch. And the only way for the Democratic Party to grow is to change.
We have to recognize that while Biden won this election, Trump gained over 72 million votes. After all that has happened these past four years, we have witnessed an outwardly racist president garner a record-setting number of votes. By refusing to condemn white nationalists for example, he has explicitly supported white supremacy from the highest position of power in the country.
This is not just a reflection of Trump but also a reflection of our Republican Party. From exit polls, we learned that 93 percent of Republicans voted for Trump, which either means most of the party supported the rhetoric and actions of the Trump administration or they did not believe the racism perpetrated by the Trump administration mattered enough for them to withdraw their support.
Rather than putting in effort to unify with the Republican Party, we need to put in the work to draw in more support for a Democratic Party rooted in progressivism. We cannot ignore the more than 72 million people who voted for Trump. However, as for what to do about it, we should not compromise with white supremacy. The solution is a real dedication for anti-racism work in our country. The solution is organizing and educating — not just in the purpose of electoral politics but outside of politics as well.
President-elect Biden stated in his victory speech that the lack of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans is “a choice we make. And if we can decide not to cooperate, then we can decide to cooperate. And I believe that this is part of the mandate from the American people. They want us to cooperate. That’s the choice I’ll make.”
However, the approach taken to heal our country and bring us together should not be by focusing on the Republican Party but rather to model the Democratic progressives connected with the needs of their constituents. As the Republican Party has moved more toward the right in recent years, the majoritarian (not necessarily ideological) center or middle ground many Democratic politicians hold onto in means of compromise with the opposing party gets pulled rightward as the Republicans tug. We are at a point in our country where if Democratic politicians want to maintain and strengthen their majority, they need to connect with what the people need, building a multiracial coalition radically responsive to the many crises we are facing, which means significantly shifting to the left.
Our country needs a politics of hope and change, not a politics driven by hate or fear of the other side. If all Democrats can offer is the status quo, a best bet to prevent a Republican from taking office, then key voters they rely on will lose hope. Our representative government under a two party system was set up to function as a white democracy, with neither party operating toward BIPOC liberation.
As Jamaal Bowman, the Democratic Representative-elect for New York’s 16th Congressional District stated on Twitter on Nov. 9, “Progressives organized with the Biden-Harris team all the way. We pushed the election to the top in cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Atlanta. We will continue to champion policies our constituents need and are ready to enact a bold agenda with Biden and Harris.”
This bold progressive agenda is what is necessary not only for our communities, but also to keep faith in our government and what it can be. Instead of appealing to the Republicans deeply rooted in a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, Democrats need to inspire and act on behalf of those who put them in office in the first place.
This is not an operation of taking moral high ground. It is a politics rooted in survival. We cannot wait for comprehensive climate legislation. We cannot wait for single-payer health care. We cannot wait for a coronavirus relief package. We cannot wait for transformations of our systems of justice and immigration. There are lives at stake in all of this.
I’m not an all-or-nothing person. If compromise between Democrats and Republicans can move us toward these goals, then those are the actions we need to take. I can recognize progress however big or small as still movement in the right direction. But the longer we take, the more lives are lost, torn apart and irreparably harmed.
When criticized for being unpragmatic in my position, I am reminded of a poem by Clint Smith titled, “When people say, ‘we have made it through worse before.’” In it reads, “all I hear is the wind slapping against the gravestones / of those who did not make it, those who did not / survive to see the confetti fall from the sky, those who // did not live to watch the parade roll down the street … Please, dear reader, // do not say I am hopeless, I believe there is a better future / to fight for, I simply accept the possibility that I may not / live to see it.”
This is the reason why incremental change fails us. There are people left behind. We know the United States is ready for change, one way or another. Bold action by our Democratic leaders alongside grassroots organizing is what is necessary to save lives.
This isn’t a plea coming out of nowhere. While centrist Democrats in the House have reasoned their smaller majority by blaming their more progressive colleagues, many states across the country adopted progressive policies. Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota and Montana all voted to legalize recreational marijuana, and South Dakota and Mississippi voted to allow the use of medical marijuana. Florida, a state that went to Trump in this election, voted to raise the minimum wage. States including but not limited to Colorado, Nebraska, Oregon and California also passed state-level progressive policies.
On the federal level, only one of the 93 House co-sponsors for the Green New Deal running for reelection in 2020 lost their seat. All four House co-sponsors for the Green New Deal running for reelection in more moderate districts are projected to (or have already) won their races. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., stated that every single candidate that co-sponsored Medicare for All in a swing district kept their seat. This pushes against the notion that progressivism is unpopular.
Like President-elect Biden said, we are at an inflection point. This is a moment in which we need to make “hard decisions about who we are and what we want to be.” In this moment of economic crisis, with the COVID-19 pandemic and deep social unrest against systemic racism and other systems of oppression, the Democratic Party can choose to take on this fight in Washington, break down these systems and bring in a new America we’ve never seen before.
The goal is not to “restore the soul of America” as Biden said. Biden’s message in many ways reframes Trump’s message to “Make America Great Again” in a less domineering manner. I refuse to move backwards into the cruelty this country echoes today. The real goal is to continue the work of those who came before us to make the country more just and more kind. This is the ongoing work of creating the soul of the United States. A soul rooted in compassion and all that humanity can be.
Using rhetoric that romanticizes the way things were before the Trump administration will inevitably lead us to a government where someone like Trump, or someone even worse, is in charge. The way things were led to the rise of Trump in the first place. We are operating with the same systems of government as in 2016. And these systems are not likely to change by 2024. Without true progressive policies, organizing and education to address how we arrived at Trump’s presidency, we are doomed to return once again. A progressive future is possible. We need to carry this hope with us and act in accordance with what we demand and what we can imagine the future to be.
Aarushi Phalke PO ’24 is from Portland, Oregon. Her current goal is to make a perfect sandwich.