I was 16-years-old when I watched the 2016 presidential debates alongside my peers in our high school library. It seemed like a joke back then, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as caricatures and larger than life figures jabbing at each other in rhetorical stunts.
In all honesty, I was disconnected from the politics that seemed to operate in another world. I was not old enough to vote then, and if the president’s actions did not affect my ability to eat, sleep and study for school, I was not inspired to protest a man that a majority of Americans already agreed was unfit for office.
A lot has changed in four years and moving to college fundamentally shifted the way I view politics. One would think that attending such a large public school you would end up flailing in a sea of 38,000 faces, but in actuality, the diversity of the lived experiences that surrounded me, supported and challenged me to grow as a person and live more authentically.
My circle of friends has expanded, from the homogenous and myopic community I grew up in. I care about what happens in politics because I can see it’s living impact on the people of color, the religious communities and the LGBTQ+ community that I love.
It’s my Jewish friends who understand the stakes of antisemitism that is being propagated by white supremacists like those at Charlottesville shouting “Jews will not replace us”. It’s my Muslim friends who understand that claiming a religious affiliation can paint a target on yourself for violence and misplaced retribution. It’s my undocumented friends who are criminalized for living in a country that is determined to see them as our president describes “rapists” and criminals coming across the U.S.-Mexican border. It’s my Black friends who are subjected to the daily anti-Blackness that is woven into the fabric of our nation. It’s my trans friends who face not only gender-based violence but also erasure in the media that contributes to their invisibility.
This is the Amerikkka we live in. A country that still refuses to take down statues and monuments that represent slavery and the colonization of indigenous communities. Some people have already learned how to swim when some people don’t believe the ship is already sunk. We have already acknowledged and accepted that amnesia of this country, the violence and the misrepresentation of our loved ones and communities.
So when I watched the live presidential debates this past Tuesday evening, I was under no illusions. I had seen the last four years of outrageous tweets, scandalous grand juries, questionable presidential pardons and,of course, the hullabaloo around the “Carmen San Diego” of Trump’s tax returns.
I watched that night as Trump pivoted and swerved at every tangible hard question that was posed on his policies. Instead, he chose to dig into Biden’s family history, ignoring for the umpteenth time the allegations that he had not paid his fair share of taxes and refusing to denounce white supremacy.
Biden tried to maintain his cool, but the debate devolved into a squabble with poor Chris Wallace attempting to corral the conversation into anything meaningful or of relevance to the American people.
Despite expecting these antics, I was emotionally drained after watching the chaos I witnessed on screen. Forget scripted television, the unimaginable and fictitious was unfolding before my eyes. It was like watching a Reddit debate come to life on national television.
But for many, this is just another blip on their horizon as they are trying to make it through the hardships of the coronavirus pandemic and protest police violence in their communities. They, like myself, were under no illusions that Trump or Biden were going to magically sprout fairy wings and save us all. America has continued to fail its communities.
It’s failing people of color, it’s failing the LGBTQ+ community and yes, it’s failing middle-class white America that is turning to conservative dogma in the hopes that market fundamentalism and protectionist policies will renew economic prospects for our futures.
Here’s the thing, Trump knows he lost the popular vote last election and he’s even more unpopular now. The only way he wins is if people stop voting, if people are so shocked by his morality, that they are immobile with despair.
I get it. The systems are bureaucratic and opaque, and Biden, if elected, will help us break a new record for the ‘oldest white man’ to become president. His vice president, Kamala Haris for some, feels like a diversity stunt when individuals take a closer look at her track record as a prosecutor and criminalizing truant children and Black men.
But if we have another four years of Trump, we have another four years of a clown in office, another four years where our democratic establishment becomes less and less responsive to the American people. We have another four years where we fall deeper into authoritarianism and political divide.
After the debate, I promptly sent my younger sister the link to register to vote. I didn’t ‘cancel’ any of my conservative friends on social media. I expressed my disappointment and hoped that some part of them understood the distaste had been displayed on the debate stage that night.
We push to have Biden and Kamala win, we push to get them into office and then for the next four years, we hold them accountable to issues of climate change and racism.
Because what matters most is this: A seat at the table is better than none. Register to vote.