In these strange and cynical times, it seems hard to deny that the duopoly controlling our political system seems to have a stranglehold on Washington. Whether under the Obama administration or the Trump administration, it is true that we have seen children deported, children in cages, climate change spiraling out of control, the punishment of protesters, and endless war. Those among us that want to point this out and do not feel heard quickly lose hope in the system altogether. Oftentimes, the attempts to quell these fears with the suggestion that Trump is ‘worse’ fall on deaf ears to non-voters because it seems as though there is a hypocrisy that is being ignored (which is true).
I do think Trump is a symptom of a larger problem. He is undoubtedly the result of decades of neo-fascist and neoliberal policies, as well as a cultural identity that we as Americans have not found the courage to put down. Whether illusory or not, his original talking points attempted to speak to the working class (and non-voters) in a way that non-voters often do not feel spoken to.
It does seem true that, at least to a degree, policy won’t fundamentally or radically change under either Biden or Trump. The ultimate tone of policy has not moved dramatically in the past 20 years. Incremental change happens on both sides, yes, but when both parties are funded by the same special interests and corporate lobbies, that policy moves towards the corporate interest nine times out of 10. After a while, politics can seem helpless, hopeless, daunting, and corrupt. Why participate at all?
Perhaps there is another way of looking at it, however – one that acknowledges and even embraces the idea that our politicians are at their core a figurehead. Particularly our president serves as a symbolic locus for our collective need for hero-worship and tribalism. Without a doubt, we need to move past these subconscious interpretations of leadership, for this can often feed the problematic cycle of tribalism. We often rage against the other “team” while remaining utterly complacent, defensive, and unaware of what our “team” has done. This goes both ways. I fear that under Biden, many liberals will fall into complacency as so many did during the Obama administration, without looking at the record of what was accomplished, not accomplished, and condoned during his presidency. The same is certainly true for many of Trump’s Republicans.
While I’d love to see us move beyond and fall out of love with our desire to idolize our leaders as long as they’re on our team and fall into complacency whenever our team is in power, there’s still something important to be noted about the Trump administration being our current head of power. As a symbolic figurehead of our country, as a locus of the collective consciousness of this nation, Trump rattles our darkest conscious aspects. It does not bother me as much that he presents our country as unprofessional to the rest of the world as much as it bothers me that there is symbolic approval given to our most violent and aggressive conscious attitudes. Those that are emboldened by Trump’s attitudes and words are often emboldened to carry these thoughts as a banner. Policy aside (which is also atrocious), there is an existential consciousness issue in our nation. By giving a voice and a platform to collective bullying, Trump also heightens and exacerbates the fear of those that are the subject of this bullying – to not only feel more afraid, but to have reason to be more afraid.
The North Star of our country’s collective consciousness must be moved. It does not necessarily need to be moved to point to Joe Biden – who similarly does not have a spotless record nor a fantastic resonance with the ideals we most want to uphold. There is hypocrisy in both parties, yes, and perhaps we would be stronger as parties, and as a nation, if we were to acknowledge this. But the psychological release valve of Trump’s rhetoric, which encourages aggression and violence, is something our country does not need to continue to withstand. This does not mean that these forces did not already exist in our country – we must grapple with the fact that they did. Trump did not invent his supporters out of thin air, nor did he invent these ideas; he is simply giving an allowance to it. He is akin to a parent that is not only not calling out foul behavior, but is applauding it. Civil unrest will continue and our collective consciousness will continue to both bully and be bullied within this psychological turmoil.
Truly, Joe Biden might not heal these wounds either, but we cannot even begin to heal when we are in psychological attack and defense mode. We cannot listen to each other or feel empathy at all when we are being spurned to such emotional highs and lows. We are still inside of a battle and electing Joe Biden might give us the illusion the dust has settled long enough to move away from the attack rhetoric. The battle won’t be over – if the Democrats win, all of this violence and aggression won’t vanish. But perhaps while no longer in constant, invisible psychological strife, we can feel more consciously united to some degree. And unity of the people – of the workers against the ruling class – is what we need now more than ever. It will only be a small consciousness transformation, rather than a policy transformation, but we need a collective consciousness which places its values elsewhere. Lies, platitudes, distraction, debasement, and corruption will continue to happen in our current political landscape no matter who the figurehead of the country is. But if I have to pick between Trump and Biden (and I do, right now), we need simply and solely for the collective attitude of aggression to be no longer vocally and psychologically gratified.
The non-voters we must reach out to will not be swayed by glazing over Biden’s bad record or pretending that he will do things for them that he won’t. But simply and utterly, we need to give people at least a tiny chance of surviving. I am voting so that perhaps one or two black trans women won’t be attacked because people feel justified in their aggression and violent tendencies. If it is the smallest thing that I can do, then it is the smallest thing that I can do. It isn’t hard to vote, but it is hard to live with so much hatred. If you don’t think your vote matters, vote for this reason and this reason alone: because Trump not only doesn’t condemn violence, he encourages it.
Should we have a different system? Absolutely. Should we have politicians that represent us? Absolutely. And to discuss and actively work towards creating those opportunities is the most valuable work we can do. But in this moment, perhaps it may help to reframe what the meaning of our vote is; at least, at this moment. What is this vote this year for? It doesn’t need to mean what we are told it means – and that is a release of expectation in and of itself. Perhaps we need to be more honest about the fact that it isn’t a tale of two hugely and disparately different parties. In policy and action, truly at its core, they can’t be so fundamentally different when both parties are funded by so many of the same corporate interests. So then act against that and move in the only ways we know how (and please remain involved on all of the off moments as well). Here in this moment, we have a choice in choosing for stoking the fires of civil discord and hatred or not. Perhaps your vote is based on something as simple as that.
There is so much racism, inequality, and hateful judgment in this country – it is a sickness we have. So now, after locating that and seeing it for what it is, we must vote against giving that a clear voice and a platform to continue. We must vote against inciting and encouraging those aspects of our nation’s consciousness. That does not mean the fight is over, it simply means we can’t allow these horrendous and hateful aspects of America to thrive. We must cultivate a different consciousness for our country and that must start by at least halting the hateful rhetoric. At the very least, just that. And then keep working. Become activated towards creating a movement for something new and vote in this election.