By Candice Louisa Daquin, Senior Editor, Indie Blu(e) Publishing
Even the most stalwart historian among us, will attest, it takes living in a country, inhabiting its borders, to truly understand a country. It is no wonder we struggle to truly comprehend the lived experience of people in other countries. America must look very strange to the rest of the world, just as we who live in America may stereotype and miss the nuances of the political landscape of other countries.
But as strange as America may look, it is a strange country to live in too. As an immigrant to America, I have the advantage of knowing what it is like to have lived in three other countries and been resident or citizens of them. It helps in seeing why people hold the perspectives they do.
Obviously, it is a mine field if you say only one side is ‘right’ and everyone else is wrong. That is one of two main reasons Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election, she called the other side stupid. Whether they are or not, is not the point. The point is nothing is won by calling names and condemning groups on either side. Those groups will rise and show their power. This happened when Donald Trump, against most predictions, won the US election in 2016.
Many were in disbelief that a man who was better known as a hotelier and reality TV show host, could be President. But interestingly it was less surprising for people outside of America, who remembered Reagan and were aware of similar casting among leaders, happening in other countries. Boris Johnson could be compared in many ways to Trump, and has been, and it is certainly not the first time, someone has won a large election, who was not the favorite.
I saw it as old-fashioned backlash. The party of the left wins, next time the party of the right fights to gain a foothold, it goes back and forth, and therefore so often, nothing is accomplished in politics. Many people believed the 2016 election was an extreme because America had just had its first President of colour, Barack Obama and this was a case of ‘white trumping black’. That is not how I saw it. Many of those who voted for Trump did not do so because of his skin colour or gender, they did so because they were Republican. They were responding to their fears of a socialist government under the Democrats and the rolling out of Obama Care.
What is often misunderstood, are the reasons behind why voters vote. They are not always voting based on racism, sexism, or what is in the news at the time. That explains why in 2020, a significant number of Hispanics and Black voters voted Republican. Had it been based upon the news, one would imagine with ‘Black Lives Matter’ dominating the headlines, that every person of colour would have voted Democrat. Neither can this be explained by people of colour NOT voting, aside when Barack Obama won, where more people of colour voted than ever before.
Ultimately then, there are many reasons why people vote what they vote, and to try to predict what those are, is not easy. It is my belief core values make up more of the reasons for votes than transient values. If a core value is ‘thou shalt not take a life’, chances are, you will vote Republican because you are Pro-Life, and this is a core value. Likewise, if your core value is the 2nd amendment, and you live on a farm and have guns, you may vote Republican even if you do not like Trump.
Of course, within that, there are independent voters and swing-voters who WILL be influenced by negative campaigning, smear-attack adverts, misleading accusations, or truisms. Those people will vote based on the emotion of the hour, and they are often the voters most targeted because of their susceptibility. Whether that justifies spending 11 billion dollars on any election is up for debate. My personal view is, it is shameful to spend the kind of money we do, when people need medical help and food. I would like to see this country take money out of politics as others have, but I find it unlikely this will ever happen.
Neither Biden nor Trump are utterly liked or respected by all members of their parties, but they win based on reaching those core values, and the corralling of as many voters as possible. When money and undue influence are powerful elements of any election, you will never know the full story, only the outcome. Whilst people may have been dismayed to have Trump as President, it galvanized many Democrats to come up with a strong viable counter-candidate who could get rid of him in 2020. Unfortunately, this was not proven to be as easy as it sounded. Too many candidates ran, and votes were siphoned off. Tokenism became more important than ever (to have a female President someday, and if not, to at least have a female Vice President, to have another person of colour as President, and if not, to at least have a person of colour Vice President).
It surprised few when Joe Biden, who had originally said he would not run for 2020 ended up doing so. This was borne from his parties’ fear Trump would sweep the election again without a proven Democratic contender to stand in his way. As Biden had been VP to Obama, he seemed the natural choice, albeit older than his years, and not entirely committed at first. Sadly, Kamala Harris and others, did not receive enough popular support to be considered able to beat Trump and maybe some of this was an assumption a woman could not beat a man at this juncture in American history.
Here is one difference between American politics thus far, and many other countries, where female leaders have had a tradition even in countries one might assume to be more sexist than American (India for example). Which begs the question, are our optics even accurate? I would say they could not be if India is able to elect Indira Gandhi as leader and America has yet to have a female President. Of course, there is far more to sexism than whether a female leads a country, but it is a good starting point.
Biden is not initially as popular as some of his precursors, one could even claim he is a candidate of compromise, meaning; Give me ‘anyone but Trump’ in the eyes of some voters. Whether popular or not, is irrelevant until he begins his term and inherits the troubled US economy, set to be the worst since the Great Depression (and statistically speaking, even worse, given our larger population) and the troubles of Covid-19. It is hard to envy him this inheritance because it will be an uphill battle with little reward.
We have a history here in America of blaming leaders for natural disasters, as if they wield the power to change them. Trump has been accused of causing America to have one of the consistently highest rates of transmission and deaths of Covid-19 since March 2020 and to some extent this is unfair, given that most other countries are not far behind and we are all on a steep learning curve. Not wearing a mask or asking others to, certainly could be called irresponsible by any leader, but it’s worthwhile considering that outright accusing a leader of a country of causing deaths, might be going too far, when we look at pre-existing health care infrastructures and how they have not withstood an illness of this magnitude.
One could argue it is the legacy of all Governments who are responsible, because they simply do not plan ahead, or put money into things that need financing, and instead they live for the moment, spending on the immediate. Maybe it is the very essence of politics that is corrupt and puts the immediate ‘reward’ ahead of long-term planning and infrastructure — this is the real issue here. In which case, I do not see things changing, because in a Capitalist country, economic reward tends to outweigh social support. That said, if you compare America’s healthcare system to others, whilst it isn’t socialised and does leave many poor without resources, it also has a lot of money pouring into it, whilst socialised healthcare systems in Europe are floundering. Begging the question, if both do not really work, what is the alternative?
Whatever your political view, if you are in India right now or of Indian heritage, you must be excited to see an Indian woman as Vice President of the US, even if she doesn’t represent your political views. Not only is Kamala Harris half Indian but she is a formidable woman of great accomplishment. Whether you voted for her or not, you may find the appointment of a brown skinned woman as Vice President, a very exciting first, given the history of American white men being Vice President up until now.
But perhaps it is not sufficient to be glad a woman is in this position simply because she is a woman, or that a person of colour is voted to power simply because they are a person of colour. More is surely required. That person must have earned their stripes and be capable of the job. I think few doubt Kamala Harris’s credentials and experience thus far, make her an outstanding mentor for any woman or person of colour wishing to go into politics, which in America at least, is still a very male and white arena. Only time will tell if she can prove herself. I suspect she will.
In some ways this has made me realise that tokenism is not always a negative. Of course I would rather a time where it did not exist, but if you earned the right to equality and the only way you get it is through tokenism then it’s preferable to having no way of getting it. Kamala Harris was given the Vice President’s job because the Democrats wanted a woman and wanted a person of colour, that part is undeniably tokenism, but she earned the role, and she deserves the role and nothing can mitigate that.
So how is America responding to the election results? Well of course, as predicted, it was messy. First it looked like Trump was going to win, then abruptly he lagged because of write-in-votes (by mail) and Biden surged. Understandably, many Republicans wondered how their candidate who was ahead in some states, could suddenly fall behind based on mail-in-ballots alone? The fear that those ballots were tampered with, was discussed at length and many still believe some dirty dealing was done to stuff ballots in favor of Biden.
Whilst this was done routinely in the past, and this is documented, without proof, there is no reason to believe cheating occurred and unless a witness comes forward or ballot boxes are proven to be stuffed. It is reasonable to assume, Biden surged ahead because yes, the majority of write-in ballots by mail were for him. This is not implausible, but it leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth because it was not a ‘clean win’ the way both sides had hoped for. On the one hand, Democrats believed they would win by a higher percentage, and on the other, Republicans had their hopes raised and then they fell.
As for the Trump campaign and Trump himself, we are still waiting on his perspectives, but unsurprisingly, he is seeking legal redress in the hope a recount will secure him another term as President. It was said that there would be riots throughout the US if Trump won again, and this may have happened, given recent tensions, but with Biden all but heir apparent, there have been few protests coming from the Republicans. I am personally glad for this period of calm, having had many months of riots throughout this country (often with good reason). Now, seems like it should be a time of reflection and planning for 2021.
Namely, how to rid America (and the rest of the world) of Covid-19 and its hold over us, economically and socially. People have reacted differently than ever before, due to the stressors of this unprecedented time. That said, it is not unprecedented, it has just not happened for a long time, and people forget their history. One thing we can say, is if we all knew our histories better (both politically and socially) we might be in better shape to handle what is coming.
Back to Kamala Harris. What can the first female Vice President do for women throughout America and the world? What can she represent, engender, inspire? And what will having the second person of colour in the second highest position of the land do to helping eliminate racism and racial tensions? In some ways I believe it will be like neighbourhoods. History shows us, when white neighborhoods had people of colour move in, their first response was racism and over time, the racism reduced. It is my hope by having people of colour (and women) in positions of political power in America, it will reduce racism and sexism. And implement more equality. Whether that happens or not, time will tell.
For all the faults his detractors will list, Trump is still a deeply popular man among his core bases. No he is not very well liked by Fox News, the only Republican run media channel in America, nor do some of his fellow Republicans respect or like him, but among the ‘regular Joe’ throughout America, you could see a vast number of people still rooting for him. Democrats would have us believe this is as simple as the divide between those who are racist and those who are not. Respectfully I disagree. I think that is too simplistic an analysis. People who vote for Trump are not always voting for the negative aspects, others may equate with Trump, such as racism, sexism, elitism. They may in fact be voting for Trump because they are afraid of change, they may be voting for Trump because he’s the Republican candidate and they have always voted Republican or they may be voting because they don’t feel they are represented by the other party.
If this is the reason, then it would not be fair to say those people were just ignorant racists. And this is what divides America. The beliefs we hold about each other. As a lesbian woman, as an immigrant, as a Jewish woman, as a mixed-heritage woman, as a female, I check a lot of minority boxes. But I know within those boxes there is are multiple considerations. Consider the situation of a Jew. Jews are dying out (literally) they are the most targeted minority in the US today, Muslim immigration increases throughout the world, it is possible a Jew will vote Republican because they perceive Republicans to be pro-Israel and thus pro-Jew, whilst it is possible they perceive Democrats to be anti-Jewish because of certain Democrats who are Muslim and have spoken strongly against Israel. If this one example can be expanded to fit all possible examples, we can see why it is not as simple as RACIST = VOTING FOR TRUMP.
I neither defend, justify, or condemn either side for mistakes made, because it only inflames people to read condemnation. Rather than criticise, let us look at what does work, and do more of that. It works to consider how to help people, it works to care about people. It works to value diversity because in diversity, we get variety, and that is a good thing. Despite the fact that America is a country built on immigrants, we seem to, once we reach the melting-pot, have forgotten our origins, and gone our own ways. Many immigrants do not ‘become’ conservative, they already hold traditional, conservative views that they continue to hold once they have immigrated. To expect them not to, is to disrespect their culture as much as telling them to change to fit ours. Equally, any immigrant, and I speak as one, should respect the basic tenets of a country they immigrate to. If you hate women and gays, do not live in a country that asks you to respect them. Simple things like that.
We need to learn this and not rely as heavily on obvious tokenism and short-term tactics to gain voters. By doing this, we learn more about what voters really want, what matters most to them and why. We can then have conversations about how to achieve this on both sides, and the polarity in both parties can begin to be reduced, which is a good thing for everyone. As the Republicans still hold the Senate, Biden’s hands will be somewhat tied, and this divide only exacerbates the going back and forth in politics that causes less to happen on both sides. Isn’t the ideal to do more? No matter what party is in office? We should never celebrate that we are so divided, we should seek ways to come closer together.
Nonetheless it is a cause of celebration for Kamala Harris to be Vice President of America and I hope this heralds a time of less friction. It is good to disagree and debate. It is not so good to have hate and erosion. It may seem clear cut. But think of it like this; both sides feel it is clear cut. Not just one. And with such diametric differences, we must find what we have in common again. I do not believe this is impossible. Discounting the true haters, most of us are not bad people, we are just varied, our beliefs, what motivates us, what we fear. A good leader will try to unify. In this Pandemic we have seen we are far from unified, with people refusing to wear masks, whilst others say; ‘let those who are going to die, die, so we don’t ruin our economy’ and this has really brought us to our knees. What better time to rebuild, and find what we can agree upon? I hope we never forget to value human life and each other, irrespective of our differences. Ultimately, we are far more alike than different.
Candice Louisa Daquin is a Sephardi immigrant from France who lives in the American Southwest. Formerly in publishing, Daquin is now a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the writer.
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