(The following was written on Nov. 3, 2020, in the evening.)
There is an energy about – at least here in Liberty, Missouri – perhaps too everywhere inside these boundaries called the United States. If I say this energy is palpable, this is said not entirely for cliché.
That should be qualified. I mean that I refer to this palpable energy not in service of its cliché but instead to question the structures of engagement in which it is able to become cliché.
I cannot quite place a word around this energy. It is not stable, it drifts in and out of form. I catch it in glimpses. Someone walks by wearing a sticker affirming their vote.
There appears to be two options. “There are always third party candidates!” someone interjects. Ignoring the ironic cynicism that seems coextensive with an appeal to third parties, the two options to which I refer are these: vote or don’t.
As with all dichotomies, there is nothing correct to be found within its terms. That is to say, neither option, to vote or to not, is correct. This is not, though, to say that either option is incorrect – that too would be a truth claim from within the terms of the dichotomy.
What I am concerned with knowing is how these became the options, how this day among days has been suspended in time, such that it is not just a day among days – it is the day we’ve been talking about, been anxiously expecting, been dreading. What I find interesting is that Nov. 3 presents itself as a dichotomy.
A news notification pops up on my screen: polls are beginning to close. The implicit message: if you haven’t voted, you better do so as soon as possible; if you have voted, clasp your hands and pray.
Perhaps this is presumptive of the Washington Post’s intentions. Nonetheless, it seems that what is sustaining the persistence of this day as an exceptional one is the normative expectation that to vote is correct. Assuming that the general narrative is that to vote is better than not, let us proceed.
The cliché, this palpable energy, finds its excessive obviousness as the dominating presumption that something big is occurring today. Namely, today is voting day, it is the day a new president is elected. This is a factual statement, but we should unpack some of the ideology.
Today is the day those who are allowed to vote may cast a ballot to choose between two white men competing to serve the title President of the United States for the coming four years.
This is, in fact, the most normal description of a presidential election day for the United States government. Still, this particular election is a return to normal after three presidential elections that exceeded the bounds of the normal description. Maybe that’s why this one is so terrifying.
Before abstracting, we should examine this at the greatest level of particularity. The vote is between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
Biden and Trump. This reads best as a conjunction. I’m sitting in The Cage typing this, and happily I just overheard the perfect example: “it’s uh-oh either way.” Here are a few other examples: “they’re corrupt,” “they’re evil,” “they’ll ruin this country,” etc.
“I’m voting for him to vote against him.”
The question, then, which is still my general question about the exceptional quality of this day, is why the imperative is to vote rather than not. Specifically, when given two highly objectionable options, why is the onus still to engage rather than to reject the very structure which continually produces highly objectionable candidates?
This is not to say that it is a better option not to vote. What I am asking for is that we reevaluate the ordering of our questions. The first question should not be between Trump and Biden. The first question should always be a structural one – we need to mercilessly interrogate the conception of necessity we attribute to government. What does this institution really do for us, people generally, not only well-off white cishet men?
Of course, this question should have been asked already, one should not have waited until election night to pose it. Perhaps it was not until tonight that I was impelled to write this because it was only tonight that the fear really became palpable for me.
I have not been able to shake the feeling that Donald Trump will retain the presidency, and I am terrified. Biden has just won California and has a commanding lead, but the feeling persists. My politics, my queerness, are endangered by a Trump presidency. My safety is threatened, yet I refused to vote for Biden. Perhaps I made the wrong choice, I really don’t know.
My justification appeals to something beyond my own safety: I imagine that the difference between Biden and Trump is minimal, for instance, to a Somalian under the fire of a military drone. In general, white supremacy is white supremacy, no matter how personable it looks shoving ice cream into its ghoulish face.
And I cannot shake the terror: maybe I made the wrong choice. I take comfort in knowing that, regardless, I would not have been voting in a swing state.
To make my position clear: Donald Trump is despicable, and I find his presidency unique. Yet what I find unique about his presidency is that Trump is the most categorical manifestation of American politics we have yet seen. I will here repeat a text I just sent my friend, “Trump is America.”
American politics is akin to a casino game: pay more to play more, the house always wins. No matter who heads the thing, American power is interested only in its own maintenance and persistence. Exceptional though this day may feel, in effect it is only an evanescent moment within the history of genocidal occupation that calls itself the United States.
I am terrified that Donald Trump may win, but, for my comrades across the globe, I am terrified of Joe Biden as well. We must question the structure that leaves these as our only options and demands of us that we choose one.
For those interested in creating a brighter tomorrow, we have work to do. No matter who wins, we protect and feed one another, we protest, we occupy. Casting a ballot is not the most important political work.
No matter who wins, we take the streets. No matter who wins, we fight for every inch of this blood soaked soil.
Power to the people.