A Circular Firing Squad as We All Go Down in the Same Boat: Or Telling People of Color to Get in Formation

(c) Nick Anderson.

Over a year is left in what has already become an exhausting not-yet-a-race to unseat Donald Trump. For the better part of the last two years, the Democratic rank and file has been waiting for the party to display some coherence, a plan, a strategy. Again and again, any opportunity to do so has been squandered while those like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that have a political agenda are attacked. At times, it has seemed like the leadership is more interested in disciplining its left flank than actually opposing the right.

It is no wonder that we’re nervous.

The fears are not assuaged by the fact in addition to not having a solid message other than “Down with Trump,” the party now has 20 people in the primary. We have to get from 20 to 1 in about a year.

How do we do that? Apparently, for some people winnowing down to a single candidate is not to be done by evaluating their policy perspectives, their past actions, or anything like that. It will magically happen without any sort of “negative” discussion.

Oddly, I have found this tsk-tsking aimed primarily at people of color who are challenging candidates like Pete Buttigieg and other white candidates. It also happened  in the 2016 primary with people telling us all to fall in line behind Clinton although there it was primarily women being told that they had to support HRC in order to retain their legitimacy as feminists (bullshit, but let’s not get side-tracked). Now I acknowledge I may be picking up on this because of my own sensitivities but let’s just say it’s happening at some level.

There are few things I’d like to point out about this.

  1. This is the primary. We are assessing who is going to be THE candidate of the Democratic Party for president. Like any other job interview, we don’t do this by being nice to everyone.
  2. Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of a candidate will not give Trump any more information than he would already be able to gather himself. Our discussing the candidates strengths and weaknesses on Facebook is unlikely to give Trump some sort of secret weapon. Without a strong platform and a good movement to get out the vote, we’ll be conceding much of the race already.
  3. It’s a process of elimination. This means people will be ELIMINATED. Get comfortable with the fact that it could be your person.
  4. This is a democracy. Part of respecting it is also respecting the right of a person not to vote for your person. If your candidate was unable to persuade a voter, that is part of the process. Browbeating Bernie Bros, third party voters, etc., while absolving the candidate who ran is pretty one-sided. Repetition of the same claims doesn’t help and is likely to entrench people who begin to think you are an asshole. As ever, reasoned arguments are better than snarky, thinly-veiled ad hominem/feminam attacks. The attacks say more about the injuries and mindset of those engaging in them than about any candidate.
  5. Democrats always shake their heads and wonder why poor white people keep “voting against their own interests.” Yet many expect women and people of color to do JUST THAT. Why should I vote for a candidate that is against my interests? Why do we have to keep taking one for the team? This bit of hypocrisy has gone on long enough. I won’t be voting for a felon-disenfranchising, gentrifier from some small town, thanks but no. At least not in the damn primary.
  6. Women matter. While reducing feminist politics to sexual harassment isn’t a good strategy, the fact that these grabby men keep showing up as “leaders” is tiring and we need to hold them accountable. Talking about their actions is entirely acceptable to me as part of a feminist practice of truth-telling and awareness raising. We can do this without jumping to the law or to legalistic and punitive responses. I’m not rewarding a person who doesn’t understand boundaries of the most basic nature with MORE time in elected office and at the head of this state. Withholding my vote from such a person is entirely defensible. I’m not asking for jail time but neither should you be demanding my support. Dismiss women’s experiences at your own peril.
  7. We are not on the same boat in the same way when you keep treating some of us like galley slaves and demanding that we vote for the whip-holder for captain. At some point some of us are going to stop rowing, jump ship, scuttle it. Let’s end this analogy, it’s ridiculous. You cannot expect Muslims to support someone who glibly voted for Iraq, helped decimate Yemen or Libya, and is happy to hold hands with the Saudis. Moreover, we’re not going to rubber stamp people whitewashing the human rights violations of Israel or those who traffic in Islamophobia-Lite: the liberal version. We will be realists but we’re not nuts. We are also not going to support people who keep cutting the social safety net and those who championed the policies that resulted in immiseration and mass incarceration.
  8. There are a lot of independents and there were several districts that went from Obama to Trump. Let’s not make over broad assumptions about who votes for what and write them off. I’ve heard people disparage Sanders for wasting his time on Fox. He’s running for President–of all of us–not just you and your debate team. Remember the last time someone wrote off the deplorables? Yeah, didn’t go so well. So let’s not think that the black and brown vote is going to bring in the savior on a tide of hosannahs. Every voter that can be turned should be. We should support all efforts by all candidates to address the needs of Americans. But not at the expense of the already marginalized. Chances are candidates like Harris are going to try to bridge divides because they have to. Let’s not throw them out because they do.
  9. Finally, there are several people of color running and women who are getting the short end of the stick media-wise, etc. I have yet to hear anyone say that a criticism of Klobuchar or Booker or Harris is engaging in a circular firing squad. If you can take criticism of them, then by God you’ll take it for the white guys.

Some of us are going to lose friends over this election. I won’t lose anyone because they disagreed with who I voted for. But I will most certainly eject anyone insulting me for engaging in my democratic rights as I see fit. Trump is not just the fault of those marginal voters in swing states or those who stayed home. He is also the fault of the system that keeps putting candidates up who don’t appeal to many (young) voters. He’s the fault of a system that allows for gerrymandering and voter suppression. Let’s not get carried away with blaming individual voters.

As for the circular firing squad, we aren’t standing in a circle with weapons as observers and voters. The only people capable of coming close are the candidates themselves and it’s not happening.

And as for the same boat, please no. Just stop. The people chained in the hull were on the same boat as the slavers. The people in steerage were on the same boat as the people in first class. The analogy’s usefulness trying to get us all to pull together should suffer the same fate as the Titanic.