The 2020 presidential election in the US is overbearing. There are daily, hourly updates of breaking news. The current campaigns interleave with other news and the current president’s unending twitter stream. Everything is turned into a campaign issue. It’s maddening and many of us just want to find someone to vote for who will represent us, who is like us, who we can identify with.
I think that’s a mistake.
We’re so used to the conventional form of identity politics that I think we have difficulty seeing candidates in any other way. We evaluate candidates on whether or not they are elites, Washington outsiders, midwesterners, or coastal. We talk about candidates as a function of their gender, their race, their age, their sexual orientation, their lack of decorum, their wealth, their heritage.
Identity politics is a double edged sword, though. It plays to a core demographic and engenders their support while isolating others. The Democratic party has traditionally used identity politics to pursue a big tent approach to reach a broad swath of Americans. The use identity politics as a way to be inclusive and to appeal to many voters. The president has used identity politics in blunter but more extreme way, with hats and slogans. Trump’s identity politics are narrower but far more potent.
I think we can look past the focus on identity. Or rather, we should try to look past our own identity to select a good leader that many might identify with, even if we don’t.
Vote outside your identity.
If you are waiting for a candidate that can adequately represent you, you will be disappointed. In my opinion, that is not a good criterion selecting a president anyway. The president does not represent me. That’s the job of congress. The president might represent some groups superficially, of course. But the US is a dynamic nation of 300 million people with incredible diversity. Vote for someone who has the experience to lead this broad and diverse coalition of Americans. Just because you don’t identify with the president, does not mean that they are not worth voting for. Just because you don’t identify with the president does not mean that someone else does.
That might mean that you vote for a candidate that is not like you. This is OK. That might mean that you vote for a candidate that is a different age or gender that you are. This is OK. That might mean that you vote for a candidate that has nothing in common with you. This is OK.
But vote for someone.
If no one seems to represent your interests, you may be tempted to sit this one out. To say “they are all the same”. To say “there is no one that represents my view”. That’s a mistake.
Vote for someone who will be able to appoint experts to their cabinet. Vote for someone who, based on their prior record, will be able to work constructively with congress. Vote for someone who will be able to work with other national governments. Vote for someone who will inspire other Americans.
The current president fails on these accounts, in my opinion. My suggestion is to vote for someone other than the current president.
I believe any of the three or four current Democratic front-runners would satisfy many of these criteria. Joe Biden is an older white man but he has broad appeal and experience and genuine empathy. Elizabeth Warren has creative progressive ideas, is very hard working, has considerable legislative experience and yes it would be a good thing to elect a woman to be president. Bernie Sanders has diverse and very enthusiastic support from many different groups of voters and progressive ideas. Mayor Bloomberg has considerable experience with leading a large and complex company and also leading a large and complex city. You may not identify with them, but someone else might. One of these may seem to represent you and that’s great, but if they do not, recognize that they all have positive attributes and that identity is only one of many reasons to vote.
Are these candidates perfect? No. But are they capable? Yes.
Vote for capability, vote for expertise, vote for identity too, if there’s a candidate you identify with.
But vote for someone.