In a widely circulated article at FiveThirtyEight, Patrick Ruffini – a digital strategist for George W Bush’s highly divisive 2004 campaign – wrote on Tuesday that while African Americans continue to vote heavily for Democrats, they are not showing up for the Democratic party in the numbers they once did.
This certainly makes sense to me. Other than not being as crudely racist, xenophobic and misogynist as the Republican party, the contemporary Democratic party offers little to African Americans.
Looking toward the upcoming special election in Georgia, Ruffini wrote: “Lower black turnout in 2016 might be explained as a reversion to the mean after that group’s historic turnout for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012,” adding: “If there was one area where Democratic turnout was undeniably weaker in 2016 than 2012, it was among African Americans.”
I continue to vote, usually for Democrats and never for Republicans, largely out of a sense of nostalgia.
But after electing the first black president failed to ameliorate the plight of black America in any meaningful structural way, I suspect the jig is up that the Democrat party (as presently constituted) is going to help black Americans.
When the persistence of racial gaps in wealth, education, incarceration and employment remain unchanged by the Democrats – not to mention the way the Democrats facilitate the outright theft of black wealth by Wall Street – it’s not hard to see why fewer voters are turning up.
Obviously there are ways that the Republicans are more crudely violent, misogynist, racist, xenophobic and warmongering. Yet wrestling with how voting for either party often yields similar results for people living in black or brown skin (or, for that matter, for poor and working class people of all races) is not a matter of creating false equivalency.
For instance, the Democrats may whisper about war while the Republicans trumpet about it – yet the bombs falling from drones kill brown people regardless. On these shores, it matters little to black people killed by police whether they’re shot with someone named Clinton, Bush, Obama or Trump in the White House.
Last summer, an elder for whom I have a great deal of respect demanded I write a column telling young leftists that voting for a third party (or not voting at all) was unethical and that they must vote for Clinton. I declined, choosing instead to use my column to rail against Trumpism and argue Hillary Clinton should move to the left, which I believed would help the chances of her electoral and governing success.
I had a couple reasons for this decision.
First, I thought the Democrats offered black people nothing meaningful at this time except a nominally less racist and misogynist space from which to work toward real liberation.
Actively supporting the Democratic status quo risked limiting the political imagination of black people who are not content to settle for crumbs right now as they fight for actual liberation. Democrats have failed to stop or, indeed, have openly embraced so many forms of racialized violence.
Predatory Wall Street economics, contemporary policing, the deportation machine, charter school “choice”, mass incarceration, union busting and militarism are just a few examples of oppressive systems and practices that the Democrats have been implicated in. When black people vote for the Democrats, they often do so because they feel this agenda of death is inevitable. This is not sustainable.
The former says: “In recent years we have taken to the streets, launched massive campaigns, and impacted elections, but our elected leaders have failed to address the legitimate demands of our Movement. We can no longer wait.”
It would behove the Democratic party to notice these words. If the DNC would stop trying to stymie change and rather embrace black women and Muslims and queer people of color as changemakers, we wouldn’t be living under Trumpism or even under Clintonian neoliberalism. Rather, we’d be living in a world in which more people (and more kinds of people) would be more free.
The FiveThirtyEight article doesn’t mention that about a million black people can’t show up to vote because they’re incarcerated and that millions more are unable to vote due to a conviction. The root causes for this are neither Democratic nor Republican, but as emblematically American as the bald eagle.
In recent years we have taken to the streets, launched massive campaigns, and impacted elections, but our elected leaders have failed to address the legitimate demands of our Movement
I continue to vote, usually for Democrats and never for Republicans, largely out of a sense of nostalgia. America is a kind of drug to which I am addicted, and I continue to chase after its high even though I know it’s not healthy for me. In this way, I have come to think of voting as a form of harm reduction. Voting Democrat is the equivalent of using a clean needle to shoot up, so that trying to get that American high is less likely to screw me up as badly as it could.
But this isn’t a sustainable way to rope in a black voting bloc which has given so much support to Democrats while getting little in return. If voting Democrat is harm reduction for black voters, perhaps withholding the vote from Democrats is like forcing them to go to rehab. Black voters might need to take a break from Democrats, to force them to take us seriously, to stop taking our votes from granted and to push them toward policies which don’t hurt us.
I disagree strongly with Ruffini when he says “the post-Obama Democratic Party may be less able to count on black voters turning out at Obama-era levels” and that this should force it to “become more reliant on whites with a college degree, Hispanics and Asians”. The DNC can choose to offer an agenda which appeals to African Americans and others; it needn’t abandon us, nor pit our needs against others. But it will have to break with being Republican Lite to do so.
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