If you’ve spent any significant amount of time on social media recently, you may have seen a certain demographic of people — broadly speaking, those who identify as liberal Democrats — speaking out with astounding fervor in support of Joe Biden’s presidential bid.
One common method of getting this information across is flooding the replies of any post with even a whisper of the political — most particularly, those that dare to criticize Biden or any other significant figure of the Democratic Party — with impassioned pleas to #votebluenomatterwho and assertions that America will not survive another four years of Trump, along with a variety of other catchphrases. These messages often extend to insinuating or outright stating that should any American choose to vote third party or refrain from voting in the presidential election this November, they will be personally responsible for Donald Trump’s second presidential term, and by extension, the total downfall of American freedom and democracy.
This tactic is often referred to as “vote-shaming,” and it’s probably one of the worst political methods you could utilize with regards to the election this November. Allow me to outline some of the reasons why.
First of all, the incredibly broad message preached with this tactic relies on the assumption that people are able to vote. To assume that the right of voting is accessible overlooks the vast number of people who are subject to various forms of voter suppression. Many states have significant legal barriers to voting, such as: laws requiring voters to show ID, the obtainment of which requires money and travel (the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates such ID laws to reduce voter turnout by 2-3 percentage points); restrictions limiting voter registration or unwarranted removal of registered status during register “purges”; and laws forbidding imprisoned persons, people on parole, and people with felony convictions from voting (the Sentencing Project estimates that 6.1 million voters are disenfranchised due to felony convictions). Even when a person is legally able to vote, many practical barriers may stand in their way, such as having to work during voting hours (even when workplaces are required to let employees leave work to vote, employers may not be willing to accommodate that requirement).
And these issues do not even touch on the unique threats faced during an election during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mail-in voting is certain to be at an all-time high this election, which may help mitigate issues such as work conflicts — but also comes with a host of new potential voting issues. For instance, what of unhoused people without a residential address at which to receive a ballot? And with the United States Postal Service under continued attack by the Trump administration, and already warning of potential delays in the sending and receipt of ballots, it’s anyone’s game whether a vote will be counted once mailed.
Putting aside voter suppression for the moment — let’s say that a vote in this upcoming election can be successfully cast and counted. Even then, there are many barriers diminishing the impact of your vote. Chief among them is the electoral college, whose rampant flaws — such as its winner-take-all system, and the proportionment of ballots in ways that diminish the weight of votes in many states, including and especially California — add up to a system that allows for tragic missteps like the presidential election of 2016, where the popular vote was rendered meaningless in the process that allowed Trump’s first victory. Voter-shaming was nearly as rampant then as it is now, and while it’s possible some prospective Jill Stein voters were badgered into changing their vote to Hillary Clinton, it’s certain that voter-shaming failed to have a meaningful impact on the election’s outcome.
Finally, let’s suppose that despite all that stands in the way, the Democratic party’s goal is accomplished — let’s say that, by hook or by crook, Joe Biden wins the 2020 election and becomes America’s 46th president, with Kamala Harris as his right hand. Will this usher in meaningful change? I can’t find a way to believe so.
Voting Democrats into office has never been a panacea. For instance, Minneapolis has a Democratic mayor and a nearly all-Democratic city council (save one member in the Green Party). But this slate of “progressive” elected officials did little or nothing to mitigate the racism and brutality deeply entrenched in the city’s police department, which came to national attention with the murder of George Floyd.
Some of those on America’s political left have argued that they’ll be able to “push Biden left” when he is in office, claiming that a Democratic administration will be more receptive to the desires of those protesting for meaningful change. Hearing this argument, I must ask — what leverage do they have to help them push for this change? Joe Biden shows no sign of seeking the approval of leftists. The fact that he selected self-proclaimed “top cop” Kamala Harris as his VP candidate in a time when throngs of protesters are flooding the streets to fight police brutality demonstrates a lack of any desire for leftist approval. And this is while he’s still questing after the presidential spot he desires. If Biden obtains the power he seeks, what is there to motivate him into complying with leftist aims, rather than sticking to his moderate neoliberal agenda while doling out the occasional aesthetic victory to the populace?
The greatest issues plaguing our country — racist and sexist violence, class inequality, climate change, and so much more — are not problems of the party. They are problems of America. I fear that if Biden does win the election, thousands of liberals will cease what little human rights activism they were engaged in, convinced that “their work here is done.” But as long as the systems that perpetuate harm continue to exist — systems that existed and caused real, present, constant harm long before Trump took office — the real work can never be done.
To be clear regarding my intentions, I am in no way advocating for readers of the Campanil not to vote for the Biden/Harris ticket in the upcoming presidential election, certainly not those readers who are fortunate enough to have the privilege of easy voting. I do, however, plead with those liberals and leftists who have energy left to spend on political aims; do not waste it on harassing undecided or unhappy voters. Find people to work with, instead of against; give your time to local campaigns for progressive candidates and your money to mutual aid funds. The care that you offer to your community will have infinitely more impact than any shame that you could spread.