I’ll probably vote for Joe Biden. There’s a chance I might not. This essay, though, isn’t about that. It’s about who Biden is and how we arrived at this moment, one during which political machinery offers us a choice between a head of state who advocates that we be choked versus one who’ll have us shot in the leg. In other words, I want to discuss why the United States two-party system allows us to choose how we will be abused, not if.
First, however, let’s discuss the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Biden me da asco. That Spanish statement imperfectly translates to Biden disgusts me. Quizás you’re thinking, “Of course he disgusts you: he’s a politician!” Now, I understand that politicians are gonna politician. I understand that just like my parents, politicians are not supposed to be my friends. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a centrist chide “Elections are always a choice between the lesser of two evils!” and “Just hold your nose and vote!” my disgust would be heavily subsidized. The thing is, I don’t fantasize about a lovable president who sends me friend requests. Instead, I fantasize about one who isn’t at war with the people I love. I fantasize about one who isn’t at war with me.
Biden contains ugly multitudes. He embodies my most insidious enemies, the kind who present themselves as allies. This makes my experience of disgust both political and moral and my asco indicates that my inner critic is awake, that my conscience works. Me podría quejar de Biden for days but I will restrict my polemic to three instances: Biden’s role in the Anita Hill hearings, his ongoing commitment to xenophobic violence, and his stance on policing.
In 1991, when University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I was fifteen. Biden appeared on my family’s TV screen, serving as the head of the committee made up of fourteen white men. I observed as Hill described the sexual harassment which her former boss, Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, had subjected her to. I observed Biden and his committee members become pit bulls in response. Together, they attacked, degraded, and discredited Hill for speaking about experiences that were already familiar to me.
To a young queer Chicana, the committee’s message seemed to be: Shut your mouths, bitches. Men can do whatever they want to you whenever they want to. You have NO recourse.
Biden led this messaging.
Biden’s xenophobia runs as deep as his misogynoir, as evidenced by the cynical arrogance he displayed at a 2019 town hall in Greenwood, South Carolina. There, Carlos E. Rojas Rodriguez, an activist from Movimiento Cosecha, an immigrant advocacy group, addressed Biden, stressing that as Obama’s vice president, Biden bore responsibility for family separations. In response, Biden interrupted Rojas Rodriguez, ordering, “You should vote for Trump!” Months later, at a Democratic presidential primary debate in Houston, Texas, Univision’s Jorge Ramos asked Biden “Why should Latinos trust you?”
That Ramos had to ask the question was answer enough.
This month, Biden addressed an audience at Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware. While discussing police brutality, he suggested that law enforcement training should involve “teaching a cop when there’s an unarmed person, coming at him with a knife or something, to shoot him in the leg instead of the heart.” Let’s set aside the contradiction between the words unarmed and knife and focus on leg. Could Biden’s suggestion have saved accountant Botham Jean, executed by Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after she “accidentally” entered his home? No. If a cop couldn’t tell the difference between her own home and a stranger’s, a story I don’t buy anyways, why should we trust law enforcement officers to tell the difference between heads and legs?
Like I said earlier, I’ll likely vote for Biden. If I do so, I’ll hate it. I don’t even trust him enough to ride an elevator alone with him. The best I can do is trust that we have the capacity to hold him accountable and one mechanism for accomplishing that is exemplified by this piece: criticism. While some might think that now is the time to rally in support of Biden with quiet stoicism, I disagree. Instead, I agree with bell hooks’ assertion that “[we] have to constantly critique imperialist white supremacist patriarchal culture because it is normalized by mass media and rendered unproblematic.”
Our two-party system is one of myriad institutions inherited from an institution that continues to shape-shift: slavery. Anti-Blackness functions as the marrow of our political institutions but civics lessons generally omit this truth. U.S. textbooks claim that the reason for our two-party system, which is coercive, results from tradition. Authors often fail to elaborate what kind of tradition.
The name of that tradition is White supremacist patriarchy and in 1956, scholar W.E.B. DuBois wrote in The Nation that democracy had disappeared in the United States. “[No] ‘two evils’ exist,” he wrote. “There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can say or do.” With DuBois words in mind, I’ll continue to contemplate shooting myself in the leg or not pulling the trigger at all.