Biden and Harris are not American saviors

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Sophia Van Beek

After Biden and Harris’ 2020 victory, Democrats everywhere celebrated. However, we cannot let our celebration draw from our activism.

Sophia Van Beek, Features Editor

In the wake of Joe Biden’s victory, as I watch the jubilation of Americans on television, dancing in the streets, celebrating the power of their democracy, I cannot help but feel as if we are waking up from a collective nightmare. “We” being the people who found the past four years as unprecedented, chaotic, and hellish as I did. Donald Trump was impeached; over 200 thousand Americans have died of COVID-19; there have been deliberate attempts by Trump to delegitimize the election; he has failed to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.

It is tempting to take a break after an exhausting four years, because nothing could be as bad as Trump, right? But, it is important to acknowledge that Trump’s historic presidency, and the many heartbreaking consequences of it, like the detainment of children at the border or the ban on Muslim immigration, is not an error in the system. Rather, his presidency is the product of a flawed system, and having Biden and Kamala Harris in office will not recover our nation, especially because they are flawed politicians. We cannot get complacent. We cannot go back to brunch. 

I will admit, there is a lot to celebrate: this election had the highest voter turnout in American history; the Senate is on the verge of flipping to a Democratic majority; the House is looking more diverse and progressive each term; we elected the first female, Black, Asian vice president; and, of course, Donald Trump, a man who has mocked disabled people, bragged about sexually assaulting women, and who paid less money in federal taxes than a minimum wage worker in 2019, is set to leave the White House. 

This celebration, however, cannot draw attention from criticism or awareness of Biden and Harris’ flaws. We cannot ignore the uncomfortable reality of the pair’s unprogressive, harmful political histories. In the 70s and 80s, Biden’s policies provided the foundation for mass incarceration: he worked with segregationists to oppose integrating schools through busing, advocated for mandatory minimum sentencing, and later pushed for a crime bill that better funded state prisons and local police forces.

Kamala Harris has pitched herself as a “progressive prosecutor”, having opposed the death penalty as district attorney and passings laws that furthered LGBTQ+ rights. However, she also pushed to keep Black people in jail despite evidence proving them innocent, or being non-violent offenders (though the issue may be more nuanced). Some argue that one cannot reform law enforcement while working within it.

No politicians are perfect, so a necessary part of civic participation is holding representatives accountable. Remember that elected officials work for us. Civil engagement doesn’t begin and end with voting, which is arguably the bare minimum. I call on older Democrats, especially, to have a continued sense of urgency and action, because with a possibly Democratic legislative branch, and a Democratic executive branch, we can pass policy on a federal level.

We might look towards reforms within the political system itself. There have been calls to rework the senate by granting statehood to Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, which have largely non-white demographics. In the senate alone, the average Black American gets only 75 percent as much representation as the average white American, and the average Hispanic American gets only 55 percent. 

Additionally, the electoral college allows the nominee that appeals to the minority of voters to claim victory. In five out of the past six presidential elections, the Democratic nominee won the popular vote, despite winning the electoral college just three of those times. The Washington Post released an editorial on Nov. 15 calling to abolish the electoral college.

Moreover, real change is happening right now. This summer, in response to the murder of George Floyd, Americans took to the streets and protested every single day for weeks on end for reforms to law enforcement. Mere months later, in a new pilot program, New York City will send mental health workers instead of police to respond to some 911 calls. There have been serious proposals nationwide to defund police departments and invest in community.

It would be heartbreaking to lose that fire, just because we feel we’re “in the clear” with Biden and Harris. If the past four years, and even the past four months, have proven anything, it is that the sanctity of our democracy is not guaranteed by one individual or one vote or one party. Our democracy is a living and breathing ecosystem, it is a work in progress, it is absolutely our responsibility to protect, and it is never to be taken for granted.