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2020 Democratic Presidential Debate

The third 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate hosted in Houston, Texas by ABC and Univision on Thursday, September 12 marks the progression of America’s current existential crisis. While this position is not novel, it is pertinent in framing the gravity of the results of this Democratic primary.

Whoever we elect will determine how far we can move direly needed progressive legislation to confront the multiplicity of issues facing us today. Which is why, those at Mills, and those who identify as historically underrepresented voters, should be voting with their futures in mind, and abandon precaution in the name of electability.

This primary election is not only unique in the sheer number of candidates running for office, which peaked at 26 and is currently at 20 but in the broad swath of approaches proposed to confront the escalation of socio-political issues facing the world today.

The first democratic presidential debate was on Wednesday, June 26 and Thursday, June 27. The debate divided the pool of twenty eligible candidates into randomized groups of ten and included those who met the initial polling criteria across the two evenings.

This Thursday, the primary debate proceeded to further cut the current 20 candidates running in half and on one night.

The lineup featured New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, California Senator Kamala Harris, Businessman Andrew Yang, Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke and Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro. This order is roughly based on their multiple polling averages.

The candidates who spoke on Thursday were eligible to participate in the debate after meeting the revised debate qualifications set by the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which according to many outlets, such as Business Insider, required “… a minimum of 130,000 independent donors with at least 400 donors coming from 20 different states or US territories. [As well as] at least 2% in four separate polls approved by the DNC.” 

The DNC’s tactic was aimed at condensing the pool of candidates and reducing the effects of overchoice, which as its name might suggest, is the ironic effect of having an abundance of choice paralyze the ability for voters to effectively make a decision.

If you are still feeling overwhelmed by all the potential candidates, you are not alone. There is a current fund called Unify or Die to support the eventual Democratic nominee. This fund was made in partnership with Crooked Media and Swing Left. The goal is to pool together collective resources to go towards funding the campaign of the eventual nominee, who will go up against the very well funded political right candidate, Trump.

These external pressures, compounded by the 24-hour news cycle and overconsumption of media, can be detrimental to the state of one’s mental health. Politico reported that “[t]he American Psychiatric Association in a May survey found that 39 percent of people said their anxiety level had risen over the previous year—and 56% were either “extremely anxious” or “somewhat anxious about “the impact of politics on daily life.”

This phenomena of overchoice can be especially limiting to historically underrepresented voters, many of whom are young, come from communities of color and are balancing multiple imposed and sought after obligations. 

In other words, Millennials and Gen Z’ers are caught in a Catch-22, wherein pundits speculate over the huge political influence they wield, and yet these generations are confronted by the reality of their limited leverage in having direct access to the creation and implementation of public policy that is affecting their lives.

An example of this stereotype is best represented in a past statement made by presidential candidate Kamala Harris. As issues have emerged over her record as a prosecutor and attorney general for California, this particular instance reveals the unreconciled consequences of the decisions of law makers and those within the judicial system especially for young people, particularly within over-policed communities of color.

While speaking at a 2015 Renewing Communities symposium press, then California Attorney General Harris personified this patronizing sentiment while explaining her “Back on Track Plan,”’ which targeted non-violent offenders, aged 18-25, and provided them with the option of going back to school and or getting a job in place of incarceration.

This was drafted in an effort to minimize recidivism. Harris explained, as reported by Vice, the need to target this group, “…[r]emember, age is more than a chronological fact. What else do we know about this population, 18 through 24? They are stupid,” the crowd laughed along with Harris. She and her team have maintained that this sentiment was a joke.

While this joke has not aged well, it is indicative of the tendency of the older generation to underestimate the capacity of young people. One could argue this due to the lack of life experience, organizational efficacy and understanding of consequences, as the brain not fully developed to account for future thinking.

These attitudes are passed down and whether consciously or not, they are made to manifest in the collective consciousness of our society, further propelling the distrust and credibility of young voters. An example of this could be found in the 2016 Harambe instance.

Harambe was a gorilla that was shot by Cincinnati Zoo staff to protect a three-year-old child who fell into the gorilla’s enclosure. This premature death resulted in the “memeification” of Harambe–memeification being the repeated digital circulation of Harambe, injected with ironic captions and narrative to fit varying social circumstances.

During the 2016 presidential election, CNN reported a story that began on Twitter and other social media outlets, wherein people repeatedly claimed that they had voted for Harambe in the 2016 Presidential election rather than vote for Trump or Clinton. CNN clarified that Harambe did not received the 11,000 votes as reported by other outlets; however, the teenage gorilla had been shown to receive an estimated several thousand votes, through write-in ballots.

Humor, again, is revealing here. However, while the nihilistic tendencies of internet culture do not reflect the totality of values within the Millenial and Gen Z generations, this unchallenged assertion that young people are incapable of “getting it together” is a dangerous social presumption that holds the potential to exacerbate existing obstacles for young voters.

These can range from getting transportation to and from available polling places, lack of access to information regarding their states voting practices, as well as balancing multiple obligations such as work and or school and having that negatively impact their ability to fully analyze the swath of proposals and candidates up for vote. Millennials and Gen Z’ers are not proportionately represented in public office, and therefore hold a limited amount of internal influence in legislative matters.

Issues that directly impact the lives of all Americans and hold longstanding consequences include but are not limited to: worsening climate change, crippling student debt, the disparity between earned wage vs. living wage, gun violence, discriminatory immigration policy and mass incarceration. These are institutional pillars of power that systematically suppress the function of equity, democracy and cohesion in a polarized world.

America is having an identity crisis, and this democratic primary is just the latest iteration of the constant tension between this country’s history and future.

However, it is important to note that these political obstacles did not come about through the natural progression of politics, but rather can be traced to the decisions and votes made by political leaders. These actions, in practice, should be for the benefit of politicians’ constituents, but over time and across party lines, voting records reveal the urge to protect one’s place in office and by extension power.

It is necessary to analyze the political track record of candidates running for office, and hold those with longer records to higher standards. Their experience goes hand in hand with the material consequences of their decisions that have incrementally brought us to the present day.

A candidate who gets continual coverage as the front runner, and as the safest alternative to entice the moderate inclinations of the middle America is Joe Biden. Biden leans into his connection to President Barack Obama when it is most convenient.

Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro reiterated this connection, made in earlier debates by Corey Booker, on Thursday night’s debate when he said, “every time somebody questions part of the [Obama] administration that we were both part of, he says, ‘Well, that was the president.’ I mean, he wants to take credit for Obama’s work, but not have to answer to any questions.”

Furthermore, since Biden is considered a frontrunner and has one of the longest records of those in office, he is responsible for not only acknowledging the damage he has caused in communities of color, particularly that of young men, but should also provide policy measures to attempt to atone for the aftermath of over-policing and incentivizing mass incarceration.

Biden created the 1994 crime bill, and had been proud of his involvement until it was no longer politically salient to do so.

According to Vox, “[o]n the website for his 2008 presidential campaign, Biden referred to the 1994 crime law as the “Biden Crime Law” and bragged that it encouraged states to effectively increase their prison sentences by paying them to build more prisons—a direct endorsement of more incarceration.”

Biden continues to downplay accusations that his crime bill has contributed to mass incarceration because he has argued that the majority of incarcerated people are held within state and local prisons, not federal prison. This indicates that the jurisdiction of federal prisons would be singularly representative of the overproduction of prisons–industrialized mass incarceration.

All things considered, the urgency of this political primary cannot be denied. It can’t be enough to be simply morally opposed to the current administration, which is the angle that moderate leaning candidates are basing their platform on.

However, there is only so much that can result from the outrage cycle of the media, the think pieces or even this piece. It all becomes another disjointed wail in the cacophony of political atrophy. Electability politics don’t apply to the scale of the issues at hand.

The 2020 election will be the first time many young voters participate in an election, or in a primary, and while we hate to contribute to performance anxiety–there is a lot at stake.

So breathe–repeat as needed. Check in on a candidate that you are curious about and determine whether they speak to your concerns and hopes for the future. Talk to those in your community about issues that motivate them. Keep your loved ones close and make sure that you are registered to vote by February 17, 2020!