2020 has been the Year of the Interruption in so many ways, from shutdowns to protests, with the election being seen by some as a political interrupter. And yet, some things continue as we look on from the side.
In the realm of politics, candidates make promises and politicians take oaths. However, in the grand scheme of things, those items should – ideally – become one and the same. When politics respects and reflects the trust of the people, these items are pledges to understand the will of the people and embrace a direction that advances their best interests constitutionally. In some instances, this comes by way of passing specific laws that will be followed by society to advance safety, equality, and prosperity. In other instances, this comes by way of following up on commitments made for the sake of social stability and securing covenants made with allies.
When this perspective is lost, politics loses effectiveness. People stop listening to elected officials. They mistrust authority figures and their mandates. They rue politicians’ speeches, soundbites, and campaign promises. They disparage the system.
Look around: is it any wonder that 2020 continues to have the feel of a train wreck of societal breakdowns that refuses to end?
Throughout this pandemic-driven year, Americans have been told to listen to elected officials and the experts. Constantly, the drumbeat of public messaging from the mainstream media has been the same: these professionals have a handle on the situation and a focus on the holistic best interests of the people. Yet, from the flip-flopping on the risks of wearing masks from the Surgeon General to the initial blasé approaches from officials including President Trump, Speaker Pelosi, and Mayor de Blasio, there was a continued rhythm of missteps, double-talk, and hypocrisy. Governor Wolf of Pennsylvania, while constantly saying that he was transparent in his actions throughout 2020, vetoed legislation to prompt transparency while instituting a business waiver process that forced many businesses to shut down yet keeping others open (including his own family business) without explanation. His secretary of health forced COVID patients back into nursing homes, even while Dr. Levine’s own mother moved from such a facility to a hotel to avoid exposure during the imminent spread of COVID-19 within these vulnerable populations. Governor Whitmer of Michigan shut down the Wolverine State during Memorial Day Weekend, only for her husband to sniff around for special privileges at the same time.
We were told that these springtime errors were due to the shock of the sudden outbreak of the pandemic. If so, what is the excuse now?
Just over the past month, more of the “do as I say, not as I do” consistency of hypocrisy pushes more Americans into a perpetual state of disdain. They feel stuck, looking for leadership and solutions from people that they do not trust increasingly due to many politicians’ remarkable steadfastness to flaunt arrogance and disrespect. Examples include Governor Newsom of California being recently photographed eschewing his own pandemic-related mandates for the most-populated state in the Union. Mayor Hancock of Denver, mere hours after tweeting that Denverites should not travel for Thanksgiving, boarded a plane to travel from Colorado to Mississippi – with a stop in Houston for good measure. Mayor Lightfoot of Chicago, (who, along with Speaker Pelosi, believes that getting her hair styled when barbershops and salons could not operate normally for others is perfectly fine), celebrated election results in the streets in the face of constant pleads throughout Illinois to practice social distancing.
It is no wonder that many Americans have lost their faith throughout 2020. Too many leaders have been inconsistent in their actions minus their continued breaches of the public trust.
Sadly, there should be no surprise when the faith that millions of voters put into Joe Biden to be a disrupting force for a better direction erodes.
That breach of faith and trust in Biden is already happening.
Longtime South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn’s endorsement of Joe Biden quickly turned the twice-failed presidential candidate into the leading choice for Democrats earlier this year. Clyburn’s delivery of South Carolina – and, with it, a clear signal for Black voters to coalesce around the former vice president despite a history of blunders and a 2020 campaign full of missteps – also came with a non-verbal but clearly communicated promise:
Mr. (former) Vice President – do not let down the Black, Brown, and urban voters that will be responsible for getting you over the top in November.
And now, less than one full month past Election Day, we already see that the gulf between campaign promises and actualized commitments is widening.
“I want to see where the process leads to, what it produces,” Clyburn was quoted in The Hill this week when discussing hiring Blacks in the Biden cabinet. “But so far it’s not good.”
Once again, we are seeing how Democrats at the highest levels of political affluence continue to make promises to their most loyal voters, only to cast aside any principles of loyalty or perspective once the reins of power are in their hands. Even as the work of Stacey Abrams and Jamie Harrison prompted Black voters to dream big in the deep red South, neither have been offered positions within the Biden Administration to date. Many of the picks to date are ones denoted for “experience” – a wonderfully-coded item that often indicates that those without previous access will continue to be on the outside looking in, a reality for many minorities that have been kept on the fringes in a similar fashion for decades in both parties.
We were told that Democrats’ errors like these in the past were due to the newness of unexpected victory and the lack of candidates. And yet, the party is now full of qualified minorities in the era post-Obama and the polls indicated a Biden victory for months. What is the excuse now?
Just as President Trump wrongly believed that “…on November 4, you won’t hear about (COVID-19) anymore…”, many Americans believed that the tone of political racism and arrogant hypocrisy from those in political office would go away should the Democrats win the White House and maintain control of most urban areas and the U.S. House of Representatives. And yet, here we are – with politicians such as Biden acting as if he did not work for the first African-American president and alongside the first two African-American Attorneys General of the United States. Here we are – with elected officials continuing to ignore the will of the people as we face a need for more economic activity to turn around rising food insecurity and stubborn unemployment. Here we are – with more politicians repeating the same mistakes of the past, picking “winners and losers” in the economy (as Governor Wolf did over Thanksgiving)
Pa.’s way of spreading holiday cheer? Slamming the door on small businesses by shutting off alcohol sales. (But not for their own Liquor Control Board.) pic.twitter.com/WSuyy68jcG
— Commonwealth Foundation (@Liberty4pa) November 25, 2020
This system of broken politics and this stream of broken promises do not end with an election. It ends with a revelation – that Americans are partners in the political undertakings of each day, not just election days. The pandemic has highlighted more than ever the stratification of the American society – socioeconomically, racially, and politically. This disjointed and dissatisfying reality did not end on November 3, nor will it end once a vaccine is delivered and the pandemic ends. At some point, we must partake in a higher and more consistent level of accountability for those that we entrust in leadership. At some point, elections must be more than high school popularity contests on steroids. At some point, outrage in social media and on the airwaves must be more than airing of grievances, elevating the public discourse and the policy yield for our communities. If not, despite the more interruptions to constitutional norms, economic recoveries, and school schedules we will have, the more the dysfunction within the body politic will go on – uninterrupted.