I cast my first presidential vote in 1972, and I’ve never not voted. I’ve never consider voting for a Republican as a matter of principle: we believe completely different things about the role and purpose of government in civil society. It doesn’t mean we can’t coexist, as long as I have enough power to balance their power.
Over 48 years of voting, every Democratic presidential candidate I’ve voted for is someone I would have never chosen. I voted for them not because they were the best option for the black community but because the Republican option was always worse for the black community. This is our political fate: every four years we get to choose between bad and worse. This year will be no different but the stakes will be much, much higher. It’s these much higher stakes that make our decision this year so consequential.
This not a question of Western political philosophy or presidential preferences. It’s about the malignant cancer that has spread to the vital organs of American society and will metastasize if Donald Trump is reelected in November.
As a cancer survivor, I know that in battle with cancer there is no accommodation, no compromise – either you prevail or cancer does. If fact, you don’t cure cancer; you send it into remission. When confronted with cancer, you have to be totally committed to fighting for your life or cancer will take your life. It’s war with no quarter given and none asked, which means you have to be as merciless as cancer if you want to maximize your chances of living.
I want to give a more fact-based, historical example of what I mean.
In World War II, an American president (Roosevelt) and a British prime minister (Churchill) formed a military alliance with a Russian communist (Stalin) in order to defeat a German Nazi (Hitler). As soon as the Nazi Germany was defeated, the United States and Russia engaged in a competition for global dominance known as the Cold War.
At the same time, on the other side of the world a revolutionary Chinese communist (Mao Zedong) was engaged in a civil war with a reactionary Chinese nationalist (Chiang Kai-shek). Mao declared a truce and formed an alliance to defeat the Imperial Japanese Army occupying China. The minute the Japanese were defeated, the civil war resumed, Mao routed the Chinese nationalist and founded the People’s Republic of China.
The point is that when faced with an existential threat to your existence, you have only one moral imperative: to do what’s required to prevail. Whether it’s a personal battle with cancer or the fate of millions of people, you can’t afford an argument about the good versus the bad when you’re at war with the worst.
Over the next two months, black political and cultural leadership will have to ask the black community to make a decision about a Democratic nominee. That nominee won’t be someone we would have chosen for ourselves. That nominee might not be the most qualified person to be president. The nominee may be someone whose record is so foul we would have never even considered them. But that won’t be the question. The only question is: who can beat Trump and take out Senate Republicans?
This notion of an existential threat to your existence is the context that black Americans ought to use when they consider November 2020. Donald Trump and right-wing Republicans are emblematic of and amplify a mendacity and cruelty in the American character that has been the bane of our existence since we arrived on these shores in August 1619.
If Donald Trump is re-elected and Republicans maintain control of the U.S. Senate, the lives of every African American in the United States will literally be at risk. There are many reading this who will charge me as grossly overstating the consequences of a Trump win; in fairness, they could be right. But the real question is: do you want to bet your life and the lives of those you love on it?