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On Disillusioned Activism and the US Election: When “Settling for Biden” Goes Too Far

Updated: Nov 13, 2021

In America there is no such thing as Democrat or Republican anymore. In America you have liberals and conservatives. – The Autobiography of Malcolm X

I am consistently amazed at how the words of Malcolm X continue to ring true in every era succeeding his own. Writing, or rather, relaying these words to Alex Haley, the journalist who copy-edited “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”, our protagonist reflects on the state of American politics and the tribalism of the US electoral landscape. As a man who is clearly for the truth, no matter what it is or who it comes from (you’ve all seen the quote on your Instagram feed or family WhatsApp group), his words permeate into the very subconscious of the American black and white psyche. Every diasporic American citizen, including myself, can feel the reverberations of its echo. As a member of an African diaspora that holds a US passport, I can’t help but observe, from the outside-in, the state of affairs of a country developed only so far as to allow neo-tribalism to settle into the veins of its democracy, enshrouding us in a cloud of disillusioned political fanaticism. 

Following the fall-out of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren from the 2020 U.S. Electoral Race, an upset, disenchanted and dissatisfied group of progressives established a social media-based platform entitled “Settle for Biden.” A self-defined “grassroots group of former Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders supporters”, this group had acceded to the necessity of “settling” for Joe Biden as president. This accedence is grounded in the firm belief that America will not and could not possibly endure another four years of the reckless tumult of the Trump administration. Following the victory of Biden in the 2020 electoral race, disputed only by a (large) handful of humiliated Trump supporters, the Settle for Biden group vowed to demand accountability, transparency, and fulfillment of the Biden-Harris administration’s promises to the American people. Quite frankly, I find hope in this group of young Millennials and Gen Z voters who refuse to capitulate to bipartisan tribalism, recognizing the need for an alternative but not willing to accept the insufficiencies of the only other option (excluding, of course, Jo Jorgenson of the recondite Liberatarian party, which won 1.2% of the national vote). 

Now, this is in no way an advocacy piece in favor of the Settle for Biden platform. While they are a group of well-intentioned individuals, the primary point is to highlight the widespread, rampant disillusionment with the US electoral system challenged only by a few. The four years of the Trump administration only allowed for the deepening of an already-existing “yawning chasm” between political groups. And as Malcolm X stated in the quote above, individuals are not grouped into political parties but according to the ideologies that define these party lines. And we have allowed ourselves to believe that we must place ourselves on either side of the chasm or face plunging into the despair of political despotism, even if we aren’t in America and aren’t American. Granted, a Biden administration could mean major developments in US foreign policy, but for us in the Middle East, it’s difficult to say just how comprehensive or beneficial any of these policy changes may be. While there is no conclusive data on how many Muslim or Arab voters Biden’s perfunctory  “In Shaa Allah” brought in (or possibly, took out), the speed with which we celebrate any minute show of support is, in a word, humiliating. 

I do not celebrate the win of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I refuse to celebrate the win of a president who believes the existence of an illegitimate nation-state is vital to US interests in the region, at the cost of countless Palestinian lives, and a vice president who unequivocally supports the multi-million dollar provision of US military aid to that same illegitimate state. Their ideals simply exist in complete opposition to my Muslim American identity, experience, and values. I do, however, celebrate the removal of an openly bigoted, racist, incompetent individual from the post of President. I am not anti-democracy, anti-US election, nor anti-anti-Trump, and neither is the Settle for Biden group. I am for all these things but will not be disillusioned into believing I must be satisfied with one choice. Much like the 2016 US Elections, the 2020 election was still a decision between the “lesser-of-two-evils”, where opting for Biden was simply choosing a more closeted evil with the backing of America’s first Black president – a more inclusive, quiet evil. As Malcolm X put it, choosing between democrats and republicans, for the Black person and every other minority, is like choosing between foxes and wolves: 

[Republicans] are like wolves; they show their teeth in a snarl that keeps the Negro always aware of where he stands with them. But the white liberals [democrats] are foxes, who also show their teeth to the Negro but pretend that they are smiling. The white liberals are more dangerous than the conservatives; they lure the Negro, and as the Negro runs from the growling wolf, he flees into the open jaws of the “smiling” fox. One is the wolf, the other is a fox. No matter what, they’ll both eat you. 

As a self-proclaimed political idealistic pessimist, I believe in the ability of the public to keep those in power accountable, but I am not blind to the rampant corruption laced in pretty political jargon. To stand firm against the clutches of disillusionment is to disbelieve that a bipartisan system means that we too must be unilaterally associated with one side. The chasm between them is much less steep than either side makes it seem, so there is little need to rest oneself in a single camp when what lies between may offer better alternatives. 

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