American rapper Ice Cube has never shied from offering blistering critiques of American racism and the political and economic system that it has fostered. From seminal hits like Straight Outta Compton (1988) and Tha Police (1988) with hip-hop group NWA, to his solo efforts such as Black Korea (1991) and I Wanna Kill Sam (1991), where he literally predicted the LA Riots of 1992 in the song’s lyrics, while calling for the “ultimate drive-by” against a United States government that has rarely let up on its unremitting war against African Americans.
So it is not surprising that Ice Cube remains little more impressed with the present Democratic offering of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for the presidential race than he is with incumbent President Donald Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence. In an Instagram video uploaded shortly after the Democratic National Convention (DNC) formally announced the Biden and Harris nomination, he explained: “What I didn’t hear (at the DNC) is, what’s in it for us? What’s in it for the Black community besides the same old thing we been getting from these parties? They just pulled $3 trillion out and gave it to their friends. Democrats don’t seem like they got a plan. Republicans don’t seem like they got a plan for us. So how the hell you gonna vote for them?”
Critics have lambasted the rapper worth north of $100m, who has played police officers in his movies, for adopting such a position. But Ice Cube is not alone in his anger at the Democratic Party, its latest presidential ticket and American politics more broadly. For progressive Democrats – particularly supporters of former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders – and those on the front lines of social and racial justice struggles, the Biden-Harris ticket cannot but be a great disappointment. On so many of the most important issues, from judicial and penal reform and Medicare for All to the Green New Deal and foreign policy, a large number of Democratic voters are far closer to the Sanders wing than to the party’s neoliberal leadership.
From Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, we know how the story goes – great “hope” and promises of change lead to tepid policies that reinforce rather than reverse trends towards greater inequality and state violence. While the Democratic Party seems convinced the path to the White House is through winning over moderate Republicans, it is pretty clear that Trump will likely be re-elected, legitimately even, if a similar number of progressive young people sit out this time, as they did in 2016.
To forestall this possibility, Bernie Sanders used his DNC speech to warn his young followers that “the future of democracy is at stake. The future of our planet is at stake. We must come together to defeat Donald Trump.” Even further to the left, Noam Chomsky warned of the existential threat posed by four more years of Trump, urging people to vote for Biden-Harris and then “haunt his dreams”. Angela Davis urged progressives to vote for Biden and Harris, arguing that they were the candidates who “could be most effectively pressured into allowing more space for the evolving anti-racist movement”. Perhaps most powerfully, former First Lady Michelle Obama warned Americans to “vote like your lives depend on it”.
All these figures have painted Trump, rightly so, as a mortal threat to democracy and even the future of humankind. And most, if not, all believe, as Chomsky points out, that whatever their faults, the candidates and the Democratic platform, in fact, signal a progressive step forward beyond any tandem or policies that came before. But given how the last two Democratic administrations reinforced rather than transformed the very forces that have enabled the disasters of the Bush and now Trump presidencies, it is hard not to join Ice Cube’s sarcastic refrain and ask “What’s in it for the rest of us?” if the Democrats win, except a brief respite from more Republican Sturm und Drang?
In a world and a country beset by multiple interlocked crises that seem beyond the possibility of a solution by ordinary politics – a sentiment which, after all, helped elect Trump in the first place – it is no wonder that young and disaffected voters are not lining up behind the latest avatars of “hope and change”. They understand viscerally that the system is simply too rotten to reform, that Clinton-Bush-Obama-Trump-Biden are merely the undulating rhythms of a political-economic system in the United States that too rarely lived up to its lofty rhetoric and is now in the midst of an inevitable and violent decline.
And while Trump offers racist and xenophobic bread and circuses to the Republican masses, the Democratic Party is too inept even to pretend to support core policies that the vast majority of its voters deeply desire.
With so much at stake, and the race inevitably tightening in swing states, perhaps it is better to tell young, disaffected and uncommitted voters the truth: This election is not about voting for the president who will lead us out of the Trumpian darkness towards a more just, equitable and sustainable future. It is about choosing which enemy we would rather spend the next four years fighting to secure a future that neither the two parties, nor the system that ensconces them, have the interest or ability to create.
Being told to vote like your life depends on it is not all that empowering, if you have little faith that the people you are voting for can or will do all that much to save you. But being told you have the chance to choose between two radically different enemies to fight for your survival makes the choice and the motivation to vote far clearer.
On the one side, we have a ruthless narcissistic authoritarian with no checks on his executive power and a Supreme Court almost entirely his who is permanently enshrining a feudal oligarchy that disenfranchises and disinherits the majority of Americans, and blowing past any survivable CO2 limit, thereby threatening the survival of humanity and a million more species within a few decades. Trump 2.0 will unleash the full weight of the federal government, including white nationalist-infiltrated federal security forces, and tens of millions of heavily armed, fanatical and increasingly apocalyptic followers onto the streets violently to crush any remaining opposition to the quest, quite literally, to usher in the End of Days.
On the other side, we have an enemy who is neither strong, cruel, authoritarian, sociopathic nor ultimately suicidal enough to rush headlong towards climate and environmental disaster or permanently entrench a neo-feudal order. Even more so, Biden does not have the stomach or the mandate to unleash a level of state and militia violence against protesters that will be impossible to counter short of civil war.
And this enemy has already been infiltrated by upwards of 100 agents of change through the Congressional Progressive Caucus, at least half a dozen of whom are among the most well-known and powerful young politicians in America. While it will take at least a decade for the “Squad” and other young progressives to achieve institutional power, if their numbers grow by even a dozen members, the Democratic Party will have been conquered from within by progressives in the same way Republicans were conquered by the Tea Party.
Put this way, voting in November is no longer about choosing an “ally” that will surely betray you or even choosing the lesser of two evils. Rather, it is about having the good fortune of choosing an adversary whom you just might be able to defeat and a strategic position that enables the continuation of the struggle for racial, economic, climate and other forms of social justice without the risk of mass repression and even civil war.
Just as clear is what will happen if this opportunity is not taken. As a Facebook friend from a Midwestern battleground state described his Trump-loving neighbours after Jacob Blake’s shooting: “You can feel it building, they hate you and they are going to vote.”
If those votes are not matched by a similarly motivated Democratic electorate, the End of Days might arrive a lot sooner than we think.