Immediately following this week’s vice presidential debate, an explosion of unapologetically racist and misogynist references to Kamala Harris have spread across social media. Trump himself labeled her a “monster” on Fox News.
This kind of vitriol is dangerous, especially with Trump occupying an unfiltered bully pulpit from which he covertly commands right-wing vigilante and militia. We can only imagine the signal that such language sends to those hyped up and armed “patriots,” whom he has already instructed to “stand by.”
We all know what happens to “monsters” in horror films and fictional tales. The nasty and venomous attacks on Harris are reminiscent of the racist attacks on Obama. White supremacists were just galled that a brown-skinned man would sit in the Oval Office. Undoubtedly, they are even more livid about the idea of a Black woman as vice president.
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I Will Never Believe This Administration Cares About Black People
Meanwhile, at the vice presidential debate, even as Mike Pence briefly “performed” empathy toward Black people, he also exuded racism and sexism from every pore. He completely ignored the woman moderator, insisted he was the only person on the stage who deserved extra time to speak. He diminished Harris’s points as her “opinions,” devoid of fact, without giving any evidence for the dismissal. In other words, he implied, she was just not to be taken seriously.
With a cold, calm veneer, Pence bulldozed his way through the debate insisting, “I have to make this point,” and then far exceeding his allotted time. Amid all this, he reminded us of his rabid anti-choice politics (and I shudder to think what women and girls face if Roe v. Wade is fully overturned). Many of us cringed at the overt sexism on full display. Yet, at the same time, we were not surprised.
To those who have been paying attention to the racist and callous policies implemented by the Trump-Pence administration, Pence’s performance of outrage about the murder of George Floyd stretched credulity. How are we to believe him, given his boss’s defense of white supremacist militia and right-wing vigilantes like Kyle Rittenhouse?
In this electoral moment, which is like few others in U.S. history, many of us are navigating between our honest assessment of the less than ideal Democratic ticket, and our utter horror at the thought of a second Trump term.
A second Trump term would mean a rapid and unmitigated rightward turn in this country. We already see it but it would accelerate. We could see the banning of protests, restrictions on the media, more cuts in resources, more plunder of the planet, and more state violence directed at Black and Brown communities.
Trump, knowing this would be his last grandstand appearance, may pull out all the stops in terms of repression. He may seek to put himself on a throne. And he has already shown he will not hesitate to try to grind our movements into the dust.
So, we should all be clear about the importance of November 3, but we need to also look to politics and movement building beyond the November election.
Looking Beyond the November Election
Even if Trump is defeated at the polls, Trumpism will have an afterlife, and there will be another struggle with the centrist and corporatist politics of the Democratic Party leadership. This reality permeated both debates, as both Harris and Biden repeatedly distanced themselves from the so-called radical left.
The morning after the vice presidential debate, I was asked by the Black Women’s Blueprint to moderate a panel of Black women to assess the debate. We discussed how a whole myriad of often-ignored issues are on the political agenda of progressive and radical Black women.
Former vice presidential candidate for the Green Party, Rosa Clemente, noted that liberal politicians tout the importance of Black women voters but often don’t put forth aggressive policies that address poverty, reproductive health, housing and police violence, all of which are “Black women’s issues.” That will be an ongoing fight even if Biden and Harris win.
We must push back against the bigoted venom that Harris is receiving and will continue to face — the same kind of venom that other Black public figures and women politicians have received, and are receiving, during this upsurge of white nationalism and toxic masculinist violence. (Just yesterday, a gang of white militiamen were just arrested for plotting to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer, governor of Michigan.)
Nevertheless, we also have the obligation as leftists and progressives to take Harris’s policies and ideas seriously, challenging her mediocre responses to major systemic problems and seeking to push her and Biden to the left. That is, while we condemn attacks from the right, we cannot retreat from our own principled commitments. We must not order ourselves (or others) to stop making legitimate and necessary critiques about policy and ideas.
For example, Biden and Harris should support a ban on fracking. Obamacare is better than no health care plan, but it is not enough. The Green New Deal would take us a long way toward a more sustainable and healthy environment, and Biden and Harris should enthusiastically support it. And we do indeed need to move resources away from policing and prisons and toward jobs, housing, mental health services, violence prevention and education. In other words, we can politically walk and chew gum at the same time. We can condemn racism and misogyny whomever is the target, and we can also engage in debate, critique and struggle.
This moment also raises other questions for the left. For example, what do we do if Trump refuses to accept the election results? At the vice presidential debate, Pence refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. Of course, “transfer of power” itself makes a bigger promise than it has ever delivered.
Nevertheless, we need to ask ourselves in this moment what others have asked in other pivotal historical moments when threatened with outright authoritarian rule, and an assault on the limited rights we now are able to claim: Where do we stand, and how firmly will we stand there? A new united front formation, The Frontline has formed to unite forces in defeating Trump. Other efforts are underway. We should support them and push further.
Despite the scary face of the GOP, we also have a growing movement of people — a movement that far exceeds the members of progressive organizations. People have flooded the streets in huge numbers to say no to racist violence. They have to be mobilized to say no to authoritarianism, white nationalism and dictator-like power grabs. They have to be mobilized around a consensus vision of not only what we are against, but what we are for. This is the current phase of our work: There are many beautiful dreams to embrace and make our own.