I remember the first time I ever heard the name“Donald Trump.” I was in eighth grade and it was October 2015. I came home from school to hear my mom talking about this guy who was running for president and saying all these crazy things. Neither of us knew, back then, that it was the beginning of what would become a long, long nightmare.
Like many, I spent most of last week in a kind of half-daze. I watched more cable news than I think I ever have before. And when I woke up on Saturday morning to the news that President-elect Joe Biden was, in fact, president-elect, I breathed an enormous sigh of relief and collapsed back on my bed.
But then I got up because I’m in college and that means I have a nice big pile of homework waiting to greet me every time I turn around. I’m not the only one with a pile of homework, though; there’s an even bigger one on the desk of the president-elect. There’s another one on the desk of the Democratic Party; and there’s another one on the desk of the entire nation. While the four-year cosmically nightmarish frat party that was the Trump administration is finally at its close, it has, like many such parties, done a lot more structural damage than we might suspect. There are kegs upon kegs of injustices that were gleefully poured out under the Trump presidency and that will not simply vanish without a trace under Biden. And while Biden may be able to do some of the mopping and garbage collecting himself, much of this mess will require a rather larger workforce — namely, Congress, which will require public pressure to act. And once it’s all cleaned up, we will still have the homework that was thrown aside four years ago.
I think part of the reason I so vividly remember the moment when I first heard about Trump sticks out to me is that, in a way, it was the beginning of my political awakening. Four years of Trump have minted me as a new progressive, and I’m willing to bet they’ve minted more than a few others. Certainly, a new generation of outspoken representatives is on the rise. Just look at the popularity of “The Squad,” the informal group formed by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. There is energy and momentum among us, and much as we might like to go back to sleep for a few more hours, this energy demands action.
Biden is quite moderate. Sure, left to his own devices, I have no doubt he’ll bring us back into the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organization, make uncontroversial cabinet appointments that can actually do their jobs and generally bring us back more or less to where we were at the end of President Barack Obama’s second term. But that isn’t enough — it’s part of what got us into this mess in the first place.
Now is the chance to bring real progressive change. Biden is an opportunity, someone who might listen to our protests and our concerns, but we have to raise them with just as much energy and passion as we did under Donald Trump.
Here’re a few places to begin: first of all, there are two Senate seats in Georgia that are going into runoff elections. Those campaigns will need donations, phone banking and volunteering just like the general election did. Secondly, we need to keep track of Covid-19 and Biden’s plans for addressing it as the transition goes on. A strong, day-one plan for dealing with this virus could bring America in line with the rest of the world’s responses and enable us to properly reopen the country in the long term. Normalizing mask-wearing alone could save countless lives. We need to make sure all that happens as soon as possible.
Finally, but most importantly, the rights of marginalized people, especially the rights of women to choose what happens to their bodies and the rights of Black and Indigenous people to live without being kidnapped and murdered by police, hang in the balance. Both could finally achieve robust protection under a new imagining of justice and individual choice and responsibility — or both could be pushed back into the shadows as the Democrats declare victory. We need to push for control of the Senate, and voting reform and even just some sanity in our politics, sure. But, above all else, we can’t forget these huge questions that have been wrenched back into the national conversation this year.
In the final column of The Symposium this semester, I plan to examine the topics I outlined above, and I want to hear from you about them. I’m just one person here, and if we’ve proven anything this election — hell, this year — it’s that we need a lot of voices all shouting together to secure any kind of change.