The arm of a person who is putting a photo of SCOTUS into a box

Election 2020

We Only Have One Vote to Protect Our Future

Joe Biden may not have been your first choice, or your 10th. But in November, we only have one chance to reconstruct the damage of the past four years.

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Voters often fall into a trap. We believe an administration is just the person at the top. We understand the Trump administration is chiefly Trump, not the Federal Society’s judicial choices, Mike Pence’s hand-picked Cabinet, or white supremacist organizations creating policy.

We focus on Trump bumbling through the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet at the same time, we begin to neglect that the response disproportionately impacts under-served Black, Latinx, and indigenous communities. The Trump administration stripping LGBTQ medical rights gets little air time. Corporations cash out. Trump associates who’ve never sold it get contracts for PPE.

Vice President Mike Pence and many Republicans cut their teeth on disaster capitalism: using a national crisis to shift policy while a country’s in shock. This pandemic response isn’t aimless. It’s very effectively focused on using the disaster to anchor specific conservative policies in place.

What does this have to do with Joe Biden? By the same token, a vote for Biden isn’t just a vote for a president. It’s a vote for an entire administration. I’m not just voting for Biden. I’m voting for what’s likely to be two Supreme Court justices, hundreds of federal judges, a Cabinet, entire federal agencies, and a return to science-guided policy. I’m voting for policy to be created by communities of color and women, instead of by evangelical white supremacists.

Does that mean I have to pretend Biden’s perfect? Of course not. He’s got issues. The most pressing of these is the Tara Reade allegation. There has been no shortage of analysis on this. And I’m not here to add any. For that, I’ll point to women columnists who are more qualified to address that than a man is.

Many Democrats feel trapped by the allegation. Women who fight for just causes will back Biden while also defending the #MeToo movement. That demands nuance without damaging the momentum of either. Recognizing that burden matters.

The Judiciary Cannot Handle a Second Trump Term

A presidential administration nominates judges to 13 Courts of Appeals, 94 District Courts, and a range of other federal courts. Trump has appointed 51 judges to the U.S. Courts of Appeals. Many have been rated unqualified for these positions by the American Bar Association. There are 179 judges total. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to approve more very soon. It’s possible that a second Trump term could mean the majority of circuit court judges are Trump appointees.

Obama left nine of these circuit courts with a Democrat-appointed majority, with four to Republicans. Trump has shifted three of them: the 2nd Circuit out of New York, the 3rd Circuit out of Philadelphia, and the 11th Circuit out of Atlanta. Seven are now in the hands of Republican-appointed majorities, with six remaining to Democrats. His whirlwind of appointments has also ground previously productive courts like the historically progressive 9th Circuit to a halt.

This has been a disaster for women. Only 11 of Trump’s 51 circuit court appointees have been women. As Planned Parenthood has recorded, judge after judge has shown they’re against abortion rights, as well as policy such as wage equality.

Trump has also stacked the lower courts with 139 district court appointments. Both circuit and district court appointments are Article III Judges, meaning they’re lifetime appointments. The White House points out the average age of a Trump judicial appointee is under 50 years old. He’s packed the courts for the next two generations.

We’re not “just” talking about two Supreme Court justices this election. We’re talking about judges up and down every step of the appeals process. They do far more to shape the policy of our country than the Supreme Court alone: You can’t challenge for-profit prisons, end profiling, save voting rights, fight gerrymandering, combat climate change, or even preserve the right to protest without victory in the courts. Are we willing to give that up for two generations?

The Cabinet Implements Future Policy

There’s a conversation I’ll have with my family if Trump is re-elected. It will be about the very last red flags we can tolerate before escaping the country. We’re all citizens, we were all born here, but that eventually won’t matter as much as my Latino name and blood do. The Trump administration has followed a plan that was once clarified by white nationalist Richard Spencer.

It includes legitimizing white supremacy, encouraging hate crimes, lessening Department of Justice response, suppressing the Latinx vote, the militarization of the Border Patrol, and ICE holding American citizens. All of that has happened in Trump’s first term.

The next steps are in Congress. Sens. David Perdue and Tom Cotton have written legislation that seeks to limit immigration. Sen. Lindsey Graham has introduced legislation to end birthright citizenship. The steps after that push Latinx people out of the country and then round us up.

It can’t happen here? It’s happened twice in the last century. The first time was under Mexican Repatriation, where it’s estimated between one and two million people were forcibly removed to Mexico. Sixty-percent were U.S. citizens.

A few decades later, President Eisenhower’s Operation Wetback removed more than 1.3 million people to Mexico. This included many who had birthright citizenship in the U.S. It’s not an outlandish or unlikely threat. It’s an action we average as a country every 50 years.

That conversation is one my family doesn’t need to have under a Biden administration. Is Biden a champion of immigrants and refugees? Not at all. The Obama administration had some successes, such as DACA. It also allowed many of ICE’s abuses. Yet the ground on this has shifted, and our focus is now squarely on the issue. Under Biden, we’ll be able to start releasing refugees and children from concentration camps. That’s not because I have confidence he’ll prioritize it. It’s because I have confidence we will. Unlike a Trump administration, a Biden administration will have to be responsive to our priorities.

Is that a perfect solution? No. It’s a workable one.

I describe this because it’s a fight I have to inhabit and fear. It’s decided by who runs the Department of Homeland Security and the priorities an administration gives them. How many fears do we all have?

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos just made it more difficult for students to fight sexual assault under Title IX. The murder of Ahmaud Arbery is just the latest example of the Department of Justice failing to prioritize hate crimes and hold police accountable. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is eroding rules on equal access to affordable housing.

The Department of the Interior can protect wild areas—or give them away. The Environmental Protection Agency can curtail climate change—or deregulate to make it worse. The Department of State holds sway over the international agreements we sign—or the wars we pursue.

We can have a return to science, to re-hiring and funding for the CDC and public health agencies. In under four years, we went from being a world leader against pandemics to the country hardest hit by COVID-19. That leadership can be recovered.

Biden’s name is at the top of the ticket, and I may not be a fan. Yet a vote for that name is a vote for an entire administration that we can successfully pressure to save each other.

Progressives Will Make More Inroads with Biden

Can we wait out a second Trump term and run a progressive in 2024? How gerrymandered will the nation be? What electoral freedoms will be burned away? Can we expect to win an election after voters of color are more suppressed than ever before in the modern era? Do we think a Supreme Court stacked 7-2 for conservatives won’t hand a presidential election in any legal challenge to Mike Pence or Paul Ryan or Ted Cruz?

There’s a concept that a vote should be based on our judgment of how trustworthy or inherently good a politician is. That will tell us if they can save us. Believing that is a privilege many of us don’t have. Generations of sacrifice and risk in activism can’t be balanced on one person.

Our work as activists can focus on pressuring Biden toward progress, or it can focus on mitigating increasing damage under Trump. I’ll be voting for a Biden administration, and the Supreme Court choices and federal judiciary, a Democratic Cabinet, and re-stocking of agencies that come along with it. Biden is secondary to all of that. What’s primary is whether we use our activism to produce progress, or continue to exhaust it slowing regression.

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