As I write this column President-elect Joe Biden has begun to assemble his transition team and President Donald Trump is attempting to overturn what he sees as Biden’s illegal victory. I hope we get through the next two months with our democracy intact. What interests me now, however, is how we as voters perceive our concerns to have been involved in the outcome of the election.
Despite record turnout, we know a significant portion of eligible voters did not vote and don’t think their vote would have mattered. Of course there were millions of passionately involved voters supporting both candidates. But there are also voters who cast their ballots knowing the outcome would change little in their lives other than perhaps their investments.
They are the privileged.
In the last week before Election Day, a meme circulated on social media that asked, “You know what I’m going to do the day after Election Day if my candidate loses?” And answered, “Go to work, Be happy, Live my life, Love everyone. If he wins? Same.”
The implication being that the outcome of the election was insignificant to their everyday lives.
My first thought when I saw the meme was that those circulating it must not need to worry about their health care, their safety, their legal rights, their employment and other critical facets of our lives. Because the two presidential candidates offered differing visions that would dramatically affect the lives of millions of Americans.
“Law and order” or reforming our police and criminal justice systems to face the systemic racism embedded in both?
Overt racism and anti-Semitism condemned or allowed to flourish?
LGBTQ rights upheld or rolled back?
Health care snatched away or expanded?
The election of a candidate could make a difference in the lives of millions of people. The implication that the outcome of the election did not matter may be true for those who are privileged to have white skin, a Christian pedigree, a heterosexual identity and health insurance.
There was real fear for many people, however, that four more years of a Trump presidency would destroy them.
Perhaps nowhere was this fear more palpable than among the immigrant community, some of whom I am fortunate to call friends. DACA recipients were terrified they could lose that status and be summarily deported to countries they don’t even remember. Many have minor children and spouses they would have to leave behind or take to an uncertain and frightening future.
The Trump administration has enacted brutal policies against immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, essentially closing the door to them. Detention centers have been given over to for-profit corporations, hell-holes that perpetuate injustice. Children were separated from their agonized parents. The architect of much of this harsh policy is Trump senior adviser Steven Miller. With another four-year term Miller could further terrorize these vulnerable communities.
For those immigrants and refugees, Election Day would either give cause for anguish or celebration. I’m grateful they are celebrating an outcome that will diminish the terror and replace harsh policies with compassion and decency. Whether we could achieve a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants here, as part of comprehensive immigration reform, remains to be seen.
I am one of those privileged people. But I and others who care about the welfare of those targeted by Trump policies felt keenly the consequences of the choice between the two candidates.
Elections matter. Thankfully, for many of us voting means not just participating in the messy business of politics from a spiritual and emotional distance, but is a moral act with consequences to our fellow Americans.
It is an act that should be governed not solely by self-interest, but also by that simple adage, “Love your neighbor.”
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