The United States of America is on life support. Donald Trump’s calamitous reign has accelerated disaster on every front:
Convulsive climate change is out of control. The government deceived us about a pandemic that has already killed almost 200,000 Americans, the largest number in the world. Right-wing vigilantes, with police and federal allies, wreak violence on peaceful demonstrators who have the temerity to say that Black Lives Matter.
Inequality of income and exposure to toxic chemicals has skyrocketed, afflicting people of color most of all. Higher education has become a plaything for the prosperous, leaving the rest saddled with debt for decades. Science and medicine are trashed on behalf of crackpot theories that jeopardize the planet.
The Justice Department has been converted into a political apparatus to protect the Trump family. The Supreme Court has rolled back voting rights. And all the while the president, a lifelong grifter, routinely caters to wealth, sucks up to dictators and undermines the Constitution.
Young voters need to get over it
Yet many younger people bridle at voting for the Democratic Party. They aren't enthused about former Vice President Joe Biden. They don’t like his Senate role in the crime bill of 1994. They don’t like his past support of creditors against debtors. They are skeptical about Sen. Kamala Harris’ record as a prosecutor and California attorney general. They want "Medicare for All." They want a major revamp of the criminal justice system, including reallocating some money from the local police to mental health and other community services that can help people cope with local troubles without violence (“defunding”).
For most of my adult life, I have demonstrated and campaigned against the nuclear arms race and the Vietnam War; union-busting savage capitalism and a surrender to the fossil fuel industries; mass incarceration; retribution against the poor and most vulnerable. Both parties pursued policies that led to those evils. We have no illusions that the Democratic Party will satisfy all our hopes. We anticipate that, in a Biden-Harris administration, we will have to fight hard within the party to achieve a Green New Deal or more equality.
But before we can address the gravest dangers, we must stanch the bleeding.
We are talking about an election, not membership in a fan club. We are not choosing saints or mates. We are choosing a field of action. Do progressives want to continue beating our heads against Trump’s walls — literal and figurative — or do we want the freedom to fight for reforms that, in turn, can open the way for deeper reforms? Do we want to choke, or do we want to breathe?
Trump and the Constitution: Trump isn't first president to abuse the Constitution, but he's gone so far we need a reckoning
Movements of outsiders gain most when they win the support — even the half-hearted support — of insiders. Even as big capital has fattened, the movements of the past half-century have made life more decent for large numbers of Americans: African Americans, Hispanics, LGBTQ people, the sick and disabled. The Democratic platform of 2020 is the most progressive in our lifetimes. By contrast, the Republicans didn’t even bother to offer a program, just a promise to continue Trump’s march toward authoritarian rule in the interest of the plutocrats and those who believe that America is “a Christian nation.”
Vote Trump out and continue the fight
If we are to have any real chance of addressing the systemic evils that now prevail, we must evict Trump and his toxic party from political power. With Trump in power, we move toward a police state. In a Biden-Harris administration, especially if the Democrats take control of the Senate and abolish the filibuster, we get to breathe — and fight — and win.
We won’t win every battle; no progressive movement ever does. Victories once achieved have to be safeguarded, and nothing can be taken for granted. But what is certain is that if the Republican Party is permitted to go on ruling, those who are young today will inherit a world of grotesque inequality, melting glaciers and rampant forest fires, criminality with impunity, racism without redress and cruelty without cease.
Tweedledee and Tweedledum? Liberal-left voters who disdained Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000 prevented climate sanity for decades and made possible George W. Bush’s horrific Iraq War, whose reverberations still poison the Middle East and drive millions of refugees into danger.
The catastrophes we now face are still more awful. The choice is real — between political death and political life, between bleeding to death and beginning recovery.
James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and the many others who died for the right to vote did not believe they were bound for the promised land. Neither did they believe their sacrifices were futile because total revolution was not nigh. Would they throw in the towel because a Republican-named Supreme Court rolled back the vote so bitterly won? A vote is not an endpoint. It’s an opening. Stanch the bleeding. Win the chance to fight on.
Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, was president of Students for a Democratic Society from 1963-64. His books include "Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street" and "The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage." Follow him on Twitter: @toddgitlin
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Young progressives, vote for Biden to stop Trump and fight for reforms