As America tuned in to watch the first set of Democratic debates leading up to the 2020 election, I was excited to see the presidential hopefuls on stage, all together, putting forth their visions for America in the coming years.
It is one thing to watch various town halls, hearing candidates discuss issues unchallenged by other contenders. But it is another to watch them go head-to-head, pressing each other on strategy and policy, past remarks, and voting records, enabling viewers to see exactly how their soon-to-be nominee would perform when it counts during this turbulent time in American culture.
Although most candidates kept to their scripts and said little that was groundbreaking or divergent from previous comments and messages, it was intriguing to watch the themes and relationships that developed. There was tangible energy in the contrast between candidates who advocated for systemic change, and those who saw the American establishment as structurally sound.
Some on stage put forward the notion that for too long, those with access to money and power have disproportionately controlled almost every element of the political and economic establishment, setting policies that benefit themselves and their cronies, while leaving everyone else to scramble for crumbs in a system fundamentally rigged against them.
Others advocated for the view that the status quo is sufficient, and all that needs to happen is for Donald Trump to be voted out of office and replaced with a more responsible, seasoned, morally righteous individual whose vision for America will bring agency and empowerment to those who have been ignored for too long.
It was not difficult to see which candidate fell into which camp, but it may prove more complicated for many voters to choose which one they belong in. And yet, as much of the old guard was advocating for an America to be incrementally improved and built upon, I was not convinced.
Our country has a deep and ongoing history of economic and racial disparities, which has only grown in the modern era, and which has to be addressed in order to sincerely build a more equitable and just place, with liberty and justice for all. Leaders of private companies rake in astronomical amounts of money, turning to their friends in Washington to promote the policies and practices that got them there in the first place.
As this happens, the rest of America — the majority of whom is relatively muzzled and deserted in our nation’s capital — is left with a shrinking portion of the alleged prosperity and comfort that our nation idealizes.
This process is compounded when you are not Caucasian, as our legacy of enslavement, genocide and xenophobia still creeps in to every nook and cranny of our lives, including education, the criminal justice system, entrepreneurship, and everywhere in between.
In 2016, many around the country who felt alienated from the political establishment turned toward Trump, and it is hard to believe that in 2020, they will turn to someone who prides themselves on being a champion for the powers that be in Washington.
Their problems, as well as those of many others, have not been resolved by massive tax cuts for the wealthy of this country, for the immigrant scapegoating that is making the possibility of level-headed policy next to impossible, or the ignoring of the very real issue of our global climate crisis.
Even though the current administration is to blame for much of this, it is hard to see many voters having a change of heart and choosing someone who promises a return to normalcy.
The purported ethos of the American dream that we know and have grown up with has not been much of a champion for equal opportunity throughout our history. Although there are many people who have known this no matter what direction the political tides are pulling, with the growing current of dissatisfaction and challenge to the social and political norm, it appears as if many more people are coming to this conclusion. Although it is difficult to know where to turn, perhaps we face a time in our history when it is time to give a chance to someone who promises meaningful change.
This promise represents a reshaping of a system with rampant wealth inequality, industrial pollution, belligerent warmongering, systemic racism and anti-immigration sentiment, which at its core is a blatant disregard for the workers, students and builders of America. It panders to those with money and influence, the CEOs and social and political elites in Washington and beyond, who have been shaping policy, practice, and the direction of our country for far too long.
We as a country are ready for a foundational change, and it is on all of us in 2020 not only to elect a president who represents us, but also to stand up for ourselves when our voices go ignored.
It is our collective responsibility to put pressure on elected officials and anybody else who has power and influence in order to remind them that, at the end of the day, the people who make up any given nation hold the true power.
That rather than people being restricted by the impulses of their government, it should be the government that is bound to the interests of its people.