I think Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the best and brightest writers of his generation, but lately I have had a problem with his approach to politics, especially his criticisms of Bernie Sanders. I think it was Chuck D that said that when white people face a recession, black people face a depression. (Paraphrased) I totally think that is the truth. There is no doubt that black people face inequality, not only in income, but across the board when it comes to rule of law. One can simply look at the violence directed towards black people by the police in comparison to white people. And these things are only touching the surface. However, I can’t help but feel that Coates addresses everything through a one issue lens, while also misunderstanding the realities of presidential politics. I want the same end goals as Coates does, but I feel that his approach is misguided.
America made progress on a whole host of issues from Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, through the Civil Rights and other movements of the 60’s, until the rise of Ronald Reagan. Since Reagan the working and middle class of this country have have seen tremendous setbacks. There is no doubt that these setbacks have affected blacks and other minorities worse than whites. One of the truths of American power, since the Civil War, that has been more or less effective at different time periods, has been to divide and conquer. Lower class whites and blacks, which in reality have much in common, have been pitted against each other. (Often all too easily I’m afraid.)
Aside from rare achievements like Obamacare, which many of us on the left think didn’t go far enough, true progressive goals have been sidelined. This is due to the Republicans ability to siphon off white working class voters. But this is also due to the fragmented nature of the left, where each group has their pet issue, instead of uniting for the greater common good. In a capitalist society, money is power. Unions have been destroyed. Healthcare still doesn’t reach enough people. Education has been robbed of the kind of value that allows people to think critically, not only making people less intelligent politically, but preventing the kind of fluid intelligence that allows people to change jobs with changing times. The right and left argue over culture matters. The left is guilty of this for sure. Instead of addressing issues that will lead to a fairer system, inequality is attacked in a series of patchwork attempts, always leaving some other hole for problems to arise.
Politics is also largely a realm of the realistic. One can only harness energy and attention for so long. How do you do the most good with limited energy? What topics does one tackle first? A president must not only try to balance the wishes of many groups simultaneously, but is also constricted through very real laws that balance the power of government between different branches. That is how the presidency has been since the founding of our country. The founding fathers did not create a dictatorship.
It is true that there is a need for certain kinds of extremists and dreamers in the political realm. You need people that push the envelope, that hold those in power accountable. I am by no means saying that these people don’t have their place. But when this becomes the norm, I think you will see that a political party stands a very slim chance of getting anything done that will last. There have to be those that understand the reality of law, how to get laws actually passed, etc. As a musician, I am a dreamer. But as a History and eventually an American Studies Major, I also know that there needs to be those in power than understand the mechanisms of government.
One of my favorite writers is George Orwell. Orwell was a democratic socialist that was also highly critical of the utopian left. He understood that if you wanted to raise the living of the working class, you had to get them on your side. Orwell understood the plight of miners in Northern England, even if intellectually and culturally he was quite different. He understood why these people had certain religious and cultural beliefs. A certain kind of culture and education influences the way one thinks. Attacking something someone holds dear, if it is not related to the matter at hand, especially if in all other ways they would be open to an important political goal, is foolish. In politics, you have to be willing to meet people where they are at.
I believe that overall Sanders and Coates want the same end goal. They both want to live in a fairer country where there is more opportunity for all people, where everyone is treated equally under the rule of law. But Coates as been critical of Sanders for not taking up one of his explicit political causes. If he was attacking a sitting political power I would deem what he is doing as noble and necessary to the political process.
However, in an election cycle, especially when the opposing choices are so horrendous, I can’t help but think of what he is doing is foolish. Sanders largely shares the same goals, even if he views getting there differently. Why, when critiquing someone, would you pick Sanders? Coates explains this, but I just can’t agree with him. (And anyone that thinks all politicians are the same needs to merely think how recent historical events would have played out if Gore would have won instead of Bush. At least Bill Maher is honest enough to admit he should have not voted for Nader. And if you don’t believe voting matters, that politicians are the same, there are probably thousands of dead Iraqis that would say differently, if only they could.)
In a perfect world there would possibly be a greater variety among the candidates. But politics is again partially dealing with the realities of a situation. These are the candidates that we have. Sanders might not be checking off every box for Coates, but doesn’t he run the risk of helping to elect someone that is either completely part of the status quo, with Hillary, or someone that is actually opposed to Coates brand of politics? This is an election cycle where certain candidates are outright demonizing minorities. Well this might be election year B.S, I can’t help but feel that there is a dark undercurrent in the right that will actually see the light if one of the Republicans is elected.
I view income inequality and climate change as the two biggest issues of our day. With climate change, if that isn’t addressed, all other issues may be worthless, as we might all end up sharing a world that isn’t worth living in. There is also a clock on that issue. We only have so long to get it right. The Democrats are much better on that issue than the Republicans. It is also worth saying that the poorest people in the world will be affected the most by climate change, many of them minorities.
Income inequality affects people from all races, even if it is disproportionately affecting minorities. How long can we live in a world where 65 people hold more wealth than the bottom 3.5 billion, before there is a revolution that doesn’t not happen through the comparatively peaceful channels of politics? Sanders is the best candidate on this issue. Again, I’m not saying his platform would go far enough in addressing all wrongs, but I think it is the platform that would do the most good for the most people.
These is not saying that there are not other issues that this country needs to address by any means. But a candidate that can make a difference on these issues can do good for a great amount of people, including minorities. In a year when so many things are on the line, should not those of us that share common goals, do our best to put away our differences for the time being? I have my own personal checkbox of things I would like to see changed, but I know what is first and foremost of importance. I’m not even arguing that Coates should not be adding to the dialog, saying certain proposals don’t go far enough. But I find his particular criticism of the candidate closest to him to be troubling. I just can’t help but feel Coates is doing some harm right now, along with some good, when it comes to the political future of this country.