NARRATIVE: What to say to your #NeverBiden friend

Let people be complicated

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(Photo courtesy of Joe Biden's official Facebook page)

By James Mazarakis, Op/Ed Editor

When Bernie Sanders dropped out of the presidential race on April 8, Former Vice President Joe Biden became our presumptive nominee. Despite COVID-19 currently occupying most of our attention, this remains big news for many. For some, it’s a reason not to vote.

I could talk about why I am still voting for Joe Biden, why it is a moral imperative to get Trump out of the White House and to protect our Supreme Court from becoming a dangerous enabler, and why you should, too.

That article, though, is overdone, and I’m not going to rehash it. It has convinced everyone it was capable of convincing.

As Editor of the Op/Ed section and a student at a liberal university, I’ve seen a plethora of world views face-to-face — not merely regurgitated on Facebook or Twitter. I’ve had real conversations with people about what the future should look like. Crucially, I’ve supported my writers in their quests to justify their ideas, not just to themselves, but to a broader audience that can empathize with their points.

I know liberals who aren’t planning on voting for Joe Biden. Many of them are smart people. It took me years, but I learned something important: it’s a valid opinion not to support the so-called “lesser of two evils.” I disagree with it personally. But if we are to come together and move forward as a political movement, we need to acknowledge, not erase, these voters.

Let’s say you really, really want your friend – or family member – to put the future of the country over moral righteousness, pinch their nose, and vote for Biden. What do you do?

Firstly, drop that language. Put aside the desire to “win” the argument.. Don’t turn to your favorite political pundit. If you’re a liberal or progressive and your intentions are good, we’re on the same side. Mutual understanding is the key forward.

Here’s my advice: we need to step back from the wisdom that “perfect is the enemy of the good.” This implies that there are enemies, and that the speaker’s version of “good” is immutable. If we want unity, we need to imply a shared struggle. Once we come to that understanding, we can start a real conversation.

Put yourself in their shoes

There’s a stereotype that anti-Biden Sanders supporters are privileged, sexist white men who want free college over the interests of Black and Brown people. Not only is this factually incorrect, but I’ve met people of color and marginalized folks that simply don’t feel safe in the liberal status quo. Their communities have been affected by policies pertaining to the justice system under candidates like Kamala Harris, immigration under Obama and segregationist anti-busing pushed by Biden himself. These liberals have no loyalty to the party because they have not had any experience that suggests the Democratic Party is loyal to them. Some have even resigned from trying to change the federal government, which they deem hopeless, and are now focused on local efforts with justice-oriented, identitarian groups.

Moreover, some liberals in my generation were raised in conservative households. They repudiate their parents’ racism or “bootstraps” philosophy, but are still receptive to populist policies. Sociolinguist George Lakoff strongly urges people to acknowledge how growing up in liberal and conservative households results in contrasting moral frameworks that can unexpectedly “shape the way we see the world.”

It seems cliché to warn people not to stereotype, but it happens subconsciously. I often see intelligent people hear a political position and fill in the reasoning themselves.

One example is the belief that young people like socialism because they “want free stuff.” I acknowledge the concern older people might have seeing the rise in young people skeptical of capitalism, but income inequality, the military-industrial complex and for-profit prison and healthcare systems have been plaguing our nation since we were young enough to remember. Millennials, meanwhile, are going through the second global economic crisis of their lifetimes at 30 years old. We have never seen capitalism work, and many believe that our hardships now are proof that the system actually thrives off this inequality. Whether you agree or not, given the full picture, this backlash makes sense. A catastrophe-filled upbringing changes perspective.

So, put yourself in the shoes of those you disagree with and then consider how you would react. Don’t speak on what you think their priorities are, or what they are saying by supporting the #NeverBiden movement. Find those reasons out by yourself.

Respect lines your friend won’t cross

Where does your friend draw the line? This is an important question, especially when discussing Tara Reade’s sexual assault allegation against Joe Biden. It has been the liberal narrative to believe women and hold men who commit crimes against women accountable – so is it really fair to turn tables on people who feel betrayed or disgusted by our candidate?

Personally, I say the answer is a resounding “no.” I am never going to downplay the sexual assault allegation against Joe Biden. Ever. I’ve criticized Republicans for doing this and it seems hypocritical as a liberal to do the same.

Of course, I still see voting for Biden as an unfortunate moral imperative. But I’m not shouting them down – I’m going to explain my truth and listen to theirs. If they feel their time is better spent advocating for grassroots organizations, more power to them. We are not in disagreement on this issue, and it shouldn’t seem like we are.

Be candid, not guarded

I’m not suggesting that you simply validate and leave people unchallenged. Quite the opposite.

Currently, voting for Biden (Clinton in 2016) is being framed as akin to pinching our noses and taking a swig of rubbing alcohol. This description is not helpful. Focus on your personal, human reasoning. Why is it important to you? How has President Trump caused your family harm?

I’ll use myself as an example. With a degree in planning and social change, I need to do everything I can to support the nonprofit industry and free speech. Throughout Trump’s administration (especially during the pandemic), nonprofits have suffered and the freedom of the press has been vilified. Will Biden fix everything? No. But at the very worst, I believe he’ll stop harming my career prospects. That’s how this election will affect me and why I – personally – need your help to get Trump out of office.

Note that I’m not pretending Biden is perfect. More so, we need Biden to be a malleable candidate who is receptive to change – something he says he’s working on. Consider his malaise response to clear voter suppression in Wisconsin. If the debate over mail-in ballots re-emerges in November, I want to be sure that he will fight to make sure every single voter can cast their ballot without fear of infecting themselves or others. We must ask that assurance from him.

Rather than demanding others to shoot themselves in the foot, be vulnerable with your own concerns and focus on the person who has the greatest opportunity to negotiate – Biden himself. Encourage productive venues of disagreement and be vocal where you want him to change. Minor conflicts over time are far, far better than bubbling resentment.

Worried about our image of unity? Don’t bother. Republicans are great at talking points and will take advantage of that, no matter how united we seem.

If you’re uncomfortable, you’re doing it right

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke to the New York Times about reaching out to progressives, expressing that she would vote for Biden but adding a sentiment that cannot be missed. “The process of coming together should be uncomfortable for everyone involved,” she said. “That’s how you know it’s working.”

Indeed, feeling challenged is necessary. You cannot comprehensively fight Trump in 2020 without understanding contemporary ideas like anti-capitalism, intersectionality and democratic socialism. You cannot beat Trump while criticizing people on your side who might be feeling more hopeless than you are. You cannot beat Trump while expecting young people, our greatest asset in grassroots organizing, to “snap out of it” and be motivated. You cannot beat Trump while stereotyping Sanders supporters as white men, thereby erasing the thousands of marginalized young supporters – including women and people of color. And finally, you cannot beat Trump while basing your opinions about other voters on what you read on the Internet.

We will not win a campaign effortlessly by blocking our friends and avoiding confrontation. If you believe in the Machiavellian stance that we need to unite behind Biden to defeat Trump, you need to forge an alliance with the left, and befriend moderates receptive to your mission. It is laborious. But it is required.

Overall, unity is not about mandatory cheering or repetition of platitudes. It means seeing eye-to-eye and loving and respecting one another through our flaws. By seeing each other, we may have a shot at trusting each other at the ballot box.

Who knows? You might change your mind on a few things yourself.

James Mazarakis is Op/Ed Editor and can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @dailyjmaz.