If you are an avid consumer of politics, it is impossible to avoid comparing Joe Biden and Donald Trump, two septuagenarian white men with complicated histories on race relations. Both men competed for the office of president, requiring that they make a genuine appeal to black Americans for votes and support.
“What have you got to lose?” said Trump, his white Make America Great hat casting a shadow over his bulbous eyes. He was speaking before a crowd of Michigan supporters on August 19, 2016, less than three months before his eventual ascension to the presidency. As Trump performed that annoying motion with his tiny hands he said, “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs. Fifty- eight percent of your youth are unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?” The crowd behind Trump, replete with faces twisted by hate, roared their approval of their man.
What do you have to lose? Really.
They were the words of a charlatan, a con artist with nothing to offer anyone except for the heartbreak that comes with a broken promise. Many of Trump’s ardent followers, freshly fleeced by his shady fundraising apparatus, are beginning to realize that Trump is full of shit. I still can’t believe that eight percent of black Americans were bamboozled into voting for the man.
After Joe Biden deposed of the harbinger of nightmares for millions of innocent Americans, he went to his home state of Delaware to declare himself the president elect. During his acceptance speech, Joe Biden espoused a promise: “The African American community stood up again for me. You’ve always had my back and I’ll always have yours.”
You see that?
Instead of denigrating the black community, insinuating that we had no other options, and assuming the posture of a slick conman in his pitch, Biden expressed his solidarity with the us, a quietly revolutionary statement, for I’d never heard a white male President of the United States speak to black people in such a way. Biden acknowledged that we could have chosen someone else instead of him, expressed his genuine appreciation for our support, and affirmed the black community’s role in changing the direction of a country that had gone wayward under the leadership of Donald J. Trump.
Black people, some still somewhat jaded by the broken promises of white democratic politicians, will hold Biden to his vow. We are going to want the receipts, tangible evidence representing Biden’s commitment to chipping away at the inequities that keep so many people of color from achieving their potential.
Biden’s first legislative opportunity to make good on his word came with his introduction of a Covid-19 Relief Bill, decried by nearly every elected Republican, willing spendthrifts under Trump, as too wasteful and necessary. Thankfully Biden, riding a wave of popularity following his swearing in as the 46th President, was not swayed by the fallacious arguments put forward by Republicans, many of them already seeking to position themselves for the next round of elections in 2022.
“This bill has to pass,” said Mr. Biden, before a crowd of Whitehouse reporters. “No if, ands, or buts.”
Biden would eventually sign the Covid-19 relief bill into law, signaling the release of a government mandated money stream into the coffers of people who were in the most need of assistance. “Help is on the way,” said a hopeful Biden. Help in this instance included fourteen hundred dollar survival checks, the expansion of affordable healthcare options, an augmented child tax credit, student loan deferments, restaurant assistance, and increased funds for the food assistance program(SNAP). Americans of all races and creeds were buttressed by Biden’s Covid-19 Relief Bill, a repudiation of Donald Trump’s Cares Act, which ferried billions of dollars-worth of tax breaks into the pockets of the supremely rich.
Biden’s Covid-19 Relief Bill contained provisions specifically designed to improve the lives of black Americans. Child poverty, a heavy burden weighing on the shoulders of a significant percentage of black children, will be cut in half, an unheard of offshoot of any previous government economic relief package shepherded through Congress. And black farmers, regularly dismissed by the Trump administration as unimportant and superfluous — of the twenty-six billion dollars that were loaned to farmers under Trump’s Coronavirus bill, only 0.09% were allocated to black farmers — were apportioned five billion dollars in aid, money that will be used to pay off debts and enhance outreach, education, and technical assistance. Equity is the thread that links the components of this bill to form a whole.
Biden’s next chance to show solidarity arrived with the passage of SB-202, the voter suppression legislation rammed through the Georgia Legislature in late March of this year. This bill is of course hideous, an affront to the legacy of John Lewis, a native son of Georgia who was a freedom fighter, civil rights icon, and an authentic American hero — he’d been repeatedly imprisoned and endured a severe beating from a police officer on Bloody Sunday(March 7, 1965), an infamous day in the history of this nation.
Opponents of SB-202 have referred to Georgia’s voter suppression bill as Jim Crow 2.0, the equivalent of a spritz of perfume being sprayed on a pile of pig shit. Stacey Abrams, a world famous voting rights advocate, daughter of Georgia, and likely opponent of Brian Kemp, Georgia’s regressive Republican governor, called SB-202 “Jim Crow with a Tie.”
But how would Joe Biden, once an opponent of school busing programs, react to the implementation of these restrictive voting laws. Well, unlike Trump, who can’t seem to bring himself to apologize for his part in vilifying the Central Park Five — young black and Latino men who were erroneously convicted of raping and beating a woman in New York City — Biden has evolved, becoming more progressive, educated, and compassionate.
So when it came time for Biden to issue a response to the passage of SB-202, he said this: “It’s an atrocity… the idea…if you want any indication that it has nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with decency…they pass a law that says you can’t provide water for people standing in line while they are waiting to vote. You don’t need anything else to know that this is nothing but a punitive action designed to keep people from voting. You can’t provide water for people who are waiting to vote. Give me a break.”
It was a full throttle condemnation of the racist legislation, eliciting weak rejoinders from Kemp and national republicans, snowflakes who are always seeking out new ways to rejigger the election rules in their favor. I was grateful to hear the blunt, plain spoken, and withering criticism of SB-202 from Joe Biden. However, proponents of minority voting rights pleaded for Biden to back up his words with concrete action.
The U.S House of Representatives passed The For the People Act(HR1), an expansion of voting rights recently (2013) curtailed by the increasingly conservative Supreme Court of the United States. Now, if it were up to President Joe Biden, he would have signed the HR1 bill into law immediately. Unfortunately for us, there are fifty Republicans and one Joe Manchin — a conservative democratic from West Virginia — who reside in the Senate. There are forty-nine other democrats in the Senate and Kamala Harris, the first black female vice president to preside over the Senate, definite yes votes for voting rights expansion, but not enough votes for the bill to advance — voting rights legislation needs the approbation of at least sixty senators to move through the Senate. So the HR1 languishes in congress, collecting dust and mothballs.
President Joe Biden has still decided to act, crafting executive orders and employing the use of federal agencies to protect civil rights policy and procedures. He signed an executive order on the fifty-sixth anniversary of Bloody Sunday, proclaiming money and resources be allocated toward protecting voting rights, ended the Department of Justice’s use of private prisons, and instructed the Department of Housing and Development(HUD) to advance policy that eliminates housing discrimination at the federal level. Catherine Lhamon, Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity puts it clearly and succinctly: “This administration is using every lever that it has as aggressively as we can to ensure civil rights and equity. We are not siloed off in a corner. This is a priority at the highest and every level of this administration.” So we can expect an additional push for a legislative redress of institutional racism and disenfranchisement in the future.
Biden has also shown his appreciation for black people, along with other people of color, through his nominations and appointments for high level positions within government. Biden nominated the first black men to oversee the Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency (Lloyd Austin and Michael S. Regan were confirmed), selected Kamala Harris, a black and Asian woman, as his Vice President, and nominated a black woman — Shalonda Young — as The Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget. The placement of black people and other people of color in high level positions within his administration speaks to Biden’s commitment to fielding a government apparatus that represents his vision of America, a nation where people of color are afforded the opportunity to succeed.
So, yeah, Biden is not taking black people for granted, as he certainly feels indebted to the black community and plans to reward us for placing our faith in him. Biden is going to use his white privilege to do what Barack Obama, the first black President and Biden’s former boss, couldn’t do without fear of reprisal from certain sectors of the white electorate.
I look forward to Biden’s next moves on race and equity.