The other day, I got in a little squabble with a postal employee. It started out innocently enough. I was buying some stamps, and I asked for one book of holiday and a book of something else, anything but American flags.
The postal employee snidely looked over her glasses and asked, “Why no American flags?”
I muttered that America wasn’t that cool, what with our leader being a laughingstock around the world, a huge liar, a sexist asshole, a hateful homophobe, a racist, and a criminal.
Naomi didn’t like my answer and said, “America is the greatest country in the world.”
I tried to charm her. I flashed my most winning smile and said, “Actually it’s the worst country in the world, except for all the others.”
She did not find me amusing and handed me my stamps (she settled on “Love” instead of flags). I think she would have double-charged me if not for the security cameras.
I don’t normally lash out political opinions on innocent government employees. Actually, I used to have not very many political opinions at all, at least, not any that were earth-shattering. I went to a protest once in my 20s, but that was only because a cute guy invited me.
Our current leadership has changed all that. I find myself in constant anger and fear and shock at the views, actions, policies, and even tweets by our president, and the only thing that gives me any comfort in this regard is that I’m not alone in my outrage. Who can we get to run against The Donald in 2020 that can win? The anger that he’s fostered and the lack of desire to bring us together as a nation has created a terrible rift in this country. I watch the news and see so many people who are behind that asshole, and it makes me feel disheartened and defeated. Finding a modicum of hope is exhausting.
I recently came across “I Want a President” by artist Zoe Leonard. Written in 1992, the manifesto-like poem talks about her ideal candidate: “I want a dyke for president. I want a person with AIDS for president and I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn’t have a choice about getting leukemia.”
In a nutshell, Leonard expresses that she wants a president who is one of us, one of the people. She wants a candidate who understands the harder parts of life firsthand: sickness, poverty, imprisonment—not someone who’s privileged and coddled and spoiled. A candidate who has struggled in the muck and forged and made it through challenges.
She concludes with (my favorite part): “I want to know why this isn’t possible. I want to know why we started learning somewhere down the line that a president is always a clown. Always a john and never a hooker. Always a boss and never a worker. Always a liar, always a thief, and never caught.”
Fuck yeah. That last part sounds like the situation we’re in right now.
How do we get out of this mess? There’s an incredibly sad attitude that many Democrats have adopted as we look to the 2020 election: “Anyone but Trump.” That’s so defeatist! I get it, I do, but can we make some room for even a little hopeful idealism? Is it possible to pick a candidate that we actually like and can get behind? Someone who can lead the country in a bold, humane, wondrous direction?
Our choices aren’t ideal. No candidate is ever perfect (although Obama is becoming more and more an American saint in hindsight. Sigh). Who is our counter to Trump? The major choices on the left all seem pretty white and have many similar policy ideas. Let’s face it, some of the less well known and less popular folks need to drop out. I was being snarky with a friend earlier this week about the frivolity of Marianne Williamson’s candidacy, and he pointed out that while her getting the nomination is extremely unlikely, at least she’s using the platform to showcase a moral and spiritual need in our country.
I’d really like it if all the candidates of color would hold out as long as possible. That diversity is important; we need to remind the country that America is not a sea of white. It hurt my heart when Kamala Harris announced the suspension of her campaign. I don’t think she’d have gotten my vote (unless she was the Anyone against Trump), but I loved that a smart, strong, bold, black woman who didn’t take any crap was in the race. Now the only Dem of color who looks like he has a shot is Cory Booker. Booker is smart and has some interesting ideas. His $1,000 “opportunity account” for every American is an amazing notion, and his views on criminal justice reform, including reducing mandatory minimum sentences and ending private prisons and the death penalty, I’m all for. If he wins the nomination, I wouldn’t feel bad about voting for him.
I have opinions on the frontrunners, some embarrassingly superficial. Many of the Democratic choices have very similar ideas. Elizabeth Warren is smart and says good things, but she reminds me of the high school principal. Not very world-leader-esque. Medicare for All is a great idea, but it scares so many people that her enthusiasm for it may be a big hindrance. Joe Biden lost me with the “no malarkey” malarkey. It makes me feel like he’s out of touch. Is he playing Lawrence Welk music at his rallies? He also seems to hang his hat on his connection with President Obama too much. I guess if you’re going to ride on coattails, those are good ones to ride. Bernie Sanders probably has views that I most connect with, ideology-wise. He has the heart of a rebel, but his communication methods leave something to be desired. Stop yelling at me! Michael Bloomberg, ugh! Maybe the idea here is that someone with his resources is the only chance against someone with Trump’s resources, but I don’t think replacing a rich white guy with a rich white guy is a great idea. None of these candidates are terrible; moreover, they all represent views much closer to mine than those of our current president.
I’m not in love with any candidate. No one has inspired excitement, awe, and hope in the ways that Obama did, or even Bill Clinton when I was younger. There isn’t a clear, fantastic, amazing, obvious choice in the Democratic field.
I’m going out on a limb and supporting Pete Buttigieg. It took me a while to get here, but he’s my pick, at least for now. Is it because he’s gay? Absolutely. I never thought that I’d see a viable candidate for president of the United States who was openly gay in my lifetime, in a million years. A gay guy like Pete may be the exact antidote to Donny. And can you imagine the ripples it would make in the world for the most powerful country in the world to have a homosexual leader? So, go, gurl! Yaaas, queen! Get yourself that presidential tiara! OK, he looks a little like a cub scout, but it turns out he’s uber-smart, a veteran, and speaks seven or eight different languages. Whenever I’ve heard him interviewed, he has great answers, and he’s not afraid to say that he was wrong or that he’s made mistakes. I like a leader who has the capacity to grow and learn. I also adore his husband Chasten. I follow him on Twitter, and he not only is appropriately supportive of his husband, he is smart, charming, and funny in his own right.
Pete is not perfect. He’s had a bumpy history with African Americans from his mayoral days that I don’t think has been explained or apologized for appropriately yet. He publicly promotes diversity, while having mostly white leadership in his mayoral senior staff. His 2012 firing of the first African-American police chief of South Bend, Indiana in history while mayor, as well as his not adequately addressing the needs of minority communities in his home city, fostered a lot of mistrust. His likening of race discrimination to the discrimination he’s felt as a gay man doesn’t quite land. However, while he doesn’t know what it’s like to be a member of a racial minority group, at least Buttigieg has felt discriminated against for something. The other major candidates being straight and white can’t know how this feels or the difference it makes in navigating the everyday world in this country.
Buttigieg’s “democratic capitalism” views are not quite in line with what I’m discovering in my increasingly liberal mind. The phrase seems to be a way to play to both sides, as if to say that America’s capitalistic ideology can somehow be democratically spread to include everyone.
Buttigieg does not live up to the ideals of Zoe Leonard’s piece. He’s not nearly as radical—not by a long shot—as I’d love a candidate to be, and he doesn’t have a lived experience of oppression or trauma or poverty to inform him. Those experiences can make a person’s heart open to bigger ideas for revolutionary reforms that can really make a difference to people in this country who hunger for radical change. But of all the choices, I think he is the least worst. Buttigieg is incredibly smart, and he isn’t rich. And I love a candidate who’s been both in the military and in a gay bar, both a mayor and a man who’s looked for love on a dating app.
If Pete drops out, I’ll jump on the “Anyone but Trump” train. In the meantime, I’ll try not to engage my rage with innocent stamp-sellers. America may not be that cool right now, but deep down my heart beats true for the red, white, and blue.