Instead of obliterating the system under which a man can be a rapist and still vie for the presidency, liberalism demands victims ignore our trauma for their gains.
TW: This essay mentions r/pe and sexual assault, racism, and death.
With COVID-19 just barely beginning to make its mark in the U.S., it feels like the world is currently at a standstill. And in many ways, we are. Many of us are practicing social distancing as our “new normal”; preparing for what very well could be months-long isolation in the midst of a pandemic that does not seem to be ending any time soon.
With this, it can sometimes be hard to remember that we are also in the middle of a presidential election. One that, due to the pressing harm that COVID-19 presents, could be argued is the most important election in modern history. Over the weekend, however, we were all reminded that we are not only in the middle of a presidential election, but that liberals across the country are—now more than ever—committed to a politic that does not prioritize marginalized people in any way.
Just days ago, Joe Biden’s former senate aide, Tara Reade, gave a very detailed account of the time the former vice president sexually assaulted her in 1993. This is not the first time she has made this accusation. In fact, she and seven other women all came forward nearly a year ago to tell their stories of the times Biden inappropriately touched them or otherwise nonconsensually invaded their space.
Just days after Reade released this information through an interview on Katie Halper’s podcast, a Twitter user took to a post about Joe Biden and wrote: “For the sake of argument, say Biden is a rapist. Trump is also a rapist. So why not vote for the rapist with the better policies?” And after coming to realize that this was, in fact, a real tweet, I then had to try to make sense of something so asinine.
For starters, Biden’s policies and political history are horrendous. Aside from the crime bill he penned in 1994—which many, myself included, have written about—Biden has very harmful stances on other issues that, when interrogated closely, do not differ much at all from Trump’s. From Social Security and Medicare, to his push for war in Iraq, to his insistence on waging a war on Black communities across america during his time as chair of the Judiciary Committee. From his collaboration with the healthcare industry in its war against Medicare-for-all, to his continued role in voting and speaking against abortion and other reproductive justice issues, to his more-than-shaky stance on immigration and deportation. There are a host of issues with Biden’s policies and political history that, aside from his modern lip service, put him in much closer proximity to Trump than the proclaimed values of Democrats.
What’s worse, though, is that even if Biden never had this terrible history, it never seemed to occur to the user who wrote that tweet that there is a second Democratic candidate they could vote for who is not a rapist. And that is what makes her statement so much worse than it already is.
I have made many critiques of Bernie Sanders, even since the previous election cycle. I think he has a less-than-stellar foreign policy, especially as it relates to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land; he generally has a fairly basic understanding of prison abolition that would leave several million people locked in cages; and for two election seasons now, he has led a campaign that heavily emphasis class struggle and economic justice, but does little to link that to systemic racism and anti-Blackness—something that has been a documented reason for why he lacks support from progressive Black voters.
Aside from my critiques of Sanders and his campaign, I have been very verbal about my opposition to engaging electoral politics on the federal level. Still, I recognize not only that Sanders has the better politic between Biden, Trump, and himself, but also that the primaries are not complete and therefore the election is not yet between two rapists. This means that if progressive voters have any values or sincere commitments to choosing the politician with “the better policies,” the most obvious choice is Sanders and it is he who they should be rallying behind.
But liberalism is death. It almost-literally requires that one be committed to seeing others die rather than seeing us all liberated. And therein is the greatest issue with the statement made. Instead of demanding that we obliterate the system under which a man can be a rapist and still lay claim to the most powerful office in the world—or, more importantly, that we rid the world of rape culture and all other byproducts and substructures of patriarchy—liberalism asks survivors and victims to lay aside our pain and trauma for the sake of others; it demands that we take ownership for a violence we never afflicted onto ourselves and watch as (our) abuser(s) celebrate their victories in the wake of our death.
This is the struggle of navigating electoral politics. So few are committed to actualizing new worlds rather than recapitulating the same violences of this imperialist, white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (bell hooks) we experience every four years. At some point, liberals must ask of themselves—and demand of their politicians—for more. As it stands, it is the liberal’s refusal to push back against these power structures that continue to put us in the position where we have to choose between two rapists for president, or why we have to have a president at all.
It is my hope that we all soon understand that something different is possible. And I hope liberalism doesn’t kill us first.