So it’s 2020, and your name is Joe Biden and you want to be President of the United States of America. Here’s a hot tip: try to get more votes than the other guy.
How? Easy — you know the drill. Find out what the people want, and become that. Adopt hot-button partisan talking points. Appeal to demographics. Pander. Lie. Make everything about you and your ideology. Insert yourself into the national conversation. Mount your campaign. The election may be five months away, but this is where you’ll win it.
Populism is making a comeback, after all, and it’s not about influencing public opinion but about validating whatever opinions the public already holds; certainly, no candidate ever won on the back of a platform that was entirely his own. The successful politician negotiates. He contracts out his loyalties. He may realign or conceal his own personal beliefs in order to appear more favorable. To that end, nothing is off-limits.
Step one is reconnaissance. Scope out the political landscape. What are this year’s big electoral issues? What do American voters care about right now? Each election year is different. In 2016, for example, it was all about gun control and taxes; in 1880, tariffs and the Reconstruction.
You’ve got to find a movement to latch onto, one you can ride to the polls. That’s step two. Lucky for you, 2020 has been long and arduous already, only six months in and brimming with near-apocalyptic contention — you’ve no shortage of material to work with, certainly.
And in recent weeks the national conversation has shifted largely towards addressing contemporary issues of systemic racism — particularly anti-black police brutality — following the recent death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd at the hands of an officer. The movement is called Black Lives Matter, and, according to a recent survey by Yahoo News, it's now backed by 84% of registered Democrats, or 57% of all American adults.
OK, this could be your ticket to the White House.
Full disclosure: you have what could generously be described as a checkered history when it comes to responding to racial injustice in America. You spent eight years as second-in-command to the first African American U.S. President in history — whom, troublingly, you once referred to as “the first sort of mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean” —you also spent thirty-six years in the U.S. Senate opposing desegregation bills and lobbying for the mass incarceration of so-called “violent thugs,” effectively allowing racist institutions to prosper and inhibiting the lives of black men and women in American society as a result.
You’re a good ol’ boy from Delaware, and there’s a good chance you aren’t actually interested in reforming systemic racism, considering you had such a large hand in making the system what it is today.
But you’ll have to hope no one remembers that part, because this is where step three comes in: capitalize, capitalize, capitalize. Colonize the movement. Gentrify black suffering for your own political gain.
Black lives don’t really matter to you, of course, but black votes do. You can play the part of the reformist — excepting a couple of tone-deaf comments here and there, including suggesting that officers shoot BLM protestors "in the leg instead of the heart." You can promise to crack down on racist police practices with policies like a national "'use of force' standard." That'll win you the progressive vote.
Take control of the rhetoric. Use it to take shots against your opponent, whose background in race relations is somehow possibly even worse than your own. Send out a few supportive tweets. Better yet, get an intern to do it for you. Smile and wave. Manipulate. This should be easy for you. You’ve been doing it your whole life.
Grace Pulliam is a 19-year-old creative writing senior from Zachary, LA.