Monday, June 17, 2024

2020 Election: Why I Voted How I Did

Unsurprisingly, rhetoric usually becomes increasingly political as we approach the 2020 presidential election. To paraphrase a staffer on Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing: “Of course it’s partisan! It’s our party, and we want to win!” In this case, though, I’ve become increasingly skeptical that one party actually has a platform at all. “Keep America Great” and “Make America Great Again” are, well beyond the unveiled nativism, phrases that carry substantially less meaning now that the economy is in freefall, headed into what is sure to be a dark and cold winter. “Owning the libs” is not a platform.

So, I wanted to distill, briefly, my reasons for voting how I did. This isn’t about rehashing asked-and-answered talking points. It’s about very general conclusions about values. Here are a few things I voted for:

A functional government staffed by professionals who believe that all Americans matter.

The current administration has made it abundantly clear that it is mostly concerned with the people who voted for it. “New Yorkers are going to suffer, and that’s their problem.” The President has, meanwhile, staffed his administration with loyalists, irrespective of their (usual complete lack of) qualifications. He’s appointed unqualified judges, some of whom have never taken a case to trial. He’s staffed agencies with people who’s life mission has been to destroy those agencies. Stuff isn’t getting done, and we’re still not saving a dime, with a federal deficit that will be in the trillions this year alone.

Meanwhile, official US government accounts are tweeting out adolescent insults and propaganda. It’s immature and it undermines US credibility. Much as I talk shit on the technocracy, I do appreciate what they are able to accomplish. Obama did a lot of stuff that I thought was messed up. But he also got stuff done. And his administration authored some actual improvements in policy around energy, environment, transportation, healthcare, and more. I voted for a government staffed by competent people.

The idea that workers and consumers contribute more to the economy than billionaires.

According policy would address taxes and spending. Under the current administration, we’ve seen handouts to the rich and to corporations. The rich spent less of that money, dollar for dollar. Corporations used that money for stock buybacks. This has inflated the stock market to hitherto unknown heights– and that which goes up, must come down. But things have gotten demonstrably worse for tens of millions of Americans over the past few decades, if not even over the past several years.

There’s evidence that, late in an economic cycle, people start feeling the squeeze to keep churning out more and more profit as growth slows. What does it say when we’ve made it harder for the lay person to compete in the race, but have given big business and the wealthy such a huge head start? There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the existence of some inequality. But there is oodles of really hard evidence that gross inequality is destroying our economy– and our society.

Belief in science, including competent pandemic response.

The president has blown off science from day one. His administration has fired scientists for believing the consensus that climate change is caused by humans. Where it hasn’t fired people, it’s placed them under gag orders. This has been nowhere more apparent than in the administration’s bungled pandemic response, ranging from the president’s suggestions that people inject bleach to boy wonder Jared Kushner’s disastrous non-attempt to mobilize private sector support with no coherent overarching policy. 236,000 Americans are dead as of today, November 2nd, 2020, and it’s probable that another 100,000 will die by the end of the year. We need a president who will listen to science.

Infrastructure prioritizing human mobility at large over purely automotive mobility.

A system that forces consumers to own cars to get anywhere amounts to a roughly $10,000 tax per worker. This is mega fucked up. In Lansing, our own Governor Whitmer created a whole council around “future mobility” and it’s all car people. The writing is on the wall, and it’s apparently not purely a blue versus red issue. Compare $10,000 per year per worker to $150 per household from the perennial failure of Michigan’s RTA tax proposal. Plus, let’s say, $150 per month in transit passes and Ubers– still a tiny fraction of the $10,000. One candidate likes trains. The other has had four years to develop an infrastructure package and has nothing. Hell, I have an infrastructure plan and I’m not in the government. We need bold infrastructure investment and we need it now.

A vision for a sustainable future.

When Forbes Magazine is pointing out that the US spends ten times more on fossil fuel subsidies than it does on education, it’s well past time to reëvaluate our system. Decarbonizing the economy will be good for everyone. Addressing the climate crisis is not just good policy, it’s good business. We will lose far more if we don’t address it. No, the Green New Deal will not cost $100 trillion, Donald. What will cost a lot of money is sea level rise wiping out the deepest red parts of the Gulf Coast. The great thing about decarbonizing the economy is that it allows us to build new things while also rebuilding what we had– stronger.

A return to credibility, professionalism, and, well, democracy

And, well, stronger is kind of where I’m going with all of this. The US has lost credibility on the global stage for the buffoonery coming out of the White House. Credibility is important if you want to get anything done in a global economy, where Chinese manufacturers make your clothing products or your steel. Countries don’t want to enter deals if they think the president might just pull out of it five minutes later. Stare decisis has been thrown out the window if it’s not expedient to boosting the president’s ego. The courts are political tools. We no longer engage in diplomacy– we trade insults. The President enacts policy on Twitter. He doesn’t listen to anyone not saying “yes” to him at any turn.

Policy-wise and in terms of societal progress or lack thereof? We’ve spent four years spinning our wheels, and the only thing that has gotten done is an unprecedented level of growth in wealth for corporations and the rich. As I said before, what goes up must come down. We had evidence that the Obama era upward market trends had begun to peter out by 2017. Several trillion dollars in debt later and with double-digit unemployment rates, we’re facing considerably uglier eventualities. The Fed has already exhausted its ability to mitigate private sector risk. Interest rates can’t go any lower. And it’s unclear what the administration’s plan is over the next few months until he invariably leaves office, given the exploding COVID pandemic. We’ve spent many trillions. What do we have to show for it? Oh, wait, the stock market! It’s time to embrace sensible, progressive policy implemented by professionals with an interest in preserving American democracy and advancing American exceptionalism. 

Conclusion: Vote For Access

I often joke that I’m a “one-issue voter” around the issue of wealth inequality. It’s clearly not a single issue, but what it does do is summarize a lot of the issues facing voters, small businesses, and government agencies alike. Wealth inequality highlights the issue of access. Access is what makes our democracy work. Access to markets make it so small business can grow. The president has talked about reducing regulations, but he’s simultaneously handed over trillions to big business and the wealthy. He hasn’t made it easier for small businesses to enter markets– he’s made it easier for big business to dump the benzene into the river. Access to foreign markets, not trade barriers, allows companies to grow.

And, at the most basic level, voter access allows citizens, workers, consumers, to voice their opinions, as is their Constitutional right. We need a government that understands this. And that government has to make it its mission to increase that access so that every American can contribute to building a civil society, no matter whether they voted for the party in power, and no matter whether they’re black, white, brown, red, blue, yellow, purple, rich, poor, immigrant, refugee, or native-born.

We don’t have this kind of access when one party spends millions suing to make it harder to vote. Nor do we have this when that party embraces nativism, xenophobia, racism, and targeted character assassination of anyone who disagrees. I voted the way I did because it’s important to me that a United States has to be a United States for all of us. It’s e pluribus unum, not e pluribus, my big fuckin’ ego. The United States needs to be a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Let’s vote that way. And, let’s make sure no matter who is in power, they never forget it. Vote in the 2020 election! ✅🗳

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

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