|Image by David Mark from Pixabay|
By Greg Hodge, Brotherhood of Elders Network, Oakland
and David Kyuman Kim, Stanford University
“Leadership is the capacity to respond to the situation of the moment.” Dorothy Height
Minneapolis is burning. So are Atlanta and Brooklyn and Los Angeles and Oakland. The cities are on fire, but we are not talking simply about the buildings. The spirits of the Black citizens of our nation and the Brown and Asian and Muslim and white folks who stand in solidarity with them are burning. While the media attempts to domesticate the protests to a narrative about looting, we know that what is at stake is bigger than commerce and more pressing than the demolition of a Target store or an abandoned police station. The soul of the nation is at stake.
Minneapolis is more than another Ferguson. Derek Chauvin and three fellow Minneapolis police officers lynched George Floyd. The nation witnessed Chauvin kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck while he gasped “I can’t breathe”. These were the same words uttered by Eric Garner. Across the Mississippi, the police in St. Paul killed Philando Castile. People of color are on fire because what happened in Minneapolis felt inevitable and wholly unnecessary. We say the names of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Philando Castile and Sandra Bland and Ahmad Arbery and Breonna Taylor with our wails and bitter tears. The police and the state have explicitly and implicitly sanctioned the brutal annihilation of the humanity of black lives. They have been operating under the impression that there would be little consequence to their murderous indifference.
What the nation needs is a leader who understands the exacting demands of racial justice. While this is what we need, what we have instead is Joe Biden. He is a candidate whose primary claim to racial solidarity is his service as Vice President to Barack Obama. His hubris on this issue was on display during his recent appearance on the radio show “The Breakfast Club”. In what was an interview that seemed to be finished and if nothing else, running over time, Biden offered a classic “Uncle Joe Gaff. “You’ve got more questions,” Biden said. “I’ll tell you, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or for Trump, then you ain’t black.” Needless to say, the comment caused appropriate consternation from Black folks and others who heard the cringe-worthy remark. For this and other reasons, the enthusiasm for Biden as a candidate amongst voters of color is extremely low. What can he do to instill in us confidence that he will usher in a presidency that will meet the challenges of this moment?
2019 began with the most diverse –– in terms of race and gender –– slate of candidates for the Democratic race that we have seen in our nation’s history. It was also a group of candidates that commanded respect for their respective expertise and records as policy makers, prosecutors, entrepreneurs, and leaders. Recall the Democratic debates. There were moments where many of us thought, “What if all of the politically talented people on the debate stages actually could work together? What if they combined their best thinking and experiences into a powerful force for good? What if they could really join forces to address the challenges of global climate change, racial inequities, access to healthcare, providing quality educational opportunity, and the other issues that matter? What if Sanders, Warren, Biden, and the other leading candidates offered up their best ideas from their respective campaigns and brought their coalitions together with a unity of purpose to make our lives better? What if this prospect is what voters could see as the future for our country?” This is what we are proposing. This is a real possibility for America.
Biden alone is not enough to lift our collective spirits and our material prospects. While he is the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, Biden has the opportunity to come into the presidency as the “collaborator-in-chief” –– a leader who draws from the best people to meet the challenges we face in this health pandemic and economic depression. Forming an alliance of his primary rivals for the purpose of contesting the 2020 election together, forming a government up to the seriousness of the moment, and managing the governing by sharing the process of it. The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the need for collaborative leadership. It has laid bare the systemic inequities that make our democracy weaker and less resilient. By sharing the power and authority of the Presidency, Biden can transform what governing looks like for generations to come. And not just for the Democrats, but for everyone. By ascending to the presidency with a coalition created for this time of national difficulty, he will give the country a cabinet defined by competency, caring, and commitment.
That new “coalition-of-coalitions” approach must not only be reflective of a diverse range of skills, experiences, and talents but it must be built on the principles of equity, inclusion, and freedom. A justice-centered approach that considers situational fairness – with a view of historic as well as contemporary inequities – will be imperative in making us the country that we say we want to be. Our pre-existing racial, gender and identity inequities have been amplified in the current pandemic with its outsized impact on the most vulnerable Americans – African Americans, Latinx and Native Americans. What most of us want is to use this moment to build a fairer, safer, more prosperous, and healthier place for all of us, not just some. It’s time to prove that our diversity really is our strength.
Imagine if Biden assembles not simply a ticket but a political Dream Team come November. Imagine Stacey Abrams as a Vice President who engages us to eliminate voter suppression once and for all. Imagine Elizabeth Warren as the educator-in-chief. Imagine Kamala Harris as an attorney general committed to fairness and the rule of law. Imagine Pete Buttigieg as the Secretary of Veteran Affairs. Imagine Amy Klobuchar as leading the department of agriculture to keep us fed. Imagine Bernie Sanders as the head of health and human services to ensure our sustained well-being. Imagine Cory Booker as a Secretary of State who carries the legacy of the Civil Rights movement into that position. Imagine Julian Castro as head of Homeland Security, and then repurposes ICE as a force for compassionate immigration.
The wondrous possibility here is that this is all within reach. Biden can convene and present his cabinet of competency, caring, and commitment before the Democratic National Convention. This will give the electorate time to absorb this thrilling prospect and grow our enthusiasm for what we all really want and need.
In the celebrated ESPN documentary “The Last Dance” we get an in-depth look inside the 1997-98 season of the Chicago Bulls and their run up to their 6th NBA Championship. As framed by coach Phil Jackson, that season would be “the last dance” for him and the storied team assembled by the Bulls –– Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin, Dennis Rodman, and company. Team management had decided that this would be the final run of this configuration of the team, and really for the enduring legacy of Jordan as the leader of the Bulls. The last dance marked the end of a dynasty.
What if this is the Last Dance for the Democrats and the presidency of the United States? What if the upcoming election represents our last shot at redeeming an already faltering democratic project? Who will be on the floor for this last dance?
In anticipation of the presidential election in November, Democrats across the country are anxious to know what Joe Biden, the presumptive nominee, will do to persuade voters to come to the polls and vote for him. What sort of ticket will he present? What is his vision of leadership? What confidence can he command as President? To date, Biden has done a poor to middling job of positioning himself as an effective alternative to Trump. Trumpism –– the epitome of divisiveness –– has failed the people. The politics of divisiveness has not served us well, especially at a time when we must all work together to stay healthy and safe. Nevertheless, in the wake of its political and cultural devastation, the disruptions rendered by Trumpism has created an opening for new ways to think about what it means to govern.
While much has been lost in the Age of Trump, there is an opportunity to redeem and renew our American democracy.
All elections are referendums on the presidency. The current President has damaged the office in nearly unspeakable ways. This generation of voters wants not only a candidate we can believe in but furthermore a reimagining of what the presidency can do. This is a time for transformative possibility. This is a time to bring together the best and brightest into common purpose and practice.
Indeed, the upcoming election presents such a moment. There is a hunger for a steady hand at the helm. The Democratic nominee can redefine the offices of the President, Vice President, and cabinet members by offering a new vision for executive governance. Accomplishing this, however, will require a new model of leadership –– one defined by political substance, and a collaborative style and approach. Our next President should harness the best thinking and engage in the best actions on behalf of the country’s most vulnerable, not just the most privileged ––for our elders, for our poor, for our children. Really, for all of us. We can emerge from the despair of this age into genuine hope. This could be the team of rivals who show up to the last dance not as a dynasty but arguably one in the making — a team that reverse engineers our democracy to live up to its highest ideals.
There is no scarcity of leadership. What is lacking is the vision of a new approach to being a modern democracy. The stakes have never been higher and the opportunity for a new kind of American greatness never more necessary. Perhaps we can recast voting as casting our vote, not for one person, but as a vote for unity and for hope.
Let’s all help Joe create it now…