When former Vice President Joe Biden was declared the President-elect of the United States, much of the local student and greater Burlington community displayed palpable elation. Many took to Church Street and other locations throughout the city to celebrate, relaying above all, extreme relief at the prospect of no longer living under the leadership of Donald Trump. This feeling is understandable, given the more than 400,000 coronavirus deaths and accelerated environmental deregulation that occurred during his tenure, to name just two, of many issues that plague an unstable nation. However, much of the voter base notes their primary reason for supporting Biden, according to a pre-election poll from the Pew Research Center, is because he’s not Trump. In fact, much of the electorate is so satisfied that America chose to vote Trump out, that they are willing to overlook Biden’s record on important issues, which is questionable at best.
Take the issue of racial justice, which exploded into the public eye over the summer with issues of police brutality against Black Americans, and the disproportionate percentage of people of color who make up the American prison system. This all too common narrative continues to plague low-income and racially diverse communities across the U.S. Outraged by the ceaseless violence and injustice, civilians took to the streets in masses, calling for a number of changes including cuts to the bloated law enforcement budget, banning the use of excessive force upon civilians, demanding accountability for the growing number of officers who perpetrated violent acts, and reform to hefty sentences for low-level crimes aimed at people of color. Unsurprisingly, animosity toward the 45th President and his administration was common among protesters, given his repeated unwillingness to condemn white supremacy and his history of racially discriminatory rhetoric. Although, many of the same people who condemn Trump’s actions may be surprised to learn of Biden’s involvement in perpetuating, and even creating, many of the laws and policies that are so vehemently opposed today.
Practices such as civil asset forfeiture, law enforcement’s ability to seize someone’s personal belongings if they are suspected of a crime, was sponsored by Biden and a fellow senator during his time in the Senate. Furthermore, in an attempt to address drug abuse in the 1980s, Biden (in collaboration with Senators from across the aisle penned the “Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1986.” This law administered harsher sentences for drug possession and distinguished the now infamous disparity between crack and powder cocaine acquisition. In short, those who were caught with crack cocaine received sentences that were 10 times harsher than those who possessed powder. This discretion targeted communities of color because of the prominence of crack cocaine in urban areas. These practices and many more, which Biden supported, have imposed skyrocketing incarceration rates in the US, specifically for Black and Brown men in the last two decades. He helped to create many of the practices and institutions his supporters now rally against. The destruction these decisions have caused are becoming more transparent. Much of this legislation was brought about by the 1994 crime bill which Biden co-authored. In October, he referred to the crime bill as “a mistake” but has gone into little detail regarding how he plans to amend the problems it continues to cause, and has defended it on other occasions.
Additionally, at the start of Trump’s first term, women across the nation were outraged by his nomination considering his numerous sexual assault cases and well documented instances of sexism throughout his career, as both a businessman and media personality. However, those who criticize Donald Trump’s crude behavior are less likely to look upon Biden’s record with equal scrutiny. Which includes a sexual assault allegation of his own, brought to light by his former aide Tara Reade. Though he has repeatedly denied the allegation, it brings into question his prior behavior particularly regarding the issue of assault and harassment.
In any case, even if Biden’s strongest supporters considered these factors and criticized his decisions on a variety of issues, many may overlook them because they believed his running mate, and now Vice President, Kamala Harris, will provide enough of a forward thinking balance to keep him from making similar choices. However, her record as Attorney General of California shows this inclination to be unlikely. During her time as a prosecutor, she kept people in prison beyond their sentence to exploit their labor, and threatened the parents of students who failed to attend school with prosecution. Most notably, she charged a Black man with murder and life in prison on insufficient evidence, after six years in prison he was proven innocent. These decisions as attorney general could prove to be somewhat detrimental to Harris given the excitement expressed by many of her supporters as she is the first Black, Asian, female vice president, because her diverse background on its own does not negate her past decisions that imposed negative consequences on communities of color.
In spite of all of this, much of the greater New England area is outwardly pleased with Biden’s nomination. More importantly, they are satisfied with a repudiation of Trump’s chaotic, political brand. While this perspective is understandable, as a populace we must be able to scrutinize our elected officials when their decision-making has the potential to be harmful to marginalized communities, the environment, and the country as a whole.
There remains a pervasive sense, particularly among white, upper-middle-class and affluent communities in the Northeast, that with Trump gone, unfavorable circumstances will cease. With Biden in office, we can all go back to brunch, assuming the politicians in charge have our best interest in mind. As freethinking citizens, we must not allow this narrative to continue.
Just because many happen to agree with Biden on a larger number of issues doesn’t mean he is guaranteed to make the right decisions or even have the right objectives in mind. We must continue fighting for the policies and values that matter to us and be critical of elected officials when they do not represent them. To ensure that reform focused policies designed to check the power of corrupt institutions, communities fought for over the summer, and over multiple decades are properly implemented, we must continually pressure Biden and his team to make cogent decisions the same way we would Trump.
The first step was voting Trump out of office. Now, the real work begins.