As of April 2020, we can all recognize that Michigan is in a state of turmoil. The protest against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home decision in East Lansing, Mich. demonstrated the political unrest of some Michigan citizens. COVID-19 has left our campus a ghost town. The fulfilling sense of community we once enjoyed dissipated beginning in mid-March. Not only are we facing unprecedented obstacles in confronting a global pandemic that has significantly altered our lives, but we are also faced with a “lesser of two evils” election, yet again. On March 8, more than 10,000 students, citizens and spectators gathered to see candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speak in hopes of returning to his 2016 primary success in the great state of Michigan. Cheers echoed among the reinforced concrete. The sails of the left-wing progressive movement lost its wind after a series of major losses bringing Sanders to suspend his campaign just a month later. 

Yet again, the millions of young people Sanders and the progressive movement mobilized are left disillusioned — now, a potential voting block is being condescended to with the well-known phrase “Vote blue no matter who.” Now, we must choose between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump. This is disheartening for many, particularly because both candidates have been accused of sexual assault. 

Sadly, the presidency of the United States is no stranger to sexual misconduct. It is widely acknowledged that Trump has assaulted numerous women. This is evident from both his lengthy list of accusations and his own comments dismissing the allegations. As his defense, he explained he couldn’t have sexually assaulted these women because they were not appealing to him, not because assault is abhorrent. President Bill Clinton is known for his famous quote, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” in which he lied under oath about inappropriate relations with a subordinate. This often takes precedence in conversation over multiple other allegations against him. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush have been accused of sexual misconduct. Even the revered Founding Father Thomas Jefferson has an incriminating record of maintaining a toxic sexual power dynamic with Sally Hemmings. While the current election is uncomfortable thanks to the validity and gravity of the allegations against both men, it should not be a surprise. However, this agonizing discussion will be either swept under the rug or hypocritically weaponized against the opposition.

For many, the choice to vote for Joe Biden is easy. He is currently advocating for multiple forms of prison reform including sentencing justice, ending cash bail and abolishing the death penalty. Biden has also adopted Sanders’ stance to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and supports paid sick leave. Importantly, while he rejects the notion of Medicare for All, he would like to expand coverage for health care. These policy stances are bold, considering his moderate track record and tendency to stay away from controversial stances. When comparing Biden to Trump, the numerous instances of gross incompetence and disrespect Trump touts in a trail of tweets and press conferences makes the decision seem obvious, leaving Democrats, leftists, moderates and some moderate-conservatives with a correct and incorrect choice. Policy-wise, there should be a clear winner. The narrative is quickly echoing that of 2016 —  even if you don’t like the democratic candidate, you must vote for them, or you are directly responsible for the (re)election of Trump. 

In order for this country to be able to move forward from this period of uncertainty, division and distrust, we must diligently respect that every individual has one vote, and actively maintain the humanity of the democratic process for every single voter. Silencing the discourse of abusive gender power dynamics will only continue the suppression of survivors. 

I am privileged to be able to vote, yet as a survivor of sexual assault, being told I must choose between two men that have been accused of sexual misconduct to be president is revolting. I understand that lifelong Supreme Court seats may be filled in the next four years. Presidential elections impact the American political landscape for decades, shaping discourse, policy and perception. While we have a representative democracy, people of color and women have been historically disenfranchised, so the ability to vote cannot be taken lightly. But just because the electoral system currently in place reinforces the two-party system does not mean that voters must vote a certain way. 

The right to vote is relatively new on a historic and global scale, yet it is being minimized by discourse from within the left today. The “vote blue no matter who” coalition is leveraging a vote for Biden as a vote against Trump, and while this sentiment has truth in our current electoral system, it is disheartening, even condescending, to the disillusioned voters grappling with their decision. Ultimately, the process of voting is deeply personal as well as political, and in a time of fear, what we must do as Americans is engage with our community, acknowledge the complexity of the election at hand and empower one another to vote for a candidate that earns it. Both as a student majoring in political science and American culture at the University of Michigan and as a survivor, I urge you to tread very carefully in discussions about the upcoming election, and embrace varying opinions with grace and empathy rather than aggression.

Elizabeth Cook can be reached at elizcook@umich.edu.

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