Black Americans need to recognize that we face a disturbing political reality. Despite his avalanche of seemingly intractable legal problems, Donald J. Trump remains the favorite to be the nominee of the Republican Party in the general presidential election in 2024.
That would mean a rematch between President Biden and Trump.
The outcome of that election is likely to be determined by a few tens of thousands of votes. In the 2020 presidential election, the margin of victory for Joe Biden in Georgia and Arizona was less than 12,000 votes.
In stark terms, the winner of the presidential election next year will be sworn in in just 18 months. A second Trump administration will be better thought out and effective than his first — which saw a huge setback to our interests and concerns.
It is this alarming political reality that makes the self-absorbed, narcissistic third-party candidacy of Cornel West troubling.
Notwithstanding his right to run and the idealism he cited in his announcement (much of which I agree with), any measure of political acumen forces one to recall West’s ill-fated support of Ralph Nader’s spoiler campaign against then-Vice-President Al Gore in his race against George W. Bush. There were disastrous consequences of the outcome of that race for people all over this country, in Iraq, and around the globe as a result of Bush’s denial of climate change.
Expressing no regrets for his stance with Nader in 2000, West is about to do something like that again. There is much to admire in what West has advocated in the past. Although we should not forget some of his over-the-top ad hominem attacks on Barack Obama after he won the presidency in 2008.
Of course, West always cites his outspoken defense of poor and working-class people as the motive for his actions. I don’t disagree with his avowed purpose for running as a champion for “truth and justice” as a presidential candidate “to reintroduce America to the best of itself — fighting to end poverty, mass incarceration, ending wars and ecological collapse, guaranteeing housing, health care, education, and living wages for all.”
I don’t disagree — and I respect him as a pioneering theorist, but I think he is making a poor political choice with his quixotic third-party presidential campaign.
But that is not the issue here. Rather it is the damage his third-party candidacy could do to Biden’s re-election and the future direction of the country if Trump or a MAGA facsimile prevails next year. The only possible impact of West’s vain, selfish candidacy is to take some votes away from Biden that might allow Trump or some likeminded far-right wing Republican to return to the White House.
Whatever Biden’s shortcomings, the political system does not give us an opportunity to build a viable political and electoral coalition alternative. West and many other Black political figures seem to think that because they have every right to run, they should run campaigns that satisfy their personal aspirations and/or needs at the expense of the greater good of their communities.
We need to learn from our history in this country about the strategic importance of a galvanized Black electorate to make realistic and smart decisions.
In 1948 the FDR political but reprehensible Democratic Party coalition — that included racist Southern Democrats — was shattered after a civil rights initiative was included in the party’s platform.
President Truman’s upset victory was only made possible by a surge of Black voters in swing states. This is an experience that has been repeated in several other closely decided presidential elections.
This teaches us that we should not squander our votes on Black “vanity” candidates, no matter how sincere, who offer no path for advancing our interests and concerns.
The stakes in next year’s election are too high to ignore hard political reality. Remember how we got a 6 to 3 hard-right majority on the U.S. Supreme Court? Elections do have consequences.
Local Media Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable trust that provides support for the Word In Black collaborative, does not endorse political candidates. Word In Black, however, invites and publishes opinion essays, including this one, from vital voices and opinion makers central to creating equity in Black communities.
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