The stakes are high in this election. We all know it, and the tension just keeps mounting. In my mind, politically charged violence is at a fever pitch, and the people with the most at stake are those whose bodies are on the margins. At the same time, theories of social justice and intersectionality have advanced into the everyday realms of social media and public discourse. In some ways we have a political climate that is entirely new and more robust than ever.
It is against this backdrop that some of the most notable candidates of recent history are running.
Where do they stand in relation to the lives of the oppressed?
How do their campaigns measure up through the lens of radical self love?
These questions are important to me even though I can’t vote in this election. I’ve lived in the United States for over half my life. While I’m here, my body is on the line. Even if I left tomorrow, the outcome would still affect me; the ramifications of U.S. politics are far-reaching. So I ask myself: who are these candidates, and how might they shape the world I live in?
Evaluating each candidate from an intersectional perspective is no small task. In this article, I briefly explore the four leading mainstream candidates – their platforms, their histories, anything that could lend insight into how they fit into the framework of oppression. I look at a range of issues affecting different marginalized groups to see whether their actions have the effect of deconstructing oppression, or reinforcing it.
The truth is that all four candidates have serious problems. For the most part, every positive note comes with a significant caveat. It’s disappointing to know that no one represents the full interests of all marginalized peoples. Nevertheless, after extensive review, one candidate seems to me somewhat more aligned with the principles of radical self love. In my personal opinion, Bernie Sanders* is not the subversive we are looking for, but he seems to have the most potential to reduce inequity during his term. This is key for clearing the path to empowerment.
This is not a comprehensive evaluation, and we encourage you to do further research and make your own choices.
Over the past year, the Vermont Senator has gained attention for being a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, and for his call to political revolution. His campaign centers on income inequality, progressivism, and economic populism. He relates most social ills back to the fundamental problem of a runaway billionaire class, and plans to introduce a number of new social programs, such as taxing Wall Street to provide tuition-free higher education. This is notable because economic barriers, such as to education, are themselves a potent force of marginalization.
He is strongly pro-choice and has consistently voted in favor of reproductive rights, including paid family leave, and women’s rights such as mandated equal pay. He was a vocal proponent of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. More recently, he called for a “serious national discussion” on campus sexual assault, proposing that schools respond to assault allegations by involving law enforcement – a questionable strategy.
He has spoken out and voted against discriminatory anti-LGBT legislation throughout his career, but he did not openly favor marriage equality until 2009. With prompting from activists, he has spoken out on trans-specific housing and immigration justice.
Though he generally has a strong civil liberties voting record, it took multiple interruptions by Black Lives Matter protesters at his rallies for him to introduce legislation, called, The Justice Is Not For Sale Act, which would ban federal contracting of private prisons and end the detention of migrant families at the border. In 1994, he voted in favor of the Violent Crime Control Act, the crime bill that has been responsible for twenty years of mass incarceration in America.
Sanders plans to aggressively expand Social Security by increasing benefits, eliminating the income-based contribution cap, and improving cost-of-living adjustments. He also aims to address senior poverty by establishing a minimum benefit. He devised a single-payer health care plan (a plan in which the government pays for citizens’ medical costs, but does not own or operate the infrastructure) that would cover mental health care. However, he recently drew criticism for his use of ableist language in debate.
In November, he unveiled an immigration plan – the most detailed of any of the candidates – which he would initiate within 100 days of taking office. He promises pathways to citizenship for over nine million migrants, a reformed visa program, an end to government contracting of private detention centers, and rewriting of bad trade agreements. His voting record on immigration reform is mixed; notably, he was part of a push to undermine a 2007 immigration reform bill on the grounds that its guest worker program would drive down wages domestically. This was an instance of him prioritizing domestic workers’ rights over the rights of migrants.
In October, he swore to take the lead in anti-Islamophobia, and has since condemned the Islamophobia of the GOP. He is in favor of welcoming refugees from the Middle East, but but he supports airstrikes in Syria. This is a major contradiction in ethics, since airstrikes are a significant driving force of displacement and political instability. It also shows a willingness to destroy brown lives as part of his political agenda.
He claims a “neutral” stance on Palestine, which often equates tacit endorsement of the status quo of Israeli occupation. He refused to attend this year’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, however, after 18,000 people signed petitions asking him not to. He was the only leading candidate who abstained. In a speech he gave regarding the conference, he spoke extensively of America and Israel’s “friendship”, advocated a two-state solution, and denounced numerous transgressions on both sides.
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The Secretary of State’s nomination, if she won it, would be unprecedented. Whether or not she would go on to become the first woman president, she will already have broken new ground as the first woman to lead a mainstream political party. This in itself would be a significant accomplishment, and a powerful moment of representation and symbolism for women.
Clinton has been consistently pro-choice throughout her career, and is currently pushing to repeal the Hyde Amendment, a “rider” that severely limits federal funding for abortions. She has voted for accessibility of contraception and emergency contraception in a variety of contexts; she wants to make abortion “rare”. She advocates equal pay and paid family leave. She has condemned the campus sexual assault crisis, emphasizing prevention, resources for survivors, and disciplinary proceedings.
She is a staunch pro-capitalist with deep-running ties to the financial industry. Over 10% of her campaign funding – upwards of $20 million – comes from financial service institutions. For those issues on which her stated position leans toward progressive, her rhetoric often belies the truth of her voting record. She has been caught contradicting herself on issues ranging from gay marriage and Obama’s immigration plan, to universal healthcare, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and more.
She has stated that she will defend Social Security, and push for improved benefits for “our most vulnerable seniors” – though she has been unclear about who or what is entailed. Clinton currently supports Obamacare, and wants to improve affordability by setting a $250 per month maximum cap on prescription drugs for chronically and seriously ill persons. She’s emphasizing mental health treatment, and has laid out an ambitious plan to create and expand services for people with autism.
In recent years, she has become decidedly pro-LGBT and has made numerous pro-LGBT campaign promises, including swearing to “address the crisis of transphobic violence”, highlighting women of color. As Secretary of State, she advocated for LGBT rights internationally. On the other hand, she was openly against gay marriage until 2013, and during the course of her email scandal it has been revealed that she was responsible for certain anti-LGBT moves behind the scenes.
Her current campaign supports immigration reform and pathways to citizenship, and is calling for an end to immigration raids. However, she previously accepted donations from two of the largest private prison detention center operators in the U.S., and in 2014 she called to deport child migrants fleeing violence in Latin America.
In 1994, Clinton was a vocal supporter of the Violent Crime Control Act, and she rallied support for the bill by characterizing African American youth as “super-predators”. She also supported the 1996 move to slash public welfare by $54 billion, doubling extreme poverty in the U.S. Much of that money went to increasing the country’s penal budget by 171%.
Since meeting with ColorofChange, her campaign has donated contributions from private prison and detention center corporations to the Women’s Prison Association in New York, stating, “we should move away from contracting out this core responsibility of the federal government to private corporations, and from creating private industry incentives that may contribute—or have the appearance of contributing—to over-incarceration”.
Clinton has denounced the Islamophobic rhetoric of the GOP, but she has always been a staunch supporter of American militarism in the Middle East – a major cause of anti-Muslim aggression in the U.S. She supported the Iraq War, NATO’s bombing of Libya, the CIA-backed removal of Assad in Syria, escalating the war in Afghanistan, expanding Obama’s lethal drone program, and more. The bloodshed caused by these actions says more about her valuation of brown lives than her campaign promises.
More Radical Reads: We Are What We Eat: Food Justice as an Act of Radical Self Love
The name “Trump” is the dirty word of this election. His wanton antagonism has dominated media narratives, mostly to his advantage, so I’ve chosen to devote minimal space to him here. The sheer force of his hate speech has shaken all stripes of marginalized peoples to the bone, and has stirred bigoted violence across America. From advocating (in the most offensive terms imaginable) the mass torture and execution of Muslims, and the construction of a Mexican border wall, to mocking a disabled reporter at a rally, and his unending tirade of misogyny, his ceaseless slandering has made spectacle and sport out of terror and abuse. His extraordinarily repressive ideology has even earned him the title of fascist. Suffice it to say, Trump is no friend to the oppressed.
Potential ineligibility aside, Texas Senator Ted Cruz is currently seen as the GOP’s strongest non-Trump candidate. As horrifying as it has been watching the Trump campaign unfold, in terms of its actual substance the Cruz campaign may be just as bad.
Cruz is a Christian fundamentalist whose rhetoric has on more than one occasion surpassed that of Trump’s for its sheer egregiousness. His campaign is equally reliant on the racist double-whammy of militant anti-terrorism and border security. He wants to “carpet bomb” the Middle East, and not only does he support Trump’s border wall, he wants Trump to be the one to build it. Lying, smearing, and fear-mongering have led to longstanding allegations of McCarthyism (though Trump has now been accused of the same).
He is emphatically against the Black Lives Matter movement, saying that it’s “suggesting and embracing and celebrating the murder of police officers”. He strongly condemned the Flint water crisis, but upon visiting Flint handed out water exclusively at anti-abortion pregnancy crisis centers. He has strong ties with the American Legislative Exchange, a powerful “corporate bill mill” that fashions laws and lobbies in favor of for-profit prisons, harsher sentencing, “stand your ground” laws, immigration detention, voter suppression, “ag gag” laws, and more.
Cruz’s plan to replace payroll tax with a “business flat tax” would rework our economy to give workers more untaxed income, but it would increase the price of goods by at least 16-19%. This change would be harmful to retired and non-working persons because there would be no increase in benefits to compensate for higher prices. In 2013, he was responsible for a 21-hour anti-Obamacare filibuster, and wants to “repeal every word of Obamacare” as president. He is strongly opposed to ratifying the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.
He wants to severely restrict abortion access and entirely defund Planned Parenthood. He believes homosexuality is a choice, and has called marriage equality “the very definition of tyranny”. He is against transgender restroom rights, and wants to codify a legal right to homophobic discrimination in the name of religion. After last year’s Planned Parenthood shooting, he suggested that the attack was the work of a “transgendered leftist activist”. He claims to be an anti-rape advocate, but wants to appoint a known rape apologist to the Supreme Court.
*(This is the personal opinion of the author. TBINAA has not advocated any candidate who is running in the U.S. presidential elections.)