In 1991, citizens of the great state of Louisiana found themselves with two woefully mediocre candidates for governor. That November, voters were forced to choose between Edwin Edwards, an incumbent candidate facing multiple charges of corruption, and David Duke, a former Klansman—or not vote at all. As election day neared, thousands of Louisiana voters made peace with their decision. Cars descended on the streets of New Orleans, Lafayette, and Alexandria in droves, adorned with fashionable Edwards bumper stickers that read: ‘Vote for the crook, it’s important.’
Edwards would go on to win in a landslide victory—61 to 39 percent.
Just mere days from the 2020 Presidential Election and voters are left with a similarly impossible choice. In the midst of a global pandemic and at the brink of a second Civil Rights Movement, the fate of the nation has fallen to the hands, or the votes, of the American public as they reckon between an establishment politician and the third president in U.S. history to be impeached.
While 2020 has raised obstacles for any campaign, Vice President Joe Biden has faced his own set of challenges during his bid for the presidency—one coming from his own party. As conversations between left leaning and moderate organizations intensify tensions within the Democratic Party, millions of voters are left deserted: disillusioned by Trump but grappling with the Democratic nominee. In the coming weeks, the American public must make a decision. Will voters unite behind the former Vice President and “settle” for Biden, or will the Democratic Party fail to coalesce in their most important election to date?
With a political landscape unlike any other in American history and a ubiquitous desire by the greater public for a change in leadership, the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primaries offered an array of candidates for voters to choose from. From establishment politicians to entrepreneurs, voters were met with a smorgasbord of policies, experiences, and political identities. Come time of the Iowa caucuses in February, the Democratic presidential ballot dwindled from a whopping 27 candidates to just a mere 11. And as candidates began relinquishing hopes for their chance in the Oval Office, so did voters, as many of them witnessed their beloved candidate leave the race.
In late spring, as it became abundantly clear that the Democratic Party was not ready to rally behind a far-left candidate like Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Vice President Joe Biden accepted the nomination for President of the United States. While some voters rejoiced in the nomination of a moderate candidate like Biden, others took the media to demonstrate their lackluster support. Hashtags like “vote blue no matter who” and “anyone but Trump” became the 2020 equivalent “Vote for the crook” bumper sticker.
Of those who boasted their lackluster support for Biden after witnessing the defeat of their own candidate was 19-year-old Chicago native and former Bernie supporter, Sam Weinberg. Founder of the Settle for Biden campaign, Weinberg took to social media just days after the suspension of Sanders’s bid for the presidency to encourage voters through sardonic and clever posts to just “settle” for Biden. Within months, Weinberg has transformed trifling graphics into a fully operational coalition with nearly two dozen team members and close to two hundred thousand followers on Instagram.
The most recent post, which displays Biden, bat in hand, reads, “Because a foul ball is better than a strike” and has already garnered thousands of likes. During an interview with The Politic Weinberg admitted that while “settle” may not be a “hugely enthusiastic rallying call,” he argues that with “the unbelievable incompetence of the current president, we are no longer just ‘settling’, we are saving lives and saving our democracy by voting for Joe Biden.” Operating mostly online, Weinberg hopes to reach “young disaffected progressives, people who supported Sanders or Warren, and are now thinking they should sit out the elation or vote third party because they do not find Biden particularly inspiring. And we are trying to push the message that the stakes of this election are way too high to cast a protest vote or stay home. That’s really the crux of what we’re doing.”
Come November, these young voters can be responsible for shaping the results of elections up and down the ballot. Constituting nearly 40 percent of the electorate, the largest percentage in election history, Millennial and Generation Z voters will need to turnout in record numbers if they wish to see a Democratic victory in November.
When asked how he has responded to voters who feel they are sacrificing their moral principles by casting a vote for Biden, Weinberg argued the illegitimacy of such a moral dilemma:
“That really comes from a place of privilege. And to me, that shows the people who would be able to survive another four years of Trump. Unfortunately, there are many people who quite literally cannot survive any more time under a Trump Presidency. Under Biden, progress is possible; under Trump, regression is inevitable.”
James Johnson-Brown, a 17-year-old activist from Los Angeles, California, also shares such a sentiment. Styling Warren-themed socks and a thirst for a more progessive and united political arena, Johnson-Brown embodies the flourishing nature of uprising young activists this nation has been waiting for. Before coming to work with Weinberg on the Settle for Biden coalition, Johnson-Brown found himself absolutely inspired by the “pure intent and brilliancy” of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) presidential campaign.
Earlier generations must be persuaded to vote in the interests of those who are most vulnerable, rather than themselves. For Johnson-Brown, it’s a given:
“Voting in its sense is an act of empathy. It is not selfish. It is ultimately the one act that we all do to contribute to a common good and a common vision for a shared future. You need to think about, when you cast that vote, not only how this will affect yourself, but also how it will affect other people. And you need to vote as if your life depended on it because there are lives that do depend on this vote. And the way you do that is by voting for Biden.”
When asked to rate his enthusiasm for Biden on a scale from one to ten, Johnson-Brown struggled to gauge his enthusiasm: “A strong four, maybe a five, maybe a three.” But when questioned how certain he was of supporting Biden in November, he immediately responded, “100 percent without a doubt.” Edmund Zheng ʼ24, an independent first-time voter, expressed a similar sentiment.
A first-year student in Pierson College, Zheng has also taken on the “settling” pride for Joe Biden. A former member of the ‘Yang Gang’ (supporters of entrepreneur Andrew Yang), Zheng explained that while he is not particularly optimistic about voting this November, he admits, “Biden is a better option than people give him credit for. He can unify people from both sides of the aisle and bring the narrative together.”
While Zheng would usually cast his vote in support of the Republican candidate, he declares that “the stakes are just too high” this election. When asked what about Trump encouraged him to flip tickets, Zheng acknowledged, “Definitely a combination of racist, aggressive rhetoric and the fact that he is trying to undermine American democracy.”
With such a dangerous leader-in-chief occupying the White House, the Yale College Democrats are also doing everything in their power to ensure Democratic victories up and down the ballot this November and to turnout 100 percent of eligible voters at Yale.
According to a report from the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, only 56.7 percent of Yale students voted in the 2016 presidential elections—only one percent higher than the national average. While Yale serves as a world-leading institution in education, the student body surprisingly lacks the inclination to uphold such a title in voter engagement.
In an effort to restore a sense of civic engagement and enthusiasm within the student body, Amy Zhou ʼ23, Communications Director of the Yale College Democrats, explains that the group is taking on several projects to not only increase voter turnout among students but also to increase civic engagement. Unique to this year, the Yale College Democrats have launched a Voter Engagement Faculty Outreach Toolkit to limit any barriers students may face on Election Day.
“The goal is to get as many faculty members as possible to make it as easy as possible for students who vote on election day to do so. We are encouraging faculty to not assign coursework or exams on Election Day,” Zhou noted, as well as “encouraging eligible students to register to vote, verify their registration, and request an absentee ballot if they are not voting in person.” So far, the toolkit has garnered over 30 sign-ons from various Yale professors.
Cormac Thorpe ’25 and one of the National Coalition Directors for Yale for Biden and a full-time field organizer for the Biden Campaign, is also working to increase voter turnout, challenging the “settle for Biden” sentiment.
Speaking with a genuinely enthusiastic tone for the Biden campaign, Thorpe commends Biden for his eagerness and willingness to appeal to young voters. As a young organizer himself, Thorpe highlighted the Biden campaign’s student coalition initiative as one of the primary means to reach young voters. Working within universities across the nation, this coalition primarily works to raise support among students and young individuals.
More importantly, Thorpe noted that the Biden team recognizes that with an increasingly active and informed younger generation of voters, it will take more than flashy concerts and celebrity endorsements to appeal to young voters today.
Explaining why his support for Biden was not just “settling,” Thorpe expressed an appreciation for Biden’s unique ability to unite the Democratic Party in an increasingly polarized time while simultaneously passing progressive legislation. Thorpe explained, “people are generally going to be voting from their hearts, and to win over their hearts you need to talk policy.” Thorpe goes on to address Biden’s work with the Sanders campaign to create the Unity Task Forces, in which Biden has adopted many progressive policies and thus ultimately garnered greater support from young voters.
Largely responsible for Biden’s adoption of progressive policies is none other than Bernie Sanders. Soon after Sanders’ campaign suspension, he teamed up with the Biden campaign to create joint unity task forces intended to incorporate progressive policy and personnel to shape Biden’s policy positions, his time in office, and the Democratic Party platform.
While Biden fails to meet the ambition of some of these task forces, Faiz Shakir, Sanders’s former campaign manager who has been leading the discussions of the unity task forces, suggests that the likelihood of actually seeing these policies take form under a Biden presidency are “very plausible”.
“Part of the reason Biden has moved to different policy positions is he sees where the political currents are taking the party. Biden is someone who understands that progressives are the pulse of this party, and that quality can be advantageous for us here. It is only going to take a degree of will power and political demand,” Shakir explained during an interview with The Politic.
In an attempt to please voters across the political spectrum, Biden has personified the tensions brewing within the Democratic Party between left leaning and moderate organizations, ultimately embodying both positions. While such tensions may at first seem to contribute to petty in-party fighting, constituencies must learn to instead view such tensions as a means of discourse and discovery.
Outlining the healthy nature of such variance, Shakir believes that this tension is in fact necessary for any vibrant and thriving ecosystem and can be perceived as a “pressure for change.”
The tensions brewing within the Democratic Party have illuminated civil discourse as one of the basic tenets of our democracy. And with a unique ability to initiate conversation and frame questions for the broader society, civil discourse has the unique ability to undermine the most important pillar of power: legitimacy.
Accordingly, it is in this exact moment that young voters who hope to seal a more progressive administration chart their future. While the electorate may have failed to nominate Bernie Sanders for President, there is no doubt that his efforts have ignited and expanded the progressive left, galvanizing a wave of young voters and new candidates to navigate the future course of our democracy.
“Bernie is someone who has a deep moral conviction of a just society that he fights for and he orients not around the politics of what’s possible but the politics of what’s right. And he built a lot of trust on that score, particularly around young people, and as a result has changed the consciousness of the nation,” Shakir said.
In this new journey, organizers and activists have joined arms, seeking to build on a progressive coalition by tapping into the energy of a national movement of young leaders and an increasingly engaged citizenry.
Speaking on the tenacity of such an energized and young constituency, Shakir touches on the pain of progressive voters in the current political economy: “If you are growing up in America, you are often worried that the current standard bearings of the Democratic Party are not going to feel your pain. You understand that the country you are about to inherit is deeply unequal and deeply unjust.” And for Biden to earn the enthusiasm of young voters, Shakir insists that Biden “has to continue to persuade people that he does feel their pain and that he will fight for them even when the going gets tough.”
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)—arguably the face of this movement—stands amid a cohort of movement-based candidates, including Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush, who make up a newer, younger, and more diverse class of progressive politicians. In them rests the ambitions of mostly young voters who are hoping to witness a more progressive-driven Biden administration.
Speaking to the effect progressive politicians will have on a Biden administration, Weinberg had the following to say: “We know that those figures are not going to put up with centrist policies from a Biden administration, and are going to hold a President Biden accountable for promises he has made during a campaign and will work to push him further to the left so that he is the most progressive president in American history.”
As a career politician, Biden is prepared to accept the responsibilities of being president and has created a space for himself to move in whatever direction voters demand. He often characterizes himself as a transition candidate, one clearing the path to a more progressive future, and if he wishes to be the most progressive president since FDR, as he has claimed, there is really nothing in his way. Insisting that Biden possesses such an ability, Shakir hopes Biden “sees this as an opportunity to do good.”
With the fate of our democracy at stake, the price of failure is just too high. And in 2020, with almost half of the electorate in the hands of young voters, many of us wield the agency to play a vital role in deciding this election.
Communities across the nation, in fact the world, have risked their livelihoods each day under a Trump administration. Black Americans, people of color, Native Americans, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, women, transgender folx, middle-class families, planet Earth—all have unjustly suffered, and will continue to suffer, at exponentially greater rates amid a Trump America.
A Biden victory does not guarantee an end to all suffering, but it can guarantee a start. In an increasingly radicalized time where the natural beauties of humanity are being displaced with ignorance and fear, the role to unite a more harmonious society falls among those who are most free. And as citizens of the free-world, it is not only our responsibility, but our duty to lead this nation, our nation, to a more equitable and just future. We are the missing ingredient—the ones who will decide whether or not America fulfills its role as one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.