Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Trump and Biden Are Irrelevant in This Election

The White House Exterior with inset of Kareem-Getty
KAREN BLEIER/AFP via Getty Images; Allen Berezovsky/FilmMagic

In a final plea, the Hollywood Reporter columnist urges voters to reject the status quo: "For the first time, an election is not about the content of the candidates’ character, it’s about the content of the voters’ character."

This is the first presidential election in my lifetime in which the candidates are irrelevant. For the first time, an election is not about content of the candidates’ character, it’s about the content of the voters’ character. We aren’t selecting a president as much as we are proclaiming to ourselves and the rest of the world what America means: Either we want to be a theme park version of Mayberry in the 1950s, or we want to be a vibrant and vigorous leader in democracy that our founders envisioned. One is a simplistic soundstage illusion made of painted plywood that never existed, the other is a commitment to build a reality that embraces the U.S. Constitution’s values of equality and inclusion.

This election is like a UV light at a crime scene that reveals the blood, fingerprints and fibers hidden from the naked eye. Except in this case, the blue light is illuminating the dangerous subversives who openly undermine the country’s most sacred political and social values. A recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that 67 percent of terrorist plots and attacks in the U.S. in the first eight months of 2020 were carried out by white supremacists and other right-wing groups. This follows a report by the Department of Homeland Security that violent white supremacy was the “most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland.” And yet, Trump and his Republican talking heads — who not only don’t condemn such groups, but tell them to “stand by” — have instead tried to frighten us about the 15 million to 26 million protestors who took to the streets this year to support the end of racism.

The past four years have indeed been a crime scene in which the America of the U.S. Constitution has been duct-taped to a chair and relentlessly waterboarded by those chanting “Make America Great Again.” To them, Trump is not a real person, he is a cult figure in whom they have blind faith regardless of what he says or does. Evidence is dismissed — including his own recorded admissions of guilt that prove he has disregarded their welfare, health and even their lives. They worship their fantasy idea of Trump: a comic book maverick who doesn’t need to read, listen to experts, adhere to the rules of decency or follow any code of ethics. Instead, he fulfills their vision of America, not as a land of equal opportunity — but as a feeding trough only meant for those big enough and ruthless enough to bully their way to the front and consume all that they can. The rest can fight over whatever crumbs fall to the ground.

If you think that sounds harsh, then you haven’t been paying attention as the Trump Administration has reduced benefits for the poor, dismissed the existence of systemic racism, endangered the free press, and fought to reduce the rights of women, immigrants and the LGBTQ+ community. In Authoritarian Nightmare, authors psychologist Bob Altemeyer and former Nixon lawyer John W. Dean report that about half of Trump supporters agreed with the statement: “Once our government leaders and the authorities condemn the dangerous elements in our society, it will be the duty of every patriotic citizen to help stomp out the rot that is poisoning our country from within,” which Altemeyer and Dean describe as “practically a Nazi cheer.” For daddy-issue loyalists, Trump is an authoritarian ideal for those in need of a stern father figure to tell them what to think and do.

Perhaps the most evil, insidious and even traitorous action by Trump and the Republican politburo is the aggressive suppression of the vote of minorities, the poor, seniors and youth. For over 200 years, Americans have been proud of being a democracy that cherishes each person’s right to have their voice heard at the ballot box. And, though there have been many efforts in our past to exclude specific people — nonwhites, women, immigrants, the poor — the country has always risen to stop these efforts. Not this time. Trump, whose entire family votes by mail, has tried to undermine mail-in voting. During a pandemic. He influenced the U.S. Postal Service to cut back on sorting machines and mail pickups that may result in ballots not arriving in time to be counted. Republican governors have joined in the effort. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who should never stand near an American flag again, tried to limit ballot drop boxes to one per county. In one county that means one box for 4.7 million people. Federal Judge Robert Pitman stopped the order, writing, “By limiting ballot return centers to one per county, older and disabled voters living in Texas's largest and most populous counties must travel further distances to more crowded ballot return centers where they would be at an increased risk of being infected by the coronavirus in order to exercise their right to vote and have it counted.” However, the Texas Supreme Court temporarily reinstated the governor’s one-box-per-county order. Our finest hour?

And so it goes across the country. While we argue who won the meaningless debates, voting rights are being ruthlessly suppressed. In the face of this horrific activity, supporting Trump and his morally corrupt cronies like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham is like coming downstairs in the middle of the night to discover them robbing your home. When you confront them, they claim they’re just taking your valuables out for a cleaning and they’ll be worth even more when they bring them back. When they leave, you run after them with more valuables they didn’t find, begging them, “Take these, too!”

I like Joe Biden and I’m going to vote for him. In part, my support is because he’s a decent man who supports progressive policies. I’m also voting for him because he is emblematic of the America I have been fighting for over the past 50 years: one committed to inclusion and equal opportunity. I believe he will reverse the social, economic and moral nosedive this country has been in for four years. He will save lives and save jobs. Most of all, however, his election will send a clear repudiation to those who cling desperately to Trump that the time of arrogant ignorance and greed is over and they should return to their zombie-proof bunkers. It is a new Age of Reason and Enlightenment, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will lead us back to our legacy of an America for everyone.