Remember this in 2020, you don’t have to vote

We might end up with two racist billionaires competing for power

Michael Bloomberg brought to mind the insidious infiltration of racism in every aspect of American life last week when stories about his record on race relations surfaced. They included his defense of “stop and frisk” a.k.a. a Terry stop from the Terry v. Ohio Supreme Court case, which allows cops to search civilians and suspect without “probable cause to arrest” if they have “reasonable suspicion.” The Court argued in 1968 that such stops don’t violate the Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure. So, in effect, cops can search anyone of which they are reasonably suspicious as long as they have articulable facts, which can be found on most of us, for what it’s worth. A high murder rate in big cities led to the use of this policy, which became quickly racialized in New York City (and in other cities), and Bloomberg is taped recording that he had a preference for Terry stops in black and brown neighborhoods where he thought “more crime happened.” This is technically legal because the Court also allows for pretextual stops, and only 16 states do not allow pretextual stops based on racial profiling. Cops can stop you for any reason, and they can frisk you if they have “reasonable suspicion based on specific and articulable facts that you have a weapon on you.” So it’s a mess. You can see how power would be abused here and how race, in particular, would play a significant factor. It is another piece of evidence that showcases our proverb in Circle of Hope:

In the United States the sin of racism impacts all we experience. It is a fact of life for which the dominators are accountable.

Here’s a 1936 map of Philadelphia that shows how redlining worked. You can see that the historic black and immigrant neighborhoods suffered the most, and what’s worse, any revitalization that’s occurring in the neighborhoods is largely the result of transplants moving in, and isn’t actually expressed of the uplifting of generations affecting by racist redlining.

Bloomberg isn’t the only one that thinks like this, but he’s been in the news this week, so I thought he was a good example. Here’s another one from the former mayor. In 2008, the Mayor suggested that the the Great Recession (the economic downturn of the global economy from 2007 to 2010) was the result of “ending” redlining. The economic downturn was caused, in part, by the subprime mortgage crisis which saw a decline in home prices for two reasons: increase in subprime lending and also housing speculation. People thought houses were more valuable than they were, and banks gave our loans, with adjustable interest rates, to people with bad credit history. I think this is a predatory practice that targets people of color in particular, giving them a loan they can’t afford with a variable rate.

Bloomberg said that ending redlining caused it. Redlining is the practice of banks avoiding residents of “high risk” areas to make any sort of real estate loan to, even ethical loans. Bloomberg basically said if it wasn’t for banks lending to poor people of color, none of this would have happened. Of course, that’s a racist lie, but nevertheless one that the mayor articulated.

Redlining is a racist act that actually kept communities of color and immigrant communities in cities like Philadelphia subjugated with limited opportunities.

Bloomberg is a flagrant racist (here he is using prison labor for his campaign) and if you want to read even more, check out this damning article on him from the Washington Post. I’d like to just brush him aside, but through his eternal amount of money he is unlikely to go the way of Andrew Yang and Kamala Harris and all of the other drop-outs any time soon. He is buying his way into our lives and into name recognition, whether you’re watching TV or YouTube.

And so there is a likelihood that come November, we’ll be in a race between two racist billionaires. And I just want to say, it is further evidence, should I have ever doubted this, that the American political economy and liberal democracy are not tools for a revolution or for redemption. Voting is practical at best, and I think that the dismal choices that we may have showcase this.

Obligating someone to vote is idolatry; it’s worshiping another God.

Look, I’ve made my opinion about Trump more-than-obvious. The archives are full of comments about him. And I think, as a matter of pragmatism and for the sake of the Christian witness (allow me to parrot Christianity Today here), Trump’s removal from office is paramount. But I don’t think I can do it at a sacrifice to my morals or my dignity. Which means I can’t just rely on the electoral system for my salvation. But it’s surprisingly difficult to make that point without getting the liberals to tell you you are complicit in electing Trump should he win in November.

I’m amazed at that sort of American way of thinking. It’s a wonderful expression of the myth of liberty and freedom, the myth of a government by the people, that somehow makes the electorate responsible for the actions of their leaders, instead of making their leaders beholden to the electorate. Saying this another way, the least democratic thing to do is to coerce people into voting for fear of what an elected leader might do to them. That is putting the pressure on the wrong people, and that brand of civil religion, where my fulfillment of my civic duty is the seed of my liberation, is actually one that enslaves you to the ballot box.

I’ve voted in every election, every year (twice a year), since I was of age, and I do so with the greater good in mind, with the idea that voting is worth the amount of time that it takes. But I have never done it as a duty or a responsibility. And I refuse to do it that way, especially when my options are this terrible. Voting as “damage control,” or “harm reduction,” has a time and place, I suspect. It would be nice if every Christian sort of had that mentality, that we’re participating in electoral politics as a stop-gap between now and our full redemption. But even that sort of tenuous relationship, for those of us who have positioned themselves as prophetically against culture, has obvious limitations, and it is up to the individual and God what those are.

Coercing someone into voting against a president, and then burdening them with the responsibility of what the president does is backwards. Compulsory voting is a violation of my freedom of religion and freedom in Christ. Shaming the people that don’t vote, even the ones that don’t conscientiously vote, is a tool of liberalism, which is a religion alternative to Christianity. It’s true that some people want to vote and can’t, and that there are people in power that want to limit people’s right to vote, or render their vote meaningless via gerrymandering, so not every statist is intent on making you vote. But for those of them that believe in the religion of liberalism, voting is paramount.

Your individual actions do not account for the evil in the world

But voting is just a matter of practicality, not morality. And at the same time, our greater conviction and morality may prevent us from participating in the state’s contest at all. And if the powers want us to participate, it is their responsibility to make that happen. If the people are dissatisfied with their options, or worse, if they are indifferent to the outcomes because they offer no material consequence to them (and voter turnout rates suggest such indifference), then it is the responsibility of their leaders to change that (should they want to).

As for Christians, our loyalty and responsibility isn’t to the state, nor is it to participate in their systems of change and control. We have a higher calling, one that can extend to the ballot box, but not necessarily so, and in fact extends much further. Our law is love. That’s the law of Christ. To love God, to love others. If the state can aid in that endeavor, fine; for the most part, the state impedes that endeavor, and in order to honor God first, we need to protest the state. Sometimes that looks like picking the lesser of two evils, but other times it looks like not voting at all because the miserable choices we have perpetuated the evil that is before us, the ones we are resisting.

I don’t feel compelled or coerced into voting because of shame, because the “foolishness of God is higher than human wisdom.” I’m not responsible for the world, and my individual actions do not account for the evil in the world. We aren’t the sum of the evil, and so our individual actions, while they are important, are not the only tool we use to change the world. We are in need of divine intervention; not just better behavior. This goes for voting against Trump or eating an Impossible Burger. Ethical actions might make us feel better personally, and they may even actually make an impact (carpooling, eating less meat, and so on), but the myth of the democracy and of liberalism is that those individual choices give us what we get. The idea that ordinary people are responsible for the misdeeds of those in power is one way to lighten the pressure off of our leaders and increase hostility among us.

We might be less polarized if we didn’t resort to dehumanizing our political opponents, and instead focused on the ones who are trickling down the philosophies that lead to their own toxic empowerment. That is to say though while we are not fools, we are starved people, looking for a savior, and we just may buy into the idea that a political leader is one of them. We are vulnerable to exploitation, and while that’s not an excuse, it is a cause for sympathy.

For the Christian who votes, we need to see it as a necessary evil, in and of itself, but we need to be ready to not participate if our conscience keeps us from it. We are conditioned to think in terms of civic duty and we are coerced into voting (even though we aren’t legally). And in this extremely polarizing election, with a plainly wicked president, our loyalty to God might be compromised because we believe our loyalty to the state is our only way forward. We might start shaming people that aren’t voting and hold them responsible for the misdeeds of their rulers. I hope we can resist that idolatry. Start with loyalty to God, and see if that moves you toward participation in the state. Allow God’s love to transform us as we seek to love God and our neighbors (and enemies).

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