I’m too tired to care who wins the Democratic nomination in 2020. And I'll bet you are, too.
Sure, sure, I care deeply — or, at least as deeply as I am able to actively continuing to care almost a full year before primary voting starts and 620 days before the actual election — about the next presidential contest, and I want whoever faces off against President Trump to win. But right now, in February 2019, knowing that we're only one month into a new Congressional session, and facing 18 months of campaign dispatches, proxy battles on Twitter, alarmist fundraising emails and who knows how many more candidate announcements, I get why so many people don’t watch the news.
And when Sen. Bernie Sanders announced his 2020 bid on Tuesday, I wanted to load my brain into a computer simulation and set the dial to “swimming with pigs in the Bahamas.”
Everyone in America faces a barrage of breaking news, often political, at every turn, and it feels like the presidential campaign machine has been grinding in the background of any space with a television since shortly after President Obama’s second inauguration. Social media is flooded with conspiracy theories and outright lies about the news and every politician. Videos of white people verbally assaulting people of color regularly go viral. Celebrities weigh in on everything from January’s government shutdown to taxes to gun laws (and that’s just Cardi B, who at least explains things coherently). And now we're being served by breathless coverage of every introductory diner visits in Iowa, lunch in New Hampshire and online fundraising drive results.
It’s particularly exhausting that at a historic moment — when five women have already jumped into the 2020 race — it is impossible to escape sexist tropes in media coverage that should have been retired when Murphy Brown first went off the air. Instead of digging into the (sometimes legitimately troubling) professional records of Rep. Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Sens. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Harris, D-Calif., Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Warren, D-Mass., there is footage from fried chicken dinners (Should she use a fork? Is hot sauce an appropriate condiment?) and deep dives into their perceived “likability,” which research has shown to be an almost impossible standard to meet. How is this helping? Does anyone outside the bubble really care (and should anyone)?
There would be time for some of these unnecessary conversations if billionaire dilettantes like Howard Schultz and his wealthy supporters weren’t sucking up air insisting that pro-business centrism is what America needs. Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, has virtually no popular support and has no vision for how to address entrenched inequality, but he still got an hour-long televised CNN town hall. He’s doomed to fail, but he’s rich, which means he’ll get another few months to rail against Medicare for All while his former company installs needle disposal boxes in some stores to deal with detritus from the nation’s opioid crisis.
And then there’s Bernie Sanders, whose 2016 campaign helped motivate millions of young voters and change the public conversation around climate change, our broken health care system, corporate greed, and capitalism as a system; his supporters also helped change the conversation about how rude discourse online was only a right-wing thing. His fundraising in the first 48 hours of his 2020 campaign shows that millions of people still believe in his vision. But it’s easy to worry his presence in the race means that those who question his age (it is a four-year term), his thoroughly-explored blind spots on race and gender issues and his opposition to gun regulations will end up getting harassed and hectored as they did in the 2016 primary. It’s good for him to be in the race, and if he wins he deserves party support, but that doesn’t mean I have to be excited.
What depresses me most about the months between now and November of next year — about all of the terrible Trump impressions on late night television and SNL stunt casting and coming memes and gaffe-watching — is that everyone in the U.S. should be a single issue voter on climate change and no one cares.
Without a massive, unified effort, climate change and its social consequences will devastate Earth and every species on it, and even if that work started today, we could only hope to mitigate damage that has already been done. The Trump administration has already made it clear through its policies — relaxing environmental protections, doubling down on dirty fuels like coal and oil, supporting foreign leaders who scorn established climate science, to name a few that it values corporate profits over the lives of future generations. Young voters in America recognize how dire the situation is; they overwhelmingly support proposals like the Green New Deal because they know incremental change isn’t enough.
Every candidate in the race right now should be thinking about that, not about how to appeal to Trump voters in so-called “swing states” like Ohio.
As someone who lives in a solidly Democratic state and who has a college education, mediocre health insurance and no student loans, I have the luxury to get exhausted by the 2020 primary. Most people don’t have enough money to cover a $400 emergency, have school or medical debt, and have little or no retirement savings. Economic inequality and precariousness is why teachers have gone on strike this year in Los Angeles, Denver and West Virginia, why newer politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have become stars, and why socialism is gaining in popularity among Americans.
But as long as the 2020 election and coverage of it follows scripts from last century, focusing on the horse race as though governing is about personality and not policy, I’ll stay tuned out, and I won’t be the only one.