In a Billboard cover story last week, knapsack enthusiast J. Cole admitted that he didn’t vote in the 2016 presidential election, claiming that while he would have voted for Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton just didn’t motivate him.
Naturally, he was roundly criticized for this—particularly since he’s considered to be (and shrewdly positioned himself as) an artist concerned with and invested in politics. How could someone so mindful of our history do something so disrespectful? How could someone who considers himself so smart do something so dumb? Did/does he not realize how dangerous and damaging the false equivalencies comparing Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are?
These (and other similar) questions are natural, damning and fair. They also might be the wrong ones.
Because if, for instance, my 18-year-old nephew watched the circus of the Judge Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings last week; and if he spent the last week watching CNN and MSNBC and Fox News; and if, after consuming all of this, he shared that he was deeply disillusioned with politics and not sure why he should even care, I’m not sure what I could say to sway him. Of course, I could remind him of the clear white supremacist bent of the Republican Party. I could teach him that as long as they’re in power, women’s rights and LGBTQ rights remain tenuous.
But then he could say, “If the Republicans are so bad and evil and the Democrats are so good, why did Barack Obama eulogize John McCain? And how did Michelle Obama and George W. Bush seem to become such good friends?”
And then I’d say, “Well, um, McCain and Bush were different. Republicans, sure. But they were decent people, and ...”
And then he’d say “But if Bush is so different and so decent, why is he trying to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed?”
And then I’d just take him to Chipotle.
Deciding to vote is, and will always be, the right answer. But considering this very real and very justified skepticism of politics and politicians —and also considering gerrymandering and voters’ rights restrictions and the rest of the obstacles put in place to make the act of voting a struggle—I just can’t begrudge someone whose response to this is “Fuck it.” I can be sanctimonious and self-righteous and attempt to shame them, perhaps. But when attempting to craft a compelling and honest counter to the voter apathy that 74 percent of 18-29-year-olds possess, I have nothing. Instead, I’ll just share what’s motivating me.
Of course, I recognize the danger of a right-leaning SCOTUS. Of course, I know the effect our elected officials have on the economy, our healthcare, our law enforcement, our education and criminal and environment justice. As theoretical and hypothetical and transparently performative as political arguments and campaigns tend to be, who we elect to office has a literal impact on the bodies we inhabit. For women, for people of color, for the LGBTQ community, for people who are not Christian, and for people who are not American-born Americans, this threat is critical. How America decides to vote can be the difference between life and death.
But the gravity-defying force that will lift me from my home on Nov. 6 and carry me to my polling station is schadenfreude. When I think of people like Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh—men who have never experienced any real disappointment or struggle or pain and are openly hostile towards and mocking of those who have—I just want those motherfuckers to lose. Same with all of the frothing MAGA motherfuckers who, as the Atlantic’s Adam Serwer articulated yesterday, mine glee from cruelty towards us. I want them to feel like shit, even if said shitty feeling only moderately interrupts the torrent of privilege, and I will derive more immediate pleasure from their defeat than our victory. Yes, the country will be a better and safer place if progressive politics win out, and this will make me happy. This will be a good thing. A great thing. But I also want them to be crushed, and this want for their political destruction and descent into self-doubt and irrelevance exists independent of the desire to win. And, also, it will bring my black ass joy.
I will tell my nephew this on the drive to Chipotle. And hopefully, by the time he finishes his chorizo and pinto bean burrito, he’ll agree.