As the last few monumental months have forced Americans to evaluate what they truly envision for the future of their country, this year’s upcoming presidential election tests how far we’ve come. However, our problems are further complicated as an ancient pull-of-forces increases mounting tensions and continues to leave our country divided. The same founding principles that self-proclaimed patriots continually find their grounds for rationale in remain ignored. The idea that political factions lead to hyper-partisanship and a divided republic has been lost in other outdated constitutional chaos. Although the creation of different political parties is fairly inevitable in any mass and modern democracy, the continual build of partisan fractures based on geographical and cultural differences, as well as the greater nationalization of politics, has created a distinct and genuine two-party system with no overlap. All elections are a zero-sum game. At its core, there’s little tolerance for criticism as voters are expected to vote blindly for their professed party instead of the candidate they may truly favor. So from a comprehensive standpoint, our system leaves no room for the representation of “radical” third party voters and their fundamental beliefs which refuse to concede to either of the two major parties’ platforms.

Although toeing the party line is seen as a natural part of party membership, the fundamental goal of any candidate during their campaign is still to accumulate enough widespread support as to win. In terms of securing the vote of the aloof party straggler, centrist-leaning views have held the supreme key to power for the Democratic Party. Looking at the record of Democratic presidents, it becomes clear that these individuals had no realistic chance of winning by playing solely to liberal and progressive bases. The last Democrat to actually do so was Lyndon B. Johnson back in the 1960s. Democrats achieve success by creating a message popular enough to sway independent and swing voters, not just to appease their loyal following.

Today the liberal-moderate rift within the Democratic party has split to unprecedented proportions. Although the share of Democratic voters who describe their views as liberal, and the 15 percent of them describing their views as “very liberal,” was increasing fairly steadily beginning in the 2000s, these “very liberal” voters remain the Democratic minority as compared to percentage of Democratic voters who claim to be moderate and conservative-leaning within the party. None of this is to say that moderate Republicans don’t exist, just that in a party that’s fairly ideologically autonomous, they’re an irregularity. To have any success in the GOP, fortune-wise especially, you support and rise with the party or you fail. In the last few years, most would-be moderate Republicans have either chosen to wholeheartedly support Trump or outright leave. But this isn’t just a modern trend. Moderates have been abandoning their Republican counterparts for a while now, not only as elected Republican officials have become more extreme but their increasingly influential media, donors and general activists have too. Fundamentally, the face of the Republican Party is one marked by oppositional propaganda driven by unparalleled hatred at its core. Like the hard right-wingers, as the moderate Democrat forwards lukewarm plans of action and grows their following, party voters have either been pushed to the sidelines or out altogether.

To put this ideological rift into greater perspective, in a recent national Gallup poll on party affiliation, 41 percent of respondents claimed they were Independent voters, while 31 percent claimed they were Democrats and the last 26 percent Republicans. Whereas societal norms have always led us to believe, simultaneously, that it’s our American duty to vote, but voting for a third party is a vote wasted, election times prove more than disheartening. We’re unfairly directed to settle on the “lesser evil” of one of two candidates. In the era of Trump, anyone is presented as a better option. The story is we must unite to defeat Trump and that’s all there is to it. End of discussion. The Democratic Party has capitalized on the utter desperation of the American people to simply not vote for Trump. In this way, it is beyond crucial, now more than ever, to understand the difference between Democrats and those coerced into voting Democrat.

In denial of health care system failure deeply exposed by the coronavirus pandemic and after a summer of one of the largest civil rights protests in the nation and world, 2020’s leading presidential candidates chose not only to ignore both sentiments, but disagree with them strongly. They’ve taken their stance against transparent core necessities like universal health care and the end of privatized insurance, as well as even marginally defunding police departments and redistributing funds (back) into community-based programs. Although this may be surprising to hear coming from the players who supposedly champion liberal policies, consistency is key. It’s not only the consistency of the widening moderate-liberal divide, but of the Democratic representatives themselves. The barely center-left brand that makes up the Biden-Harris presidential bid, aids in proving both statements true.

Biden, who despite being accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women, still refuses to take accountability and apologize for his behavior. He’s not the only one, as the Democratic National Convention (DNC) is almost equally complicit as the perpetrator himself. Echoing the sentiment, main accuser Tara Reade has slammed the DNC for gaslighting survivors, and even that they’ve been participating in the abuse to the extent of enabling alleged perpetrators like Biden. While the DNC acts as great proponents of the #MeToo movement, they can’t seem to practice what they preach. Even so, he’s better known for authoring the controversial 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, a single but central part of his entire “tough-on-crime” political career. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was an escalation of the war on drugs, viewed by many as a direct contributor to high mass incarceration rates of the 1990s through funding state prison construction.

While consistently boasting of his close ties to the Black community, as well as a record career of advancing civil rights, Biden is no stranger to racially questionable statements either. This May, Biden unironically told the Black host of the radio show, “The Breakfast Club,” that “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.” Although he took back the statement later that day, it’s clear the confidence of our Democratic nominee doesn’t come from his own personal grit, righteous social influence or cultural sensitivity. Biden’s self-assurance comes from the fact that he is simply not Trump.

Passing up stronger progressive choices in line with the most fervently widespread political sentiments of the last six decades, Biden chose Kamala Harris as his VP pick. Although it’s absolutely historic that a woman of color was nominated, Harris is by no means a friend to either group nor a proponent of the intersectional future most progressives envision. A self-proclaimed moderate, Harris’ political and legal experience concerns her past career as California District Attorney and Attorney General. Quite literally, her career is built off incarcerating poor brown and black folks on minimal charges for maximum sentences. More specifically, she spent years going after and jailing truant parents, despite the fact that truancy occurs disproportionately among children living in poverty, who feel unsafe at school, who work to support their families, or who have mental and/or physical health issues. Additionally, Harris spent years ignoring the Supreme Court’s ruling of Brown v. Plata, which stated California’s debilitating overcrowded prisons violated inmates’ Eighth Amendment rights. Whereas the solution was to simply identify and release prisoners already due to be released, she found no willpower to comply. Essentially, Harris has no idea of what the criminal justice system truly means for poor Americans, and further believes there’s somehow a place for incarceration in a proper education policy.

Obviously the lack of officials seeking tangible reform in many of America’s degraded spheres, so gut-wrenchingly highlighted over the past few months, is bound to draw in criticism. Still, in the case of the modern Democratic party in particular, it’s received almost as disrespectful to question our ballot choices. Despite many of its forefront representatives ignoring the literal millions of policies Americans are demanding, we should feel grateful that at least one of the two candidates isn’t a fascist. But criticism of Biden and Harris is not a vote for Trump. It’s simply criticism of these candidates. The brutal antagonism within and between our two parties, or the multiple parties masquerading as two, makes honest conversations about those vying to represent us much more challenging than necessary. Under the unyielding mass impression that you’re either “with us or against us,” the two-party system will continue to hold the people and our hope for the future hostage.

Miranda Jackson-Nudelman is a senior majoring in political science.