When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit and changed everything, I began thinking a lot about the Kubler-Ross model of grief, which breaks the process of grieving down into five states: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The idea is that people work through these five emotions while grieving, and can bounce back and forth between different states. I found that scale helpful when processing my own feelings—so I started applying that basic framework to everything I experience, which I think is probably very healthy and smart of me.
For anyone halfway decent (i.e., anti-Trump), I think the announcement that California Sen. Kamala Harris will be Joe Biden’s running mate brings its own complicated web of reactions. With that in mind, I present the five stages of processing the news that Kamala Harris is Biden's vice presidential pick:
1. Excitement. Harris is the first Black woman to be on a major party’s presidential ticket! Hell yeah! I can’t wait to vote for her (... and Biden, too, I guess)!
2. Fury. Harris is the first Black woman to be on a major party’s presidential ticket? What the fuck! What is wrong with this vile, stunted, misogynist, white supremacist country that it took us until 20fucking20 to have a Black woman contending for vice president?
3. Anticipation. Remember the kids’ table at your family Thanksgiving? Well, the presidential election has its own version of this, and it’s called the vice presidential debate. And guess what, baby? That means Kamala Harris gets to square off against the homophobe-in-chief, our constipated Evangelical Ken doll himself, Mike Pence! Let’s all take a few minutes to remind ourselves just what a fierce, badass, #girlboss, #yasqueen debater Kamala is by watching her eviscerate the man who would later become her running mate:
If Harris can pick apart a member of her own party with such precision, imagine the kind of no-holds-barred approach she’ll bring when sharing the stage with the human equivalent of a none pizza with left beef, AKA Mike Pence. The VP debate is scheduled for October 7—mark your calendars now!
4. Ambivalence. Look, there’s a lot to like about Harris’ politics—particularly her more recent politics. As a senator and a former presidential candidate, she’s prioritized things like environmental justice, universal childcare, and grilling Donald Trump during his impeachment trial.
But we have to remember that Harris started her career as a prosecutor before becoming the District Attorney of San Francisco, and later served as the California Attorney General. That means her record is rife with the hallmarks of the “tough on crime” era: supporting policies that lead to mass incarceration, detaining trans women in men’s prisons, and declining to prosecute cops who killed people. There’s a reason the kids on Twitter like to call her Copmala Harris, and it isn’t because those kids love cops!
And forgetting individual candidate records for a moment, there’s also a not-infinitesimal chance that we won’t actually have a legitimate election this year. The Trump administration is intentionally bleeding the US Postal Service to death as it wages a misinformation campaign about the fake risks of vote by mail. Trump has even floated the idea of postponing the election until it’s safe to vote in person—and while he doesn’t have the authority to do that by himself, he could still use his power and influence to sabotage the election.
So while I’d love to sip coffee out of my new Biden/Harris mug in blissful ignorance for the next three months, I won’t be resting easy until 12:01 pm on January 20, 2021, assuming Biden and Harris win. And after resting easy for a day, I’ll be bracing to see just how effective and progressive the two of them are.
5. Acceptance. Ah, well, what are you gonna do? I believe conscious nonvoting can be a valid political choice, but it’s not one that sits right with me personally for an election that includes Donald Trump.
Any Democrat with a pulse for VP would have been fine, just like Joe Biden is fine, and there are aspects of Harris’ identity and politics that can drum up some genuine optimism. It’s 2020, and excitement, fury, anticipation and ambivalence are allowed to co-exist—in fact, a potent mix of strong emotions is pretty much what keeps me going right now.
And there’s one thing I think we can all agree on: Mike Pence deserves to have his ass handed to him in November.