Political Opinion | October 31, 2020
Fatima (Fatos) Argun, (she/her/hers) is an international business and policy professional, management consultant, facilitator, and writer. She serves as an elected member of the Arlington Democrats Steering Committee and Vice Chair of its Interfaith Outreach and Advocacy Caucus. She also served as a member of the Turkish American Women’s Forum. Ms. Argun is a past Presidential appointee and most recently was a Biden delegate from Virginia to the Democratic National convention in 2020.
As we approach the end of the election season and begin considering who we, as Turkish Americans will vote for as President, as well as the Congressional and local candidates to support our Presidential pick, it’s important to stop and think about where we are as a country, how our community will be affected, and know that we are in a powerful position to make positive changes.
In considering who we will vote for on or before November 3, it’s important to realize the enormous consequences our vote will have—in arguably the most important election of our lifetimes. These decisions will allow us the opportunity either to course-correct, or to continue down the path of uncertainty, anxiety, and chaos of the last 4 years.
Our Turkish-American community is a diverse group—of socio-economic classes, political leanings, ethnic and national origins. Many of us are beneficiaries of major changes in US immigration policies in the 1950s-60s which opened the floodgates to skilled professionals and promising graduate students who left the Turkish Republic to come to the US–a brain drain of talent seeking better economic opportunities for themselves and a more secure future for their children.
Fast forward to the third decade of the 21st century, where our Turkish American community has grown to nearly half a million, is largely well-assimilated and per capita, is more prosperous than the average. Many of us live in or just outside large urban centers in states such as New York, California, New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, Illinois and Virginia, that will be critical for electoral wins in the 2020 election.
Although many of us still have strong family and sentimental ties to Turkey, as the 2nd, 3rd and 4th generations of Turkish Americans take root, they are increasingly focused on the dynamics here in the US—and are concerned by the policies and governance of the administration of the last 4 years. The COVID19 pandemic in particular has exposed serious gaps in leadership and competence, revealed disregard for facts, ethics, norms of governance, rule of law, respect for science, and experts—whose advice, if followed, would unquestionably have saved a great many of the 200,000+ lives lost during this deadly pandemic.
We Turkish-Americans should be hopeful for a change in leadership this November that will restore greater confidence in democratic traditions and norms here at home, and also once again allow America to assume its role as a trusted leader on the world stage, and be an example of a functioning democracy—one that will be in a stronger position to encourage a return to democratic norms in Turkey, while strengthening the existing bilateral relationship based on shared democratic values.
As a former public servant who has worked in both the executive and legislative branches, I understand how critical public confidence is for democracy—and know Joe Biden can fulfill that promise and provide hope going forward for an America in the midst of a trifecta of a major health crisis, an economic downturn and civil unrest—all of which threaten our democracy. Below, I’ve outlined a few key policy positions of a Biden-Harris administration that I think are important for me as a Turkish American, who cares about the direction of this country and the future of democracy—here and in Turkey. I hope you will consider them also.
Management of COVID 19—Although we are all eager to get back to normal as soon as possible, management of the pandemic will take time, patience and competent leadership. Lack of a plan since the start of the pandemic, has cost us time and lives. Joe Biden’s plan to manage the health crisis includes regular (free) testing with rapid results, treatment, and a vaccine when one becomes available. Biden supports a policy that trusts and respects health experts and scientists and strongly encourages mask wearing to reduce further spread. As many of us are educated in the sciences and/or medical fields, we can easily relate to the importance of respecting scientists and doctors and allowing objective facts and data to drive public health decisions. And we are already experiencing the consequences of not doing so. Not respecting medical experts is not an option.
Health Care—as the COVID19 pandemic isn’t expected to be resolved soon, the issue of health insurance becomes even more acute. As the Trump administration’s policy is to continue to chip away at key elements of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), in particular, going to court to remove protections for pre-existing conditions (in the middle of a pandemic), Joe Biden will, by contrast, protect this key provision, and expand upon ObamaCare, including the choice to purchase a public health option like Medicare, which will reduce costs and improve the efficacy and quality of care. Biden will also expand access to Medicare by lowering the eligibility age to 60. Access to this extended safety net will be particularly important to those of us with pre-existing conditions, disabilities, special-needs and new immigrants in our community, who may have more limited resources.
Education—We Turkish-Americans understand the value of a good education. Many of us and/or our parents and grandparents came to the US not only for better living and working conditions, but also to study and allow our children to benefit from some of the best educational opportunities in the world. Joe Biden offers a policy to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for all students whose family incomes are below $125,000, as well as providing two years of community college or other high-quality training programs, without debt. Biden has also proposed forgiving all undergraduate tuition-related federal student debt from two- and four-year public colleges and universities, for debt-holders earning up to $125,000. This will allow more high achieving students the opportunity to reach their full potential and flexibility for families at all income levels to help their children advance in their professional choices.
Climate Change and Job Creation through Clean Energy— Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan will ensure a comprehensive plan to help us Build Back Better as we emerge from this profound public health and economic crisis, and help us face the persistent climate crisis by launching a national effort aimed at creating jobs to build a modern, sustainable infrastructure now and deliver an equitable clean energy future. Biden will immediately invest in engines of sustainable job creation – new industries and re-invigorated regional economies spurred by innovation from our national labs and universities; commercialized into new and better products that can be manufactured and built by American workers, including millions of construction, skilled trades, and engineering workers to build a new American infrastructure and clean energy economy. These newly created jobs will create pathways for young people and for older workers shifting to new professions, and for people from all backgrounds and all communities. Their work will improve air quality for our children, increase the comfort of our homes, and make our businesses more competitive. Biden will make a $2 trillion accelerated investment, with a plan to deploy those resources over his first term, setting us on an irreversible course to meet the ambitious climate progress that science demands.
Empowering Women—As the author of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994 and its subsequent reauthorization in 2019, Joe Biden understands the value of supporting women, and recognizes their enormous potential for contributing to our country’s continuing advancement. As President, Joe Biden will move the VAWA Senate bill off Mitch McConnell’s desk (as he has refused to allow it to come up for a vote), and use the leverage the Presidency affords him, to finally make the VAWA law. Biden established the first-ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women during the Obama-Biden administration and launched a national campaign to change the culture surrounding campus rape and sexual assault.
Biden’s policies of empowerment are also reflected in his support of passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, (ERA) to the Constitution, ensuring equal pay for equal work—and full reproductive rights for women, in an environment in which these rights have been put into jeopardy, particularly with the latest judicial confirmations to the Supreme Court.
Joe Biden understand the importance of, and moral obligation to, keep families together, and will end the cruel practice of separating parents from their children at the border and putting them in cages, with no expectation of being reunited with their families.
Turkish-American women are the inheritors of a culture of equality instituted by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who also understood the potential of women nearly a century ago, and encouraged their economic and social advancement. Joe Biden is comfortable with strong women. He is married to one, and has chosen Senator Kamala Harris—a Senator and woman of exceptional accomplishment–to be his running mate. Like Atatürk, he will work to ensure that women—in America and around the world, have a seat at the table, and receive the respect they deserve on all levels.
Beyond the policies I’ve outlined, this election is really about who we trust to be the moral compass for our country–ethics, judgement, facts-based policies, and doing what is best for America. We Turkish Americans have the opportunity to reverse the lack of confidence in America from leaders all over the world in the past 4 years. We can benefit from the steady and proven leadership, policy professionalism and experience that Joe Biden would bring to the presidency. Biden has been tried and tested through nearly 5 decades as a respected public servant–including the 8 years of the Obama-Biden administration, which implemented the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) a landmark law bringing affordable healthcare options to millions–that is now in jeopardy. A vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris offers the Turkish American community a return to compassion, steadiness and decency, and leadership that will take responsibility and make putting the needs of all Americans first, a reality—not an empty slogan on a red baseball hat. Joe Biden is a leader that respects the checks and balances so critical to preserving public confidence. He understands he is accountable to the people and the rule of law—and that being elected President means he is there to serve the people of this great land.
It’s time our leadership once again reflected our principles. A vote for Joe Biden is a decision that will put us back on the path to restoring our democratic traditions, and will indeed allow America to Build Back Better. It’s a critical course-correction decision that we, as Turkish-Americans have the power to make, can be proud to be part of, and for which future generations will thank us.