For workers, women, people of color, and others who are continually marginalized and abused, there was a lot to cheer about as the midterm election results rolled in on Nov. 6.
Some of the worst right-wing bullies nationally went down to defeat, like Scott Walker and Kris Kobach. Others were schooled with razor-thin margins of victory against uppity “nobodies.”
Advances at the state level included ballot measures hiking the minimum wage, restoring voting rights to people with felonies on their record, protecting transgender people from discrimination, and legalizing pot.
Despite Trump’s narcissistic boasts about his value to the Republicans, about 70 percent of the candidates he supported went down to defeat. Republicans did hold on to the Senate, but the big news was that voters for the most part rejected the politics of fear, exclusion, and bigotry. They elected Native Americans, Muslims, LGBTQ people and record numbers of women to Congress and to governors’ seats, state legislatures, and more.
Millions of people in homes around the country — and no doubt around the world — breathed a sigh of relief.
Now the question is this: what will they get for their trouble, the people who stood in five-hour lines and battled voter suppression to say no to Trump and his policies? Will their choices make any difference to the status quo of growing homelessness, collapsing infrastructure, unlivable wages and rising white nationalism?
In a time of crisis, a one-note campaign. Credit especially goes to voters who renounced Trump’s pro-corporate racism and sexism given how weakly veteran Democratic politicians presented themselves as an alternative.
These Democrats stuck to the party line with an almost single-issue campaign: elect us to protect healthcare coverage for preexisting conditions. Important, yes, but this was their top talking point while Trump was demonizing a caravan of desperate refugees as an “invasion” and a hotbed of terrorism!
After Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, party leaders managed to turn out thousands of people into the streets on a moment’s notice to “protect the Mueller investigation.” Why didn’t they do this, and much more, in response to Trump’s sustained attack against the caravanistas? Because they lack a moral compass. Instead, Democrat-in-chief Nancy Pelosi is constantly reassuring the right wing that her party understands the need to, in her words, “protect our borders and defend our values.”
This too is an expression of nationalism and scapegoating. Blaming the victims of capitalism’s ever-growing slide into chaos for the country’s loss of “values” is a shady bipartisan affair. Challenging this cynical ploy, while sturdily defending its targets, is the only way to win working people to an international class perspective that names the real enemy.
Immigration was not the only issue Democratic leaders ducked. Were we offered bold, encompassing plans to tackle the absolutely crucial problem of climate change? No. Did we hear pledges to slash the military budget and end U.S. wars? Again, no. And the list goes on.
Of course there were exceptions among the candidates. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Democratic Socialists of America and other reformists running as Democrats appealed to voters because they didn’t seem cut from the same mold as Pelosi and her cronies. They stood for many things that would really help people, like abolishing ICE, establishing “Medicare for all,” or instituting a universal basic income.
To realize any of these goals, progressive Democrats would have to fight against right-wing headwinds, but also their own party leadership. And, if history is anything to go by, they are more likely to be changed by the establishment than to change it in any lasting, significant way.
The trap of the two-party system. People in the U.S. are notoriously pragmatic: they want to see concrete results. And the country’s system of voting offers only two “practical” options: Democrat or Republican. By design, the obstacles that minor parties face in getting their message out and getting on the ballot are generally insurmountable. It’s no wonder that mass disgust with Trumpism resulted in a blue wave of sorts. What else could voters do?
Of course, people can just opt out. A kind of shadow third party does exist: nonvoters. Although smaller than usual this time around, this bloc is huge. In the 2016 election in which the Electoral College installed Trump in the White House, 39 percent of voting-age citizens sat it out.
But a majority of people do want to exercise their democratic right to vote, and many are still forced to fight hard for it. They deserve more and better options. Let’s see if the new crop of progressive Democrats takes up this issue.
What happens next? It’s widely understood that this midterm election has solved nothing. On the contrary, it has opened the door to more conflict and instability for the powers-that-be as Democrats in the House of Representatives, propelled there by the grass roots, face off against a Senate and Supreme Court controlled by the right wing.
Who can make the difference in this scenario? Workers and oppressed people can. But it will take nothing less than organized struggle in the streets, workplaces, unions, schools, feminist and LGBTQ communities, and neighborhoods of people of color and the poor.
The source of people-power is not the ballot box; it’s making your voice heard outside the twin-party shuffle! Let’s take our inspiration from the real heroes of 2018 — striking teachers, marching women, victors against dangerous pipelines, anti-fascist counter-protesters, and all the others who “vote” every day by putting their bodies on the line for change.