Friday, November 10, 2017

Flagging the Wave: The 2017 election

Russia voted last November. Last night, America voted.”
           —  @stevesilberman

A TRUISM of the human condition (and our equally human tendency toward impatience) has it that “good things come to those who wait.” The results of Tuesday’s various elections throughout the United States are a notable exception.

Democrats, 10 months tired of what passes for an agenda from what passes for a president and a Republican Congress, aggressively reasserted their identity and their demographic backbone on Tuesday, courting everyday people where they live and letting House Trump whet its appetite for self-destriuction.

The result — an Election Day of panoramic victory — may well be a sign of things to come, sooner and later.

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Where to begin? Let’s start in Hoboken, N.J., where Ravinder Bhalla, a Sikh American, was elected mayor of this small, progressive city across the Hudson river from Manhattan. “Given how much we’ve endured in this country, and frankly the fact that we have been here for more than a century now in the U.S. and have felt largely ignored and neglected as a minority community, this is for us a signal shift, where we feel like we’re getting on the map. This is a major development for us,” Simran Jeet Singh, a religion fellow at the Sikh Coalition, told The Washington Post.

In Philadelphia, Larry Krasner, a civil rights attorney who over the years sued that city's police department for various civil rights abuses, was elected the top prosecutor in Philly. Krasner, who was called “completely unelectable” by opposing forces just days before the vote, defeated Beth Grossman, a game Republican challenger.

Krasner’s soon to be in a position to change decades-old practices — cash bail, criminal asset forfeiture, the death penalty — seen as affecting minority communities more and harder than anyone else. “He has fought and continues to fight the racist nonstop police brutality epidemic,” Attorney Michael Coard wrote in the Philadelphia Tribune. “He is the blackest white guy I know.”

The Los Angeles Times reported: “His lack of experience as a prosecutor will be taken as something of a thumb in the eye of the 300 lawyers in the office he will soon lead. His numerous lawsuits against the Philadelphia Police Department will most certainly be viewed disfavorably by cops, with whom his prosecutors must work. His election, though, is a message from voters that they want to move more quickly down the road toward a sweeping overhaul of the justice system.”

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In Georgia, Democratic candidates flipped three statehouse seats in Pantone-red congressional districts. Deborah Gonzalez and Jonathan Wallace won election outright; Democrats Jaha Howard and Jen Jordan will contest for a seat representing the Atlanta area in a run-off election in December, The Hill reported.

Similarly seismic were events on Long Island, where Democrat Laura Gillen won a contest for Hempstead Town supervisor, defeating her Republican rival, incumbent Anthony Santino, and becoming the first Dem in the office in 100 years. Gillen ran a strong race, and capitalized on local GOP infighting that’s a microcosm of what the party’s going through nationally.

“Hempstead is typically a GOP stronghold, but the party has been rocked by recent infighting on the town board and the indictment of Councilman Edward Ambrosino on federal wire fraud and tax evasion charges. Fellow Republicans and town board members Erin King Sweeney and Bruce Blakeman have been publicly feuding with Santino over their call for ethics reform,” Newsday reported Wednesday.

Seattle elected Jenny Durkan, former federal prosecutor, as its first lesbian mayor, and the first woman mayor since Bertha Knight Landes was elected in 1926. Durkan handily defeated challenger Cary Moon, with more than 60 percent of the vote. Charlotte, N.C., St. Paul, Minn., and five other cities elected their first African-American mayors. One of those five was Helena, Montana.

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AND THEN there’s Virginia. The commonwealth on Tuesday took a deep pause in its long march toward cementing a conservative legislative identity. Democrat Ralph Northam won election as the next governor, trouncing the ever-bloviating conservative mouthpiece Ed Gillespie, whose unwise campaign was a mistake from the jump.

Virginia voters also elected the first Asian and Latino delegates in its history. The state elected its first Democratic Socialist delegate. And Virginia also elected Danica Roem to the House of Delegates — the second transgender statehouse legislator in the country’s history.

“This is our commonwealth too ... and we are stronger together,” Roem said on Election Night.

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So much for presidential coattails. Any hopes that Trump’s apparent triumph one year ago might have had collateral benefit in the downticket races were thoroughly dashed on Tuesday. The reason why has less to do with the candidates running in those races, and everything to do with the presumed standard-bearer of the Republican party.

With any number of actions and statements from the Oval Office, President* Trump and his selfish, tragically improvisational style of rule — you can't call it governance with a straight face — slowly toxified GOP prospects for the races that were just decided.

What remains to be seen is whether Trump’s presidential belligerence over the past year will have an effect on the congressional midterm election a year from now. The results of a new CNN poll, which found that 64 percent of Americans aren’t proud that Trump is president, don’t augur well for November 2018.

There takeaways from the vote just ended: First, don’t believe everything you read in cyberspace. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes tweeted Tuesday that, among other things, the election was “also a good reminder that broad center left coalition [is] not quite as mired in pathological infighting as it appears on social media.” Democratic candidates went beyond the comforts of social to get their message out. It’s possible that, given The Donald’s predilections for communication by tweet, the voting public found it damn refreshing to relate to real, live, flesh-and-blood candidates with something to say.

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SECOND, the need for a Democratic Party postmortem may be exaggerated. Tuesday’s election proves that Democrats can run as members of the Democratic Party — it’s not necessary for them to transform themselves into something they’re not in order to win again. Empathy for their constituents, an upbeat message, and an off-year variation of the same aggressive populism that helped Democrats win the White House and congressional races between 2008 and 2014 prove there’s nothing wrong with the Democrats that the Democrats didn’t already know how to fix. Once the taste of 2016 was washed out. Once they set their hearts and minds to what they've clearly already started.

Finally, the Republicans need to return to the bitter reappraisals started after the 2012 presidential election. For a few brief shining moments after that utter defeat, GOP thought leaders tried to come to grips with their party’s curious tendency to come apart at the seams. But nothing obscures the need for a course correction quite like a victory that suggests you don’t need a course correction. When Trump prevailed a year ago, any such brutally frank, road-to-Damascus moments got hijacked on the glittering highway to Mar-a-Lago.

In some important ways, the Republicans lost Tuesday's elections as much as the Democrats won them. Trump’s constant overreaching, in culture and policy, from the campaign trail to the Oval Office, made certain of it. Since a plurality of Trump supporters are still determined that his is the hill they will die on, more such losing is almost inevitable.

It took us a year for the Trump “era” to get to this point. Tuesday, the first election after the dawn of House Trump, was the first really irresistible, unspinnable indicator — likely to be continued over the next year — of how Trump time was always more an error than an era in the first place.

Image credits: Bhalla: @RaviBhalla. Krasner: Charles Fox/The Inquirer. Durkan: Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times.

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