Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The midterms 2018:
Presidential license to run roughshod revoked


IN RECENT WEEKS, President* Trump has worried and worried about a caravan of thousands upon thousands of people coming from the southern hemisphere to disrupt the American status quo. He might have paid more attention to the caravan of disrupters that’s been here for years and years.

The midterm elections just ended on Tuesday showed almost 100 million Americans casting ballots, voting with intensity approaching a presidential election, voting for a change from the unilateral, tirelessly transactional policies of the Trump White House. That change couldn’t be more obvious. On Election Day, voters launched Democratic lawmakers into power, recapturing the House of Representatives and gaining favorable outcomes in several state races.

The big-picture playbook went pretty much as expected, with Dems regaining the House for the first time in eight years, and Republicans holding on to the Senate. But old pieties went down to defeat. Efforts to advance the Dems’ more publicly egalitarian aspects were successful: The voters sent two Muslim American women — Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib — to Congress, in a time that couldn’t be more antagonistic to Muslim identity. Starting next year they’ll join more than 100 other women in Congress, a new record.

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For the first time, two Native American women, Sharice Davids of Kansas and Deb Haaland of New Mexico, were elected to the House; In Colorado, Jared Polis became the first openly gay man elected governor; two Latino women were elected to represent a state with a history of oppressing Latinos. And throughout the evening, newcomer after newcomer played a role in renewing the government’s compact with its people — and correcting the badly rewritten rulebook Donald Trump’s tried to impose on all of us.

By any reasonable metric, and despite the minimizing you’ll hear from conservative pundits, Tuesday was a huge day for Democratic candidates and the Americans who believe in the Democratic governing philosophy. Democrats engaged in wistful talk of a “blue wave” for the elections. Candidates won and candidates lost, but the blue wave that matters is the wave of diversity — racial and gender, cultural and experiential — that defined the elections that just took place.

On Tuesday, the country finally began to get serious about the erosion of voting rights and the rise of partisan gerrymandering. And Democrats expanded the ranks of governors, that tier of state leaders that form the seed bed of future national leaders (since a governor runs 2 percent of the country already).

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THERE WERE Democratic disappointments. Andrew Gillum, the disarmingly accessible son of a bus driver who rose to become mayor of Tallahassee, lost in his bid to be governor of Florida. In Texas, the wildly successful grassroots insurgent campaign of Robert Francis O’Rourke — “Beto” to his friends and seemingly everyone in America — came up short on Tuesday. O’Rourke lost by 3 points to incumbent, Sen. Ted Cruz, whose win Tuesday cemented Republican control of the Senate.

But even in a defeat there’s reason to be upbeat. Gillum narrowly lost to Republican Ron DeSantis by less than one percentage point in a reliably conservative state that Trump won handily in 2016. O’Rourke’s campaign, which captured the imagination of the national media and the culture at large, almost single-handedly defibrillated the hopes and aspirations of Texas Democrats, whom it’s safe to say haven’t had a lot to look forward to in recent years.

Tuesday’s results yielded surprise Democratic wins in several predominantly-Republican House precincts: The Michigan 8th House district, the New York 11 and 19, the Oklahoma 5, the South Carolina 1 or the Illinois 14.

And at this writing, the day after the vote, Democrat Xochitl Torres Small is poised to win the House seat for the New Mexico 2nd House district. She’d be the first woman to represent the district since its formation in 1969.

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Hidden in the results, the interstitial message in everything that happened on Tuesday, is the signal sent to the president*, whether he chooses to receive it or not. The balance of power has shifted in Washington, and what for him to this point had been a license to run roughshod over the Constitution has been revoked. The presumably activist Democratic House (taking office on Jan. 3) will make a point of holding Trump’s feet to the constitutional fire — and of making use of the oversight responsibility that’s the province of the House of Representatives.

Some reporters have been asking the wrong question of these soon-to-be-freshmen in the House: Will they pursue an agenda that focuses on health care and the economy — the two paramount concerns of voters on Election Day — OR will they go after House Trump with bared teeth and brandished subpoenas, eager to finally press Trump on violations of campaign and constitutional law?

The question, asked more than a few times already, assumes the next House of Representatives will only be capable of doing one thing to the exclusion of anything else. It’s a backhanded insult to a class of House newcomers that hasn’t even gathered for its group picture yet. The next House knows good and well: the answer to that question isn’t an either/or construct, it’s both/and. The next House will be ready to do the people’s business on health care matters, jobs and the steady state of the economy.

But the House of Representatives 2019 — representing the caravan of American voters in search of action and accountability — will also be set to engage the Trump White House, confronting the national pre-existing condition of a megalomaniac whose hostile takeover of the United States government and our collective sense of well-being makes opposition to him less an option and more an existential requirement, not so much a matter of party politics as a matter of self-preservation.

Image credits: Gillum: Colin Hackley/Reuters. Omar: @JordanUhl. Trump: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters vi The Daily Beast.

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