The Resistance Strikes Back
It’s been awhile since I’ve written here. The attacks on democracy — from the Trump administration, but also through the tacit and even active support from the overwhelming majority of GOP officials and operatives — have come in such relentless waves that as soon as I start drafting one piece, events overtake me. So apologies for the seeming silence — it’s not that I’ve gone dark. There’s just so much; and the unremitting lies and corruption and debased behavior have, despite our collective outrage, been normalized and permitted, and they continue. Rather than give rise to a Joseph Welch, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” moment that turns the tide, Trump’s outrages yield no check or accountability. Instead, the word “scandal” attaches to each unprecedented and abusive and dangerous act, but is quickly subsumed by another, with each one eventually simply becoming fodder for impotent, fatalistic jokes about “the new normal” and “par for the course” and “what do you expect”.
From his staggering callousness toward Puerto Rico and attacks on its mayor, to his Chief of Staff’s hideous racist lies about Congresswoman Wilson, to his cabinet members’ defenestration of the agencies they are supposed to run, to his abuse of the presidency to hawk golf courses and his cheap merchandise and his hotels, to his petty vendettas against news organizations and American athletes protesting police violence, to his assault on the rule of law, to his deliberate courting of nuclear war, to his threats against the press and political opponents, to his attempts to hijack our intelligence agencies for personal gain, and about 100 different things in any given week — Charlottesville seems a year ago — it is so difficult not only to keep up with the onslaught, but to process it and not give in to despair and rage, to maintain hope and to keep working for change, in the face not only of opposition but of apathy and disillusionment, to work within the very institutions that we are trying to protect but that Trump is actively undermining, along with our collective faith in those institutions.
It has truly been a terrible year as norm after norm of democracy and decency has been shattered, as brazen corruption, cruelty, deceit, and bigotry have been gleefully embraced by Trump and have flourished and metastasized with the support of a GOP so hellbent on further enriching the .05% that there is no amount of personal vindictiveness, no shredding of constitutional norms, no national security risk, no indecency they are not willing to tolerate, and no amount suffering that all but two or three of them are not willing to inflict on their constituents, in service of that unholy goal of forcing upon us the kind of catastrophic and permanent nepotism-based income inequality that destabilizes democracy and defines banana republics and authoritarian states.
Last night’s election victories, on the eve the anniversary of Hillary Clinton’s shattering electoral loss to Trump, were a desperately needed jolt of hope. In fact last night was the first night in this entire last miserable year that I have felt genuine elation, and even joy. Victories, not only where we desperately needed them, but in places where I did not dare hope we would succeed. Victories by diverse and often female candidates. An African-American woman became mayor of Charlotte and an African-American woman is poised to become mayor New Orleans. The Virginia House of Delegates will be tied or may flip blue, with at least ten white male incumbents, most if not all rabidly anti-choice and several anti-LBGTQIA, ousted by women: two Latinas, an African-American woman, an Asian-American woman, a transgender woman. An African-American immigrant became mayor of Helena, Montana as progressives swept the city council. A gay trans woman was elected mayor of Minneapolis and St. Paul elected its first African-American mayor. Democrats flipped seats blue in deep-red Georgia. A Sikh was elected mayor of Hoboken. An openly gay woman became mayor of Seattle. A gun safety advocate won in rural Virginia on a platform of reducing gun violence. It went on and on, as Democrats swept Virginia and racked up wins in New Jersey and flipped control of the Washington state senate blue. A personal friend, who is Southeast Asian-American, won her election as a New Jersey freeholder. Women, women of color, men of color, immigrants, LGBTQIA candidates, non-Christians — people representing the gorgeous diversity and vibrancy of America and all the promise and potential that that diversity brings, elected to hold office, in a giant embrace of inclusiveness and a giant repudiation of Trump and his party.
Yet the joy I felt was laced with a relief so lacerating that I cried as the results for Northam came in.The relief was on multiple levels. First, defeats would have been soul-crushing and hope destroying. Indeed I did not know how the Democrats would be able to raise money and successfully exhort people to do the hard work of organizing and voting in 2018 if they had suffered major defeats last night. And I did not know how I would have coped with a seeming affirmation of Trump after all these months of his abominations, rather than the repudiation he deserved. Second, the victories in Virginia spared us the endless headlines about the Democrats in disarray, unable to win even in a blue-ish state in the face of a deeply unpopular and grotesquely unfit president. We did not have to read, yet again, about how if only a “neoliberal” or “faux liberal” had not run for Governor of Virginia, the race would have been won. (This was especially important given Donna Brazile’s spectacularly self-serving, irresponsible, and defamatory book tour, which could not have been more divisive if Putin or Trump had orchestrated the contents of its excerpts.) Third, because Gillespie’s embrace of Trumpian tactics failed in a quasi-swing state, that failure will serve as a caution to Republican candidates thinking about using similar divisive messaging in 2018, whereas a victory by Gillespie would have ensured widespread replication of the Trump strategy of overt racism and xenophobia.
I allowed myself last night to savor that joy and relief.
But I am under no illusions about the road that lies ahead for us in the coming months and even days, and neither should you be. Last night’s incredibly sweet victories in Virginia, and in elections at all levels across the country were the result of very hard work — sustained citizen activism and effort. Donald Trump is wildly unpopular among every except the narrowing base of Republicans, but it still took unprecedented amounts of organization, money, time, effort, and commitment to win these races. Organizations like Flippable, Sister District, Wall of Us, Indivisible, Move On, and countless local resistance groups mobilized people to action and we did the work. I have never before in my life phone banked for any state-level election candidate, much less local candidates out of my own state — but I did it, and so did thousands of others.
Democrats face deep structural obstacles to retaking the House and the various state legislatures: the twin scourges of gerrymandering and voter suppression. Gerrymandering means that we need to get our voters out in droves, to secure victories of well over 50% — more in the league of 54% — in order to win races. We win popular votes across states but we lose seats due to gerrymandering. But voter suppression makes that challenge even harder, as GOP-controlled states have enacted laws that are surgically targeted to suppress the votes of Democratic-leaning voters. Some of these laws have been overturned, and the Supreme Court is considering a new challenge to extreme partisan gerrymandering which, if successful, will have extraordinary implications for 2018 and would result in redrawn districts. But every time the GOP goes back to the drawing board, it finds another way to disenfranchise Democratic leaning voters. The Republican Party is not a party that bothers itself with the fine points of fairness, justice, or democracy. They can’t win based on their policies — which hurt most Americans and favor only the few — so they resort to chicanery.
Democrats also face, and are part of, a deeply polarized electorate, which makes flipping Republicans to our side something of a pipe dream. I have personally been sick unto death watching certain Democrats, as well as independents and pundits and writers, almost all of them white men, lament that the Democratic Party supposedly has no economic message for the economically anxious and disaffected voters, especially white male voters. I disagree, as the Democratic Party is the only party with any ideas or messages to address the economic concerns of most Americans; the GOP has nothing to offer except tax cuts for the wealthiest and the evisceration of regulations enacted to help American consumers. I also reject that message because it privileges the needs of white males over all others, dismissing issues of vital economic importance to those who are not white straight Christian men as mere identity politics, while allowing the bigotry on which the GOP depends for electoral success to go unchallenged as “economic anxiety” rather acknowledging it for the divisive, discriminatory identity politics favoring white men that it is. And while I see the dangers of litmus tests, I cannot support a party that will re-orient itself away from its values to chase the votes of Trump supporters. If the only way to win elections is to adopt Trump’s tactics, our society is both doomed and not worth fighting for.
There is a better way even when we face structural and financial challenges: getting more people to the polls. And the way to do that is to register more voters. Only about 37-41% of eligible voters in this country participate in mid-term elections; even during presidential elections, participation is rarely tops 60% (2008 for Obama was an exceptionally high eligible voter turnout with 61%). So anyone who wants the Resistance to succeed should be singularly focused on voter registration. Anyone can register new voters; you do not need to be trained (though you do need to do it correctly and without regard to party). If there is one thing people focus between now and the midterms it ought to be increasing the number of registered voters in areas where we think the voters are likely to vote Democratic or are persuadable. We need not only to fire up the base, but to expand it, and the results will be good not only for the Democratic Party but for participatory democracy. Too many people do not participate because they do not see the point or feel left behind. Engaging our fellow citizens is a public good and it is a civic action we can all help with. My resistance group is holding monthly voter registration drives. They are not large efforts but little by little we are getting people registered, and in local elections especially, every vote counts. Registering new voters and getting them to the polls are the key to winning in 2018. We’ve got work to do, but if lat night’s elections showed us anything, it’s that if we do the work, we will win.
No one is going to save us from Trump and the GOP but us — not Mueller, most certainly not the GOP, and not the outnumbered Democrats. Let’s get voters registered and to the polls so that we can wrest this country away from the vandals.