For the new Democrats, the fu­ture is bright

The Guardian - Journal - - Opinion - Jill Abram­son

There’s no deny­ing that the Democrats had a good night on Tues­day, even if un­likely fan­tasies of tak­ing the Se­nate re­mained un­ful­filled. Seiz­ing con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives was a huge vic­tory, for all it was ex­pected. Cru­cially, there were strong Demo­cratic show­ings in rust-belt states Don­ald Trump car­ried in 2016, and big wins in gu­ber­na­to­rial races, es­pe­cially in Kansas, where the odi­ous Trump clone Kris Kobach was de­feated by a sur­pris­ingly big mar­gin by Demo­crat Laura Kelly.

And even if they didn’t win, it was a dream de­ferred, not crushed, for two ris­ing African Amer­i­can stars: Stacey Abrams in Ge­or­gia and An­drew Gil­lum in Florida. Like­wise, Beto O’Rourke will cer­tainly be a Demo­cratic force for years to come, hav­ing come so tan­ta­lis­ingly close to un­seat­ing Se­na­tor Ted Cruz in Texas. No Demo­crat has done as well as O’Rourke did in that state in decades. He’s al­ready be­ing talked about as a po­ten­tial pres­i­den­tial con­tender.

One of the most hope­ful out­comes was the elec­tion of a far more di­verse Congress. Many more women en­tered the House, and a record 272 ran for Congress, in­clud­ing 84 women of colour. In Col­orado, Jared Po­lis be­came the na­tion’s first openly gay per­son to be elected gover­nor.

In other words, the re­sults make it clear there is trou­ble ahead for the pres­i­dent. The Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion has yet to re­port and, tak­ing the chairs of many im­por­tant com­mit­tees, Democrats will use their over­sight pow­ers to in­ves­ti­gate the am­ple trail of cor­rup­tion al­ready ev­i­dent. In a taste of things to come, those who will con­trol the pow­er­ful House ways and means com­mit­tee an­nounced on Tues­day night that they in­tend to de­mand the pres­i­dent’s tax records.

Nancy Pelosi, al­most cer­tain to be the next House speaker, promised late on Tues­day night “a new day in Amer­ica”. But as she spoke, she was sur­rounded by the age­ing mem­bers of her party’s lead­er­ship, demon­strat­ing the dif­fi­culty of mak­ing good on her pledge. Her im­me­di­ate chal­lenge is to usher in a new gen­er­a­tion of Demo­cratic lead­ers. (Pres­i­den­tial dream­ers such as Joe Bi­den and even Hil­lary Clin­ton are said to be con­tem­plat­ing run­ning once again.)

Democrats would be silly to dis­pose of the ef­fec­tive Pelosi, who is a great vote-mar­shaller. Oba­macare wouldn’t have passed with­out her. But the party has to be smart and not play on the pres­i­dent’s turf. It was heart­en­ing to see its can­di­dates stick to a co­her­ent mes­sage on the cam­paign trail and, with un­char­ac­ter­is­tic dis­ci­pline, fo­cus on health­care and the im­por­tance of cov­er­age for pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions. They need to keep it up. One chal­lenge they face is whether to lean to the left, re­spond­ing to the suc­cess of can­di­dates such as New York’s Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, or whether to stay closer to the mid­dle, in the hope of ce­ment­ing their 2018 suc­cess with sub­ur­ban Repub­li­can vot­ers, es­pe­cially women, who de­plore the neg­a­tive tone their party has adopted. Democrats are still badly split, just as they were in 2016 when Bernie San­ders ran against Clin­ton for the nom­i­na­tion. While for­mer pres­i­dent Obama emerged late in the cam­paign and fired up the troops, there is no clear fu­ture party leader.

The chal­lenges Trump faces in the fu­ture are even more daunt­ing, how­ever. House de­feats, par­tic­u­larly in Vir­ginia, where rightwing Bar­bara Com­stock lost, in Penn­syl­va­nia and other once very red states, in­clud­ing Texas, were part of a sting­ing re­buke for the pres­i­dent. An­other Trump clone, Steve King of Iowa, won by only three per­cent­age points in a dis­trict that Trump car­ried by more than 20 two years ago.

The tone of Trump­ism is still of­fen­sive to many vot­ers, even if the base eats it up. It will take a long time to wash off the stain of Trump’s cas­cade of lies at his clos­ing ral­lies. In­vok­ing the “car­a­van of in­vaders” at ev­ery stop, he in­sisted dis­ease, crime and worse were mass­ing on the south-west­ern bor­der.

It’s been shock­ing to see al­most no Repub­li­cans of con­science speak­ing out against these slurs or the pres­i­dent’s words. Will this hold for the next two years? Mitt Rom­ney, who on Tues­day was elected se­na­tor for Utah, force­fully de­nounced Trump in 2016. Could he emerge as a voice of con­science?

In the New York Re­view of Books re­cently, Christo­pher Brown­ing wrote a bril­liant and dis­turb­ing ar­ti­cle ti­tled Dis­man­tling Democ­racy 1933 v 2018. Whether demo­cratic val­ues will be de­stroyed by the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis Pres­i­dent Trump has cre­ated is still a haunt­ing ques­tion. But on Tues­day, an an­swer be­gan to emerge: it won’t hap­pen here.

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