Will Hut­ton: A new pro­gres­sive US is slowly taking shape

The ad­vances made by lib­er­als last week ren­der Trump’s talk of all-out vic­tory ab­surd

The Observer - - World -

O’Rourke made lib­er­al­ism pop­u­lar in Texas of all places – and he al­most won


has been a dark two years in Bri­tain and the US. The fu­ture had seemed to be cap­tured by the worst of the An­glo-Amer­i­can right, a pop­ulist, anti-for­eigner, anti-EU, ultra-lib­er­tar­ian, anti-com­mon de­cency al­liance that extended from Donald Trump via Nigel Farage to Ja­cob Rees-Mogg. They were the masters now. If you be­lieved in any­thing pro­gres­sive, for­get it.

Tues­day’s midterm elec­tions in the US did not lift the pall, or so it seemed at first glance. Trump in­sist­ing on “a near-com­plete vic­tory” in the hours af­ter the polls had closed when the Repub­li­cans had lost con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives was vain­glo­ri­ous over­claim­ing, but it was not wholly stupid. The im­me­di­ate con­sen­sus was that the hoped-for Demo­crat wave had turned out to be lit­tle more than a rip­ple. They had not won as many seats in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives as they hoped, while the Repub­li­cans seemed to have con­sol­i­dated their grip on the Se­nate. Where Trump had cam­paigned hard, the Repub­li­cans had won. The odds of him be­ing re-elected in 2020 had short­ened. Pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics was dy­ing.

But look again a few days later and the story is very dif­fer­ent. More Amer­i­cans turned out to vote in 2018 than in any midterm elec­tion since 1966 – and more than 10 mil­lion more of them voted Demo­crat than Repub­li­can. As the late counts come in, the Demo­crat tally of gains in the House will top the tar­geted 30, in­clud­ing what seemed like im­prob­a­ble wins in Repub­li­can strongholds in well-heeled sub­urbs. This is the strong­est re­bound in re­cent decades and in an elec­tion year when the econ­omy is boom­ing.

The pic­ture in the Se­nate is also much more mixed than it seemed on Wed­nes­day morn­ing. The Democrats held Mon­tana when it seemed lost, they took Ne­vada and at the time of writ­ing are ahead in Ari­zona. In Florida, the race is so tight both for the gov­er­nor­ship and Se­nate that there will be a man­ual re­count. Sher­rod Brown won Ohio, a state that went for Trump in 2016, by a stun­ning 10% mar­gin. The three states that handed Trump the pres­i­dency – Wis­con­sin, Penn­syl­va­nia and Michi­gan – now all have Demo­crat gover­nors. Texas, one of the most con­ser­va­tive states, was only nar­rowly held with Beto O’Rourke fall­ing just short against the Repub­li­can in­cum­bent. For Trump to call this a near com­plete vic­tory is fatu­ous.

O’Rourke’s cam­paign was par­tic­u­larly il­lu­mi­nat­ing about what is hap­pen­ing in the US. He’s an across-the-board pro­gres­sive with openly lib­eral com­mit­ments: univer­sal health­care; an as­sault on misog­yny; pro-im­mi­gra­tion

(it makes the US strong); for ac­count­able cap­i­tal­ism and gun con­trol; and in favour of end­ing the fed­eral pro­hi­bi­tion on mar­i­juana. He was even against the mil­i­tarism of US for­eign pol­icy.

His cause seemed hope­less. He spoke in favour of black Amer­i­can NFL foot­ball play­ers who had taken the knee when the na­tional an­them was played (“There is noth­ing more Amer­i­can than to peace­fully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights”), courage of a high or­der in Texas.

But from an un­promis­ing start

– a cou­ple of friends and a rented car – his can­di­dacy caught fire. He cam­paigned in every one of Texas’s 254 coun­ties and through his web­site por­tal Ac­tBlue raised a stun­ning $70m. By the end, he had re­cruited 25,000 vol­un­teers; 71% of 18- to 29-year-olds voted for him, along with 39% of “An­glo women” – the most con­ser­va­tive in the US. He made lib­er­al­ism pop­u­lar in Texas of all places and came within a whisker of win­ning.

It is a pat­tern re­flected across the US. Sym­bol­i­cally, Rich­mond, Vir­ginia, the cap­i­tal of the con­fed­er­acy and the ul­tra­con­ser­va­tive city, fell to the Democrats. Al­most every city and large town in the US is now con­trolled by Democrats; 60% of women voted Demo­crat. The rightwing view is to mock as lib­eral fads “po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness”, the #MeToo move­ment, greens, cli­mate change, the young’s em­brace of the view that gen­der is a con­tin­uum, re­spect for other cul­tures, the grow­ing trend for veg­e­tar­i­an­ism. In­stead, let’s hang ’em, shoot ’em and fuck ’em – vote for Trump in the US (and Brexit in Bri­tain).

But the mes­sage of the midterms is that this is not what the vast ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans be­lieve in or want. The ma­jor­ity cul­ture so far has been de­nied its full ex­pres­sion by the US elec­toral sys­tem. Ru­ral con­ser­va­tive states such as Wy­oming and North Dakota, with fewer than a mil­lion vot­ers, re­turn the same num­ber of sen­a­tors as ur­banised Cal­i­for­nia with 40 mil­lion peo­ple.

Add the ger­ry­man­der of creat­ing ar­ti­fi­cial districts with Repub­li­can ma­jori­ties and sup­press­ing the votes of blacks and ex-pris­on­ers and the pro-con­ser­va­tive bias is near com­plete.

Yet the near­est the US has to a na­tional elec­tion where those pref­er­ences can be ex­pressed is in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. It now looks more like the US than ever – em­phat­i­cally con­trolled by O’Rourke-style lib­er­als with a record num­ber of women, of whom two are Mus­lim. Cal­i­for­nia and New York are now fiercely Demo­crat, as are the young, African Amer­i­cans and Lati­nos. They en­list so­cial me­dia, not in cen­tralised hot­houses and data farms, but in myr­iad in­di­vid­ual net­works. They are the fu­ture, re­ject­ing whole­sale Trump’s rhetoric and val­ues. They and O’Rourke’s charisma could carry the coun­try, mak­ing in­roads into the ru­ral and small­town US that its po­lit­i­cal sys­tem so priv­i­leges.

As in the US, so in Bri­tain. This is where our cul­ture is set­tling too, masked by our over­whelm­ing rightwing me­dia. Brexit, con­trary to Jeremy Cor­byn’s de­featism, can be stopped. A “peo­ple’s vote” would cap­i­talise on the same trends and save Bri­tain. All we need is the Labour party to wake up – and back it.


Il­han Omar cel­e­brates with one of her sup­port­ers af­ter win­ning Min­nesota for the Democrats.


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