In a significant sense, of course, it was. Midterms are a judgment on the president’s performance, and they often display dissatisfaction with the person who was sufficiently satisfactory to win two years previously. Another interpretation is that with all the talk about blue waves and red waves, the country is out of phase with itself, and the two canceled each other out, and we are stuck with more of what we have dealt with for the last two years.
For months, I have been asked to be enthusiastic about the Democratic Party, despite the establishment’s message continuing to be “we’re not that guy.” This year, since that guy is mentally and emotionally a child with his finger twitching over a button that must never be pushed, holding the country hostage achieved some tepid success. But the leadership shows few signs of having learned anything this century. California continues to serve Dianne Feinstein, even though she prefers the money that healthcare lobbyists give her to guaranteeing medical services to everyone, and Nancy Pelosi, the presumptive Speaker of the House come 2019, declares herself to be a master legislator, though even her own about page struggles to name any achievement that ordinary people can point to as being good for us. She tells us that she “is fighting for the people, working to lower health care costs, increase workers’ pay through strong economic growth and rebuilding America, and clean up corruption to make Washington work for all.” And yet during her time in office, minimum wage has risen less than four dollars an hour, no public option was included in the Affordable Care Act, and the current presidential administration is setting records in sleaze.
On the day after the election, Pelosi vowed to seek bipartisanship in the next Congress, as if there is some common ground to find between people who those who want workers to earn living wages and everyone to have healthcare on one side and those who push dreams of white nationalism and an economy straight out of the depths of an Ayn Rand novel.
What progressives have to do is step out from under the protective embrace of the party establishment to show the country why what we have to offer is better. The planet is heating up, and we need to be working on switching to green energy. Healthcare costs continue to rise, albeit at a reduced rate when Republicans leave the ACA alone, and single payer is the answer. As Jeff Sessions is pushed out of the Department of Justice, being replaced for the moment by Matthew Whitaker, someone who wrote an opinion piece for CNN last year to say that Robert Mueller’s investigation should be curtailed, the power of the House to summon witnesses to appear under oath is an essential backup. And as the hourly wage continues to stagnate, despite Republican celebrations of economic growth, protections of worker rights and increases in worker compensation are obvious first steps to increasing economic fairness.
With control of the House, but not the Senate, a lot of that — minus the investigations, significantly — would go nowhere now. But those investigations have to be done, and taking a stand for something, whatever the probability of winning today or tomorrow, is preferable to doing nothing. Or what is worse, carrying water for the other side. Over the next two years, progressives in the House can work out the details of what they would pass with both chambers in their hands.
The biggest name in the list of progressives coming to the House in 2019 is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s 14th congressional district, but she is not alone. Rashida Tlaib, an activist for worker and immigrant rights, will represent Michigan’s 13th congressional district. Two years after the protests over a pipeline being built across Standing Rock Reservation land, Deb Haaland, one of two Native American women to be elected this year, will take the seat for New Mexico’s 1st district. And looking ahead to 2020, Bernie Sanders is giving signs that he will be a candidate again for the presidency.
All of this is to say that the potential exists to pull this country back from a collapse into fascism and to continue instead moving toward our national goal — present from the beginning, however slow we have been to fulfill it — of liberty and productivity for all. That potential is something that can only be realized if in each generation, in each election, we inspire voters with a good choice, not merely a not as bad variation on what the other party offers.