A figure hurtles across a car park on a skateboard. On another day he plays punky riffs which echo out of his garage. These are not the weekend hobbies of a teenager whose politics can barely be articulated beyond anger at “the system” and whose intellectual curiosity extends as far as Trevor Noah. This figure is Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat who ran for the senate in Texas. Running for the reddest of Republican Seats, he came the closest any Democratic challenger has ever got to ousting the incumbent, Ted Cruz, just 2.6% behind. How much shady money did he have to accept to pull off this feat? None, he only accepted small donations from individuals. There was no compromise in his platform which was a liberal left agenda in a right-wing conservative state.
All across the US, the apparatchiks of the Democratic party establishment looked on in shock as younger, more vivacious, more ambitious (in terms of policy agenda not careerism) candidates ousted greying democratic incumbents in the primaries then take seat after seat from the Republicans. These young people, often women and people of colour, are the DSA, the ‘Democratic Socialists of America’. They include Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is currently fighting for climate justice in a New York sit-in, Julia Salazar alongside her, Rashida Tlaib in Michigan and several others. If commentators are to be believed, we might be witnessing the rebirth of the Democratic Party in these inspiring young individuals and the movement behind them. For all the talk of the #resistance that has seemed so empty before, this might actually be the real thing.
Although, if this is a rebirth of the Democratic Party, there is still a long way to go. The mid-terms were really a mixed bag. It is a positive showing for the Democrats, but by no means gives us a clue as to who will win the next election, if anything following the historical pattern it may suggest that Trump will win a second term. Obama, Clinton, Reagan, Eisenhower and Wilson were all two term presidents and all underperformed in the midterms.
It genuinely is hard to tell who came out on top here. On the one hand, the house intelligence committee is now chaired by a Democrat, so the investigations will now be devised and directed by the Democrats, a major victory as the previous chair was a Trump loyalist. However, Democrat-supporting journalist and Vox founder, Ezra Klein, argues that the midterms may be the harbinger of a Republican Congress much more loyal to Trump. Some have lost in the midterms, others are retiring or are, in the case of John McCain, now dead. But, in any case, the resistance to Trump from within the Republican Party looks set to crumble, and a series of ‘Trumpian’ yes men may replace them. Although Trump has disregarded some liberal democratic norms, he thus far hasn’t done anything particularly dictatorial or that far out of step with the programmes of Bush, Reagan or Nixon. However, Klein argues that this may have been because there were experienced Republican dissidents warning him that he could be impeached at every turn. In the likely event that loyalists are appointed to the congressional vacancies, the worst of Trump’s impulses may be enabled, rather than chastised. Without these dissenting voices, we might start seeing the executive effectively merge with the judiciary and dissolve checks and balances. If the Mueller investigation starts looking like trouble for Trump, the backroom conversations in which he suggests firing Mueller might now be met with “good idea sir” rather than a public warning from the more moderate in his party.
For all the talk of the #resistance that has seemed so empty before, this might actually be the real thing
There were high-profile scalps for the Democrats at the level of governor elections. Scott Walker, a hard-line, prominent Republican was ousted as Republican Governor of Wisconsin. But, there were also notable failures: in Florida, a weak Republican candidate held on, and in Massachusetts, in a traditionally blue area a Republican maintained a solid majority. This was progress for the Democrats after their wipe-out in 2010, but it is not the gutting of the Republican party that they would need to ensure an election victory.
What was striking about this election was the level of what in the UK we would probably call corruption that has gone on. Lines for voting extended beyond three hours in some places. There were essentially mass disenfranchisements which targeted specific groups, as anti-voter fraud law got stricter (despite the rate being minuscule) and, worst of all, the Republican candidate for the governorship in Georgia was currently employed as the election rules administrator for Georgia, in a truly shocking case of flagrant cheating. What’s perhaps most troubling about this though is that although the gerrymandering and intimidation of voters was baked into the system even before Trump, it is now just reaching its logical absurd conclusion and seems more pertinent in an age in which we are beginning to fear for the survival of liberal democracy.
What we have learnt from the midterms is that 2020 is very much open. There are rumours of Beto O’ Rourke running for president or as a high-profile VP; perhaps the Democrats will, revitalised, take back the White House as the other side of America they seemed to have shown at these midterms makes its voice heard. Or will the historical trends leave us with four more years of Trump? Only time will tell.