The President's Column: The Midterms Gave Us Breathing Room But No Time To RestDecember 20, 2018
On the morning after the 2016 presidential elections we woke up to President Donald J. Trump. I knew we were in a world of trouble. I thought I knew, I should say. In fact I—and many others—could not imagine how bad things would actually get.
Never has such an unprepared, ill-suited person—someone completely ignorant of the role of the President of the United States and the workings of the federal government— entered the White House. Following the 2016 election have been two years of corruption, self-enrichment, hatred, racism, misogyny, bigotry and downright cruelty. Immigrants, people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and even victims and survivors of hurricanes and wildfires have been targeted. And the lies! The Washington Post counted nearly 7,000 in President Trump’s first 675 days in office.
Donald Trump would like us to forget—but we must never—that he is the least popular winning candidate in modern electoral history: he lost the popular vote by three million votes.
Throughout the campaign, Trump seemed to grasp that he represented a minority of the nation and since his election, he’s acted as President of his base, not of the American people.
(Actually, he seems to see the majority as one big opposition “mob.”) In the midst of this outrage, the entire Republican leadership joined the Party of Trump, cheering on the kidnapping and imprisonment of immigrant children; voting to gut the Affordable Care Act (including insurance for those with preexisting conditions); voting for tax “reform” that transfers to billionaires and their corporations two trillion dollars from taxes on working families; denying all findings of climate science; and stacking federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, with far-right ideologues.
But immediately after the election, an unprecedented grassroots resistance developed. The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, millions of people around the world joined Women’s Marches, signaling the launch of the majority’s fight-back.
When Trump announced the Muslim Ban, thousands of folks rushed to airports across the U.S. in protest.
When Trump’s neo-fascist supporters marched in Charlottesville, VA and Boston, MA, they were outnumbered by thousands of anti-racist workers and students. When Mr. Trump and the National Rifle Association dissed survivors of the Parkland, FL high school gun massacre, students organized the biggest movement against gun violence the country has ever seen. When neo-Confederate Republican candidates ran for Congress and the Senate in Virginia and Alabama, they were soundly defeated by progressive and moderate Democrats.
Then came last month’s midterm elections. In 2016, Hillary Clinton got three million more votes than Trump.
On December 6, Democrats running for the U.S. House of Representatives got seven million more votes than Republicans, flipping 40 Republican House seats to become the new majority. Democrats running for the U.S. Senate got 17 million more votes than Republicans, but because of the Senate’s structurally undemocratic nature, the Republicans gained a couple of seats and still possess a disproportionate share of voting power. For example, in North Dakota, Republican Kevin Cramer beat Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp by garnering just 179 thousand votes, a fraction of the 3.7 million votes won by NYS Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Still, Democrats beat seven incumbent Republican governors and flipped 350 state legislative seats; these will be crucial in redistricting and reversing GOP gerrymandering.
These midterm victories were due in large part to energetic, grassroots anti-Trump activism. Candidates such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Beto O’Rourke ran unprecedented Democratic campaigns. Ocasio-Cortez brought fresh, insurgent energy to her New York City House race, while O’Rourke’s campaign for U.S. Senate changed the political landscape in deep-red Texas, opening over 1,000 local headquarters throughout the state, many in peoples’ homes.
While Beto was unsuccessful, as were Georgia and Florida gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum, their outspoken, progressive candidacies proved far stronger than previous Democratic candidates in areas historically favorable to Republicans.
And in the meantime, the House of Representatives is looking more like the people it represents. For the first time ever, African-American women will represent Massachusetts, Connecticut and Georgia; Latina women will represent Texas, and Native Americans will represent Kansas and New Mexico. They will be joined by the first two Muslim women in Congressional history.
All these progressive victories will be a check on Mr. Trump and the GOP. They will be a voice for healthcare expansion, a national $15 dollar an hour minimum wage, affordable higher education, protection of our natural resources, and more. So now we can breathe a little bit easier. The key words being a little bit. Mr. Trump is still in the White House. His partners are still in the Senate.
We will have more battles to fight in the New Year, but right now I want to congratulate every 1199er who helped to turn the tide in November. You deserve our gratitude and respect. But you also know that justice, like freedom, is a constant struggle. On behalf of our entire 1199SEIU leadership team, I want to wish you the very best in this holiday season. Rest up, enjoy yourselves, hold your loved ones tight—and get ready to meet the challenges we’ll face together in 2019.