It was not the Blue Wave of our fondest dreams. There will be no Senator Beto O’Rourke or Governor Andrew Gillum. And Governor Stacey Abrams seems like a long shot at this point. The Democrats did not produce an historic swing of seats in the House, and with three Senate races still undecided, the Republicans so far have a gain of two seats.
Still, good and important things happened on Tuesday evening — first and foremost, the Democrats won control of the US House of Representatives. Congress will no longer be the acquiescent echo of President Donald Trump’s fevered dreams. An enormous constitutional check will now become a reality in January. The president’s base and his donors will no longer be able to ram their agenda through Congress, and the Republicans’ pathetic unwillingness to assert their independence and fulfill their oversight responsibilities will no longer win the day.
As far as investigations into the president go, it’s hard to say precisely what the next steps will be. The incoming Democratic committee chairs have reportedly divvied up general areas of jurisdiction to avoid unproductive infighting. And, already on election night, there was word of plans to subpoena the president’s tax returns from the IRS.
But much, of course, depends on the course of the Mueller investigation. The firing today of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his interim replacement by a Trump loyalist should put everyone on warning of a Saturday Night Massacre-style move by a threatened president. Mueller certainly saw this possibility coming, and presumably has exercised wisdom to ensure that the fruits of his investigation to date can be preserved to the greatest degree possible. Any rash move by Trump could finally spark Republican outcries, but with Democratic control of the House even if the GOP’s cravenness continues unabated, the American people now have recourse.
Beyond the congressional races, there are other things to celebrate. A backlash against transgender rights was soundly defeated in Massachusetts; a loss there in one of the nation’s most liberal jurisdictions would have been devastating. In Colorado, Jared Polis, an out gay congressmember will become the nation’s first gay governor. And at least four new LGBTQ members of Congress were elected, including the first Native American woman to go to Washington — from Kansas! A lesbian victor in Minnesota defeated a stridently homophobic Republican incumbent. A fifth race involving a new lesbian candidate in Texas has not yet been decided.
In a long-delayed milestone in the nation’s slog toward greater gender parity in governing, for the first time in history at least 100 women were elected to the House. It is worth reminding ourselves, however, that after nearly a century of women having the vote, they still do not yet make up even one quarter of the members of Congress.
It’s not just who won on Tuesday night that matters. It’s also who lost. Chris Kobach — a homophobe and voter suppressor par excellence — will not be governor of Kansas (again, Kansas). David Brat, the Tea Party darling who ousted the already very conservative Eric Cantor four years ago, is out himself. California’s Dana Rohrabacher, another troglodyte on LGBTQ issues and one of Russia’s favorite American politicians, was also defeated. Going Trump-ugly on their opponents did not salvage the careers of two upstate New York congressional Republicans, John Faso and Claudia Tenney.
And if you live in Rowan County, Kentucky, you will no longer have to arm wrestle County Clerk Kim Davis to get a marriage license. She got beat this this week.
The Democratic Party nationally showed signs that it was taking more seriously the geographic barriers they tripped up on two years ago. Among the seven governorships the party flipped, three were in the Midwest: Michigan, Wisconsin, and (though they’re safe here) Illinois. Retaining governor’s mansions in Pennsylvania and Minnesota, the Democrats are showing moxie in this key battleground region.
If the Blue Wave didn’t crest as high as we would have liked, it’s important not to start pointing fingers and eating our own. Despite the fact that Hillary Clinton outpolled Donald Trump by three million votes in 2016, too many of us became prisoners of a self-defeating delusion that the majority-plus-three-million were somehow a multitude who lived in a bubble. In this week’s congressional races, Democrats outpolled Republicans nationwide by more than seven percent. Gerrymandering softened the blow that advantage inflicted on the GOP.
The fact of the matter is that the Democrats recruited a very strong field of candidates. O’Rourke did not prevail in Texas, but he came closer than any Democrat in a generation — while exciting the imaginations of progressives nationwide. Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum, from all I saw of those races, were first-class candidates. I can’t see any immediate reason why we should spend time examining or worrying about what any of the three of these candidates did or represented. They lost because large majorities of white men and (and, in Gerogia, white women) rejected them. All three should remain active in public life, and we should figure out how to find more people of their caliber.
Max Rose in Staten Island wasn’t on much of anyone’s radar for a possible flip — and yet he took down incumbent Congressmember Dan Donovan, a fixture on the local scene since 2003, when he became that borough’s district attorney. Upstate, Antonio Delgado overcame baldly racist baiting to defeat John Faso.
Undoing the damage that Trump has wrought was never going to be a quick project. What we learned this week is that a mobilized citizenry, getting involved in resistance efforts, in lobbying, in protesting, in organizing, and in taking on the responsibility to run for office can have a meaningful impact. We didn’t put away Trumpism Tuesday night. And a wounded animal can often be at their most dangerous.
But we took important strides, and we should emerge confident that we are not the ones in a bubble. We share the American dream, and without our help and hard work it can never truly be realized.