Politics are ever-present in the lives of most Americans. While I can’t say this with absolute certainty, it at least seems as though this fact is more true on college campuses than anywhere else. Where your Thanksgiving dinner table or workplace shies away from the topic, the university embraces the national dialogue; so much so that it sometimes takes center-stage. I voted last Tuesday, and from the numerous Instagram photos of my peers boasting “I voted” stickers, I can infer I wasn’t in the minority on that. So what happened? Did we win? Did they lose?
Midterm elections have a notoriously low voter turnout. In fact, Americans don’t show up to the polls nearly as much as one would hope, but the midterms suffer from living in the shadow of the general election, and as such show a deficit. This year, NPR reported that over 47% of eligible voters went to the polls last week. That might seem low, but its actually the highest its been for midterm elections since the 1960’s. Maybe those comparing the late 60’s political upheaval to the modern day weren’t so far off. After the democrats came up short in 2016, the impetus to make gains this year had a sense of urgency about it. Even the republicans felt the heat. Trump himself rallied his faithful to vote after several long-held republican offices became battlegrounds.
With the dust settled on wednesday morning, we were no longer living under a single party government. In spite of the gerrymandered districts, accusations of voter suppression, and support from the white house, the democrats took the house of representatives, flipping well over the necessary seats needed to secure a majority. By the time the votes were counted, 225 democrats will hold seats in january, to the republicans’ 197. A few seats are vacant or awaiting finalization, but they won’t have a meaningful impact on the house. The night wasn’t a total loss for conservatives. The GOP was able to improve its position in the senate ever so slightly, and made gains in gubernatorial races. The federal elections had the spotlight, but the democrats also made significant progress at the state level, leaving the number of controlled legislatures nearly even between parties, a contrast from the republican dominated state assemblies and congresses we currently observe.
Another important factor to keep in mind was that this election represented a shift in politics beyond the red and blue. With the march for women in its second year, and reproductive rights a key issue in the current climate, women are making waves at the national level. This year saw more women than ever run for congress and governorships, with many of them seizing control of heavily contested space in the political sphere. Notably, among them were many women of color, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who will be the youngest woman ever elected to congress. Predictably most of these women ran as democrats, but between the young energetic new progressive movement and demographic changes, I think the democrats as well as the republicans are due for a new kind of politics. With representative voices taking the stage, we should watch closely how this shifts the status quo in this country.
Tensions remain high amid hostile press conferences following the election. Worse still, several races carry the ugly taint of uncertainty as allegations of voter suppression and fraud hang over key races. It’s impossible to tell at the moment which cases are legitimate or not, but when so many instances are cropping up, I’d be hard pressed to believe that there was no wrongdoing behind some of the victories.
The democrats are celebrating, but the ball is in their court now. It is easy to play the victim when your opponents are in complete power, but with control of the house, they will have control over key committees, among them, the Mueller investigation. This carries with it power, but also a significant responsibility. There is cause to suspect impeachable offenses on Trump’s part (or at least his allies) but I worry that if the democrats rush forward without sufficient cause or evidence it will only end in disaster, for the party and for the country. For government to work, the people need to have faith in it. This is why we have elections. This is why we call ourselves a democracy. Trust needs to be rebuilt between America and its institutions, and the only way to do that is to move forward with integrity. As the former first lady Michelle Obama so elegantly put it, it is time to “go high.”
Sources: CNN, NPR, Nytimes