- 15 Sep - 21 Sep, 2018
WAITING FOR MIDTERM ELECTIONS
- 18 Aug - 24 Aug, 2018
- A Letter From America
The American system of elections is notoriously clunky and ponderous. Many people say – or used to say – that that’s a good thing because it helps to reinforce stability and continuity. Similarly, the fact that the President of the United States is simultaneously head of government and head of state is supposed to confer on the presidency a dignity and gravitas that would somehow rub off on the country as a whole. Connected to that is that, once elected, a president can be removed from office only in the next presidential election four years later or, in rare and extraordinary circumstances, by resignation or impeachment.
All of which is to state the obvious: that we’re stuck with Trump until further notice. Meanwhile, there are what are called midterm elections, on a two-year cycle halfway through a president’s term. These are customarily considered indicative of the direction of the political winds ahead of the next presidential election, and they often shift the balance subtly or otherwise away from the party that controls the presidency. Midterm elections are usually less high-profile than presidential elections, but they can be politically and even historically significant: 2010 was the year the Tea Party burst on the scene, and the 1994 midterms constituted a massive political earthquake, when the Republican Party gained control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. The aftershocks from the 1994 midterms are still reverberating.
All of the above is perhaps needed background for non-American readers to understand the mood and potentialities on the American political landscape right now. Midterm congressional elections – for all members of the national House of Representatives and one-third of senators – will be held on November 6, as well as for many state and local offices. Ever since it became clear that Trump would be heading a malignant rogue regime with dictatorial aspirations – which is to say pretty much since the day he was elected, in November 2016 – these coming midterms have beckoned like a beacon of hope. Perhaps our last, best hope. Or, just maybe, given the unpredictability and extreme pendulum swings that seem to characterise political life now, just maybe we can hope robustly that the midterms will redirect America back in a healthier and more humane direction. And yet, what if after that the pendulum swings back in the other direction? No one knows.
For now, until November, all of us in America are twisting in the wind, waiting and hoping, fingers crossed. Well, I should qualify that by saying not all of us, since apparently tens of millions do still support Trump and his capricious, race-baiting, and internationally reckless agenda. But there are indications that many of the white suburbanites who apparently made the difference in his favour in 2016 are having misgivings and will vote for Democratic candidates in November. That’s one hopeful sign. But even more significant is another trend that’s actually in potentially dangerous tension with the buyer’s remorse felt by many comfortable suburbanites: the outspoken and even openly and unapologetically progressive priorities being given voice by a wave of young candidates who have been successful in the round of primary elections nationwide this summer that set the stage for November.
The fascinating and deeply encouraging thing is that many of the strongest of these candidates are women, and indeed women of color. The American left has for decades now fetishised ethnic and gender diversity as good things in their own right, but somehow I don’t have the feeling that that’s what this wave of women candidates represents. It feels, rather, almost as though a dam has burst and a vast trove of talent, intelligence and ambition (in a positive sense of that word) has been unleashed. Trump’s very ugliness seems to have forced the matter. So did – and I’m aware this will be a controversial point – Hillary Clinton’s stale, unimaginative and compromised campaign. At times in 2016, it seemed Hillary’s whole pitch to the American electorate was that it was her turn to be president because she had been waiting so long, and she was a woman, so it would be misogynist not to vote for her. Plus you had to vote for her, or else Trump would win. I voted for her because of that last point but, not to put too fine a point on the matter, that set of talking points didn’t quite work out for Hillary.
My own hope had been that Hillary would have seen the writing on the wall when she lost in the primaries in 2008 to Barack Obama, and that she would gracefully retire from public life to make room for a younger generation to lead America toward a fresh and hopeful future. Despite her and despite Trump, that generation is now coming into its own. Early harbingers of this wave of remarkable women were the new senator from California, Kamala Harris (whose mother, incidentally, was Indian; her father is Jamaican) and another Indian-American woman, Pramila Jayapal from Washington State, who I’m proud to say represents the congressional district I live in. Both were elected in 2016 and have already distinguished themselves nationally.
And this summer, two other women have burst on the national scene: feisty 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York City, and – my favorite – Rashida Tlaib from the hardscrabble formerly industrial city of Detroit, Michigan. I have firsthand knowledge of just how gutsy and effective Tlaib is, because I had the good fortune to spend a morning with her in Detroit in 2012, when I was driving around America to write my book Home Free: An American Road Trip. Keep an eye on her. As Khaled Beydoun wrote in his terrific article “My friend Rashida: far more than the first Muslim American congresswoman” (published August 10 in The Guardian), “Stepping up for the most vulnerable, and speaking unfiltered truth directly to power, [is] the essence of leadership that Michigan and I have known for a long time, and that Washington DC and Donald Trump will come to know very well in January 2019.” •
- 08 Sep - 14 Sep, 2018
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- 14 Jul - 20 Jul, 2018