What Should American Progressives Learn from the Midterms?
Victories in Congress and at the state and local level could pave the way for a progressive groundswell in 2020
Politics is a struggle for power — over ideas and interests — and after this year’s midterm elections two things remain clear. First, voter suppression and intimidation, racism, and corporate money continue to infect American politics like a virus. Second, despite those obstacles, America is a much more progressive country than most pundits and political analysts believe. Voters embraced many progressive candidates and ballot measures, even in so-called conservative states and Congressional districts.
The midterm victories give Democrats an opportunity to thwart much of Donald Trump’s agenda, to investigate his and his administration’s corruption, and to put forward a progressive policy agenda as an alternative to Trumpism that can help Democrats expand their majority in the House, take back the Senate, and win the White House in 2020.
Trump was not on the ballot this year but the midterm election was viewed as a nationwide referendum on his leadership. More than 116 million voters went to the polls — 49% of eligible voters — the highest turnout rate for a midterm election since 1914. Hundreds of grassroots groups helped turn the anti-Trump “resistance” movement into an electoral powerhouse. These include labor unions, immigrant rights groups, Planned Parenthood, MoveOn, the NAACP, SwingLeft, and others. No group played as important a role as Indivisible, founded soon after Trump’s election, which quickly expanded to every Congressional district, training and mobilizing first-time activists and new leaders in the skills of issue organizing and campaign work.
Peter Dreier, is professor of Politics at Occidental College, and the author of The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books: 2012). You can reach him on Twitter @PeterDreier. A earlier, less complete version of this essay was previously published at Rewire News on November 16 2018.