Big news this month. Democrats managed to sweep the 2017 special elections, stacking up big wins in Virginia and New Jersey. Though these elections are not particularly relevant in comparison with the 2018 midterm elections, they serve as a much-needed victory for a despairing Democratic Party. Further, this election chips away at the slight Republican majority and drives another wedge into the badly-splintering GOP.
The past year has not been kind to the Democrats. Following a stunning defeat in the 2016 presidential election, the party appeared to be in a tailspin, failing to win control of the Senate and House, and facing a progressively right-leaning Judiciary with the appointment of Neil Gorsuch. Internally, the Democrats have struggled to find a coherent party message beyond opposing the current administration.
This is all compounded by the menacing advance of authoritarianism at home and abroad — a stark contrast to the united world vision of liberalism. Right-wing populist movements are gaining momentum all across Europe and in parts of Asia and the Middle East. Strongmen like Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Recep Erdogan of Turkey — and yes, Donald Trump — now ride an escalator into the highest echelons of government.
The Political State
The current administration rose to power on the backs of discontented anti-politics: dissatisfied voters choosing the least political and most bellicose candidate available. It does not matter that president Trump has no formal experience in the political arena: for many of his supporters, that is a badge of authenticity no other candidates possessed.
Since he has taken office, Trump has attempted to live up to the expectations of his constituents. He has threatened war with North Korea. He has called for the execution of notorious criminals. And he habitually attacks anyone who speaks ill of him. Those few Republican legislators who spoke out — namely Jeff Flake and Bob Corker — have widely refused to seek reelection amidst deplorable public approval ratings. Beyond this, there has been silence in the party.
Indeed, there is a feeling of political insularity pervading every crevice of our political system. We are no longer going through a phase of political partisanship: it has become the norm. The internet has opened up new and exciting avenues to misinformation, which political thinktanks and political action committees have used generously, sowing anger and confusion throughout America. Beyond that, politicians and the general populace both favor candidates on the far reaches of the political spectrum.
Thus, we find ourselves in a situation that must — for the modern liberal — feel downright apocalyptic. And some political macro-theory supports this sentiment. The rise of worldwide authoritarianism and populism has been studied for hundreds of years and has sorted itself into a vague, cyclical pattern. Its last surge was somewhere before WWI and a subsequent falloff following the second World War. Some political scholars suggest we are experiencing another significant shuffling of the world order.
All vague dystopian theory aside, we have entered an era of extremely heated political climates, with battle lines drawn. Every victory or defeat carries added implications, and can act as a battle cry for the victorious party. After a year of losing, the Democrats have finally gotten a shot in the arm. And it is an auspicious one.
Implications from Tuesday
The 2017 elections are important. Overall, the elections decided governorship of New Jersey and Virginia, as well as several other state government positions for Virginia. Democrats could control the Virginia chamber for the first time in over fifteen years, but that will be determined by several districts undergoing a recount.
In other words, nothing profoundly impacting the current legislature or presidency. However, political analysts kept a close eye on the elections, particularly given that the former Governor of New Jersey was Republican Chris Christie, and Virginia has been a long-standing swing state. The trouncing of a 54% victory in Virginia, following the endorsements of President Trump, sends a clear message.
Public opinion for this president is at a historic low. Up until Tuesday, such polls seemed to have little tangible evidence behind them. Now, it is impossible to separate an unpopular president’s endorsement from such a staggering outcome.
If these outcomes are any predictor for the 2018 elections, the Democrats have much to hope for. Our wildly unpopular president is sure to endorse several candidates in key House and Senate races, just as the democratic party is sure to respond. This tactic worked splendidly in Virginia. The Republicans are holding the House and Senate by reasonably slim margins, especially when taking inner-party opposition into account.
Put simply: we may be seeing a shift in the House and Senate leadership. It is too soon to say, but there is one year until the midterms, and many of us are waiting with bated breath.