Depending on who you talk to, the US midterm elections resulted in either a blue wave of Democratic triumph or were a testament to the entrenched white nationalism, bigotry and jingoism of the American people. I would posit that both perceptions are correct.
Most Democrats would concede it was not the tsunami we were hoping for. I described it on a Facebook thread as a “seismic ripple” and that we had wider, deeper waters to traverse. Oceanic analogies aside, my first and somewhat myopic response was one of deep disappointment that the Democrats did not take Texas' governorship and that Obama's energetic stumping in Florida did not immediately convince voters to put their trust in young Andrew Gillum. Republican Ron DeSantis has won by the narrowest of margins even after insinuating that African American Gillum was a monkey. Too many Florida voters have proven that they are completely fine with 50s era racism—a time when a young black man such as Gillum would not have been allowed to drink from the same water fountain as a white person.
Voter suppression in Georgia, where the governor's race was intense and revelatory, has been proven rampant, moving the blue candidate, Stacey Abrams, to not concede and demanding either a recount or a runoff—a move that has given me and many other Democrats considerable relief and hope. Verified reports of insufficient ballots, interminable waits and simply not having a socket to plug in electric voting booths have been pouring in. The race in Georgia was revelatory to me because the Republican candidate, Brian Kemp, has been brazen in his illegal voter suppression, with seemingly no concern that he has been outed. He purged 340,142 people from voting rosters, without their knowledge, stating they had moved when they hadn't. The most disturbing aspect of this is that he, as Georgia Secretary of State, orchestrated the labyrinthine set of voting laws himself, knowing it would prevent scores of people from casting ballots and he did it in the specific districts that would be more Democrat-leaning. He still appears confidently corrupt, perhaps banking on the inherently racist bent of the white voters of his state to lead him to victory. Stacey Abrams' determined presence on the political scene has been a welcome addition and means the left is galvanising against the Trump administration.
Florida, Texas, Georgia are the bad news—the reaffirmation of the lower aspects of the national character. And the Republicans have the Senate, as expected, even flipping Democratic seats like the one in Indiana. An avowed white supremacist, Steve King, managed to retain his seat in Iowa. The voting trends of white, Republican women have proven that they don't mind misogynists and rapists being elected to office as long as no one takes their stuff (read money), messes with their Bibles, or tampers with their blonde hair treatments. As reductive as that may sound, it has been my personal experience; they all fall into one of these three categories. It is either about money, Christian evangelism, or white supremacy. They have been amongst the biggest shocks and disappointments to me. It is a betrayal to my specific gender.
And now for the good news or strong evidence of a blue wave for those who subscribe entirely to the two-party system of traditional American politics: the Democrats finally took back the House. This is a big deal; this means Trump and co. will be held accountable for their manifold infractions, both moral and legal, and many of their odious policies such as repealing the Affordable Care Act will find no purchase. I would not have said this if the elected members of Congress were the same worn faces of a stuffy, yet cripplingly emotional, ivory tower party the Democrats once were. The newest elected officials are indicative of the actual face of America—diverse, energetic, young, and fierce.
Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Ohio are the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress, the former being Palestinian-American, something that would have been unheard of a mere decade ago. Sharice Davids, a Native American, and an openly gay candidate, has been elected to Congress in Kansas, the heartland of the United States.
More political firsts: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D, NY) and Abby Finkenauer (D, IO)—both 29 years old—are now the youngest women in Congress; Deb Haaland (D, NM) became one of the first Native American women elected to Congress; Ayanna Pressley (D)—first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts; Iowa for the first time elected women as governor and House representatives— Kim Reynolds (D), Abby Finkenauer (D) and Cindy Axne (D); first Texas Latinas in Congress—Veronica Escobar (D) and Sylvia Garcia (D); Janet Mills (D) became Maine's first woman governor; Jared Polis (D, CO) became America's first openly gay governor.
This roster indicates a powerful, definitive response to the scourge of fascism gripping America. As one headline put it: “Muslim women respond to Muslim ban by running for Congress.” As undeniably spirit-soaring as this is, I cannot assume that this will be sufficient to defeat Trump in 2020 and stave off white nationalism. This is a ripple, as I said, a powerful one, but it will garner an equally powerful reaction from those who follow Trump. Make no mistake, Trump's base is reminiscent of Nazi Germany circa 1937 and they will double down, intensifying their hate rhetoric and pushing draconian agendas when they can. This was driven home to me when I read numerous threads about Rashida Tlaib's victory; the amount of hate and Islamophobia spewed in her direction was chilling. The entrenched issues of bigotry, economic disparity and corruption at the highest level cannot be wished away only by voting. But I am hoping the new, fierce and diverse (and female) energies in Congress will inspire us to a revolution, which ironically means a radical reframing of the traditional political structure of which they are now a part.
Sharbari Ahmed is a Bangladeshi-American writer and activist based in the US.