While the political headlines we’re served up every morning might be disheartening (see: the Mueller hearings last week), the way I’m getting through politics these days is by remembering that a lot of the misery we are experiencing right now is actually a response to how much and what we win when we get in formation.
What do I mean by that? Let me break it down, using the recent attacks this president has launched against "the Squad" as an example.
Remember that “pink wave” that kicked butt in the 2018 midterms? Women, and particularly women of color, were the big story then, with a record number of women running for office and winning. There were also historic firsts, with Representative Ilhan Omar becoming the first Somali-American Muslim woman elected to Congress, and Representative Rashida Tlaib became the first Palestinian-American Muslim woman elected to Congress. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest person ever elected to Congress, and Representative Ayanna Pressley became the first Black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts.
Not only were a historic number of women elected to office, but it was in thanks to voter turnout increasing substantially in key groups. Eighteen to 29-year-olds had the highest turnout increase percentage-wise of any other age group. Among communities of color, it was the same—Black voter turnout increased by 11 percentage points, Latinx voter turnout by 13 percentage points, and Asian voter turnout increased by 13 percentage points. More women came out to vote than men, by at least three percentage points, and among women who were unemployed, 49 percent voted versus 40 percent of unemployed men.
The president’s slogan is “Make America Great Again,” but clearly voters have a much different idea of what that means. For the president, a great America doesn’t include Muslim women in Congress, it doesn’t include having the first Black woman to ever be elected to Congress from the state of Massachusetts, and it doesn’t include young people in Congress with fresh ideas about how to make an America for everyone. For a president who has been accused by no fewer than 17 women of sexual harassment or sexual assault, who prefers more immigration from Scandinavian nations than from what he calls “shithole countries”—countries like Haiti, El Salvador, Syria, Nepal, Honduras, Yemen, Nicaragua, South Sudan and yes, Somalia, where Congresswoman Omar is from—making America great again means making America white again and rolling back the clock on women’s human and civil rights. And how do we know this? Because the president has been attacking Pressley, Omar, Tlaib, and Ocasio-Cortez over the last two weeks, telling them to “go back to where they came from.” (A ridiculous statement at best, as three out of four of them come from...here.)
To be fair, the leader of their own party started it, conducting an interview where she attacked the Squad as being irrelevant, when in fact, they’re so relevant they’re inspiring the leader of their party to talk about them in a profile all about her. Or at least it was until she started talking about them.
But beneath the attacks, whether it be chastising four women of color who dare to bring the dreams of their constituencies into the halls of Congress, or whether it be telling those same women to go back to where they came from, it’s all about a fear of change. That change is spreading across the country, and as much as I abhor the politics of this current administration, what keeps me hanging on is that this administration is reacting to the change that is inevitable in America.
The Squad are far from outliers who were lucky to win. Congresswoman Omar won her election by the largest margin of any Congressperson in history, defeating her opponent by 56 percentage points. Congresswoman Pressley won her seat against a 10 term incumbent by more than 17 percentage points—definitely wasn’t a close race there. Congresswoman Tlaib won her seat with 84 percent of the vote—she didn’t even face a challenger from the opposing party. Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez won her primary with 78 percent of the vote, against a 10-term incumbent.
The president’s attacks are about the Squad but it’s not just about them—it’s about who is behind them, how they are performing electorally, and what that might mean for the president getting re-elected. Leading up to a presidential election in just 16 months, you’d better believe that this president is looking closely at ways to discredit the power of women and women of color, who are out-voting men, running for and winning elected office in record numbers, and who are reflective not only of the changing demographics of the country, but also the changing values that Americans want in their government.
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