Since the election of Donald Trump, the 2018 midterms have been the Democrats’ rallying cry. By winning back the House in 2018, Democrats could signal a strong rebuke to Trumpism and put a concrete check on his power, barring the worst elements of his agenda from taking effect. This long-anticipated, hard-fought Blue Wave might not have been a bicameral tsunami, but it is certainly being felt across the country, with Democrats gaining seven governorships in addition to a House majority. It is also ushering in a record number of women and people of color, including the youngest woman, first Muslim woman and first Native American women ever to be elected to Congress.
Although some heartbreaking losses—Beto O’Rourke, Andrew Gillum and potentially Stacey Abrams, although I am holding out hope—certainly dampen the joy of the moment, Democrats have much to celebrate. We won the popular vote in the House by the largest margin since Obama’s victory in 2008, which took place against the backdrop of an unpopular war and economic crisis. We had a well-defined goal—take back the House—and we readily achieved it, notwithstanding the structural disadvantages posed by gerrymandering and voter suppression. Checks and balances will resume their rightful place within American politics.
So, what happens now? How should Democratic legislators wield their newfound power, and how can voters hold them accountable? What can we do to not only ward off Trump’s worst instincts, but to also proactively cultivate a more just and equitable America? I present the rough outline of a seven-point plan.
- Hold President Trump accountable for his egregious violations of constitutional norms, but do it quietly. Launch ethics investigations and pass legislation to protect the Mueller legislation, but don’t center the House’s agenda on the takedown of Trump. Drown out his Twitter rants with concrete, positive steps for our country. Fighting his every word will only give him more oxygen, allow him to control the media narrative and increase his reelection chances.
- Be bold. Pass legislation that protects the Dreamers and repairs our immigration system, tackles climate change, promotes economic fairness and addresses gun violence head-on. These are fundamental goals that all Democrats share, even when we disagree on policy specifics at the margins. Transcend those differences and send a flood of legislation to pile up in the Senate. Don’t leave anyone wondering what Democrats stand for in 2020, and force the Republicans to show their true colors.
- Invest in voting rights and fair redistricting. The best news yesterday out of Florida was the passage of Amendment 4, which will re-enfranchise 1.5 million citizens with felony convictions. Democrats should elevate the national profile of the felon re-enfranchisement movement, restore key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and make noise about the 2020 census, which will determine the apportionment of seats for the coming decade. The integrity of the census, however mundane and unsexy it may seem, may have the single greatest impact on Democrats’ long-term prospects.
- Respect that ideological diversity within the party is a healthy component of democratic representation. Democrats were propelled to a majority by suburban districts disaffected with Trump—like my home district, NJ-07, which voted for Romney, then Clinton and has had a Republican congressman since 1981. The freshman class of Congress will include centrist legislators from these moderate suburbs and unabashed progressives from deep-blue districts, who were elected to represent and respond to different sets of constituents. If there are disagreements among them, they are not unearthing irreparable cleavages within the Democratic Party; they are just doing their job.
- Don’t be a foul-weather constituent. Over the past two years, many of us have called our senators and representatives in our country’s bleakest moments—the Muslim ban, the repeated attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the height of the family separation crisis, the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. Hopefully the next two years will bring about far fewer trying moments, but don’t delete your legislators from speed dial. Civic engagement should remain a norm, even when the stakes are lower. Call your elected officials when you like what they’re doing, and hold them accountable when they’re not doing enough.
- Continue to build productive, progressive political movements from the ground up. Our campus is a great place to start. Get involved with the Disability Equity movement and its common-sense call for a disability community center. Support SCoPE 2035’s incredible efforts to improve Bay Area housing affordability, transportation equity, and justice for campus workers. Push Stanford’s administration to take a stronger stance against hatred, to protect our undocumented students and staff, to recognize that we have a civic obligation to our Bay Area neighbors and to take greater responsibility for the impact of our expansion.
- Celebrate what we’ve accomplished. From SwingLeft to Stanford Votes, we’ve made it a norm to engage with our democracy and built an infrastructure for future victories. We’ve rejected the status quo and taken back power from Trump’s enablers. Don’t despair too much about Beto. Don’t stress about 2020. Be proud of yourself and take a deep breath. I am hopeful that the worst days of the Trump presidency are behind us, and it’s because we’ve put in the work to make it so.
Contact Courtney Cooperman at ccoop20 ‘at’ stanford.edu.