Our Revolution? Progressive Gains in the Age of Trump

11.12.17
Photo illustration by John Lyman
Politics /12 Nov 2017
11.12.17

Our Revolution? Progressive Gains in the Age of Trump

As election results poured out this Tuesday, one thing was crystal clear; Trumpism had hit a wall. Exactly 88 days after the events in Charlottesville, Virginians chose Justin Fairfax as just the second ever African American to win statewide office. Along with that, Virginia also elected the first ever Latinas to the state House in Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzman. To top it off, Old Dominion elected Danica Roem as the first openly transgender official, and Lee Carter, a Democratic Socialist to replace the state’s House GOP whip. Less than 100 days removed from white nationalists marching on the campus of UVA chanting Nazi slogans, the state of Virginia soundly rejected the alt-right and Trumpism.

The most watched race of the night however was by far the Virginia governor’s race between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam. After weeks of polls showing a close race with many predicting a narrow Gillespie win, the race was called early with Northam winning by a decisive 54–45 margin, well over performing projections.

Yet amidst the fervor over the Democratic dominance in Virginia, New Jersey, New York, perhaps the biggest takeaway has been completely lost by the mainstream media.

After Northam’s clear win over Ed Gillespie, CNN immediately began touting Northam-style candidates as the path to victory for Democrats. Immediately, the narrative became that Democrats should push centrist, non-Bernie type candidates to win. Indeed, if one solely focused on the Governor’s race, one might reach that conclusion. Yet to do that would be to ignore the entire rest of the state as well as many other races throughout the country that demonstrated almost the exact opposite.

CNN correctly identified Northam as not a progressive, but as a ‘moderate’ who voted for George W. Bush twice. One CNN panelist went as far as to describe Northam as a “right of center” candidate. Indeed, that’s exactly what Northam was and is; a right of center politician who embodies political views very much in line with old school Republicans and neoliberal Democrats. Down the stretch, Northam told a Richmond newspaper that he would ban Sanctuary Cities in the commonwealth as governor should one arise, appealing directly to racism and bigotry, presumably in an effort to pick off Republican votes. There’s no evidence that his gimmick worked, meaning that he willingly adopted not just a Republican line but the exact same position as President Trump, the very person Democrats are supposed to be “resisting.” In the end, Northam’s win can more aptly be attributed to a rejection of Trumpism than support for centrism.

Fortunately, Virginia offered a much better picture of a growing trend that the governor’s race did not. In the ongoing split in the Democratic Party between the left Bernie/Warren wing and “right of center” Hillary/Northam wing of the party, last night’s elections provided significant victories for the former. Our Revolution, the political organization that spun out of the 2016 Sanders campaign, endorsed four candidates in Tuesday night’s contests in Virginia. All four of them won their races, including Lee Carter who was also a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. The other three; Elizabeth Guzman, Jennifer Foy and Justin Fairfax. Not only did all four of Our Revolution’s candidates win their races, the race between Lee Carter and incumbent Republican Jackson Miller proved to the nation that a leftist candidate and open socialist can go head to head with a prominent incumbent Republican and win.

Beyond Virginia, races in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio, Minnesota, Montana, and Tennessee showed that progressives can win and that the socialist movement is strong and growing. In total 21 Our Revolution endorsed candidates won races across the country last night.

In Massachusetts, Our Revolution endorsed candidates went 7 for 7 including two DSA members winning local seats in Somerville. Even in Tennessee, not known to be a bastion of leftwing politics, DSA member Seema Singh Perez won a city council seat in Knoxville, becoming the first South Asian woman elected to the council. In addition to Singh Perez, multiple DSA women won races on Tuesday including; Vanessa Agudelo in Peekskill, NY; Kara Gloe in Moorehead, MN; and Kristin LaLonde in Mt. Pleasant, MI among others. In Billings, Montana, DSA candidate Denise Joy won her city council race in the 3rd Ward. Earlier this year, Democrats narrowly lost a special election in Montana to replace Ryan Zinke.

In Minneapolis, Our Revolution endorsed Andrea Jenkins became the first openly transgender black woman to be elected to public office in the 8th ward while in the 3rd ward, Ginger Jentzen, running with Socialist Alternative, though ultimately losing, came in first place in the first round of voting.

In Pittsburg, Our Revolution and DSA endorsed Mik Pappas defeated 24-year incumbent Ron Costa for district judge, while DSA candidate Anita Prizio won a city council race in Pittsburg. Also in Pennsylvania, Our Revolution endorsed, Larry Krasner won a race for District Attorney in Philadelphia. Krasner, a civil rights lawyer, has repeatedly sued the Philadelphia police department and has defended Black Lives Matter activists, many of whom in turn backed his campaign strongly. Krasner ran on a platform of ending the death penalty, mass incarceration, and cash-bail. Of Tuesday’s races in Pennsylvania, the Pittsburg Post-Gazette noted that while it was a mixed bag for both major parties, it was “an unambiguous win for at least one local political movement: Democratic Socialism.”

In Total, 15 Democratic Socialist candidates won their races, adding to the 20 DSA candidates in office prior to the election. That, with the 21 Our Revolution candidates, (granted many of them overlap), sends a clear message to the political establishments of both parties; the left is rising. Given the progressive and DSA candidates who won last night, including some major upsets, perhaps the narrative emerging from last night’s elections is not a ‘blue wave’ but a ‘red sea,’ as socialism gains traction in local races. This should hardly come as a surprise as Bernie Sanders continues to poll as the most popular politician in the country and 52% of Democrats including 69% aged 18–34 want the party to move to the left. In addition, a new poll found a plurality of millennials would rather live in a socialist nation than a capitalist one.

While it may be easy to look to centrist Ralph Northam’s and conclude that perhaps Mark Penn was right when he wrote back in July that Democrats must ‘return to the center,’ that only tells one part of the story. The rest, falls much more in line with Elizabeth Warren’s declaration at the Netroots Nation conference back in August, that the Democratic party, “isn’t going back to the days of welfare reform and the crime bill, it is not going to happen.”

Tuesday night was certainly a win for Democrats and a resounding rejection of both Republicanism and Trumpism. Yet it was also a huge win for the Bernie-Warren wing of the party and especially for Democratic Socialism, on the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution.

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