This past Midterm cycle, Democrats made massive gains all across the country. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Sharice Davids; all Democrats, all women of color, with Omar being Muslim and Davids being queer, all notably further to the left than Democrats of years past. Even the unsuccessful senatorial race of Beto O’Rourke v. Ted Cruz in Texas was historic since O’Rourke managed to win 48.3% of the vote compared to Cruz’s 50.9%. For a Democrat to come that close in the staunchly red state of Texas was nothing short of historic.
And indeed, O’Rourke has not stopped getting press since his noble defeat. Tons of buzz has been going all around Democratic circles in recent weeks encouraging him to run for president in 2020. O’Rourke and Democrats like him are certainly reliably liberals and against the tide of Trumpism. Indeed, I can say for sure that O’Rourke has the kind of charisma that could catapult him into becoming the Democratic nominee. Although I am more want to see a Kamala Harris candidacy, he’d have my vote if that’s where we end up in 2020.
But I fear we are not going to end up there. I fear we might wind up with another Hillary Clinton candidacy, with a centrist like Joe Biden, or if hell freezes over, with a billionaire like Michael Bloomberg. The antidote to far-right nationalism is not centrism. It is not regressive compromise for the sake of “bipartisanship”, and it is not neoliberalism. To put our country on the right path, we need to combat Trumpism with actual leftists and progressives. We need candidates, presidential and congressional, who will abolish and prosecute I.C.E. We need candidates who will push towards expanding Medicare to the point of creating a single-payer system. We need candidates who will stop fanning the flames of war abroad and roll back drone strikes in Yemen. We need candidates who will understand that a New Green Deal is our only hope for even mitigating the impending climate disaster.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe a presidential candidate like that could realistically happen in my lifetime. The window of acceptable dialogue for the Right has only become more extreme while it has stayed static for the Left since Bill Clinton. It would take a total overhaul for a presidential candidate to speak like Ocasio-Cortez or Andrew Gillum. While our president and the Republicans step closer to white nationalism and crony capitalism every day, Democrats remain too afraid to tap into the politics of identity and real economic anxiety that affect our country.
That’s why our fight needs to be fought on multiple fronts. At the state level, we need to pay attention to our local elections and demand that our state senators and city council people listen to our voices. At the congressional level, we need far, far more Ilhan Omars and Sharice Davids than we have. With these in our arsenal, we can at least put pressure on a candidate like O’Rourke or Harris to be more bold in their campaign promises.
Ultimately, though, the federal government at any level won’t be enough. Voting will never be enough. Big institutions like government matter, but for better or worse they will always be too mired in bureaucracy and international issues to focus on day-to-day matters. The killings of POC by police, hate crimes, declining health standards, the collapse of local economies: all of these are real issues we must help one another with. We can’t depend on big government and national politics to fully amend these ills.
For the change we want, we need to rebuild solidarity within our communities. But although the Presidency and Congress are never going to fully end police brutality, opioid deaths, or turn our economy green, they are a good place to start the conversation.