The Teeth Of American Democracy Are In The Senate. Will Voters Learn?
For many, the results of Super Tuesday were painful. In a race that started with six viable women, not one remains. For many canvassers, phone bankers, and activists, this moment could not have come sooner. Mass media, Twitter, and college campuses across the country have been buzzing with presidential election activism for months. Many Gen Z first-time voters are teeming with glee at their opportunity to defeat President Trump with a single vote. I, too, long for election day. But, it’s not this simple. In the midst of the 2020 excitement, I am left feeling shaken and alarmed. It is almost as if people have forgotten about the 34 Senate and 435 House elections in November. Plagued with a flurry of debates, forums, town halls, and new policy packs, it has become impossible to separate daily life from presidential elections. It is easy to become enthralled with the presidential election and fall prey to the shiny systematic change progressive candidates are promising. The debate-stage rhetoric that fetishizes the demolition of the Trump-era with a single vote is convincing. That is precisely the problem. These idealized outcomes of this election are far from true. A victory for a Democratic candidate alone will not be enough to bring forth Democratic policies or control for Republican hardlining if the Senate is not shifted blue. But, a win for Democrats in the Senate alone will be enough.
How is this possible?
Democrats are defending 13 Senate seats this election cycle, while 23 Republican Senators are up for re-election, with strong speculation and approval ratings indicating that 13 Republican seats in 12 states are vulnerable to flipping blue. Democrats, if successfully able to defend their territory, must then gain at least 3 seats in order to achieve a majority in the Senate. The necessity of a Democratic majority has been proven pivotal. A blue majority could have voted to ensure witnesses in the highly anticipated impeachment trial. The Senate impeachment results found Trump not guilty of either abuse of power or obstruction of Congress. The entire process of impeachment was hazy and became imbued with confusion and fury on both sides of the aisle. Across party lines, the impeachment results left a lasting, universal effect among voters; it detached us from the Senate. The target of media and legislative criticism quickly became President Trump. These reports, while founded, were still missing the real problem. Incompetent President aside, the conundrum Democrats have been grappling with is a severe lack of governmental oversight and control. This will only be resolved if the Senate flips; without such a flip, Democrats will be unable to ensure fair impeachment and accountability, or confirm judges, Secretaries, or most importantly, Supreme Court Justices.
The vulnerability of the Supreme Court
I don’t know about you, but I am tired of Googling “Ruth Bader Ginsburg health” every morning and setting up plans to donate organs from my living body to her, if ever called upon. There is great concern, and rightfully, over whether more Justices will be needed between 2020–2024. It fills me with disgust when I remember that 22% of the Supreme Court is composed of accused sexual assaulters and harassers. This ensued after the Senate majority voted to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. This Senate has confirmed two nominees: Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, leaving a conservative majority and only a greater chance for that margin to increase if Democrats do not win back the Senate. A conservative majority leaves everything from overturning Roe v. Wade to rolling back rights for DACA recipients possible. In order to prevent a biased conservative court from forever altering our nation’s history and reversing what decades of civil rights activism has fought for, we must elect a blue Senate.
It is simpler to discuss qualms with President Trump. It is harder to tease away the complexities of the Senate, but we must. In order to sweep 2020 up in a blue wave, we must mobilize for more than one candidate. Canvass, contact local legislative offices near you, and step up for your prospective Democratic Senator and House Representative, or look for ways to volunteer virtually for other campaigns outside your state. The era of just “going local” in order to influence politics has passed; we must be willing to step outside state boundaries in order to participate in the most critical, flip-inducing races. We are living in complicated times where technology can both aid and hinder campaigns, but nonetheless provides a powerful avenue for out-of-state supporters to volunteer for a candidate whose activities as a Senator or House Representative will indefinitely transverse state lines. This includes phone banking or volunteering to send text messages to recruit volunteers for a campaign.
“A Senate flip in 2020 is more than a pipe-dream”
A blue Senate will not only make Democratic policies more palpable, but contribute to diversifying and democratizing positions of power. In 2018, record numbers of women, queer people, and racial minorities ran for federal seats. Among those, the campaigns of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, Amy Vilela, and Cori Bush were chronicled in the Netflix-original documentary, Knock Down the House. In that cycle, 125 women were elected to House, Senate, and gubernatorial seats. 37 women were elected to the House for the first time. The past record was 24. The trajectory of progressive candidates has not fizzled out. For the first time in 22 years, Virginia Democrats won control of both legislative houses in the elections in November 2019. The Trump-backed governor of Mitch McConell’s Kentucky was voted out. A Senate flip in 2020 is more than a pipe-dream or mere possibility, I assure you. But, it will take our time, energy, and money to realize.
The Senate election in 2020 will be pivotal in determining the course of our country’s politics. The power of the Senate is more profound than even the presidency. In 2018, Senators and House Representatives exercised incumbent reelection rates of 84% and 91%, respectively. Pouring time, energy, and small dollar donations into these flippable districts will serve as another chance for Democrats to establish strong roots in swing states and retain lasting political influence. This will also serve as a critical opportunity for women to take control of political seats, amid a presidential climate rife with accusations of sexism or sexual assault against every major male candidate still on stage or recently departed.
The role of sexism
In this so-called “two man” race, the contributions and value of female candidates has been effectively erased by media stations, pundits, and supporters of Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden alike. The most stunning upset is perhaps the fact that former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg received nearly the same number of delegates as Senator Elizabeth Warren, dubbed the woman of all plans, on Super Tuesday. Amid highly qualified, prepared, and uncontroversial political histories, the record number of women candidates that ran remain merely a footnote in this election now. Perhaps the most bipartisan efforts in this election cycle have been the collective enforcement of nearly impossible standards for women in the race and the malicious undermining of their qualifications from politicians and media members on both sides of the aisle. This became especially clear when Senator Warren unrelentingly sought to exact accountability after sexual misconduct allegations became wedged against Bloomberg and his non-disclosure agreements surfaced. This, of course, is coupled with Bloomberg’s implementation of racial profiling through stop and frisk, which was fiercely brought to light on the Nevada stage. Nevertheless, Bloomberg’s deflection still earned him over 60 delegates on Super Tuesday and, in turn, contributed to criticisms of Senator Warren.
Not all hope should be lost, however. Following the trend of the impressive number of women vying for the presidency, there are a number of women running to unseat incumbent Republicans in the Senate. The progressive flip so many Democrats are chasing is not only more possible in the Senate, but remains probable. This can be attributed to the robust campaigns being fiercely mounted in purple and red states. Sara Gideon, speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, is challenging Senator Susan Collins, polling above Collins as of early March, in what will be an extremely tight and critical race. Additionally, Amy McGrath, running to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has raised $17 million dollars since launching her campaign in July 2019, the fourth highest of any Senate candidate in the country. The former Marine fighter pilot is the leading Democratic candidate in the race. According to the Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics, 15% of female candidates that lost federal elections in 2018 are likely to run again in 2020. Many of these women are in swing districts or states. Let’s help them finish the job.
So, is a blue Senate more important than a blue president? To me, the answer is yes. However, I do not believe a sweeping progressive agenda will successfully pass through the Oval Office unless a blue President is in place. But, winning back the Senate will bring forth much-needed governmental stability and oversight. Moreover, the big structural changes Democratic presidential candidates are calling for, such as Medicare for all, a Green New Deal (a Blue New Deal, too), and immigration reform, will be impossible without a blue Senate. But, they will be very possible, though not easy, without a Democratic President. A blue House, which is likely to be maintained in 2020, coupled with a blue Senate, will grant Democrats far more power to block conservative agendas and put more pressure on the President to pass fair, bipartisan policies. We must flip the Senate because we should acknowledge the shortcomings that will occur, even if a president of the party we desire is elected; we must also flip the Senate in order to recognize the absence of checks and balances when a president of the opposing party has been elected.
“Persistence is a choice, but not an easy one.”
While I truly believe the Democratic frontrunner, whomever it may be, will successfully mobilize voters of diverse views and backgrounds to vote President Trump out, we cannot entertain the risk of mass devastation in 2020 by neglecting the Senate. Doing so would not only be careless, it would be dangerous. Negating the importance of the Senate, one of the ultimate provisions of checks and balances in our Constitution, would be embodying the antithesis of our democracy. In order to truly prevent hardening of conservative policies and lay the roots for necessary progressive reforms, we need to throw ourselves all in for a Senate flip. Protecting the vulnerable Supreme Court alone is absolutely urgent. The stakes for women’s rights, immigrant protections and reform, climate change, and national security have perhaps never been higher. Do not let mainstream media distract you with the erasure of Senate races and the remarkable lack of coverage of the women working tirelessly to fuel their campaigns in battle ground states. 2020 is the year of not forgiving and not forgetting. I implore you to focus your time, energy, and political donations on advocating for progressive candidates in the Senate, even those outside your state. If you’re angry about the results of Super Tuesday, like me, I want you to know that you’re allowed to be. And you’re not alone. Our country needs your anger, frustration, and passions to move progressive values forward and ensure a victory. When you’re ready, there are a whole fleet of campaigns eager for your support.
Persistence is a choice, but not an easy one. In these moments of national soul-searching and pain, you must remember what makes you care so much in the first place. You must remember your strength and power as an individual, regardless of whether your top candidate is still in the running. It all feels so personal, and it is. This is your fight, but the battle is so much bigger. It is not just me who is counting on your willingness to choose love over hate and hope over fear in these trying times — it’s our democracy, too.