The word for today’s show is inclusive.
It was used by New Mexico congressional candidate, Deb Haaland, during my interview with her. Inclusive seems to be the perfect word to capture what’s at stake in this year’s elections. Whether America is going to be inclusive or not is on the ballot. The political contests underway are essentially boiling down to a struggle between renewed progressive energy and the backlash-driven status quo.
Backlash politics were likely a factor in Trump’s decision this past week to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal. As Hannah Allam of Buzzfeed recounted, Donald Trump brought in many fringe Islamophobic and xenophobic voices into the very heart of his campaign and into the White House. From the perspective of foreign policy, the decision to walk away from the deal makes little sense. Iran was just months away from making a nuclear bomb when the agreement was signed and it rolled back their program for at least a decade. But from the perspective of domestic politics, it makes more sense. With the need to hold on to a smaller base than when he entered office, Iran bashing and shredding the deal come into sharper focus. Playing to Islamophobic overtones is one way to keep Trump’s 2016 voters engaged.
However, the current backlash is fueling what Maryland gubernatorial candidate, Ben Jealous, told me is a progressive movement across his state. That movement he argues has vaulted him from the middle-of-the-pack in a crowded field to being tied for first place. “Donald Trump plays from an old playbook: divide and conquer” Jealous says “but it also makes it easier to bring people together.” Ironically what Ben (I’ve known him since we were teenagers) is describing here is that Trump’s riding of the resentment wave may be fueling a backlash against this backlash. There is an interplay here that is defining the 2018 election. “We have brought the antidote to hate and division ” concludes Jealous. As the year rolls out we’ll see whether this true.
The progressive resurgence is also tied to a number of firsts this year. There are more women running for political office in 2018 than at any point in US history. But the candidacy of Deb Haaland goes a step farther. If elected she will be the first Native woman to serve in the US Congress since America’s founding nearly 300 years ago. This is an astounding fact. Yet Deb is running her race on bread and butter issues such as healthcare and jobs, with an emphasis on renewable energy. What’s interesting about her primary race is that she’s facing off against another progressive woman of color. As Haaland mentioned, Donald Trump’s election, unexpectedly, “has given a lot of courage and power to women” to run for office.
A powerful woman already in Congress, California’s Maxine Waters, faced off against the backlash on the floor of the US House last Thursday when a white male colleague told her that he knows more about discrimination than she does. Not surprisingly Congresswoman Waters handled the situation like Olivia Pope, but what’s shocking is that her colleague’s outrageous assertion, demeaning words and dismissive demeanor are all too common right now. All during this past week the mere presence of black people seemed to set white people on edge to the point that cops were called on black students napping in a public lounge at Yale and men barbecuing in the–wait for it–barbecue area of a public park. Those fearful of demographic change appear to be seizing on the idea that it’s time for people of color to go back in time and leave the public square. As Maxine Waters put it that’s not going to happen “not for one second.” The outpouring of support from the public since Thursday might signal that in November 2018 America will choose to be inclusive again after all.