Results of US midterm elections bring hope for inclusive politics
Although the embers have since cooled in one of the most hotly anticipated and closely watched midterm elections in the US, its striking results are likely to leave a profound impact on American politics for the foreseeable future.
This year’s midterm elections made history by delivering some important firsts. Now there are more than 100 women who hold congressional seats, comprised of 79 Democrats and 29 Republicans. This was an important milestone given the fact that women, despite being roughly 50 percent of the US population, have never held more than 20 percent of seats in Congress. That is, until now.
These figures also pale in comparison to the record 272 women who were general election nominees for Congress and state governorships. Taking it even further, a record 219 people of color were nominated, and by the end of the elections at least 115 were elected.
An even more notable first is that the 116th Congress will have Muslim women, Somali-American Ilhan Omar and Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib, serving as representatives of their respective constituencies. Also, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Texas will have women of color, African Americans and Latinas, as part of the new Congress.
At the state level, nominees, candidates and eventual elected representatives have also reflected these shifting tides in American politics. State elections do not get as much attention as congressional races, but very often state legislatures are a first step for candidates with Capitol Hill aspirations such as Omar, who just last year held a state legislature seat for a Minnesota district.
Thus, as if refusing to be outdone, there were a record 3,389 women (both Republican and Democrat) who ran for state legislatures this year. Nine states now have female governors, and although Stacey Abrams would eventually concede in Georgia’s gubernatorial race, the results were initially too close to call, necessitating a recount.
Elsewhere, African Americans scored historic wins, with New York’s first black female state attorney and Alabama electing two black males as county sheriff and district attorney, each campaigning on the hot-button issue of criminal justice reform.
Pakistani-American Farrah Khan will be joining the Irvine City Council in California, making her the first non-white woman to do so, while Muslim African-American Keith Ellison was elected as the attorney general for the state of Minnesota.
Despite the record firsts, Congress and state legislatures are still not as diverse as the constituents they represent.
The most recent elections were hailed as a referendum on the Trump administration and, by extension, Republican rubber-stamping, if not outright absenteeism. Traditionally, Congress is one-third of a tripartite power structure designed to ensure that no branch of government wields too much power.
But when a Republican-majority Congress enables a Republican-led executive branch while filling judiciary vacancies with conservative judges, it threatens the entire system of checks and balances. In a way, the noble goals of the founding fathers were likely to be abused and/or desecrated in order for one political party to gain complete, autocratic control, if you believe left-leaning media sources.
In any case, with each new diatribe against immigrants, slights targeting people of color, laws favoring the wealthy and a haphazard foreign policy that sways in favor of which sovereign entity can pour indirectly into the president’s coffers, the midterms delivered an important reckoning.
The question now is, with the changing demographic makeup of US legislatures and oversight committees, how much of that will translate to a better, more inclusive representation of the US population?
Despite the record firsts, Congress and state legislatures are still not as diverse as the constituents they represent. For the past decade and a half, racial-minority populations have grown, including mixed races where a person identifies as two or more races. Minorities have consistently opted for Democrat representation, attracted by a progressive platform that promises inclusivity and equality.
On the flip side, the majority-white population has grown tepidly, showing signs of shrinking especially in age groups below 65. This presents a worrying trend for Republicans since they have consistently enjoyed the support of the majority-white US population since 1968 (interestingly, this was just after the Civil Rights Act was passed).
This support has translated into a heavily skewed system that has greatly favored white, mostly male, conservative Christians to occupy the highest public offices in the US body politic.
As a result, even though women are 50.8 percent of the population, the 115th Congress still had less than 20 percent of seats filled by females elected in the House of Representatives, 21 percent in the Senate and roughly 20 percent appointed to congressional committees.
Minorities are roughly 38 percent of the US population, but that only translated to about 19 percent of congressional seats and 10 percent in the Senate. Even more troubling is that three congressional committees in the previous Congress had no minorities whatsoever, while others only had one or two women or minorities.
Contrary to most conclusions concerning the results of the elections, the erratic and controversy-prone Trump administration had little to do with the results. Demographics in America had been shifting long before the advent of President Donald Trump and extreme right-wing politics. It is these changes in the US demographic makeup that may have contributed to white (mostly male) America’s embrace of Trump. This trend is also happening in Europe.
These demographic trends are worth watching in the coming years to understand the future of the US and Western Europe, and what this will mean for the rest of the world and the Arab world in particular.
- Hafed Al-Ghwell is a non-resident senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Institute at the John Hopkins University School of Advance International Studies. He is also senior adviser at the international economic consultancy Maxwell Stamp and at the geopolitical risk advisory firm Oxford Analytica, a member of the Strategic Advisory Solutions International Group in Washington DC and a former adviser to the board of the World Bank Group. Twitter: @HafedAlGhwell