By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
“This is a fight for the soul of our party. This is a fight for the future of our democracy,” Boston city councilor Ayanna Pressley said after she won the primary to contest a Congressional seat in Massachusetts. “We might vote the same way, but we will lead differently. These times require and this district deserves bold, activist leadership.”
Headlines noted that she will be the first black woman elected to Congress in the state. It’s being seen as another upset after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated Representative Joe Crowley in a New York primary. There is also Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum who won in the Florida Democratic gubernatorial primary. He could be the first African-American governor of the state. In addition Rashida Tlaib will likely become the first Muslim congresswoman after winning a race in Michigan. A “wave of black women” are running for office and starting to win, writes Vox.
For decades the US Democratic party has claimed to be the party that represents diversity, seeking to including minorities and women. At campaign events diversity takes center stage and it also usually means that the national convention seeks to have quotas for diversity. This has roots in the 1970s. Different states have sought over the years to include a diverse group at the convention. One list from 2000 noted that Washington state sought to include 7 percent of the state’s delegates to be Asian-American, 6.1 percent Hispanic, 2.9 percent black and 1.9 percent Native American.
Having a diverse convention is important, but the problem is that the party seems to have ossified in terms of actually having diverse leadership. Some will point and say “what about Barack Obama?” Yes, his election represented a major victory for diversity, but it alone did not change the rank and file in the Senate and the House.
The fact that so many women candidates, particularly women of color and younger women, are rising to challenge and win primaries and that major media is so shocked means that there is a problem. The problem is that people like Ayanna and Ocasio-Cortez should be expected to win in a party that takes diversity and progressive politics seriously. It’s one thing to talk about these values, but a congressional delegation should look more like America.
It’s 2018 so why is it surprising to see the first black congresswoman or potentially first black governor of Florida. The rise of this diversity should have happened years ago. It shows that the dreams of the 1970s stagnated and that entrenched majorities remained in power.
America is going through major changes. A lot of those changes are soul searching. What kind of country is America? What is its place in the world? Why weren’t the dreams of the 1990s fulfilled? Why does economic success not seem to “trickle down” to the working class. Why is it that the very centers of power, in places like media and in government, appear to be increasingly insular and trending towards even less diversity than in the past?
People are asking about what happened to America. Why did it stagnate. Why did lip-service about various values not turn into reality? Several years ago the Black Lives Matter movement sought to bring attention to the way in which law enforcement is involved in too many shootings of young black men. The Trump election also galvanized a new movement, including the Women’s March and also the “democratic socialists” inspired by Bernie Sanders. But it wasn’t just the Trump election that changed things. Many people on the left were not inspired by Hilary Clinton, they correctly saw the huge speaking fees for banks and the team around her as a throwback to an earlier era.
There is a tendency to only want the veneer of diversity in America. A college brochure recruits diverse students to make it seem like people from all backgrounds can succeed. Colin Kaepernick gets a deal with Nike but no one really wants to make the changes that his original protest were all about. The Me Too movement also revealed the hypocrisy at the center of power, around media leaders and Hollywood, where supposedly “liberal” values didn’t go together with respecting women. Because these charlatans, whether the powerful men outed by Me Too, or the powerful men who felt entitled to Congressional seats, had gotten used to just holding up a poster of diversity but not actually doing anything diverse. Newsrooms also talked about diversity but were some of the least diverse places in America.
Poorer, working class, people don’t have the power to challenge the hiring practices in Hollywood or media, or to tell a bank not to pay hundreds of millions in speaking fees to politicians, or to stop the shooting of young men, but they do have the power to vote. And they are saying they want to see officials who represent the diversity that they have been lied to about for generations. They have decided that the other 364 days of the year they might be lied to, but on election day, when they have a choice between the old guard of entitled wealth, and new faces, they will choose the new.
America is fighting a cultural revolution with itself. Trump was just a symptom of that, but the deeper revolution is in the works. It is a reaction to the decades since 1990, since the end of the Cold War, when Americans thought things would get better for them economically. But they have begun to ask to look behind the curtain of politics and they want to put people in office who represent the values that they were told their officials believed in. The culture of political “focus groups” where a slice of Americans are brought into a room and lied to by a politician and then the best lies are put out for consumption, may be coming to an end. The era of the sloganeering of those like Al Gore and others who thought if you just say things about the “richest 1%” that voters will believe you, may be coming to an end. Voters seem to be saying “yeah, but you are the richest 1%, this charade isn’t going to work anymore. We want someone like us in office.”
Americans is turning inward. It’s starting to ask that politicians represent voters and look like the average voter and represent the diversity that is America. Parties and politicians that refuse to be part of that change will find that these “upsets” keep happening.