The recent spate of Democratic wins in both Virginia and New Jersey served as deeply cathartic moments for the liberal and progressive left. With anti-Trump sentiment ever-rising, the left has been itching to re-organize and win back power that it had lost in the shocking results of the 2016 elections. Both Virginia and New Jersey served as the proverbial, symbolic “comeback” of a supposedly more unified anti-Trump electorate, more specifically, a stronger Democratic party.
In the immediate aftermath of these elections, there was plenty of speculation as to whether these wins foreshadowed the future of the Democratic Party in 2018 and 2020. Did these elections, indeed, mark the formation of a stronger Democratic party or a torrential shift in party affiliation perhaps? Were they any indications of the party’s future success in 2018 and 2020? Some certainly thought so, but that is just wishful thinking.
“Anti-Trumpism” certainly played an important role in the wins in both states—if not in the form of an out-right shift in party affiliation, then certainly in the form of deepening extant anti-Trump animosity that motivated people to head to the polls. Yet the anger that the Trump administration triggers will not be the basis for future wins, as neither of these elections would provide a fair glimpse into what either 2018 or 2020 will look like.
Political analyses that have suggested otherwise could not have been further from the truth. While political leanings will certainly matter in the outcome of future elections, as will policy platform, they will become secondary (and perhaps even tertiary) to one major element that will determine voting patterns, and that factor is identity. At the very least, identity politics will be just as important as any other factor in determining decisive political gains.
I say this with two points in mind. The first point is this: when I say “identity politics,” I do not simply mean that a voter makes a decision based on superficial similarities with a candidate’s identity—that is to say that a black, Latina, LGBTQ person, or a woman votes for a prospective candidate solely because the candidates share in the voters’ respective identities (i.e. that a woman votes for a woman for the sole fact of being a woman etc…).
What I do mean is that embedded in the notion of “identity” exists multi-tiered historical relationships between 1. the person and the polity and 2. the collective will of a specific group of people against the will of political system. Simply put, in practice this means that—for instance, women would not simply vote for another woman because she is a woman, but that women (collectively) would vote for a woman because women know what is actually means to be a woman in the eyes of the political system—they are aware of historical injustices that were meted out to them simply for being women; they are aware of how difficult society has made it for women to succeed in the work place; they are further aware of how society has tied “woman-ness” with sex and has relegated women to sex objects.
Thus, being a woman—in the eyes of the political body—entails being second-class. Often, with identity politics, this is the “subject-state” relationship that we see manifest, where the political apparatus has historically relegated certain people to second-class status, so people collectively will for a similar individual to stand against the system with them with the idea that the individual understands the historical weight of their identity.
Second, the current socio-political back-drop in which these elections will be taking place is clearly seeing the rise of women—many of whom are openly speaking out against rapists and other sexual predators. We are in the midst of a new, integrated feminist movement that is staunchly anti-misogyny and trans-inclusive (in the case of social moderates and progressives).
Currently, both the Democratic and Republican parties are facing a much-needed and long-overdue shake-up for their associations with sexual predators. Thus far, in the Democratic camp, we have: Sen. Al Franken, Rep. John Conyers Jr., the party’s continued support of Bill Clinton (and Hillary for defending her husband), as well as its affiliation with liberal Hollywood elites (e.g. Harvey Weinstein etc.).
In the Republican camp, we have President Donald Trump himself, the whole party’s association with him, Senate Candidate Roy Moore, and disgraced FOX News host Bill O’Reilly. It seems likely more of these allegations will surface over time—particularly against Trump. What is pertinent, however, is that both parties will be facing a deep restructuring—especially the Democratic party. Women will be the de-facto demographic that will decide the turn of future elections for Democrats. As to what both parties will look like in the future: women will run them. For the Democratic party, it appears fairly certain that women will exercise much more direct control over the future of the party with women senators taking over—something which we are already seeing in the case of Al Franken.
As for Republicans, the image will be more complex—there will inevitably be a split within the party itself, and women will also be a part of it—those who defend the President and other Republicans who have come under intense scrutiny for their sexual conduct, and those who flatly reject it. I am convinced, however, that women in the Republican electorate will place greater pressure upon their party officials to take tougher positions in protecting women. It’s becoming clearer that there are deep frustrations with how men in positions of power have been behaving.
Both sides will essentially be feminist in the sense that both will stand for equal treatment for women. Their articulation of feminism will invariably be different, and it will hinge on reproductive rights issues and—by extension—a woman’s relationship to children as well as on transgender issues. Nevertheless, women will run their respective parties.
And with #MeToo trending, it appears as though the reverberations in American feminist circles have reached Israel and the UK and a much wider international audience. If there is anything for which we can be certain about 2018 and 2020, the voice of women and their demand will become much more forceful than in previous years.