Breathe Easy

Republicans still control the White House and will until at least 2020. There’s a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, and who knows how long that will last. Decades, at least, and for the next two years, whoever is keeping Justice Ruth Ginsburg healthy is the most important person in this country. The Senate has only reddened since Tuesday’s election. The House of Representatives is a different story, with a decisive victory carried out by the Democratic Party. 

Illustration By Cate Johnson

Many viewed these midterms as a way out of the daily malaise of the Donald Trump Administration, a way to inject a defense against hardline conservatism into the American body politic. With the rage felt by many after the 2016 presidential election, it seemed a sure thing that Democrats would regain control of all of Congress. This, of course, didn’t happen, but that’s no reason to despair. 

Maybe these elections weren’t quite what anyone opposed to Trump’s agenda was looking for, but they’re a damn sight better than what the American political landscape has looked like since the president took office. These results give us a chance to breathe a little easier about just how much harm the Trump Administration can carry out. 

At the time of this writing, Democrats had gained a 35-seat majority in the House of Representatives. This is the first time since 2010 that Democrats have held such a majority, and the way that it came is striking. Democrats, if you’ll excuse the exaggeration, obliterated Republicans at their own game — winning in gerrymandered districts. The last time redistricting occurred, at the same time as the last U.S. Census in 2010, congressional districts were drawn with partisan advantage in mind for the GOP. This, in combination with low voter turnout, kept a party in power whose views are not in line with the majority of the country. 

Gallup has determined that Americans’ concern for the environment is at an all-time high, with at least 62 percent of the country calling for stronger environmental protections. Meanwhile, the Republican Party has been attempting to gut the EPA and open up mining and drilling on public land. For the sake of brevity, I’ll leave it at that example and move forward. 

This victory comes with several important milestones for the nation beyond a simple reversal of control. We have the youngest person to ever serve in Congress, 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, representing New York’s 14th District. The 116th Congress will also feature its first female Muslim lawmakers, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, representing districts from Michigan and Minnesota, respectively. Massachusetts elected its first female black representative ever, Ayana Pressley. New Mexico and Kansas elected the nation’s first two Native American women to Congress, Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids. Congress looks more like the nation it is supposed to represent now, and for that we can be grateful. 

Before the returns came in, the GOP held the governorship of more than thirty states. Democrats took seven of those in these midterms, with a potential runoff in Georgia leaving the possibility open for one more. They lost the Florida gubernatorial race, keeping that state in the red. The gains made in Nevada, New Mexico, Maine, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Kansas will have far-reaching effects. These victories give the Democratic Party influence when it comes to redrawing Congressional districts in 2020, which, if all goes well, will result in fewer districts drawn across partisan lives. 

Beyond this, these victories more evenly distribute the balance of power in the country; Democrats control 23 states, and Republicans 27. In terms of milestones, we elected Jared Polis to the Colorado governorship, and when he takes office he will be the first openly gay and Jewish governor in the country — Mike Pence’s nightmare. Maine said goodbye to Paul LePage, the Republican executive who had restricted Medicaid against the wishes of his constituents, and welcomed new Democratic governor-elect Janet Mills.

Republicans have also held control over many more state legislatures (both Houses and Senates) than Democrats in recent years. Again, these midterms’ results changed that. In New York, what should be a reliable Democratic stronghold, a long-standing Republican majority was wiped out and replaced with an eight-seat Democratic advantage. We saw flips in Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and in Colorado as well. These changes have the potential to make progressive issues that can be legislated from a state level, such as marijuana legalization and gun control, far more prevalent throughout the country. 

These midterm elections were a breath of fresh air. They also weren’t a panacea to all the ills of the nation. Hyperpartisanship hasn’t gone anywhere; Trump is still our president; climate change action still feels far off; voter suppression is alive and well; and the Senate remains controlled by Republicans. But they provide us some relief in a political body that will, hopefully, be a check on the GOP’s worst impulses. The new chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology will believe in climate science. The Committee on Ways and Means will have the authority to request the president’s tax returns from the IRS. 

Not everything changed, and a blue wave didn’t submerge the country. However, these results are reason enough to put a modicum of trust back into our fractured political system, and let those of us who were hoping for such a wave breathe a little easier.

John Feigelson

John Feigelson

John Feigelson is an avid writer, reader, climber, skier, Swedish fish eater, comic book aficionado and New York Yankees fan. He is an organismal biology and ecology major from New York City, and loves the thrill of journalism.
John Feigelson

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