apprehension that I felt upon Donald Trump’s victory in the
Presidential election has only increased as he has announced the
appointments of his chief of staff, strategist, and cabinet members.
As of this writing, he has mainly announced the selection of older
white men, including the racist Alabama Senator, Jeff Sessions, to
lead the Justice Department. The senator’s use of highly
inflammatory racial rhetoric (including describing the NAACP as an
“un-American” organization, and expressing support for
the KKK) prevented his confirmation to the US District Court in 1986.
Now, he will be charged with law enforcement in our nation.
troubling has been the selection of Stephen Bannon, his campaign
chairman, as chief White House strategist and senior counselor.
Bannon is the Executive Chairman of Breitbart News, a news site that
has been the home of the alt-right, the source of lies, hate,
nastiness and racist rhetoric. President Barack Obama had to walk
away from Minister Jeremiah Wright because one of his sermons was
considered racist by some whites. Trump openly embraces racists and
is applauded for it.
position that Bannon will hold does not require Senate confirmation,
while the position that Sessions will be nominated for does. With 54
Republicans in the Senate, Sessions is almost certain to be
nominated. Hopefully Democrats have retained enough of a backbone
to raise questions about Sessions’ racism. Senate newcomers
Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) may be among
the first to raise the questions. Still Republicans will have the
votes to confirm anyone they want to confirm. Welcome to the age of
Republicans get more of an edge in the Senate when we go to the polls
in 2018? Thirty-three Senate seats will be up for grabs then.
Republicans hold only eight. Independents Bernie Sanders (VT) and
Angus King (ME), who caucus and vote with Democrats are both likely
to be candidates for re-election. A whopping 23 seats are currently
held by Democrats. If some of the states that went Republican in
this year’s election can be tilted, Republicans can widen their
margin in the Senate.
Trump campaign (and its affiliated SuperPacs) have as much as $60
million to spend, and can use it to build ground operations in states
where Democrats closely lost this year. (Hillary and her affiliated
SuperPACS may have as much as $70 million to spend). Democrats lost
Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, and
Arizona by less than five percent. Incumbent Democrats Tammy Baldwin
(WI), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Bob Casey (PA), Joe Donnelly (IN), Amy
Klobuchar (Minnesota), Joe Manchin (WV), Bill Nelson (FL), and Debbie
Stabenow (MI) are all in states that Republicans won in 2016. While
many of them are popular, and incumbency is a challenging thing to
overcome, we’ve just seen that the right kind of Republican
rhetoric can prevail.
candidates, and the Democratic Party, can’t afford to take
incumbency or popularity for granted. They can’t afford to
savor a polling lead and conclude that they don’t have to fight
for every vote. If these folks want to go back to Washington,
they’ll learn from the Hillary Clinton loss and work
indefatigably, starting now, to keep their seats. They’ll make
lots of visits back home, host town hall meetings, and make sure
their votes understand what their contributions have been and what
challenges they face.
Trump and his team can brag of results, if his actions are perceived
as “making American great again”, then incumbent
Democrats may be in trouble. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, also on the
ballot, has described Democrats in the Senate as the “emergency
brake” on Trump’s policy proposals. I expect them to
vocally take Trump and his team on when they revert to the racist
rhetoric and proposed racist, misogynistic, and jingoistic policies
that Trump promoted during the campaign. Will they? They may not
want to be perceived as obstructionists (though Republicans surely
didn’t mind being obstructionists with President Obama), and
they will certainly need to pick their battles carefully. But they
must speak out.
election turnout is always extremely low – it was just 36
percent in 2014, the lowest level in 70 years. Democrats must start
now to educate and encourage people to turn out for the mid-term
elections. And voting rights organizations must begin now to reverse
the voter suppression that kept millions from voting on November 8.
If Democrats don’t get busy now, Republicans will, indeed,
prevail in 2018. So let’s stop wringing our hands and
moaning. Let’s get busy!