Just over two years ago, Hillary Clinton became the first female presidential nominee from a major party, and while her campaign broke barriers and challenged entrenched sexism, it was difficult to pin down as a feminist victory.
Without re-litigating Clinton’s troubled candidacy, it is worth noting that her historic career was one that often allowed her to break glass ceilings while ignoring systemic problems of violence and poverty that disproportionately affect women who are undocumented, black, Latina, Jewish, transgender, queer, Muslim, indigenous and disabled.
Major media outlets attempted to makes sense of the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election in terms of a partisan divide, and analyzed the appeal of racist fear-mongering in the context of economic disenfranchisement among white working-class voters.
However, these “hot takes,” which almost universally invoke some form of Hillbilly Elegy logic, fail to account for race as the most fundamental and traditional boundary in our nation’s history.
We do not, in fact, live in a country of Hillbillies and Coastal Elites; we live in a country where one’s race is more significantly correlated with one’s political affiliation than almost any other identifier. The problem with progressive feminism, meanwhile, is not that it gets hoarded behind an academic journal’s paywall, but that it requires white women to vote against white patriarchal power.
America undoubtedly faces a troubling ideological conflict, but it has little, if anything, to do with partisanship. Our resentment goes deeper than red-blue, rich-poor, or liberal-conservative binaries, and attributing discord along those lines obscures the way forward for both political parties.
Reducing the midterms’ victories to a referendum on Trump is also improvident. This kind of reductionist emphasis continues to ignore the labor of young, black, brown, queer, Latina, Muslim, refugee, first-generation American, and indigenous women who, in the face of bigotry and vitriol, have both made a mockery of Trump’s self-proclaimed nationalism and declared a mutiny within the party that has claimed to represent oppressed people without deigning to elect them.
For the first time, black women will represent Massachusetts and Connecticut, Latina women will represent Texas, and Muslim and Native American women will serve in Congress. There will be more black lieutenant governors than ever before, and some will serve in states whose electoral votes contributed to Trump’s victory. 1.4 million formerly incarcerated Floridians have just become eligible to vote, and a record-breaking 100 women will serve in the majority-Democratic House of Representatives.
However, a significant number of these candidacies were defined by a repudiation of hegemonic racial and gender politics, rather than an affiliation with the Democratic party.
For example, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, primaried a ten-term Democratic incumbent before going on to defeat her Republican opponent.
Ayanna Pressley, who will be the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress, separated herself from fellow Democrat and incumbent Michael Capuano by championing racial justice.
Lucy McBath, whose son was shot and killed by a white man over the volume of his music, defeated a Republican incumbent and will be the first Democrat to hold the seat in 39 years.
Sharice Davids, one of the first two Native American women in Congress, comes from a military family, is a former MMA fighter and supports gun control.
Deb Haaland, an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo people, is still paying off her student loans at age 57.
The historic outcomes of races up and down ballot this year are not a fluke retaliation for a one-sided culture war.
Instead, they represent the future of a two-party system that can counter alarmist trends with candidates who treat diversity as a tangible promise of a more representative government rather than a strategy for winning electoral bingo.