Life under this presidential administration has brought many dark days of despair. Looking ahead to the 2020 elections, many members of the media see doom and defeat. Away from the White House, however, this year also offered up ample reasons to hope as we head into the next. Here, then, is the evidence of things not seen: 10 stories from 2019 that should renew your faith in politics.
10. Legal Victories for the Activists Fighting for Families on the Border
After a brief period of national concern about the lives of migrant adults and children being held in cages at the border, the plight of these people has faded from the spotlight. But courageous activists and organizers have continued to fight the good fight, and they are still winning meaningful victories. Most recently, the Southern Border Communities Coalition—a network of groups spanning Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California—partnered with the ACLU and the Sierra Club to win a lawsuit in federal court that blocked the use of $3.6 billion of federal funds to build Trump’s border wall. This victory is important: It fuels the fight of those in the trenches, and forestalls even worse human rights abuses. Every day that the construction of the wall is delayed is one day less of destruction that will need to be reversed after this awful administration.
9. Continued Progressive Investment in the Work of Stacey Abrams
The rise of Georgia’s Stacey Abrams as a political leader was one of the most inspiring developments in 2018—and her loss in the subsequent stolen gubernatorial election was one of the most depressing. The national progressive movement needs authentic and visionary leaders who come from the communities most under attack in this country, and Georgia sits at the pivot point of power. Abrams got more votes in Georgia than Bill Clinton did when he won the state during the 1992 presidential election; in 2020, the Peach State could be a battleground, as well as a key state for recapturing control of the US Senate, with two Republican-held Senate seats on the ballot.
For progressives to realize Georgia’s full potential, the infrastructure built by Abrams and her team must be maintained, invested in, and expanded. Fortunately, in 2019, leaders, organizations, and institutions have contributed their resources and platforms to the cause. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer chose Abrams to deliver the Democratic response to the State of the Union address in February; more recently, the team behind the progressive podcast Pod Save America helped raise more than $2 million for Fair Fight, the voter protection organization Abrams created. This month, Michael Bloomberg committed $5 million to Fair Fight. This collective embrace of Abrams’s movement will give progressives a fighting chance to turn Georgia blue in 2020.
8. The Supreme Court Saves the Census
With its mission to Make America White Again, this administration worked hard to turn the national Census into a weapon for intimidating immigrants of color from letting themselvesvliterally be counted. As files from a GOP strategist revealed, the attempt to add a question to the Census about individuals’ citizenship status may have been an effort to aid Republican gerrymandering. But the progressive legal advocacy community swung into action and fought the administration all the way to the Supreme Court, where they won a 5 to 4 decision in June—frustrating yet another of Trump’s attempts to circumvent the demographic revolution.
7. Louisiana Reelects a Democratic Governor
In 1991, avowed white supremacist and former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke lost the race to become governor of Louisiana—but he won a majority of the white vote. While Barack Obama was sweeping to victory in 2008, just 14 percent of white voters in the state backed the black man seeking the White House. (It was the second-lowest level of white support for Obama in that election, behind only Mississippi.) It’s no wonder, then, that Trump prevailed in Louisiana in 2016, winning by 20 points.
This year, Trump tried to leverage his platform and overwhelming white support to oust the state’s Democratic incumbent Governor John Bel Edwards. Despite the full force of Trump’s engagement—including multiple trips to the state, where he begged the voters to “give me a big win, please”—Edwards beat back, and prevailed. The Louisiana success affirmed that the formula for Democratic victory starts with, as one political analyst put it, “increased African American turnout.”
6. Democrats Take Control in Virginia
In Virginia, a decade of old-fashioned and methodical community organizing by groups such as New Virginia Majority paid off: Democrats flipped enough seats to take control of the state legislature. Combined with their victories in the 2017 elections for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, Democrats now control all branches of government for the first time in more than two decades. That means they can begin to advance progressive legislation that will improve the lives of millions of people, by expanding voting access, advancing gun control, and protecting LGBTQ rights. Virginia is a sterling example of how electoral effectiveness can lead to inspiring and relevant public policy.
5. We Finally Get Closer to Passing the Equal Rights Amendment
Nearly a century after it was first introduced, and nearly 50 years since it was passed by Congress, the Equal Rights Amendment—which would ban discrimination on the basis of sex under the Constitution—needed ratification by just one more state to reach the threshold for adoption. Virginia’s new establishment means that state will now become the 38th to ratify the ERA. There had been a time limit imposed on the legislation’s ratification to keep it from being passed, but there’s no such thing in the Constitution; the House of Representatives has already introduced a bill to remove the time limit. Although conservatives are mobilizing to argue that the time limit has expired, the stage is, nonetheless, finally set—both for a legal battle about the process used to pass the amendment, and for a long-overdue, election-year debate about whether this nation is going to outlaw discrimination based on gender.
4. The 1619 Project
This year marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of ships bearing the first African slaves to be brought to America’s shores. In a remarkable feat, Nikole Hannah-Jones, an African American writer for The New York Times, persuaded the paper to put its resources, prestige, and platform behind the audacious endeavor of redefining “the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.” The 1619 Project is a wide-ranging editorial package including essays, images, and reported stories, and a radical challenge to the idea that “slavery was a long time ago”; it firmly roots the United States’ societal problems and inequalities in its treatment of black people. The persistence of profound racial and economic inequality, as well as the White House’s aggressive championing of white supremacy, provide stark contrast to this new understanding of American democracy’s relationship to African Americans. This breathtaking project will have long-lasting ramifications.
3. The Continuation of the Demographic Revolution
For all the endless polls and articles published about the importance of conservative, white, working-class voters, the fact is that this country’s demographic revolution has continued apace: The United States is getting browner by the hour. The 2020 electorate will be the most diverse in history. One-third of eligible voters will be people of color, up from about a quarter just 20 years ago. Since Trump was elected, 14 million young Americans have turned 18 and become eligible to vote, nearly half of whom are people of color. A detailed data dive by the Center for American Progress found that if voter turnout and voter preferences exactly mirror those of 2016, the Democratic candidate will take back Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, carrying the electoral college by 279 votes to 259—simply because of the growth of the population of people of color.
2. Pelosi Retakes the Speaker’s Gavel
If ever there were a political leader made for this moment in history, it is Nancy Pelosi. Trump is a misogynistic bully of a president, contemptuous and dismissive of the institutions, laws, and standards that govern our society—and he has more than met his match in Speaker Pelosi. From calling Trump’s bluff on the government shutdown, to delaying his prized, primetime perch for the State of the Union, to blocking congressional funding for his border wall, Pelosi has run circles around this White House. People often underestimate how progressive she is, but we would not have passed the Affordable Care Act had she not held the line when many Democrats wanted to capitulate. Her leadership and coalition-building skills have united an ideologically broad (and often courage-challenged) caucus. She waited for the moment when she could get all of the Democrats to act in concert on impeachment, then moved with lightning speed—bewildering Trump, who, complacent after the conclusion of the Mueller report, whined, “I thought we had won.” For all of these reasons, Pelosi has been indispensable to the most important story of the year.
1. Trump Is Impeached
When Trump was elected, the Democrats didn’t have the power to stop his deliberate, inexorable march toward fascism, and Republicans didn’t have the will. As a result, he has become increasingly bold, dangerous, and destructive. With each passing day, he has undermined and attacked the vulnerable—especially people of color and immigrants—as well as societal institutions, journalism, and democracy itself.
Now the House of Representatives (one full of timid, conflict-avoidant Democrats, at that) has made Trump just the third president in history to be impeached. It has held Trump accountable for his conduct—a completely new experience for him. This also educates the country about how dangerous the president’s behavior is. Impeachment answers the doubts of those who might drift toward him with the full authority and solemnity of the United States government.
It also suggests that maybe, just maybe, our democracy can withstand Trump’s kind of assault. A lone whistle-blower acted on his conscience about Trump and Rudy Giuliani’s calls with Ukraine; now, despite the GOP’s best efforts to undermine the process, the president is being punished. Even if he’s not removed in the Senate, Trump has been weakened and condemned. The next phase, of course, is to defeat him in 2020. The combination of impeachment and electoral defeat would affirm the power of our democratic institutions, and the nature of the society that we thought we lived in. And that is reason enough to keep hope alive as we head into the new year.