What Just Happened? A Weekly Roundup of Politics

This week, while full of political drama, was actually quite tame if one compares it to most weeks during the Trump presidency. The State of the Union address was all over the map. Trump jumped from discussing the elimination of HIV, funding paid family leave, lowering health care costs, and funding new infrastructure projects.

These all sound well and good but peppered in between discussing how the government should actually help the American people he dove deep into the polarizing issue of his wall.

While Trump tried to sing unity, he vacillated between pandering to the left and then to his base, saying, “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. We must choose between greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction.”

It seems like he’s finally acting like a politician. He knows he’s perpetuated this national riff and acts as though placing a bandaid over a bullet wound will keep the country stitched together. The gaslighting of his words don’t work on his base as well as they used to. People have come to realize it’s far more worthwhile to watch what he does, not believe what he says.

Stacey Abram’s rebuttal was convincing for a few reasons. First, she was the first woman of color ever to be granted the honor. I don’t think I need to remind people why it’s imperative to our democracy that women of color, LGBTQ folks, and the poor are actually represented by our government leaders. It’s 2019, and we’re hundreds of years behind schedule for racial and gender equity, but Democrats are patting themselves on the back for this one. Better late than never, but we all know we have a long way to go before the playing fields are level. Needless to say, she nailed it.

Abrams chastised the president for the partial government shutdown calling it a “stunt” and implored that the Republican party is disconnected from the realities of everyday working Americans. She spoke of voter suppression (Abrams narrowly lost in the Georgia gubernatorial race to Republican incumbent Brian Kemp) and how it undermines democracy. “We cannot accept efforts to undermine our right to vote,” she said. “This is the next battle for our democracy, one where all eligible citizens can have their say about the vision we want for our country. We must reject the cynicism that says allowing every eligible vote to be cast and counted is a power grab. The foundation of our moral leadership around the globe is free and fair elections where voters pick their leaders, not where politicians pick their voters.” She also spoke passionately about “compassionate treatment” at our borders, racism, and gun violence.

Meanwhile, brewing just a few miles away in Virginia’s capitol, Governor Ralph Northam is desperately clinging to his office after a photo from his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page surfaced of a man in blackface and another wearing a KKK costume. He’s denied he was in the photo but did admit to wearing blackface that same year. 

To further complicate the matter his Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax (D) is now facing sexual assault allegations from Vanessa Tyson who alleges he forced her to perform a sexual act on him during the Democratic National Convention in 2004. And, for the cherry on top, the second in line to take the governor’s seat is Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D). But guess what he did? Yup, also wore blackface during a party in college (which he rather referred to as “brown makeup”). If all three of these men resign, the next in line to take over the throne is Republican Speaker of the House of Delegates, Kirk Cox. I’d be curious if Cox has any blackface in his history, or sexual assault allegations — one can be sure Democratic operatives are doing that research now.

Seems like these issues are political kindling that when lit can trigger a party wildfire. Democrats have some reckoning to do within their own party. Yes, the party is shifting with more women and people of color than ever before — but when some of the branches of your tree are rotten you have to prune them back so that the whole organism flourishes.

Speaking of green things flourishing, the one thing I will be keeping my eye on next week is The Green New Deal. Sponsored by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) (or AOC as many people call her because they seem to always stumble over her two last names) and her co-sponsor Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) the deal’s outline was released Thursday morning.

The general idea of the proposal is to drastically cut carbon emissions while creating new jobs. Supporting communities that easily could be adversely affected by a massive economic shift like the poor, disabled, and communities of color was acknowledged as an essential aspect of the deal’s success. The bill is only 14 pages long and a non-binding proposal — meaning it wouldn’t create any new programs. But, it does demand some pretty critical shifts like “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” It seems unlikely to pass, but it offers a glimpse into how those new branches of the Democratic body are shifting the dynamic. While the bill has been around for a minute, adding AOC’s name to it recalibrates the conversation and can bring young voters on board for more progressive thinking in our nation’s capital.

With 31% of young voters turning out for the midterm elections (a 25 year high) we can look for more support on causes championed by millennial superstar Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and potentially a more progressive shift in the Democratic party.

Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects up social and environmental justice issues.

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