Republicans Have Made the Midterms a Referendum on Trumpism

As we await what happens with the FBI investigation into claims that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted women in high school and college, we’re starting to see discussions about how the events of the last couple of weeks will affect the midterm elections. Conventional wisdom is that it will help Democrats take back the House, but will strengthen the Republican efforts to hold on to the Senate, especially in states Trump won by big margins and a Democrat is up for re-election.

I’d like to take a step back from those predictions to suggest that, in defense of Kavanaugh, the Republicans have nationalized the midterm elections and basically made them a referendum on Trumpism. The Supreme Court nominee we witnessed in Thursday’s hearing was certainly a replica of almost everything we’ve seen from the president. He is a white man who has been accused of sexual assault that lied repeatedly (and obviously) while citing conspiracy theories about the enemies of conservatism.

In response, we witnessed several white men on the Judiciary Committee engage in rage-filled rants about the injustice being heaped on Kavanaugh in the process. Doreen St. Félix articulated exactly what happened.

At the time of this writing, composed in the eighth hour of the grotesque historic activity happening in the Capitol Hill chamber, it should be as plain as day that what we witnessed was the patriarchy testing how far its politics of resentment can go.

Adam Serwer added some depth to what was happening on the Republican side of the aisle.

Where even Thomas’s supporters in 1991 stood stone-faced before his anger, several Republicans on the committee were moved to tears as Kavanaugh emotionally denied the charges against him. That’s unsurprising. Kavanaugh is one of them: a conservative white man whose comfortable life and Ivy League education has smoothed his way to one of the most important jobs in the country. He is what they want their children to be, what they want their grandchildren to be. These senators’ hearts were cold to the Muslim families trapped in airports by Trump’s travel ban, the thousands who died in Puerto Rico, the millions of black parents who fear that their children’s chance encounters with law enforcement will end in death, and the woman who had testified only hours earlier that Kavanaugh had laughed while he had attempted to rape her. But Kavanaugh’s suffering? That they understood.

To the extent that Republicans are energized to vote in November, it will be because they also identify with Kavanugh’s outrage at the supposed injustice he has been subjected to, while being “cold” to the same things that failed to move Republican Senators over the last two years.

On the other hand, Rebecca Traister identified what is happening with women.

[Christine Blasey Ford’s] voice trembled in moments of intense recollection; it sounded as though she might be crying, though no tears appeared to fall. She described a past sexual assault and the more recent media assault on her in excruciating and vulnerable detail, but did not yell, did not betray a hint of the fury she had every reason to feel as she was forced to put her pain on display for the nation.

That is how women have been told to behave when they are angry: to not let anyone know, and to joke and to be sweet and rational and vulnerable.

Outside the room where Christine Blasey Ford was testifying on Thursday morning, women were incandescent with rage and sorrow and horror. They were getting angry in a new way, a public way, an unapologetic way — a way that is typically reserved for men, and that would again serve men well, when afternoon came.

As Traister and others have noted previously, one of the elements of white patriarchy is that it has established rules about who gets to be angry in this culture. As we witnessed last summer, when the Democratic base (which includes more women and people of color) get angry, we hear warnings about how the lack of civility will hurt the party.

But regardless of how people react to the public, unapologetic anger that has been unleashed among women, the table has been set for the midterms to be a referendum on the way in which Donald Trump represents white patriarchy. As we saw coming out of the 2016 presidential election, a lot of people were divided on what was at play that time around, with ongoing arguments about whether Trump’s base was fueled by economic anxiety or fear of changes that would bring about the end of white patriarchy. When it comes to November, all of that has been clarified and there is no doubt about what’s at stake.

Just as Paul Glastris wrote that, for Democrats, winning one midterm election is not enough, Traister suggests that the anger women are feeling needs to be maintained.

The future will come, we hope. If we survive this, if we make it better — even just a little bit better — the urgency will fade, perhaps the ire will subside, the relief may take you, briefly. And that’s good, that’s O.K.

But then the world will come and tell you that you shouldn’t get mad again, because you were kind of nuts and you never cooked dinner and you yelled at the TV and weren’t so pretty and life will be easier when you get fun again. And it will be awfully tempting to put away the pictures of yourself in your pussy hat, to stuff your protest signs in the attic, and to slink back, away from the raw bite of fury, to ease back into whatever new reality is made, and maybe you’ll still cry angry tears at your desk and laugh with sharp satisfaction in front of late-night television, but you won’t yell anymore.

What you’re angry about now — injustice — will still exist, even if you yourself are not experiencing it, or are tempted to stop thinking about how you experience it, and how you contribute to it. Others are still experiencing it, still mad; some of them are mad at you. Don’t forget them; don’t write off their anger. Stay mad for them, alongside them, let them lead you in anger.

Whether the anger being felt by women and men who are part of the Democratic coalition will outpace the politics of resentment to fuel a blue wave in November remains to be seen. But that is how things are shaping up for the midterm elections. White patriarchy won’t end as a result of one election, as Barack Obama tried to tell us over and over again. That will require a sustained anger extended to all of its forms. November is shaping up to be the next step in a process that has been unfolding for decades if we keep our eyes on the prize.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.