Friday, November 9, 2018

DEMOCRACY STRIKES BACK: THE 2018 MIDTERM ELECTIONS IN AMERICA


By Lily Hikam*)

Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
(Winston S. Churchill)

The United States midterm elections occurred on this past Tuesday, November 6th this year. Just a reminder to my Indonesian readers, the midterm elections, or colloquially known as the “Midterms”, is sort of like the Pilkada Serentak held in our beloved country. But in addition to electing governors, mayors and regents, the Americans also elect their representatives and senators. So basically it’s a super Pilkada. In previous years, many Americans just sort of slept through the Midterms. Those people didn’t really care about it, and frankly can’t be bothered to vote because Election Days are not a national holiday (shocking, I know…). Arguably, many -if not most- Americans can’t afford to take a whole day off from work because their job pays by the hour, and voting might mean losing the part of their salary that pays for rent or even their next meal.

So, midterms were usually known as a total snooze fest and few citizens cared about it. Voter turnout has always been low, until Mr. Donald Trump was elected President of the United States in 2016. Once he was elected as President, it seemed that a tidal wave of activism and political movement never before seen in the American civil society has been happening. Media around the world reported that protests and rallies against the new President, the most notable being one that occurred the day after he was sworn in, became numerous. And over the last two years, each time his Administration enacted or wrote a law that was regarded by his opponents against the American democratic values and beliefs, the people rose up and rallied against him.

It is with no surprise that there has been a striking political image of widespread repudiation by the American people against Mr. Trump administration. In the last two years, for instance, voter registration in the states has been at an all time high. People who recently turned 18 are registering to vote in droves, and previously disillusioned Millennials, who thought themselves unaffected by the political climate, found themselves registering and voting for the first time in their lives. For so long, these voices have been silent and they now have seen the consequences of their silence in the public officials who enacted policies that are not in line with their own personal values.

The contrast between what the American people value and what their representatives value is most apparent in the appointment of the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) justice Brett Kavanaugh, despite allegations of sexual misconduct against him by multiple women. Many women, especially survivors of sexual assaults, in the country viewed his confirmation and appointment to the highest court in the land as an affront and personal attack against their own persons, as well as a disregard to the will of the people. For many of them, this was the final straw that signaled that enough is enough, the people need to take their country back.

On the fateful Tuesday, the American people went to vote in droves and stood up against what many called the tyranny of the minority and created many historical landmarks in this year’s midterm election. And lo and behold, democracy strikes back in the land of the free. For the first time in American history, there was a record breaking number of women elected to public office with 110 women slated to be representing many states. To name a few are: Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who at 29 is the youngest person ever elected to Congress; Ayanna Pressley, the first African American woman from Massachusetts elected as a Congresswoman; Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland, the first Native American women ever elected to Congress and finally; Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the first Muslim women ever elected to Congress.

Those women represent new, progressive voices in American politics that has been dominated since its inception by White men. Their success in beating the incumbents, many of whom are aging white men, symbolizes a new age of American democracy that undoubtedly will change the dynamics of American politics for years, and even generations, to come.

Furthermore, the newly elected Congress has now become the most diverse Congress in the United States history. More women are now part of the governing process instead of being governed, which is more than apt considering that more than half of the United States’ population is comprised of women. For the first time ever, more minorities are also taking charge of the administrative and policy directions of the country after centuries of being governed by someone who might have little to no understanding of the plights faced by people of color and minorities.

In short, the newly elected Congress are more representative of the current United States demographic than it has been in a long time. These changes and this ability to have your voices heard won’t be possible under the auspices of any other form of governance but democracy. Though we must acknowledge that democracy is an imperfect system with a lot of pitfalls and weaknesses, it is still the least worst form of governance. One could argue that the American democracy, with its antiquated Electoral College, elected a president who lost the popular vote and whose administration has seen more resistance than any other administrations that came before it. But democracy also gave the American people such as Ilhan Omar, a Muslim Somali refugee, and Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American attorney, as representatives who will champion healthcare and immigration reform, two of the most important issues for the voters. Hillary Clinton may have failed in breaking the glass ceiling of the presidency, but the victory gained by these women showed that the fight isn’t over yet.

Democracy works. But it will only work if everyone involved in it participate and make their voices heard. During the campaign trail, so many of the people running for office said that “democracy is not a spectator sport”, and indeed it is not. By definition, democracy is a form of governance by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state. This implies that the whole population of the country should take part in its process, instead of watching from the sidelines. The United States of America and its people have learned the hard way the importance of voting and how susceptible their democracy was. If Indonesians also want to keep their democracy, and at the same time their most cherished independence, then come 2019 they better vote as if their lives are dependent on it.

*) PhD candidate
Zaragoza Lab
UCI Cardiogenomics Clinical and Research Program
Department of Biological Chemistry
The University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine
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