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Tuesday's Primaries Are Good For the Long Game
But it's going to be a rough road to get there.
John Fetterman, the 6’9” lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, won the Democratic primary for Senate in his state while lying in a hospital bed after undergoing a pacemaker installation. In the end, it wasn’t even close. Fetterman crushed corporate-backed moderate Conor Lamb by more than 32 percent, winning every county and sending Lamb back to whatever strange third-way incubator he emerged from in 2017.
Is Fetterman the future of the Democratic party? Who knows. At this point, it’s unclear if the Democratic party has a future. What happened last night does not change the fact that for the next few years, things are going to get very, very dark. Democrats are still poised to lose the House in November, they may very well lose the Senate, in two years they may lose the presidency. The judiciary is gripped by Christian fascism while the GOP is dominating state legislatures and encouraging their followers to do idiotic and aggressive things at school board meetings out of fear that their children will learn new things.
John Fetterman—whose policies are decidedly left-of-center—has a shot at flipping a Senate seat. And down the ballot, progressives notched an impressive series of wins in key districts. Summer Lee, a leftist endorsed by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and basically every member of “the Squad,” is on the verge of victory over attorney Steve Irwin despite $2.3 million in AIPAC and other special interest attack ad funding on behalf of her rival. In Oregon, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a progressive civil engineer, appears to have unseated Rep. Kurt Schrader, whom she dubbed “the Joe Manchin of the House” thanks to his Trump-friendly, aggressively anti-climate policies. Both Lee and McLeod-Skinner are hopefully in safely blue districts (Lee certainly is, McLeod-Skinner faces a tighter margin). In North Carolina, the results were more grim: Progressive Erica Smith lost her primary in the state’s 1st District and Bernie-endorsed Nida Allam lost in the 4th District, both falling to waves of AIPAC spending that benefited their opponents.
The right, meanwhile, is a chaotic mess. A Big Lie believer won the GOP nomination for Pennsylvania governor and the state’s Senate race is still between a hedge fund guy and Dr. Oz. The GOP successfully knocked off coke orgy whistleblower and noted Hitler appreciator Madison Cawthorn in North Carolina, replacing him with an (ostensibly) more stable and controllable force. It’s tempting to jump on this as a sign of fractures within the party, but if there’s anything we’ve learned by now, it’s that the GOP is very good at presenting a united front in general elections that matter.
But what sticks out to me is Summer Lee. If she pulls it off—the result is still officially too close to call, but things look good—she’s another point of fact that there is a slow conversion in the younger wings of the Democratic party to policies that have for far too long been shut out of the national conversation. This is not going to be an immediate power switch, or even a mass movement as quickly as the Tea Party-to-Trumpism throughline in the GOP. But it does mean that the Overton window of Democratic electoral politics can and hopefully will move, even if the party’s own obstinacy lengthens the period of fascist dominance we endure until the progressive faction attains any sort of meaningful control.
This hope is only useful if you still believe that the American system of electoral politics will exist in a decade or two, or that it will be in any way possible for these new and more progressive Democrats to influence the governance of the party—or the country—as a whole. Those are big ifs! The question now, for people aware of the actual game of U.S. politics being played, is whether or not the fascist party can break down the final remaining democratic structures of the country fast enough (through voter suppression, judicial dominance, and statewide extremism) to ensure total control before the Democrats get their heads in the game and turn the ship around. The latter future doesn’t happen without wins like we saw last night, so any crumbs we get right now are cause to celebrate.
Fetterman, the night’s highest-profile victor, is not an ideal or even fully trustworthy figure. But he is still at least some indication that the status quo of the Democratic party cannot stand forever, and that there is a future that exists in which one of the country’s two dominant parties aggressively pursues policies that ever-so-slightly shift the balance of capital and power away from our current ruling class. That may be an optimistic outlook—and the tunnel ahead still looks plenty dark—but for now, it’s the only one we’ve got that represents any small ray of light.