Women’s political energy outmatches Trump team

Last weekend’s converging storylines seemed almost cinematic. Just after the federal government shut down, huge protests took place across the country.

These dual developments suggest where American politics is going. Grassroots energy, much of it coming from women, far outmatches the chaos in Washington, D.C. and the confusion and lassitude of the Trump administration.

One thing is clear. Protestors are looking forward, not back, with the 2018 congressional elections on their mind.

Women gather outside the State House in Augusta for the Women’s March on Saturday. (Joe Phelan/Portland Press Herald via AP)

While out of town I came across a march in central Florida. One sign read, “Grab ‘em by the midterms.” Another said, “Women march. Women vote. Women run. Women win!” And still another stated, “I am no longer accepting things I cannot change. I am changing things I cannot accept.”

And, indeed, 2018 is likely to become a key political year for American women.

Almost a hundred years ago, women won the right to vote but it took decades for them to vote as much (and later, more) than men.

One “year of the woman” took place back in 1992. It was sparked by upset over how the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee treated Anita Hill, who testified that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her. Only two women were in the Senate before the election; afterwards, the number tripled to a still paltry six.

Women’s representation has increased but is still far below 50 percent. With today’s Senate 22 percent and 19 percent of the House female, a record number of women are running for office.

Women voters have been turning out as Democrats’ votes surged in Virginia, Alabama and elsewhere. And, as a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found, among women generic Democratic congressional candidates are favored over Republican ones by 26 percentage points. This gap is fueled by white women, who “have moved sharply in Democrats’ direction, favoring them over Republicans by 12 points after supporting Trump by nine points in 2016 and Republican candidates by 14 points in the 2014 midterm election, according to network exit polls.”

Although today, like 1992, sexual harassment (now rooted in the Me Too Movement) motivates women, many more issues are involved. For example, women, who earn less than men and do more caretaking of seniors and children, are more supportive than men of government’s role in health care and in mitigating environmental risks.

The 2018 elections will focus on many policies and will involve how to better hold President Donald Trump in check. At the march I observed, people were registering attendees to vote and recruiting them to contact elected officials and to volunteer on campaigns.  

Simultaneously, while he had taunted other candidates as “low energy” and claimed he was a master dealmaker, Trump’s ignorance of policy details and mixed-up messages undermined his ability to participate in negotiations, let alone lead.

After a starkly anti-immigration campaign, Trump ended DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in September 2017 but also said he “had love for these people.”

In a meeting on DACA and immigration policy on Jan. 9, Trump literally said he’d sign whatever a bipartisan group of people in Congress agreed upon. “I’m not going to say, ‘Oh, gee, I want this,’ or ‘I want that.’ I will be signing it.”

After rejecting the plan, Trump agreed with Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, on a framework for an agreement but later backed out, due to dissent from Chief of Staff John Kelly and policy advisor Stephen Miller.

Schumer compared trying to work out a deal with Trump to “negotiating with jello.” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham complained: “As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we are going nowhere.”

The Senate voted to end the shutdown with short term funding of the federal government, a reauthorization of children’s health care (which Republicans were using as a bargaining chip) and a pledge by Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to debate a DACA solution. But McConnell did not keep an earlier promise to Sen. Jeff Flake on a DACA vote (nor to Sen. Susan Collins on a health care bill). What happens after this temporary budget runs out is unclear.

Meanwhile, the marchers and people who agree with them are acting, seemingly following the words said by the labor organizer Joe Hill over a hundred years ago: “Don’t mourn. Organize.”


Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.