With Democrats Backed Into a Corner, New Leaders Will Rise

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Neva Newcombe

I'm a girl that likes thinking and people who are secretly soft and squishy inside. There are a lot of things I want to change.

The anti-Trump movement is showing signs of sustainability. People from all levels of American society, from private citizens to corporate giants, are resisting every step the new Republican federal government takes towards conservatizing the nation. Protests continue, corporations wield their economic power to make statements, and in the House and the Senate, Democrats are fighting racist, classist, transphobic, messy bills every day. At the time of this writing, they’re fighting the ACA repeal and its replacement, which is “a dumpster fire of a bill”. Congressional Democrats are leading the legislative branch of this opposition movement, which means they’re going to have to do some rearranging. Democratic leadership needs to, and will change as it evolves into its new role as a dissenting party.

This is because some leaders are built for more favorable political conditions. The current Democratic leadership, for example, like Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, are effective committee leaders, compromisers, and policy wonks. It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for the Democratic Party recently — Republicans have controlled Congress for most of the past 20 years — but there have been two Democratic presidents in that time, which gave Democrats an advantage even if they were a minority. That advantage is gone. The right controls every branch of the government, and Democrats are positioned to be weak. The skills of fair weather leaders are not going to translate well. The only option is a fierce and unrelenting fight.

Senators Sanders (Left) and Warren (right).

People who are good at saying “no” over and over again are going to rise naturally in the coming months. It’s already happening. While Trump’s alarming cabinet picks were having their Senate hearings, some of the most outspoken congresspeople were the newly elected Dem. leaders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who fall on the far left. During Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing, Senator Warren was silenced while trying to read Coretta Scott King’s ‘86 letter criticizing Sessions about civil rights. The action had the opposite effect. After the event reached the press, and Mitch McConnell’s words “nevertheless, she persisted” became the battle cry of the week for Trump opposition, specifically feminist Trump opposition. Sanders was also a relentless questioner during the hearings, and had a moment in the spotlight when he brought up the hundreds of millions of dollars Betsy Devos had donated to the G.O.P., and called into question her qualifications to be Secretary of Education.

Senator Kamala Harris

Warren and Sanders have national followings already, and their established progressive stances position them to be powerful opponents to the new far-right government. Other leaders are emerging too — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Al Franken have both had surges forward lately. Until this year, Sen. Franken has laid low, focused on legislative and representative duties — but during the Senate hearings he too became a clear dissenting voice for the party in turmoil. Recently, he accused Jeff Sessions of perjury at his hearing. Schumer is known as more of a centrist than Franken, Warren, or Sanders, but he used his new leadership to openly and vehemently criticize Sessions and “Trumpcare,” which he says will increase the cost of insurance, lower taxes on the wealthy, and negatively impact women’s health.

These are representatives who are good up against a wall, and now they have the opportunity to show it. And it is early. This is a long effort, and leaders who have yet to make headlines will emerge — personally, I’m hopeful for Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, who already have experience being under fire. Harris, just elected in November, is already making headlines as an outspoken opponent to the Trump administration. Jeffries has been a tireless advocate for social and economic justice in Congress, working on a litany of issues from criminal justice reform to emergency relief during Hurricane Sandy. This kind of energy is needed to combat the barrage of harmful legislation that threatens the country, and to combat the Democrats’ reputation for passivity. Only time will tell whether or not such stubbornness can be sustained, or whether the Democrats reputation is correct after all.