What were the deciding factors in the 2018 midterm elections in the U.S.? Was it youth and diversity? Or status quo, ignorance, and fear? Looking at the situation rom a safe distance in Canada, yet with a watchful eye over current events in the U.S., I propose it is neither. Instead, it is courage.
It takes courage to create a new, reformist, forward-looking vision for better politics and society. This vision has been channeled by the progressives who marched, mobilized, and voted. It manifested itself in candidates, both those who ran and won office, who are unafraid to challenge the system and put forward bold and ambitious policy proposals.
Courage in politics, especially in American politics, has often been in short supply. Much has been written on this by academics, businessmen and politicians of yore. John F. Kennedy’s ‘Profiles in Courage’ is a particularly eloquent example. Yet, few leaders and elected officials have practiced it.
Courage in practice is difficult, for it calls on candor, a firm sense of principle, resolution and vision. It also, as Kennedy himself noted, often comes at great expense: the loss of fortune, friends and esteem. Courage is exponentially more challenging to harness in 2018, when quick-fixes are in vogue.
Lack of courage among leaders and politicians has translated into specific policy dilemmas facing the U.S. and the world more broadly, including restrictive and inhumane immigration and trade policies, curtailment of mobility, and increasing instability in our integrated world.
Lack of courage is evidenced in our inability to tackle wealth disparity, among and within countries. That inequality is on full display in our cities, as growing cosmopolitan elites dwell alongside persistent evictions, economic precariousness and poverty.
Lack of courage has also meant the absence of political will and viable solutions to prevent the spread of radical, racist, and right-wing ideology gaining foothold in the U.S., as well as in countries like Brazil and Hungary.
There is no simple formula to imbue our leadership with more courage. The most sensible path, also the path taken by many Americans in these midterm elections, is to replace them. It is to replace the self-interested and spineless officials of yesteryear with new voices and new ideas.
The election of newcomers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the squad of young female officials with bold political platforms was a step in the right direction. It is a reminder that courage still exists in America, and is in fact shared by the American people immune to provocations from profiteers of pain and peddlers of fear.
In the near future, I foresee many more courageous acts — by newly elected leaders in Congress, as well as by courageous American millennials who continue to storm the halls and corridors of power and influence.
I hope that progressives, especially those belonging to the generations who have championed the cause of justice for many decades, will be given the knowledge, support and chance to succeed.
Performing courageous acts in 2018 is exhausting, and resistance is immense. Despite those obstacles, as the midterm election results show, courage can still win. The new faces in the U.S. Congress might just show us how it can also be sustained and translated into practical gains for justice and fairness.
Progressive Americans are watching. The world is watching too, with hopes of following their lead.
Featured image: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez [D-NY] and Rashida Tlaib [D-MI], newly elected to U.S. Congress, 2018