The Thursday after the midterm elections, Chair of Leadership, Law and Public Service Dr. Shelly Peffer and political science professor Dr. Laura Wiedlocher hosted Blackburn’s first “Soup & Substance.” The event was catered by Sodexo and funded by the Campus Activities Board (CAB). It was held in Woodson and included faculty, staff and students discussing the outcome of the midterm elections. Peffer and Wiedlocher talked about the highlights of the election, but more importantly what the results mean for the country.
Immediately after the midterm elections, President Donald Trump asked attorney general Jeff Sessions to resign. While this isn’t a direct result of the midterms, Trump has been waiting to fire Sessions since he recused himself from the Russia investigation. Wiedlocher mentioned that Sessions and Trump always saw eye to eye on many things, such as immigration. They were a perfect fit, Wiedlocher said, until he “broke Trump’s code: do not be disloyal.” Sessions had already lied about Russia, and he was too involved in the investigation, so he appointed a special prosecutor. Wiedlocher was very thorough in her analysis of the Sessions situation. She said he was supposed to protect Trump in this investigation, but by recusing himself, he proved to be disloyal. When Trump wanted to fire Sessions immediately, he was advised to wait until at least after midterms. He waited until midterms, but didn’t wait a second longer. Since Sessions technically resigned, Trump was able to appoint an interim attorney general without senate approval. The person he picked is Matthew Whitaker, who has openly opposed the Russia investigation and refers to it as a ‘witch hunt.’ While it would look extremely bad for him to shut the investigation down, it’s possible. What’s more likely, however, is that he will just drain the funds of the investigation so it grinds to a halt, and nothing can be accomplished.
Since the Democrats have taken over the house, they will need to elect a new speaker of the house. Current Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi seems to be the likely candidate. Republicans have not been kind to her in the past, but Trump seems to be attempting to make an unlikely ally. Pelosi met Trump at the White House, and Wiedlocher believes he tried to make a deal with her along the lines of, “If you don’t investigate me, we can get things done.” The House of Representatives has the power to subpoena and investigate the White House. They can have their own Russia investigation that isn’t controlled by the White House, and file articles of impeachment if they see fit. They also have the power to subpoena his tax records, which Trump has been very keen on not showing the public. Wiedlocher believes that Trump wants to avoid any subpoenas or investigations, and is willing to trade that for the passing of bipartisan legislation.
All over the media, there was talk of a “blue wave,” which was the anticipated flood of Democrats in Congress. While the Democrats did take over the House, they actually lost seats in the Senate. On a local level, however, there was a huge blue wave. There are more states with Democratic governors and Democratic controlled state legislatures than there were before. Even though the federal blue wave was not as overwhelming as anticipated, it was still impressive that they were able to take the house when the district maps were drawn to give the republicans a 6% advantage.
While there was a slight “blue wave,” there was definitely a wave of women in office. This election saw a record number of women candidates in the House, Senate and Gubernatorial races, and resulted in a record number of women elected in the House. There were a lot of firsts for women of color. The first two Muslim women and the first two Native American women were elected into Congress in the election. Pending the recount result in Georgia, the first African American female governor could be elected. Wiedlocher said, “If there’s one thing the democratic party is getting right, it’s getting not-old rich white men to run.” Peffer added, “Normally the party has to go out and find them, but now people are just thinking. ‘I’m fed up, I’m running.’” It’s been a record breaking election for women, but even if all of the female candidates had won, Congress would have only been 22 percent women. The United States population is made up of 51 percent women, so that’s still not proportionate.
Some voter laws were passed in Washington and Florida. Washington passed an automatic voter registration law, which will automatically register 18-year-olds to vote. In Florida, they returned voter rights to felons.
After discussing the highlights, there was a lot of discussion about how partisan the country has become and what is happening in terms of political ideology among the parties. With Trump being elected, the country has gotten very polarized, and the country is going through a lot of ideological shifts. “I don’t know who we’re gonna be when we come out of that,” Peffer said, “but it’s not gonna be who we ever were.” She was referring to Americans and how we are evolving with the ideological changes. Education professor Dr. Michelle Stacy pointed out, “Politics have become your identity.” She also mentioned how the Republican Party is not about small government, opposed to the Democratic Party’s big government anymore, but instead both parties are about big government. Stacy explained it’s just a matter of, “Is my big government regulating my vagina, or is my big government regulating my guns?”
There were a lot of topics addressed in the Soup & Substance event, and it was overall successful. Voter turnout in the midterm elections was the highest its been for a midterm election since 1914, and young-adult voter turnout was 188 percent higher in early voting than it was in the 2014 midterms. This Soup & Substance event was beneficial for students who voted, but still want to know why their vote matters, why the midterms matter or what the politics involved in the midterm elections were during this unusual political climate of the Trump Administration.