I just finished up a part-time job working with a group of post-college people, almost exclusively white, from middle- and upper-class backgrounds. The job itself wasn’t important, but what I learned is that 2018, never mind 2020, is going to be a rough year for Democrats. They are embracing a faux diversity that excludes more than it includes, and the election results will likely look like 2016’s all over again.
About the same time I left that job a new book, Shattered, claimed a slogan considered by Hillary Clinton’s campaign team was “It’s Her Turn,” the clearest expression possible that the candidate was simply entitled to be president. It encapsulated what my Millennial former work colleagues said about their own lives. It is why they cannot accept Clinton lost; in their minds somehow—somehow—Hillary or someone like her will wake up in the Lincoln Bedroom one morning in America muttering “there’s no place like home.”
My former colleagues have been led to believe this, having majored in things like social work, anthropology, and for more than a few, gender studies; they’re all wrapped in a comfortable blanket of self-importance and decades of being told to follow their dreams. There are givens in their world: pronouns are sexist, whites are racist, men are misogynist. They believe mostly old people voted for Trump—the slang term used around my the office for people over 45 was “red hats,” as in those Make America Great Again ball caps.
The code inside all this is exclusionary. It is okay to exclude men, old people, straight people, entire regions outside the right and left coasts, until most everyone is deplorable. That word, which Clinton claimed was a slip-up when she said it during the campaign, was actually the foundation of her whole strategy of appealing directly and overwhelmingly to people like those I recently worked with. The flipside of “It’s Her Turn” was an actual Clinton slogan, “I’m With Her,” a simple proclamation of the implicit sense of entitlement for candidate and supporter.
But the 2016 election is over, and so this is about the future. And the future for Democrats is supposed to be people like Hannah Risheq.
The Huffington Post says “The Resistance Gave Birth To A Girl And Her Name Is Hannah Risheq.” Hannah is indeed exactly the candidate a Democratic (or media) fertility lab would engineer, and exactly the kind of candidate who will draw off energy from the party’s base before losing. Familiar?
Hannah is running for a state-legislature job in Virginia in a primary with two other Democrats and an uncontested Republican incumbent who has been in office eight years. He’s raised over $117,000; she has $5,400. She has to beat two other Dems in June, then unseat the Republican incumbent in November.
That’s not going to happen, but because of what Hannah represents, she is attracting the same empty hopefulness I saw in my old job’s break room.
See, Hannah is qualified because: Her dad is Muslim. She is a first-gen American. She is a woman. She is on social media. She was discriminated against as a child. She volunteered on the Hillary Clinton campaign. She “embodies the spirit of what is driving the Democratic Party forward right now.” Hannah says, “A lot of my friends are part of different marginalized groups, LGBTQ groups, other young women. I’m running because I want to give a voice to everyone.”
Okay. But she’s running in a district whose voice is 67 percent white, 22 percent Asian (mostly middle-class Korean), wealthy (houses in her area run $650k), and shifting Republican. She also has no government or work experience, having just graduated with a degree in social work.
So that is kind of it. A candidate at one with the ideals of the party—Time magazine includes Hannah with Georgia’s “Flip the Sixth” Jon Ossoff among a “new generation of Democratic candidates”—and at odds with the demographics. She isn’t qualified per se, but someone who is a sum of parts (woman, Muslim, immigrant) treated like a bucket of chicken, a whole that will never exist.
She’s meant to inspire (The Resistance!), but one wonders if Hannah’s inevitable loss will do that or simply discourage more serious Democratic voters from trusting their party to represent who they are.
The 2018 and 2020 elections are a ways off, but at this early stage it appears the Democrats are engaged in the search for icons to run failing campaigns behind. They don’t get what happened in 2016, because the decision-makers are either people like my self-righteous and self-important former work colleagues, or party hacks who imagine there are more people like my colleagues out there than there are. It is unclear the people of Virginia are looking for a candidate like Hannah Risheq.
Meanwhile, at the front of the national Democratic candidates’ line are people like Elizabeth Warren, presented as a Hillary without the decades of political shenanigans trailing behind, as if it’s still Her turn, just a different Her. Nearby are the slightly modified Hillaries, people like Cory Booker. And sure, why not, maybe even Chelsea.
American demographics may be changing, but deep inside the Democratic Party, the internal demographics are not. It is early days, but having more time ahead of 2020 to dig a deep hole deeper is not a good thing.
Peter Van Buren is the author of Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, available now. Follow him @WeMeantWell