The United States Congress underwent a makeover on January 3 when it swore in 111 new members, 101 of which who were elected to the House of Representatives. The majority of the House shifted to the Democratic Party, which saw a wave of diversification this year with an unprecedented number of people of colour and women. Furthermore, Congress is experiencing a lot of firsts: the first Native American congresswomen, the first Muslim congresswomen, the first time Mike Pence had to make eye contact with women who aren’t his wife. Many of the new congressmembers have pledged to “shake up Washington,” “revolutionize American politics,” and “impeach that bastard,” but the validity of these claims is assuredly going to be tested during their four-year term. Their first challenge: opening the government again.
Now the longest federal government shutdown in US history, the notorious deadlock between Republicans and Democrats has given incoming members on both sides of the floor ample opportunity to resort to petty politics and point fingers to who exactly is responsible for the furloughing of approximately 200,000 government employees. The Republicans point at the Democrats for not being willing to compromise and spend $5 billion on an ineffective wall; the Democrats point at the Republicans for being spineless soul-suckers with no regard for basic humanity. While the continued inefficacy may allegedly be the fault of Donald Trump, the ineptitude of Congress is stunningly clear, even with all the newcomers. It is quite possible that the House of Representatives will be even more useless with this new wave of fresh-faced politicians who want to “get the job done.”
The Democrats may hate the Republicans, but nobody hates the Democrats more than other Democrats. The Democratic Party can be divided into two sides: on one, the Veterans, like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who aim to be as non-confrontational as possible so as not to anger their constituents in previously Republican-dominated districts. The other side consists of the Progressives, such as newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who beat long-time Democratic New York congressman Joe Crowley with 5% of the campaign budget on a platform of revolutionary change in government. While Ocasio-Cortez’s hardline stance on being an honest politician is admirable, it is quite possible that her progressive policies will be at odds with the mellower Democrats and destroy any semblance of unity within the party. While the Progressives accuse the Veterans of feeding into the Trumpian machine and the Veterans condescend the Progressives as being irrational and exceedingly idealistic, the Democratic Party may lose their chance to invoke the real change they have been lamenting the loss of since 2014.
However, that is not to the say that the GOP is any better off. While the Democrats can unite over mutual hatred of Trump, the Republicans cannot even agree on whether or not they like their own President. Freshman congressman Dan Crenshaw from Texas is openly critical of Trump, and regularly touts the importance of bipartisanship, two of the Deadly Sins in the Republican Bible. (The third is saying immigrants actually contribute to the economy.) However, GOP Representatives are famous for defending Trump at all costs and slandering the Democrats as much as humanly possible, and newcomers like Crenshaw show no signs of backing down. It is quite possible that the Republican Party may also wind up divided and incapable of accomplishing anything in the next four years.
While the young, progressive congressmembers may bring in more inefficacy than ever before, there is also the possibility that they may actually accomplish their goals. The freshman class in Congress of 2018 is not the first wave of fresh faces with big ideas for politics. The Watergate Babies of 1974 were elected on platforms of ridding Washington of corruption in the wake of the Watergate Scandal, which exposed the startling lack of knowledge the American people were privy to about their own elected government. The Watergate Scandal enraged the masses, not unlike the disgust that often follows tweets from @RealDonaldTrump. The Congress of 1974 ushered in a new age of politics and radically changed the way the US Government conducts their business, and it was all because of a group of inexperienced politicians who wound up in some of the most powerful seats in the country. All eyes are on the 116th Congress to see if they will follow in the footsteps of their progressive predecessors.
However, whether or not the updated House of Representatives will bring us out of the Dark Age, where party divides are stronger than ever, and reason is thrown to the wind is not nearly as important as the hope they can give us. The fact that they’re trying – and fast on the route to succeeding – is an incredible feat within itself, and we must recognize it for what it is worth. The new Congress is an example to the whole world that angry people are capable of translating their emotion into action, and that anybody – young, old, rich, poor, white, black – is capable of leading the movement for change.