As a country, we won’t quickly forget 2017. It brought us President Donald Trump, a carnival barker and grifter who lies habitually and seeks approval from dictators. It brought the rise of a renewed women’s movement that brought down some of the country’s most powerful men. The year signals the beginning of a political realignment that will be heavily impacted by those emerging women leaders and the angry populists who fueled Trump.
The year began with liberals hoping against hope that something would stop the Trump presidency. Nothing did, but the day following his inauguration, women let out a war cry in the form of demonstrations across the country and more than 500,000 people on the mall in Washington. They poured energy into a movement that quickly became known as the Resistance and modeled largely after the Moral Monday movement that began here in North Carolina.
Republicans, controlling both Congress and the White House, roared into Washington only find themselves incapable of doing much. The GOP leadership was caught off guard when Trump continued in campaign mode, pushing his agenda, or lack of one, and attacking his perceived enemies on twitter. His White House was chaotic and dominated news cycle after news cycle.
Republicans, who had pledged for seven straight years to repeal Obamacare, spent the better part of the year proving that they couldn’t and that they didn’t have a plan anyway. Instead of looking like a governing juggernaut, the GOP looked incompetent and divided. After taking two runs at repeal, they had to settle with ending the individual mandate through their one significant legislative accomplishment, the tax reform bill that blows a hole in the deficit.
Russia’s interference in our elections became increasingly clear, but Trump insisted on denying it. When questions kept arising, he fired FBI Director James Comey. In an effort to get to the bottom of the election tampering, the Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller special counsel. For the rest of the year, the country has been speculating on whether or not Trump would fire Mueller as his investigation gets closer to the president and his family.
Electorally, the Resistance showed its muscle. While Democrats came up short in a number of closely watched Congressional special elections, they consistently outperformed 2016 by large numbers and ran close races in deeply red districts in states like Kansas and South Carolina. In legislative specials, Democrats won more than a dozen Republican held districts across the nation. Virginia Democrats kept the governorship and picked up the largest number of House of Delegate seats in more than a hundred years. Control of the chamber is still yet to be determined. The big win, though, was the US Senate seat in Alabama, a victory that sent shockwaves through the Republican Party.
In North Carolina, the state’s Democrats got a breath of fresh air when Roy Cooper took the governor’s office. Cooper arrived with a bang making bold pronouncements and filing suits against GOP legislation that attempted to restrict his authority. It was a stark contrast to McCrory who never seemed to get his sea legs during his four year tenure as governor.
Republicans continued to work to consolidate power and undermine democracy. The courts shot down their attempts to continue rigging legislative districts through extreme gerrymandering. As we enter the New Year, the districts are still in flux but it’s clear that we’re being governed by unconstitutional majorities in the House and Senate.
After an initial false start, Cooper and the legislature agreed to end HB2, at least as a political issue. However, their agreement fell short of full repeal and the LGBT community objected strenuously. Regardless, businesses who were boycotting the state started coming back and the debate moved off the front pages. As a potent political issue, HB2 was largely dead.
Despite questions of their legitimacy, or maybe because of them, the house and senate are still looking at big changes to state government. They’re trying to restructure the state court system to ensure the GOP has a majority of District and Superior Court seats by gerrymandering and making the races partisan. Proposed changes will bleed into next year when the legislature takes them up during special sessions.
Finally, the GOP is taking aim at the university system. They’re trying to root out liberals and force conservative doctrine on the institutions and the students. The Republican-controlled Board of Governors scrapped the UNC Center for Civil Rights and fired its lawyers. At the same time, they’re talking about starting a center that would promote conservative viewpoints.
I know I didn’t even scratch the surface but that’s what comes to mind when I look back. I think the year will be remembered as the beginning of a political realignment that will take years to unfold. Women will play an increasing role in electoral politics from this year forward. The 2018 election will likely be a wave year that gives Democrats much more power and further highlights the fractures in the GOP. That said, as far as I’m concerned, good riddance 2017.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >