The only thing politicians love more than the status quo is an electorate that never questions or violates it. They relish voters who go to the polls from election to election and mindlessly rubber stamp incumbents regardless of the job they’re doing. It means they get to do whatever they want until the next election cycle, whether or not it’s of benefit to the constituents they’re elected to represent.
In 2018, a bartender from the Bronx, NY had the audacity to take on a ten-term, top-ranking Democrat in the House and she did so by invoking the legacy of New Deal Democrats. We all know the outcome. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won, becoming, at the time, the youngest woman elected to the House. In winning her seat, she became the most dangerous challenge to the status quo politicians hope to maintain.
It’s been demonstrated that if everyone believes they can aspire to public office, more people will try. That’s a problem for our current representatives, who want everyone to believe they’re the only ones who can solve our problems. That’s why people like AOC are dangerous to the status quo, because they give people hope for a change. Whether one agrees with her policies or not, she pulled off an impressive upset of a well-established politician who many felt was unbeatable, and she put together a grassroots network that, so far, has remained on her side.
Coming from the South, I’m well familiar with the phenomenon of average, working people constantly voting for politicians who vote against their interest. More than a hundred and fifty years ago, an elite group of landowners who were a fraction of the population in the South nonetheless convinced everyone else that their right to own other people was so absolute that it overrode the unity of the entire country. Descendants of these same people later convinced everyone that the War wasn’t about slavery, when every official document of the time, not to mention every news article and editorial stated that it was.
The vast majority of those who fought for the Confederacy did not own slaves, and many were not even property owners. Henry Lewis Gates, among others, has discovered records that demonstrate some of the slave owners were Black and may have once been slaves themselves. Rich landowners didn’t just exploit the slaves they owned, but, through a process called “conscription”, could also pay a person of lesser means to go into battle and fight in their place. Slave owners who did fight, often took slaves with them who remained in service to them throughout the conflict.
Unions have been shown to be beneficial to worker’s rights, and yet people constantly reject them, solely because politicians tell them they’re harmful to the established order. In 2015, voters in Kentucky who were benefiting from Medicare expansion voted to elect a governor who promised to repeal it. In Georgia, in 2020, expanded access to voting by mail and other innovations brought about because of the pandemic, led to more people casting ballots than in previous elections and brought about gains by Democrats which the Republican leadership of the state is now trying to curtail through strict, and what most experts feel are unnecessary restrictions on voting. Many of those who support the restrictions have even admitted the system wasn’t broken, but they’re going to fix it anyway. The phenomenon isn’t confined to the US, as anyone familiar with the Brexit controversy in the UK can attest.
It remains to be seen what the long-term consequences of the 2020 election will be, but it’s safe to say that for better or worse, the status quo was upset. The political backlash demonstrates that those in power are worried and the population should take note of that. It would be a shame to return to a worse state of affairs simply to uphold the status quo.