Dispatch from Loudoun County: Democrats’ Virginia Problem

On September 13 I attended a counter-demonstration to one staged by Virginia’s MAGA-riddled Loudoun County Republican Party. The county is a volatile mix of newer migrants from cities – substantially tech-oriented, of immigrant origins, and financially well-off – and long-time white, rural residents.

I continue to stress the importance of Loudoun County in the Grand Scheme of Things. Of course, I could be biased because I live here. We usually attach greater importance to work and events to which we are closer. Here is some background on the situation, which in retrospect proved too upbeat.

Why is Loudoun important? Well, Virginia is important for Democratic candidates for president due to the Electoral College and the Democrats cannot afford to concede any purple states’ electoral votes, senators, or members of the House. Loudoun is also important stateside: It is majority Democratic, but if it supplies too small a margin of victory for Democrats, we get a Republican majority statewide.

That is how the GOP flipped the top three offices in the state – the governor, the attorney general, and the lieutenant governor – as well as the lower house of the state legislature. Our new governor, former hedge fund lizard Glenn Youngkin, has proven adept at floating between Trumpiness and the suburban voters he needed to win in 2021, albeit by a hair. His two running mates are more overtly MAGA, and one of them will be poised to succeed him.

Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans appear to understand the relevance of Loudoun. They have been waging a full-spectrum attack on county office-holders, targeting the school board, the county attorney, the Board of Elections, and the Board of Supervisors. The current targets include our Democratic Member of Congress, Jennifer Wexton. The local rally focused on her challenger, one Hung Cao, a Vietnamese immigrant, Naval Academy graduate, and combat veteran.  

Wexton has been invisible until recently, now that the election approaches. Most annoying to me, she was AWOL during the Critical Race Theory brouhaha that Cao and the Republicans are still flogging. Her platform is basically that she is a nice lady, she’s a mom, and she was a prosecutor.

Cao is unashamedly ultra-right, though his campaign commercials that recently inundated me over Pandora on the way home limited their pitch to his military service record and his immigrant origins. Cao delivered a speech at the rally on September 13, revealing his modest political gifts. More interesting was an avowal by the first speaker at the rally, to the effect that “white nationalism is just gratefulness” (sic). Somebody do a seminar on that gem.

The GOP rally billed an entire roster of local MAGA celebrities, a number of whom have been agitating against the public school system, CRT, LGBTQI people (slandering them as “groomers”), and stocking dirty books in the school libraries. There might have been 100 attendees, which in light of the promotion of the event might not be considered a big success. Our little counter-demo, run on a shoestring, was about 40 people.

The striking thing about both groups was how defensive they were. The Republicans were trying to portray their anti-CRT stance as anti-racist. I’ve mentioned Cao’s focus on his service record. The Democrats were all about “Truth” and “Facts” (two of the signs). This is suburbia, in a very well-off county, one of the richest in the US. The Republicans were a bit more aggressive with their signs, coming over to take up posts in our space, but not very much so. I presume the election will hinge on party identification. Youngkin did lose the county in 2021.

Meanwhile, where was DSA? Somewhere else, pushing a pro-labor campaign in another county. This makes sense. The Democrats of Loudoun (outside Leesburg) are slim pickings, demographically speaking, for a socialist organization.

I mentioned to the rally organizer that I was in DSA, and she looked at me as if I was from Mars. (I do think that Leesburg, an island of deep blue in the county, is ripe for a DSA chapter.) The dilemma is that if the state goes red because Loudoun does not go big for blue, the space for progressive politics in the state will narrow. Our new MAGA attorney general, Jason Miyares, has already begun to harass local Democratic officials.

In general, the Democrats’ struggles cracking the working class in Virginia, especially among working-class communities of color, makes our fate dependent on the unsteady support of well-off, suburban white people for anodyne Democrats. This is not a secure position to be in.

While there does not appear to be much in DSA for relatively well-off, white suburban households, there is one huge exception. If their kids are LGBTQI, they are now under vicious attack by the Trumpists and really lack for allies. These parents would die for their kids. DSA is the most forthright opponent of this bigotry, much like the CP-USA was one of the few US anti-racist political groups in the 1930s.

We could look at Loudoun as providing scant organizing opportunities, or we could consider the already-mobilized parents of LGBTQI children as a stepping-stone to introduce our other interests. Incidentally, their other big concern is gun control.

A twist on the Defund the Police issue is the status of county sheriffs, not just in Virginia but nation-wide. There is a fairly well-advanced, national, Trumpist project to gather sheriffs under a neo-fascist “constitutional sheriff” banner. Some might end up interfering with elections. You can be sure they are not predisposed to indulge socialist organizing.

Our own county sheriff is a shifty politician named Mike Chapman who is soft on Trump. (Sheriffs are elected officials here.) There is a debate over replacing the sheriff’s department with a police department for Leesburg that sorts out along MAGA vs. Democrat lines. Probably a majority of sheriffs in Virginia are amenable to bias against Democrats in general. In Virginia, their problem is that their voters are outnumbered by our biggest counties and cities.

In any case, fighting transphobia and homophobia is the right thing to do if we want to breach suburban communities and working-class voters alike. My speculation is that in a state like Virginia, political isolation from unfriendly, rural white voters and unconcerned, well-off suburbanites leads many people of color to a pragmatic stance of hunkering down with centrist Democratic candidates, rather than risk messing around with radical politics.

Virginia is at risk of going the way of Florida. Insofar as the left is struggling to catch fire with the working class, our political survival rests on the thin reed of suburbanites’ opposition to bigotries of multiple types. I honestly don’t have a solution for it, but reckoning with a problem is usually a first step to solving it.

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