Professor Kevern Verney

Following the tumultuous events in Washington DC that saw Congress confirm the election of Joe Biden as President of the United States it is easy to overlook the importance of the day’s other significant political development. The President-elect’s Democratic Party also gained control of the United States Senate. An expert in American history at Edge Hill reflects on a defining day in US politics. 

The Democrats made history this week after Raphael Warnock, was elected as the first African American senator in the state of Georgia, making him only the 11th black senator in US history.  

The state’s two Senate run-off elections also saw fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff win over the Republican incumbent, making him the first Jewish senator in Georgia and providing Mr Biden with a much better chance of pushing through his legislative agenda. 

Wins by the Democrats in the Senate elections mean that the chamber will have a 50-50 partisan split, with Kamala Harris, incoming Vice-President, holding the tie-breaking vote.  

Kevern Verney is a Professor in American History at Edge Hill University. Reflecting on the political and cultural significance of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff’s elections in Georgia, Prof Verney said: 

“As one of the former confederate states, Georgia has quite a troubled history of race relations. So, to have elected their first African American senator and their first Jewish senator is quite a departure, because Georgia has traditionally been a very conservative state that hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since the 2000s. 

“We have witnessed a history-defining moment in US politics, in a state where not so long ago, Raphael Warnock’s family were sharecroppers and going back a few generations before that, were slaves. It signifies a major shift in some of Georgia’s major cities, such as in the capital Atlanta, which have become notably more liberal in recent years. 

“If we look back to the first election of Barack Obama in 2008, there was a lot of optimistic talk at the time that this was the first African American president and it showed that America is now a post-racial society and, of course, in the events that we have seen during Mr Trump’s presidency, that’s sadly shown not to be the case. Even when Obama left office in 2017, he acknowledged that racism was still a deep and divisive problem in the country.” 

The Democrats’ unexpected double-win in Georgia has led many to question whether President Trump’s actions influenced voter turn-out in the state.  

Prof Verney added: “What President Trump has tended to do is energise conservatives on the right but, through some of his actions, has also energised movements on the left. It appears that as a result of President Trump’s allegations of voter fraud, and that the election was stolen in Georgia, turnout in Republican parts of the state was down because Republican voters believed it was not worth voting, as the Democrats were only going to ‘steal’ the election anyway. 

“Trump has engineered a self-coup against himself by disincentivising some of his supporters.” 

Edge Hill University is hosting a public webinar on 19th January to mark Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th President of the United States.

Organised by the Institute for Social Responsibility (ISR) and the International Centre on Racism (ICR), the webinar ‘An End and a Beginning? Race relations in the United States: The Trump Legacy and the Biden Presidency,’ will bring together leading authorities from the United States to examine the legacy of the Trump administration on race. 

A degree in History & Politics at Edge Hill will enable you to place the study of politics in its historical context as you combine the analysis of political systems, institutions and policies with an exploration of modern history from across the globe.