Most of us woke up this morning with two questions on our minds: what does it mean, and what do I do now? In the next 24 hours you will be bombarded by talking points and spin. Trump has already offered a typical Orwellian inversion: the midterm election in which his party lost the House was a “big success” and a “tremendous victory” and he has received “so many congratulations” from “foreign nations.” Moreover, he argues, Republicans lost only if they distanced themselves from Trump. On the other side, talking heads suggest hopefully that a Democratic House will stop Trump in his tracks. May I suggest that you silently resolve to keep an open mind for at least a week or two? There are numbers to be crunched and analysis that needs to be done. The situation, as usual, is more complicated.
While I don’t yet have a coherent big-picture “take” on the results, I will share some thoughts.
· First, don’t be discouraged. Many ordinary people made extraordinary expenditures of money, time, and energy to influence the results, and hoped for more. Don’t underestimate or undervalue what you’ve achieved. The Trump Party has been denied the power to legislate. Many of us feared that a decade of gerrymandering combined with relentless voter suppression would make it impossible to take back the House. It was your time, money and votes that proved this wrong.
· I watched with astonishment last night as Texas came close to electing a progressive Democrat to the Senate. The seas of blue spreading from that state’s urban centers may soon offset the extreme conservatism of rural Texas. This is encouraging. The times they are a-changin’.
· In the long run, much will depend on which party controls swing state legislatures and governorships during the redistricting that will follow the 2020 census. That will be determined in 2020, but last night’s results, when fully in and analyzed, should give a clue.
· The obvious benefits of denying the Trump Party control of the House are somewhat offset by its extraordinary utility to the President as an excuse. In 2020, everything good will be his and his alone; everything bad will be the fault of the obstructionist dems. This will resonate strongly with his base and provide the necessary exculpation for, e.g., the absence of a wall paid for by Mexico.
· With the remarkable sight of a Fox “journalist” campaigning on stage with the President (not to mention the revolving door between the network and the government, and the daily collaboration between their respective leaders), the illusion that Fox News is simply a commercial news platform with an ideological bias has been fully and finally shattered. Perhaps the single most salient fact of American political life at this moment is that most Americans get their news from a government-coordinated media outlet that, hour by hour, promotes the latest “alternative-fact” or spin from the White House. When it started, Fox was simply an instrumentality of a rebellious movement conservatism. But now that movement (as high-jacked by its ugly alt-right step-child) has moved into power, and so this long-standing alliance has become something very different. I repeat, the majority of Americans – like the residents of authoritarian states everywhere – receive only government propaganda as their “news.” Why my libertarian friends are not horrified by this is something I do not understand.
Before last night’s election I wrote that the only question on the ballot was whether or not you approve of Trump. I was wrong. For well over half of Americans, the only question on the ballot yesterday was “Who am I?”
For a significant plurality of Americans, politics is now a team sport. Why do you support your team? You support the Mets “Because I’m a Mets fan.” You don’t switch to the Yankees when the Mets have a bum for a coach. The pre-election mobilization against the “invasion” was called “Operation Faithful Patriot.” This effectively reminded Trump Party voters who they are. They are faithful. They are patriots. When they enter the election booth, they are, in essence, being asked only to reaffirm or deny that identity. The 35% who “strongly approve” (the scary rally-attending core base) actually think he’s a great American doing a great job. The additional 12% who voted yesterday for Trump Party House candidates may realize that he’s a vulgar lying moron, but that doesn’t matter: he’s their vulgar lying moron. Voting for the other side is just not who they are.
I, perhaps like you, awoke on Tuesday silently indulging the hope that it might be the day we awoke from a nightmare. My dream was that many of the good people who – for whatever reason – voted for Tump in 2016, would send some kind of a signal that they didn’t much like what they saw – the bragging, bullying, lying, vulgarity, misogyny, racism, ignorance, amorality, and violence. It didn’t happen. So now we know our problem will not disappear overnight. But the journey to bring this country back from the brink has begun.