The Midterms Are Over. The Fight To Restore Decency Is Just Beginning.
The midterm elections were watched across the world and ay home with almost tangible anxiety. Would we finally put a check on the President Trump and start getting back on track? The answer was affirmative. Democrats gained 41 seats in the House thanks to massive turnout and received nearly 9 million more votes, surpassing their record gains in the aftermath of Watergate. True, they did not gain control of the Senate, but that was always going to be a tough ask since they were facing the absolute worst possible map. However, they did massively deepen their bench of talent and created new, vast digital and local turn out the vote operations across the nation, and will be dealing with a far friendlier map in 2020.
In light of all this, it’s very tempting to see the midterm vote as a powerful rebuke to Trumpian Republicanism. The average age of a House of Representatives member now is a full decade younger. Dozens of women and minorities will soon have the real power of elected offices. Flipped governorships and legislatures can start undoing decades of gerrymandering and voter suppression. It seems like an early indication that the American body politic may well be rejecting Trumpism like a diseased appendix and there is plenty to celebrate.
And yet, it’s worth remembering that we’ve been here before. We’ve seen decency win and heard big plans about making healthcare and education affordable and more effective, about rebuilding infrastructure, and making government more representative of and responsive to its citizens. But instead of creating sustained progress, we ended up with the GOP controlling all three branches of government, with the living avatar of every arrogant, conspiracy-mongering, racist elder in America oozing into the Oval Office after borrowing slogans from white nationalist groups the heydays of which we thought we left in the previous century.
For the past ten years, it always felt like we were on the precipice of something, like we were finally taking steps forward. But thanks to the 18th-century system under which where you vote is often more important than how you vote, we kept taking two steps back for every step in the right direction. We’re always about to solve our problems and make things right, to modernize, to tackle our biggest, most pressing, and most chronic problems, and then we just… don’t.
We over-correct, creating new crises, or let current ones fester until we need to rebuild systems from the ground up, something for which no politician seems to have much of an appetite when it’s time to vote. It’s immensely frustrating to watch so much promise and potential wasted year after year, to know that we can do better, to see our rankings in every measure of the civilized, developed world slip a little more every year, and hear a disturbing number of citizens declare the rankings to be biased.
This is the dark side of American exceptionalism in action. Because it’s the nation’s official mantra that we are the best at everything and unique beyond comparison, nothing other countries learn from firsthand experience can be applicable or of value to us. Ready-made solutions proven to work across the world cannot be imported because the nationalist right is ready to come up with a million reasons why we’re too big, or wealthy, or diverse, or important, or have houses too big, or too many shows in our Netflix queue to benefit from the wisdom of others.
But in reality, we’re afflicted with a culture in which our least empathetic, most sociopathic, and most paranoid citizens eat, breathe, and sleep toxic rage from right-wing pundits who spent decades pitching doomsday conspiracy theories to them for a profit. And of all the people they hate, none bring out their rage more than their fellow Americans.
They’ve even created forums celebrating the idea of literally throwing anyone more liberal than them out of the country, an idea they’d realize would have devastating economic consequences if they didn’t believe that their extremely well-documented parasitism of Blue America wasn’t #FakeNews with the same zeal as members of Heaven’s Gate were convinced an alien spaceship hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet was picking up their souls for a trip across the galaxy.
In a society in which a third of the population has disproportionate political power due to where arbitrary lines were drawn in the 18th and 19th centuries, and erupts with the hysterical shrieking rage of a banshee suffering from food poisoning at the idea that their taxes could be used to help other Americans, and not just fund more wars with aging and vulnerable equipment, it’s very difficult to make any meaningful, long-lasting change.
This is why we keep on backsliding on issues that matter most to us. From political corruption, to guns, to healthcare, to education, we have debates that aren’t informed by facts, but shaped by the same John Birch Society Red Scare fear-mongering propaganda from the 1950s. Decades of Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation absorbing it gave us a society in which empty buzzwords about “America’s Heartland” and paeans about a country that hasn’t existed for nearly three decades circulate on political talk shows, stubbornly refusing to understand that the United States needs to grow and adapt to the future.
It created a national mindset in which the party that dominates the public discourse and logjams any real change believes that education is just a communist conspiracy to cause trouble, minorities are literally less evolved than them, and an entire generation whose news diet consists of falling prey to confirmation bias, including blind belief in trollish conspiracy theories meant to embarrass them online, just to confirm their hate for their fellow citizens. Even a decade ago, things were different. We could argue in good faith on the merits of policies and ideas at least some of the time.
One could certainly disagree with the conservative approaches of the now unfortunately late George H. W. Bush and criticize the actions of his son, but it was clear they did what they did because they genuinely thought it was in the best interests of the country. They did not brag about shady deals with foreign kleptocrats and how much business they did with questionable characters all over the world.
Their policies may have been harmful but that harm was a side-effect, unlike with the current administration for which cruelty is the whole point. And you didn’t have to wonder where their loyalties lie and whether they cared about their country and its well being. You could confidently say that they meant well and use that as a starting point for a legitimate discussion about the nuts and bolts of running a superpower.
More than anything, we’re not up against just decades of complacency. We’re up against a sort of civil cold war in which a third of the country does not want things to get better because that would also benefit the fellow Americans they hate to their very core. It’s trendy to blame President Trump for somehow radicalizing and brainwashing them, but the fact of the matter is that they were radicalized long before Trump was carried down a golden elevator to start his crusade to the White House after disjointedly pontificating on how Mexican immigrants are mostly drug dealers and rapists.
He won not because he discovered some form of racist mind control, but because he said what his voters wanted to say out loud. He maintains a fervent base not because they’re deaf to what he says because he says the quiet parts of their thought process out loud and gives them the license to do the same. And his base is happy and willing to overlook any financial damage they might take as a consequence of his absurd policies because they think it will also harm their hated fellow citizens.
Now, these same voters are seething at a younger, more diverse House and trying to figure out how to fight making America civilized again while ignoring the fact that every other wealthy, civilized country has a working national healthcare system, truly invests in its infrastructure, makes education affordable, promotes apprenticeships and private-public partnerships, and has a robust safety net to encourage its citizens to feel safe and secure in their own borders.
To them, school shootings are just a price we pay for “freedom,” all higher education is just Marxist agitprop, and if you get seriously sick or injured and lose your job and healthcare, well, you shouldn’t have gotten sick or injured. If they manage to lose an election, it’s because “the immigrants and moochers and commies rigged it.” And separating thousands of children of asylum seekers at the border as a crude cudgel to force those migrants to drop their claims doesn’t seem to phase them either as they claim it’s the asylum seekers’ fault for bringing their children and lash out at journalists for daring to try and make them feel bad for kids in cages because they certainly don’t.
In a chilling display of disdain for democracy, after losing the governor’s mansion in Wisconsin and Michigan, the GOP is trying to strip incoming administrations of their constitutional powers and impose their will on the public even after losing the popular mandate to do so. Earlier this year, David Frum argued that “if conservatives are pushed out of democratic politics, they won’t give up on conservatism, they will give up on democracy.” And their actions in the Midwest, as well the attitudes of the base towards elections in general, seem to back him up.
This is what we’ll have to do over a coming decade: beat back a culture in which a lack of basic decency and empathy has been cast as self-reliance and independence, and replace it with one that puts the wellbeing of its citizens first and foremost.
For all the good bills that may be passed by Congress, for all the progress we make, we have to keep an eye on the bigger social picture and protect the gains we make by tackling the toxic ideology that will not stop until it guts every last trapping of a civilized, developed nation in the name of “freedom” and “liberty,” but mostly out of fear of some Illuminati/Reptoid/Deep State/Jew World Order/Satanic conspiracy theory to which they’ve been hyperventilating on social media for the past few years…
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