The midterms are a constant source of anxiety for me, and they should be for everyone. For the last couple of years, I’ve counted myself lucky to be able to string together even a few hours where I can blissfully forget what’s happening to this country and to the world. More often than not, though, I worry, and there’s no actual relief from it. Constantly refreshing fivethirtyeight.com is just keeping the dread spiral alive. Nobody knows how this political moment is going to play out, but the early indicators are terrifying.
This has been a horrific week. Right-wing violence is everywhere in the news, and Trump is, at the very least, uninterested in taking any steps that might ramp down the fear and paranoia that’s energizing his base. I say “at the very least” sarcastically, because I, and most intellectually honest people, know that his whole appeal to the Republican base is the result of stoking fear and paranoia about the amorphous threat coming from a series of non-white “others.” He’s not going to stop doing it because A) He’s congenitally incapable of mustering that kind of human decency, and B) It’s not politically in his, or the Republicans, best interest to tamp down the fear-mongering. That’s how they got the power they now have.
This brings us to a horrible place. We’re about to have a regularly-scheduled Democratic election that, in principle, will be a referendum, and ideally a huge check on this kind of ugliness. But if this political climate is the new normal in America, I’m really concerned that normal, regularly-scheduled Democracy isn’t going to be enough to beat it back. We’ve let hate and antisemitism run rampant through society in the last two years, and the Republicans are incentivized to continue receiving its benefits without ever taking responsibility for stoking it. The thing that finally stopped Fascism in Europe in the 1930s was incredible worldwide violence in the 1940s. Our technological capability for warfare far outstrips what we had in the 40s, and I’m scared shitless thinking about that type of outcome, as everyone should be. Nobody should be rooting for that kind of endgame.
We’re stuck hoping the American political system will deliver Trump and Trumpism some kind of defeat at the polls, and that will put this shitty fascistic genie back in its bottle for a while. I’m cautiously optimistic about what will happen next Tuesday in the midterm elections, but it strikes me that anything less than a total wave that carries the Democrats to victory in both houses of Congress and gives them maximum power to constrain Trump is not going to be sufficient to fully repudiate the Republican agenda as it exists today.
And that brings us to 2020, where, whatever happens, the Presidential election will be a binary choice between Trump and some Democratic politician. No one has more than a vague sense of who that Dem candidate will be yet, and I don’t have any predictions, but what we’d be hoping for is a politician who has the requisite Obama-like political gifts to reach people and inspire them, so that this candidate’s positive message can reach above the din of anger and hatred that are engulfing the country now. But what if a person with those skills doesn’t emerge from this current crop of Democrats?
This is my main worry: What if Democrats don’t have a politician who can check all the boxes they need to check in order to bring the entire Democratic coalition to the polls in 2020? Worse, what if searching for a person who “checks all the boxes” leads us to another John Kerry-like candidate who’s fine on paper, but this abundance of caution causes us to miss out on the person who might be the better match for Trump as a candidate.? Why is the fate of Democracy, and the fate of all those future victims of right-wing violence, tied to whether or not Kamala Harris seems likeable enough in a debate?
It seems to me that the American electoral system, even if you factor out the disadvantage the Electoral College causes big-city, big-state-dwelling Democrats, (which is a horror show unto itself, and could be the subject of several other posts), is still going to come down to an election where some “who would you rather have a beer with?” question decides the matter, and this is light year’s away from being adequate to address the stakes of this election for the world.
Treating Trump like a normal President, and the 2020 election like it’s an election with normal stakes, is ultimately going to fail us. A Democratic candidate in 2020 who attacks Trump for being a corrupt, fascist autocrat in a debate, (which is likely what that Democratic candidate does and should believe), is going to make them seem like a hyperbolic extremist in the context of our normal election-year experience, which tends to center the two parties as though they’re on equal moral footing. It’s better politics to go after Trump for his health care and tax policies, and treat him like a normal politician. While the less excitable way of campaigning against Trump is more likely the path to victory, treating him as normal lets him and his movement off the hook for their abnormality. It would constrain that Democratic candidate, should they win the Presidency, from treating the clean-up of the Trump mess, and the draining of the fascist swamp, with the urgency they require. Trump’s base isn’t going anywhere. And Trump himself will certainly contest the legitimacy of any election results where he’s the loser, and Fox News will carry the message that the election was rigged without giving it any scrutiny.
Impeachment is in some ways the more appropriate remedy for the ills of the Trump presidency, but an impeachment process that begins starting next year when a new Congress is seated will A) take at least as long as the two-year campaign for the Presidency that starts next year anyway will take, B) be seen as illegitimate by 42% of Americans, and C) be really unlikely to succeed, since there’s no way the Dems are getting 67 Senators to vote to impeach Trump in any event. With impeachment off the table, we’re left waiting for a “savior” among the Democratic candidates. Is there one?
Maybe I’ll write a post about my thoughts on that after the election.
Anyway, think happy thoughts, everyone!