The results of yesterday’s midterm election defy hot takes and easy narratives. On one level — in terms of just how overwhelmingly voters, in raw numbers, voted Democratic and/or anti-Republican — it was a Democratic wave of historic proportions. The sort of wave which puts to lie the common Republican and media talking point that America is “a center-right nation.” No, in terms of the sentiment of the people of this country as of November 6, 2018, it is certainly not.
That sentiment was clearly blunted in terms of results, however. Given that massive lean towards Democrats in overall vote totals, fair elections would have given them far more than a majority of a couple of dozen House seats. Indeed, in the past, a lean like we saw last night typically has given the majority party twice as much if not more of a gain in the House. That that’s all Democrats got is clear evidence that Republicans’ craven agenda of gerrymandering has benefitted them greatly.
But while that’s disappointing — and while a few specific, notable races did not go in Democrats’ favor — there is no way whatsoever to honestly spin last night’s results as good for Republicans or bad for Democrats. To do so requires one to lose sight of how political tides turn in a lasting way in this country, just how badly things have gotten over the past several years and just how much work it takes, and was always going to take, to effect real change.
Anti-democratic forces and illiberalism did not spring up, fully formed, with Donald Trump’s election in November 2016. As I have written many, many times in this space, we have experienced years and years of these corrosive trends. Just as Republicans’ program of court-packing, tax cuts, deregulation and disinvestment in our nation’s future has taken decades to bear the rotten fruit it is now bearing, so too has the erosion of campaign finance laws, the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act and the enactment of widespread gerrymandering. Republicans began making it their explicit agenda to deconstruct civil society, to benefit and protect the powerful and to cast the vulnerable aside in the 1960s, accelerated these efforts in the 1980s and accelerated them even more in the years since the 1994 Contract with America election. They likewise made it their agenda to rig elections many, many years ago. That agenda was not going to be stopped in a single midterm election.
That agenda was, however, chipped at in real and substantive ways last night:
- Winning the House, be it by 23 or 43 seats, is a big deal. Trump no longer has a rubber stamp in Congress and there is now a chance to enact some meaningful oversight of his administration’s negligence and corruption. Every day, it seems, there is a new nightmare coming out of the Trump administration. Much of it is a function of there having been absolutely no pushback on it by the supposed coequal branch of government that is Congress. There will now, finally, be at least some pushback;
- While the overall number of legislative pickups was smaller than hoped, the composition of those pickups is important. Congress and many statehouses are now younger and more diverse than they ever have been. We elected women in historic numbers. We elected Native Americans. We elected LBGTQ candidates. We elected true progressives, the sort of which we have not had in prominent positions in this country in a long, long time and in some cases ever. Legislative realities make quantity matter more than anything, but do not sell quality short;
- Several states enacted election reforms and anti-gerrymandering measures last night and some — most notably Michigan — made sweeping reforms in this respect. Between that and several state legislatures either being fully flipped or turning sharply Democratic, we are far closer to a time when our elections are fair and democratic this morning than we were yesterday morning;
- People are understandably focusing on the unfortunate results in races that got the most ink over the past year — the gubernatorial races in Georgia and Florida, the Senate races in Florida and Texas and a handful of races involving high-profile figures on the national stage — and are despairing. It’s probably worth noting, however, that the races that got the most ink did so, in part, because they were Republican strongholds to begin with that were made shockingly competitive. If I told you two years ago that a Democratic Senate candidate in Texas would finish just two points behind Ted Cruz, you would have assumed something major and monumental happened. That that candidate did not win is unfortunate, but it does not mean that something major and monumental did not happen;
- It’s also worth noting that some of the high profile races did go Democrats’ way. Maybe the offices aren’t quite as big, but seeing America’s most notorious vote-suppressor, Kris Kobach, lose in Kansas and seeing Scott Walker, an anti-worker tool of the Koch Brothers, lose in Wisconsin, has certainly put a spring in my step this morning and it should put a spring in yours.
It took years for Republicans to bugger up this country and a handful of big time superhero candidates were not going to fly in and fix things in a single night. Do not lose sight of the fact, however, that a lot of street level superheroes are starting to get results. In the past two years a hell of a lot of people have done the work to start the process of fixing things. They have knocked on doors, registered voters, and have persuaded millions that there is a better course than the course our nation has been on for so long. That work paid off in many, many positive ways last night, even if it did not do so in 100% optimum ways.
It’s easy to break things. It’s way harder to fix them. You do so by putting your head down and doing that work. Continuing that work. You make some progress in 2018 and you make more progress in 2020. You win some elections. You take stock, get back to work and then you win some more in 2022, 2024 and beyond. The work is never done. But if the work is done right it can pay off, slowly, over time.
It began to pay off a little last night.