The results of the midterms are in. As was widely expected, the Democratic Party took back control of the House of Representatives, picking up, at last count, about 25 seats. Meanwhile, the Republicans actually picked up a few Senate seats.

So we have a divided Congress, but, for the first time since Trump took office, the Democrats have control over one of the branches of government. On the surface, not a bad night, if you oppose Trump.

Americans didn’t massively reject Trump

But here’s the thing: Americans needed to massively, overwhelmingly reject Trump in this election. They needed to send a clear statement that his abuses of power, shocking use of racism and xenophobia, and attacks on the fundamental democratic foundations of the country would not stand.

And they didn’t do that.

More of a “blue trickle” than a blue wave

The reported “blue wave” was more of a trickle, at best. The Democrats picked up some 20-something seats (perhaps up to 30, once the votes are finished being counted) in the House, most of which were competitive seats in swing districts considered to be in play, and many of which had been blue under Obama. The Republicans, on the other hand, actually gained three Senate seats, strengthening their lead. And they picked up highly contested governorships, won a handful of House seats that had been previously held by Democrats, and actually strengthened their leads in some federal and state races.

The massive surge away from the Republican party didn’t materialize. Heck, here in Quebec, we had more of a “blue wave” when the CAQ beat the Liberals last month. And this was against a Liberal government whose worst crimes, arguably, were balancing the budget, defending minority rights, and being in power for too long.

And yet, against Trump? Consider just a short list: Trump is a President who has…

  • Ripped children away from their parents and locked them in prison camps.
  • Said that neo-Nazis in Virgina were “very fine people”.
  • Admitted on camera to grabbing women by the p*ssy.
  • Appointed a probable rapist to the Supreme Court.
  • Attacked the media as “fake news” at every turn, outwardly attempting to destroy its ability to hold power accountable.
  • Cheated on his taxes, not once, but repeatedly.
  • Lied to the American public dozens or even hundreds of times a day.
  • Appointed people to every single department and cabinet post in government with the express goal of destroying them from the inside.
  • Colluded with Russia. Openly.
  • Expressed admiration for the world’s worst dictators and despots, including Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin, while attacking and alienating every democratic ally the US has ever had.
  • Threatened to “lock up” his political opponents, and led rallies where his supporters have chanted “lock them up!” at his encouragement.
  • Prohibited transgender Americans from serving in the military and attempted to erase them from existence altogether.
  • Sent thousands of troops to meet a caravan of desperate, unarmed Central American migrants.
  • Instituted a travel ban preventing people from specific countries from even setting foot in the United States because of their religion or skin colour.
  • Said openly and on camera that he thinks it would be a good idea for the US to have a president for life.

The question isn’t how the Democrats picked up a handful of seats. The question is: Why not more? The question is, how did anyone, ANYWHERE vote Republican at all?

When you are running against a literal fascist who has openly said he wants to tear down democracy and install himself as a dictator for life, and you only manage 53% of the vote, what does that say about the other 47%? About your country’s future?

Trump is being normalized

Most parties in power lose seats in the midterms, as voters use their first opportunity two years into a mandate to stage a mini-referendum on the performance of the President. Obama lost seats in his first midterm, as did Bush, as did Clinton.

But this wasn’t just any midterm election. This was a referendum on hate. On xenophobia. On white supremacy. And Americans basically told the Republican party that they’re more or less okay with all of that. That in red districts, they’ll keep voting red regardless of all of it.

In Georgia, governor Brian Kemp beat Stacey Abrams despite massive allegations of election rigging in an election he is both running in and overseeing. He allegedly falsely struck hundreds of thousands of legitimate voters — mostly from poor areas or minority districts — from the voter rolls. Reports of voter machine hacking and problems abounded all throughout Georgia, as well as long lines at polling stations with a lack of power or water, especially in heavily Democratic districts.  And yet, people still supported him. Barring a recount, he even won. This is not normal.

In Montana, a Republican congressman punched a reporter. Trump came to campaign for him, defending him for this. And he still won. This is not normal.

From Seattle to California to New York, Republicans attacked their Jewish congressional candidates with posters depicting antisemitic tropes. They won anyway. This is not normal.

And yet, the vote totals are frighteningly, disturbingly normal for a first-term midterm election. A small swing towards the other party, sure. But not a massive wave. Nothing that would categorically reject Trump’s blatant moves towards fascism.

The point is, Americans have clearly demonstrated that there is nothing that the Republican party can do that is so egregious that they will withdraw their support. For far too many Republicans and Trump supporters, voting red is less of a thought-out decision and more of a religious affiliation. They will never abandon their party, because it would be akin to abandoning their faith.

And that gives Trump license to do literally anything. Because he knows there’s nothing he can do that will cause voters to turf him out.

What this means for 2020

Nothing good, I’m afraid.

Trump has gained a powerful punching bag and convenient target for his base’s anger. Nancy Pelosi, who is hated almost as much by progressive Democrats as by Republicans, is sure to be a flashpoint for Trump’s anger over the next two years. The traction he’ll get with the Republican base by being able to paint everything as a Democratic vendetta or witch hunt cannot be understated.

Mueller’s report, which theoretically has an audience now, is also probably doomed. If the Democrats latch onto the findings and try to use them to begin impeachment hearings, the Senate will block it, and the Democrats will get painted as petty and partisan. I’m beyond hoping that anything in the report itself will shock the American people to their senses. If they haven’t already cast Trump aside after everything we already know about him, I don’t think there’s anything left that could possibly do that.

Trump will also have a great argument in 2020 for why Republicans need to come out in force. He’ll claim he was unable to get things done because Democrats were blocking his agenda at every turn. While in these midterms, Democrats were able to point to Trump’s inability to achieve anything despite having control of both branches of Congress, they will lose that argument in 2020 when they become the convenient scapegoats.

Meanwhile, there are no clear rising stars in the Democratic party who have gained any momentum in these midterms or have shown themselves to be credible Trump challengers in 2020. While Elizabeth Warren, Kristen Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders all won their contests easily, we aren’t seeing anyone new capturing the imagination of the American people. Someone like Beto O’Rourke is an outside contender, but the hopes people had pinned on him being able to unseat Ted Cruz in Texas didn’t come to fruition.

Some silver linings

It’s not all bad news. The Democrats will be able to wield considerable power in the House of Representatives, placing — for the first time — some sort of check on Trump’s power. The fact that someone out there will be stalling Trump’s legislative agenda, putting up roadblocks on his more outlandish ideas, and preventing him from moving full-steam ahead with his march towards undoing democracy, is a good thing.

There were also a handful of encouraging signs last night, from record numbers of women and minorities winning seats, to the first-ever openly gay governor elected in Colorado, to the first-ever Muslim women elected to Congress, to a handful of ballot measures in states like Florida that will restore voting rights to more than a million Americans who had previously lost the right to vote. And early indications are that there was a record-high turnout in these midterm elections, which is a good sign for political participation. In small victories, Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis — yes, that Kim Davis, lost her re-election bid to a Democrat.

But the point remains: Unless the Democrats find some traction and a huge amount of momentum between now and 2020, things are looking bleak.

America has lost its conscience

By not categorically and emphatically rejecting Trumpism in these midterms, the American people have proven that they’ve lost their way. They’ve normalized the unthinkable. They’ve given the green light to dirty tactics and ugly cheating. They’ve failed to establish any kind of moral red line that says, Mr Trump, you’ve gone too far.

I want to be encouraged by last night’s result. But I just can’t. I fear that it may be too late for the United States to ever find its way back from the dark path that it embarked on when Trump won in 2016. Last night’s election was a stopgap that will delay America’s collapse, but probably not for very long.

America, you have abandoned your conscience. You have lost your humanity.

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Here I am, three days later, and still angry. Scared. Terrified, in fact.

But I realize, I’m not terrified at the notion that a madman might come shoot up a synagogue, mosque, church, school, community centre. Even though all these things have happened and keep happening. Terrorism is still — thankfully — relatively rare. And living our lives in fear of random violence makes no sense. We might as well lock ourselves indoors and never cross the street again, since the chances of getting hit by a car are many, many times higher.

No, it’s not the threat of random violence, as horrible as it is, that has me afraid, angry and raging at the world. It’s the way the world has reacted to it. Is reacting to it.

We’ve seen this far too many times before. After Charlottesville. After Pulse in Orlando. After the Quebec City mosque shooting. After Sandy Hook, Parkland, Las Vegas, Charleston, Sutherland Springs… heck, even after the Polytecnique massacre. For a couple of days, there’s an outpouring of support, people send their condolences and change their profile pictures and tweet with solidarity hashtags and attend candlelight vigils. And say things like “never again”.

I used to let myself dare to hope that, in the aftermath of these tragedies, a tipping point would be reached where people might say “enough”… and something might actually change for the better. But I don’t hope for that anymore. Because I know better.

In the aftermath of the worst attack of Islamophobia in Quebec history, there was a collective outpouring of support and grief for the Muslim community. And yet, not even two years later, a bunch of xenophobic assholes in ridings where they’ve probably never met anyone from a religious minority went ahead and elected a government that campaigned on a platform of Islamophobia and race-baiting, that has promised to pass a law restricting religious symbols that would effectively ban freedom of religion for all minorities, and that claims to be doing it because “it’s what the majority wants”.

Two days after a gunman shot up a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Trump is dialing up the anti-immigrant, anti-minority rhetoric. And last night, amidst a very moving show of unity in the Montreal Jewish Community, a speech referenced Trump and a not-insignificant part of the crowd applauded.

Applauded.

Let that sink in. Jews, here in Montreal, at a vigil to remember the victims of the worst antisemitic terrorist attack in US history. Applauding a president who has claimed he’s a “nationalist”, who says that neo-Nazis in Virginia are “very fine people”. Who has based his entire political career on vilifying the other, on dialing up hate rhetoric, on destroying the independent media, erasing minorities, and trampling on human rights. Who holds rallies, including one right after the shooting, that wouldn’t be out of place in 1930s Germany. (And yes, I am saying that deliberately. Even Mike Godwin, who coined the term “Godwin’s Law”, has publicly suspended it, claiming it doesn’t apply when we’re talking about ACTUAL Nazis.)

Even in the darkest days of the 1930s, I can’t imagine any scenario where a group of Jews in a German synagogue would’ve applauded Adolf Hitler.

There are midterm elections in the United States next week. Americans claim to be reeling from this tragedy, as well as from a hate-motivated double-homicide in Kroger and an unprecedented mail bomb plot. And yet, polls suggest that they’re poised to re-elect a Republican House and Senate. And they justify it with nonsense they see on FOX News about how it’s not the president’s fault that this hate rhetoric has gotten so out of hand, and domestic terrorism doesn’t scare them but a caravan of desperate migrants from Honduras does.

Here in Canada, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is trying to unseat Justin Trudeau with similar tactics to what Trump is using down south. He’s attacking the media as “fake news”, attacking immigrants, attacking minorities, drumming up fear and division instead of inclusiveness and tolerance. And he may well win on that platform.

Then I look at the world. Brazil. Most of Europe.

And I look right here at home. At my friends and neighbours who say words like “solidarity” and yet are perfectly comfortable with a law that would fire teachers for wearing hijabs or kippot. Who can’t see the hypocrisy in wanting public holiday celebrations for Christian holidays, a cross in the National Assembly, and yet think that “religion should be private” for people who may not believe as they do. And who can’t make the connection between their xenophobia and the twisted hateful rhetoric that leads to tragedies like this one.

So no, I’m not scared because a madman shot up a synagogue. I’m scared because the world seems to be steadily marching towards fascism, and I can’t for the life of me figure out how to stop it.

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Montreal vigil for Pittsburgh

10.29.2018

Hundreds of members of the Jewish Community packed the Beth Israel Beth Aaron shul in Cote St Luc last night for a vigil to remember the victims of the Pittsburgh Tree of Life shooting. The memorial, organized by Federation CJA and CIJA, was attended by politicians of all stripes and representatives of the municipal, provincial […]

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Technology and the far right

10.29.2018

An important read about the role of social media in the global rise of the far right, and how a handful of tech companies are now scrambling to answer for the damage that they’re only starting to acknowledge that they’ve done: “I’ve followed that dark evolution of internet culture ever since. I’ve had the privilege […]

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Pittsburgh Jewish Community to Trump: You’re not welcome here

10.28.2018

Pittsburgh Jewish leaders to Trump: You’re not welcome here: “Our Jewish community is not the only group you have targeted,” the group wrote. “You have also deliberately undermined the safety of people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. Yesterday’s massacre is not the first act of terror you incited against a minority […]

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Penguins support Pittsburgh

10.28.2018

The Pittsburgh Penguins are setting a good example on how, in the wake of tragedy, actions speak louder than words. Much respect. “The team announced on Sunday that it would hold a blood drive on Monday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and would cancel its annual Halloween-themed festivities at Tuesday’s game, instead opting to […]

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On empathy, tragedy, and the eleven victims of the Pittsburgh shooting

10.28.2018

Reading the obituaries of the 11 murdered victims in the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting and all I can keep thinking about is how these people sound so familiar. Richard Gottfried was a dentist around my parents’ age. He ran a 10km race every year. He also had a nephew in BBYO, the same youth organization I […]

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Trump fans: Yes, this is your fault

10.28.2018

This piece in The Atlantic makes the direct link between Trump’s anti-migrant hysteria and the shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue that left eleven people dead yesterday: Before committing the Tree of Life massacre, the shooter, who blamed Jews for the caravan of “invaders” and who raged about it on social media, made it clear that […]

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Brazil the latest country to fall to fascism

10.28.2018

The worldwide rise of fascism continues, with Brazil only the latest example: Mr Bolsonaro’s pledge to fight crime and corruption following a string of scandals have won him mass support. However critics are worried by his praise of Brazil’s former dictatorship, and by his comments on race, women and homosexuality. In one infamous incident in […]

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Pittsburgh shooting: Actions, not words

10.27.2018

If you’re struggling to make sense of the horrific violence of today’s Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, a few thoughts: Judaism has never really been a “thoughts and prayers” kind of religion. It’s an action religion. Judaism teaches that we are all judged by the way we behave towards our fellow human brings, and the things we […]

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