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Midterm musings: Not the blue wave America needed

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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