Now that the fog (or red mist, rather) has cleared, I’m beginning to piece together what exactly happened last night. All told, last night’s results were, I suppose, a mixed bag. Maybe that’s a good thing- after all, a functioning (or at least semi-functioning) democracy has less unity of purpose than a dictatorship, especially in a large, diverse country. So maybe we can take some solace in the fact that our democracy seems to be working. Similarly, the ‘midterm swing,’ a shift of confidence away from the President’s party, is a tried and true American tradition, although this was a swing of historic proportions- rightly worrisome to many progressives. But, lest we forget the silver linings, Cory Booker got elected in New Jersey, and my home state of Connecticut re-elected Dan Malloy, the best governor we’ve had in years. Cold comfort, though, given the number of utter whackjobs that did get elected. When is this right-wing populist obsession with ‘political outsiders’ gonna die? Who- or what, for that matter- are these people going to elect next? There is a worrying lack of historical information here: right-wing populism, especially when combined with a taste for political outsiders, rarely ends well. Hyperbolic? Sure. But, in the eternal words of Lisa Simpson, the price of democracy is eternal vigilance.
In addition to a lack of historical information, there seems to be an even more troubling gap in basic American civics. Voters, disturbed by a seemingly weak President and a do-nothing Congress, vote for the opposition. In the moment, isolated from any context, this makes sense. They assume this inaction stems from traits inherent to the President and his party, ignoring the institutional checks and balances we all apparently learned about in school. To them, the solution to an apparently milquetoast President being blocked at every juncture by the opposition party who controls the half the legislature is forcing the control of the whole legislature into their hands. The whole system of checks and balances was set up to prevent changes from taking place too quickly, and the slow pace of change in this country is, again, a sign that some aspects of our democracy are, unaccountably, still working the way they’re supposed to. Listen, if you guys want a dictator, I’m sure that can be arranged.
Bear in mind, for the handful of aspects of American democracy that are working, there’s a whole lot that aren’t. The Republicans lagged the Democrats by 1.1 million popular votes in the House election but swept a cool 34 seat majority. The article above pins this fact on politically partisan gerrymandering, and its not far from the mark. Throughout the country, most urban areas districts are crammed together, ensuring massive Democratic majorities, rather than blending urban, suburban and rural districts together to make district races in any way predictable. Some districts, such as the one I live in, don’t even field Republican candidates, and I’m sure there’s at least some rural districts out there that don’t field Democrats. One solution would be to redistrict the way we’re supposed to- through the use of politically independent census data. A better solution would be to scrap the first-past-the-post district system entirely and replace it with a proportional system which would not only allow for significantly better representation, but also a true, multi-party democracy. Imagine that- a Republican Party that isn’t held hostage by its most militant wing. We can always dream.
But what’s done is done. It’ll be a messy two years, but maybe- possibly- we’ll be in better shape for 2016. Probably not, though.