So, what I’ve been thinking this morning about yesterday’s election—wait, let me start by saying that this isn’t an analysis, properly speaking, and I haven’t done a ton of research. I’m not telling you What Happened, other than reminding you that the Story of What Happened is more important than What Actually Happened, even when (as happened yesterday) What Actually Happened is really, really important. Anyway, I’m just talking about my reaction, a sort of emotional-intellectual reaction rather than an analysis.
And this is half of it: looking from a national point of view, this was a very, very… normal mid-term election. The President lost the House majority—three of the last four Presidents have lost the House majority at their first midterm, and the fourth lost the House majority at his second midterm. It is unusual for the out-Party to lose seats in the Senate at a midterm, but mostly (so far) it looks like that’s a result of Obama’s coattails in 2012 and the Wave in 2006. My Party didn’t lose any seats in states that we would be expected to regularly win elections—specifically, the seats that flipped D to R were all in states where the other Senator is an R already.
And even more than those national results, what strikes me as so normal about this election is that (like in 2012) Republicans pretty much voted Republican, and Democrats pretty much voted Democrat. It feels to me like the parties are radically changing, and that doesn’t seem to have much effect on how people are voting. In the end, the Russian meddling, the prosecutions, the resignations, the behavior of Our Only President and his advisors, the border separations, the demolition of our international status, the Kavanagh hearings, the random lies and insults, the rest of it… seems to have made very little difference so far. This is an outcome that could have been expected or explained without referring to any of that stuff.
And here’s the other half: looking at it from a smaller point of view, looking at people rather than parties, this was a very unusual election—the number of women, people of color and LGBT+ folk who were elected to public office yesterday is unprecedented. More than half of the new Democratic US Representatives are women; that has never happened before. At least eight openly LGBT candidates will be in the federal legislature (Representative-elects Craig, Davids, Hill, Maloney, Pappas and possibly Ortiz Jones join Reps Cicilline Takano and Pocan in the House and it’s still possible that Tammy Baldwin, who won re-election yesterday, will be joined by Kristen Sinema in the upper chamber) and there are at least 32 new LGBT state legislators as well, and yes, there will be T and B legislators as well as G and L. There are a ton of new officeholders at the state and local and federal levels that aren’t white, aren’t men, aren’t Christian, aren’t straight, and/or aren’t cisgender. There are far more people elected than ever before who are in multiple categories that are historically underrepresented, and that makes a big difference, too.
There were a lot of new voters, too, and new organizers and new volunteers. Turnout was quite high (something close to 47%, probably, which is much higher than any recent midterm and second-highest in the post-19th-Amendment era). In fact, we had something like twenty million more voters than we might have expected, going by the average of the last two midterms. Textbanking connected individual volunteers to voters across the country, making personal (if formal) contact in a virtual version of retail politicking. The amount of money donated was immense, too, totally not on the charts with previous midterms. And, of course, Our Only President behaved in a different way than other Presidents have, campaigning and lying in ways both quantitatively and qualitatively outside all previous norms.
It felt very different, to me and to a lot of other people. And the outcome at the national level, from a Party point of view, was… not very different.
Which, of course, reminded me of Ecclesiastes, who writes:
[One] generation passeth away, and [another] generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea [is] not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. [Ecc 1:3-7 KJV]
Those two reactions—how everything is different and how things remain fundamentally the same—are what’s overwhelming to me about the election yesterday. Along with the policy implications, yes, and the confirmations, and the potential effects on the investigations into Our Only President and the people he surrounds himself with, and the international implications, and everything else.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,