Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Morning after the MidTerm

The bill came partially due Tuesday. Two years of what the election-eve issue of The Economist termed a "dishonest executive, conniving with a fawning legislature and empowered by a partisan judiciary" motivated a record turnout of voters (as many as 113 million). As NY Times columnist Michelle Goldberg observed prior to the election: “Movements like Trump’s thrive on social decay and atomization. Millions of Americans who oppose Trump have responded to him with an enormous civic revival.” That said, the basic urban-suburban vs. rural divide, of which the Senate is the institutional expression, continues to poison American politics. "Democrats have the people, Republicans have the real estate," as Mara Liason observed on NPR this morning.

The big story. of course, is that the Democrats have regained control of the House after 8 years. Along with that, three states voted for non-partisan redistricting. That combined with Democratic victories in several statehouses (including the three that fatally handed Trump his Electoral College margin of victory) will make it much harder for Republicans to continue rigging the district maps in their favor after the 2020 census. And there were other victories for democracy and humanity. Democracy won when Florida voted to restore voting rights to ex-felons. Humanity won when three "red" states (Ohio, Nebraska, Utah) voted for Medicaid expansion.

But the big story remains the House of Representatives. That means we have the beginning of a potential return to a two-party system in this country. It also means we will have some serious statesmen as committee chairmen, replacing Trumpers like Devin Nunes, all of which affords the prospect of Congress reasserting its constitutional parity with the presidency through real oversight of executive agencies, much needed after a lapse of two years. 

Even so, if Nancy Pelosi were to ask me for advice, I would tell her to start with a focus on real legislation, which ordinary Americans care about - for example, protecting health care for all, protecting voting rights, protecting immigrants and refugees, infrastructure, and balancing the last Congress's tax cut for the rich with benefits for the rest of the country. By itself, of course, the House cannot pass any legislation. The Republican Senate may still stymie the House's efforts, although with this unpredictable president nothing is certain. Still legislating is a lot better place to be in than exclusively emphasizing oversight and investigations, however important they are as well. 

The bottom line is that the Democrats need two things heading into 2020. They need a charismatic candidate, of course, and surfacing one who can win in the Electoral College will be no easy matter. But they also need to stand for something that Americans can care enough about to vote for change. The country knows what the Republicans stand for. It is waiting to hear what the Democrats have to offer as an alternative.

In this regard, I think that Ross Douthat's observation in today's NY Times may be a relevant warning: "Democrats obviously want to win purple and red Senate seats, but they want to win them the way they just lost in Texas, with charisma and mobilization rather than with ideological compromise. So they’re left waiting, as before, for demography or a recession to deliver them that opportunity."

Nor should anyone underestimate how empowering it could be for Trump to have a Democratic House to campaign against every day for the next two years. And insulting, ridiculing, demeaning, and maligning a woman Speaker is just the sort of thing to energize both him and his supporters!  

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