The Midterms: O Woe Is Me!

Voting is the closest that I, as a secularist, come to having a sacred liturgy. I vote so as to receive its blessings, which is to participate in electing some of my fellow citizens to office, but also to make me feel that I am not merely an observer but a part of the political process, my vote every bit as valuable as that of Andrew Cuomo or Donald Trump. So I shed a tear when the person at my polling place gave me a sticker saying “I Voted” that I attached to my jacket. Old codgers are excused for doing that.

The results of the voting, however, were very disappointing and shocking. Partly it was that the polls were so wrong. They had Mccaskill slightly ahead, as was also the case with Nelson and Gillum. Close is not good enough. Pollsters will have to solve the mystery of sampling those who will in fact go out to the polls whether or not likely voters reliably identify themselves as such. More important was the message the midterm elections sent. I was disappointed but not overly so when Gore was defeated by Bush. That was a fluke election, dependant on hanging chads. I was really disappointed when Bush was reelected because that meant no penalty was paid for him having misled the American people about weapons of mass destruction and gotten us into a pointless war. Similarly, I can write off the Hillary defeat in 2016 to a fluke in that some 17,000 or 18,000 votes in any one of three states would have given her the victory. Why women didn’t turn out for her was the question of the hour. This time, though, voters knew that Trump had never turned presidential. He is the same racist, misogynist, low life he always was and he said this election was a referendum on him and he was right, the Democrats picking up the House, but hardly in landslide fashion, and losing some more Senate seats. The King of Mean had given the voters what they wanted: ignorance and fear. It isn’t so much that the voters are not that intelligent; it is that they pander to their own worst emotions, thinking Trump projects their own feelings, whatever they might have been taught in Sunday School or however they behave within their own families. Make no mistake, the Democrats were rejected even if they did win a small majority in the House. It was a very small off year victory compared to pickups by the opposition party in previous post-presidential year midterms. Herbert Hoover did terribly in 1930. How does this midterm election bode for 2020?

In the light of the House victory, Republicans will no doubt call upon Democrats not to overplay their hand by launching impeachment charges against Trump on the grounds that it would not be good for the nation to be put through such an intensification of tribal politics. I note that Republicans had no such sense of forbearance when they pursued impeachment charges against Clinton on a much narrower basis, which was whether he had lied about a personal sexual matter rather than whether a President had colluded with his nation’s enemies to get himself elected. But Republicans regularly pay to Democrats the unintended compliment of treating them as the responsible party, the one to whom the national interest means something, while they themselves will say and do anything to gain or stay in power. And, sad to say, that compliment is deserved. As Bill Clinton put it, there are just some things Democrats will not do.

So what is the high road that Nancy Pelosi should pursue with her narrow control of just one half of one branch of government? She certainly shouldn’t pursue impeachment proceedings unless Mueller comes forth with charges so damning, so to the heart of what makes the American government operate as a democracy, that large numbers of Republicans will join into the rejection of President Trump, and so make impeachment the bipartisan effort that it should be. Short of that, I recommend three issues subject to legislative action that are already Democratic signature issues, and that will provide issues for the presidential election in 2020 even if the Senate refuses to take up any of the three bills.

The first issue is gun control, where the American citizenry overwhelmingly support reasonable gun control. The Democrats should support across the board legislation that will make a difference rather than piecemeal legislation such as a ban on the bumpstocks that make semi-automatic rifles into automatic rifles. Why not just an out and out ban on military grade weapons? They serve no hunting use and only very few people think of them as a recreational activity, however much they cling to them as a symbol of their liberty. There was no problem with the Second Amendment when machine guns were banned from sale in the old gangster days, and there should be no problem now.

A second issue, one that has not yet made its way into the national conversation, is the security of the vote. Some measures to protect the ballot box have already been put in place by governmental agencies in cooperation with local authorities. A comprehensive election commission could advise localities on how to protect their vote from foreign intruders as well as make it its business to issue voter identity cards to all citizens so that they could comply with local voting laws. That would also get around recent attempts to suppress the vote which have sprung up in Southern states since the Supreme Court voided important parts of the Voting Rights Act. Southern states have gone back to their old practices and so securing the ballot might result as well in expanding the vote.

Third, the House might shore up the Affordable Care Act by limiting the escape hatches which insurance companies might use to get around the provision that bars discrimination against pre-existing conditions. The House might say premiums for policies that cover pre-existing conditions cannot charge more than policies that don’t cover those conditions. That would not protect against over-all repeal or court overturn of the ACA but it would put Republicans in the spotlight who say that they support measures on pre-existing conditions but don’t really.

All that these three measures might do is focus public discussion on the issues for 2020 and that may be the best we can hope for, and that the Democrats will find a candidate who catches the imagination of the American people, as they did when Barack Obama rose to public prominence. Meanwhile, we have to keep our fingers crossed and hope that the domestic prosperity which began with Obama and the foreign policy stability that he also put in place lasts at least two more years and so we can afford a clown in the White House who can’t get us into too much trouble because there is no crisis he has to manage where the nation will have to trust to his good judgment. Good luck with that. I don’t think that even his supporters have confidence in his judgment, only in his ability to express their outrage, though I have no idea what that outrage is about, in that the economy is performing well and there are no serious social issues except the fear of a majority minority country, which seem to me to be more on the minds of the pundits than of the population, which doesn’t look that far ahead. Maybe it is that fears don’t have to be based on anything real to be real in the minds of people. That would certainly upset the applecart of Enlightenment thinking, upon which our nation was founded, that factions were based on different interests and that compromises could always be found. Let’s hope so.