Stop Worrying About 2020, Please
and to a lesser extent, 2018
They started as early as November 9th. Actually even before then, as our favorite candidates were eliminated from the primary (assuming you didn’t love Hillary Clinton and/or Donald Trump).
“Who’s it gonna be next time around?”
Now that we’re well into the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, the preemptive election chatter has become even more frequent. Whether it be a general look at the potential prospects, a case being made for a particular future President, or a campaign rally by President Trump himself.
This incessant focus about what will happen in the next election(s) is neither normal nor healthy. We need to hold off on these talks. If even just for a little bit.
Reason 1: You’re Probably Completely Wrong about the Major Players
Imagine it’s 2013. Barack Obama has just won reelection. You begin to scope out who might become president in 2016. What names would you come up with?
Hillary Clinton certainly. But she’s also a unique case, having so much institutional support that she was in essence an incumbent. Would you have guessed she’d lose 22 states to Independent Bernie Sanders?
Now unless you had a keen eye on Florida politics, you likely wouldn’t have said Jeb Bush would have done as poorly as he did, despite raising untold millions.
And who would have known the world’s best and sleepiest neurosurgeon Ben Carson would spend time near the top of the polls and would now be running a Federal Agency?
How about that the widely disliked Senator Ted Cruz would win the Iowa caucus and become the GOP’s last hope to stop a Donald Trump nomination. Not to mention the lack of candidacy of Vice President Joe Biden or Mitt Romney.
Scoping out the candidates in advance is usually impossible and always irrelevant.
Reason 2: It Feeds into our Twisted Party System
We saw it during Obama’s first term — Congressional Republicans who were committed to ensuring the President fails so that they could rake in political capital and seats in the next election.
We see something similar happening today with the current HealthCare debate. With the exception of a handful of moderate Senators — most Congressmen, including party leaders, have no interest in a bipartisan fix to our healthcare system.
Part of the issue has to do with the absurdly lopsided amount of power the majority party is allowed. In our current Congress, the Republican party holds about 55% of the seats, and yet they have nearly all of the sway in controlling the basic functions of the House and Senate.
For example, now that the filibuster has been killed for all presidential nominations, there is little functional difference between having 52 senators of the same party or 99. How about that for Democracy.
So the fact that the majority party holds large amounts of control over committee chairmanships and procedure is a problem. But I would argue that the larger issue has to do with the character of the individuals in the Congress and the climate of our political atmosphere as a whole.
What does this all have to do with 2020?
In practice, it is not the case that we have a national two party system in America. We have what can be more accurately described as an alternating one party system. Excessive election forecasting feeds into the idea of an opposition party that does nothing other than block things from happening.
This mentality we see of “let’s just slam on the brakes until our people are in office” is damaging and petty in Washington. And the civilian version of this thinking is to be concerned about the next horse race instead of working to see your preferred policies get some traction immediately.
We must get back to having two governing parties in this country. This means both the Democrats and Republicans must make serious efforts to craft legislation, regardless of their majority/minority status. This will only happen once voters demand bipartisan attempts at legislating, as opposed to more cynical pleas to delay and conquer. Why don’t congressional Democrats, instead of twiddling their thumbs and asking for donations until 2018, draft their own health care bill to compare side by side with the American Health Care Act?
Focusing only on when “your guys” might get in power in 2018 or 2020, if only by accident, buys into the assumption that you as a citizen are not supposed to have any power if the party you prefer doesn’t hold the majority. This is not true. And don’t let it become true by getting rid of the agency you have right now.
Don’t be so concerned about who might hold your congressman’s seat during the next cycle that you forget to demand better behavior from him or her during this one.
Reason 3: It Draws Attention Away from Big Important Ideas
In a recent article, TIME Magazine interviewed Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse. They discussed his family life as well as the Senator’s new book The Vanishing American Adult. Unfortunately, the interviewer also spent about a quarter of the piece conjecturing on whether Senator Sasse was going to run for President — while presenting only a shallow, surface level insight on the contents of his book (here’s a decent summary).
(The writer, Michael Scherer, would write an excellent expose on President Trump later on in the publication).
As we speak, there are dozens of Congressmen with deeply interesting and relevant ideas about this country. But instead of discussing these ideas, we wonder who would be willing to challenge an incumbent Trump/Pence, or whether they’ll be able to court the women vote…in 3 and half years.
Let’s talk more about Senator Ben Sasse’s ideas on the American Adult, and less on whether he’s more of a President or Vice President material.
Let’s talk more about Bernie Sanders’ plan to increase the minimum wage, and less about whether he’ll be old enough to run again.
Let’s debate Ted Cruz’s (and other GOP Senators) plans to cut Medicaid, and not whether he’ll return to the Iowa caucus.
Let’s discuss Elizabeth Warren’s bill to sell hearing aids over the counter, and not whether she’ll be the first female president.
Hope for Change
When congressional candidate Greg Gianforte chokeslammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, the morally appalling nature of the incident was a big story for the next 36 hours. But today, the most newsworthy thing about Congressmen-elect Gianforte is that his 6% win margin in a deep red state might spell bad news for Republicans in the midterms.
This focus on the next election seems to come from anxiety over how hectic Washington seems right now. But we have a White House under investigation for acts that could be borderline treasonous. If our eyes stay on how “all of this” will affect the midterm elections and the 2020 races — we might miss something dangerous. Or we might miss something beautiful — like this Muslim man and Jewish women consoling one another after the Manchester attack.
I get it. There’s something appealing about previewing into 2020. I’ll be the first to admit catching myself doing it atleast once a day.
But the work towards a better country is not defined by what happens on election day. The next President of the United States will be flawed, as will the next Speaker of the House, and even the next Supreme Court Justice.
Real improvements to our country do not come from forecasting, or the perfect candidate, but from our own daily work. Doing your job yes — but also bringing your family closer, making your community cleaner, and your online dialogue a bit more civil. We need this kind of work more than ever, and it starts today.