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After the Election: Cautious Hope in the Idea of Democracy and of America

Photograph by Element5Digital on Unsplash

Along with millions of my fellow U.S. citizens, I cast my vote yesterday in the U.S. 2018 Midterm Election.

The Awesome Power of Casting a Vote

Voting is always something overwhelmingly emotional for me. I think many other people feel that way too.

After the non-stop emotional roller-coaster of an election season, especially one as divisive as this last one — the passions, the debates, the arguments, the outrage, the vitriol, the opinions, the analyses, the rallies, the pandering speeches, the sloshing around of campaign funds, the vilifying of opponents, the appeals to base instincts, the attempts to suppress voting, the cynicism about whether our democracy is meaningful any more — the day finally comes around.

All that is left to do is go the the polls and cast your vote, then hold your breath waiting to see how millions of your fellow-citizens voted on this day, and what it may mean going forward.

At the quiet minor suburban polling place where I voted, in a safely Democratic precinct of northern California where gradations in liberalism and progressivism are all that differentiates people, the scene was idyllic. People drifted in and out throughout the day, lines were never long, all comers were treated with respect, everything was calm and orderly.

Elsewhere, the contests were more acrimonious, the stakes for voters more intense, and the results of people’s votes more nationally consequential.

In many places, the stamina and resolve of voters was seriously taxed by vote suppression measures making access to polling places difficult, the need to wait in the rain or cold in long lines, or by unseemly challenges to individual voters’ right to cast their ballots.

But regardless of these differences, the scene and the process inside polling places throughout the country is fundamentally the same. Orderly, quiet, patient, sober, serious — like an ancient, deeply rooted communal ritual that reaffirms the fundamental nature and beliefs of a community.

Your name is checked off the list, you’re handed a ballot, you go into the voting booth, you mark your ballot, you put your ballot into the ballot box, you pick up your ‘I Voted’ sticker, and then you walk out and return to the rest of your life, having just put your own small mark on the future of your country.

Democracy: A Miracle Despite Its Woes

What dawns on us, consciously or subliminally, when we’re finally casting our votes, is how extraordinary this audacious form of government called democracy really is.

The simple idea that people should have a say in who they are governed by and how.

And that change should take place through the process of the ballot box, not through revolutions, violent overthrows of the government, military coups, assassinations or unchallenged abrogation of the laws of the land.

Sometimes we’re so worn down, and discouraged, by the many corruptions that frequently undercut the democratic ideal in practice in the U.S. today, that we forget the sheer wonder of it.

These last few years have particularly stressed our capacity to believe that democracy is possible or will endure — in our country or elsewhere.

We have tended to become cynical, and to see in politics nothing but competition for power between entrenched tribal affiliations, or a tool to be manipulated by vested interests.

That democracy should exist at all — instead of the autocracy that has been the rule through much of recorded human history, and has to be vigilantly guarded against at all times — is in and of itself a miracle of human hope and belief.
Belief in the proposition that it is possible for people to come together and decide about their collective life through a different and better logic than the logic that might makes right.

Somehow, even as we bemoan the many ills and woes of our political life in our creaky and cranky contemporary American democracy, we still believe the fundamental truth of Winston Churchill’s words:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”

The Idea of America Is Not Dead Either

As the results of the 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections came in last night, and our public and social media poured out stories from all the electoral fronts in the nation, we knew that some kind of change was going to happen.

We knew it was impossible for there not to be some kind of massive reaction to one-party control of our federal government by a Republican Party wedded to a know-nothing hate-filled base, fed on dreams of white nationalism and fear of the global world, and by the most divisive and morally vacuous president in the nation’s history.

We knew that there was going to be some significant pushback against the relentless degradation of our democratic institutions, and the undermining of the instruments and agencies of government by appointees selected for loyalty rather than competence.

We knew that there was going to be something in the election results that would reflect that there are many in this country who still believe in the Idea of America that has for so long inspired so many people, here at home and throughout the world.

The Idea of America as welcoming, inclusive, fair, a place of opportunity for all, at ease with its leadership standing in the world, wise, generous with its wealth, responsible and restrained in its actions, slow to anger, valuing competency and knowledge, open-minded, respectful of facts, grown-up, civilized.

This Idea of America that has been been so tarnished in what the historians of the future will analyze endlessly: the strange Age of Trump that has descended on us.

Dark times, when all the worst tendencies in our national culture, our psyche, our economic and social arrangements, and our stance towards the rest of the world, have been given horrific encouragement, taking us back to the most egregious days in our nation’s history of bigotry, isolationism, intolerance and injustice.

All of us who contributed in ways large and small to the 2018 Midterm Elections — to pushing back against the destructive torrent of bad ideas flowing throughout the land, and to reclaiming the forward-looking, inclusive, fair and generous vision of what America is all about — are breathing a huge sigh of relief.

The American Idea may still be in critical condition — some fear it is on precarious life support. It will require a lot more patient work, deep wisdom and political ingenuity to revive it, and help it regain its tremendous vitality and boundless hopefulness. But it is not dead. This the mid-term election of 2018 has made abundantly clear.

The Blue Wave Is Real Though Not a Tsunami

There really was a Blue Wave! And though it is not the tsunami many polls expected, it is certainly more than a Blue Ripple. At the very least, it is a significant and powerful Blue Surge.

Photograph by Element5Digital on Unsplash

The U.S. House of Representatives was wrested from Republican control, thereby returning to a division of power at the national level.

The situation now is far more conducive to restraining the abuse of authority by a President with clearly autocratic ambitions, and a Republican Party ready to fall in step behind him for the sake of blocking its Democratic opponents and holding on to power. The days of one-party rule are over.

We really did elect the largest entering group of women in the history of Congress — mostly Democratic and highly diverse. And we also elected many and more women at all other levels of government, including 6 state governorships, as well as several hundred women in state and local contests. This, perhaps, perhaps, is the most important, tsunami-level long-term change.

There really are 7 state governorships that changed from Republican to Democratic, and 7 state legislatures as well, as 4 state legislatures that have lost their Republican supermajorities. All this has serious implications for expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, health care reform, voting rights, minimum wage, approach to immigrants, and how redistricting will be done prior to the 2020 Presidential Election.

There really is a demonstrable trend in the nation’s suburbs, once strongholds of Republican support, to more people becoming more Democratic in their voting patterns, with specific impact on these elections that have just taken place, and significant portent for future elections.

If one follows the statistical wonks who look for trends beyond the seats that flipped and the states that swung from Republicans to Democrats, there are many indications that the Blue Wave may just be starting to crest.

For example, in the crisp statistical charts provided by the New York Times under the heading Sizing Up the 2018 Blue Wave, analysts demonstrate that “districts that swung to the Democrats don’t tell the whole story. . . Districts where Republicans won. . . were caught in the wave as well — 170 of them moved to the left. . . [And] the average district nationwide moved 10 percentage points to the left this year.”

Meanwhile, throughout the country, there were propositions and initiatives approved by voters in states and localities, that clearly reflect ‘Blue’ values and policies in many policy areas. And while major environmental-climate measures were defeated by the fossil-fuel interests, the fight on this front is far from over.

All in all, the Blue Wave (or Blue Surge) is a sign that all the many efforts of the ‘Resistance’, which has remained energized and engaged ever since since President Trump’s election, have borne some significant fruit.

Liberals and progressives, Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents should be pleased and inspired to continue their efforts in the days, months and two years ahead.

Democracy is slow and cumbersome. No quick fixes for bringing about change. No magic bullets to solve problems. It’s a long slug, with many discouragements along the way. It’s partial victories, partial defeats, two steps forward and one step back.
The Idea of America is also difficult, with few instant gratifications.
Both require an enormous amount of labor, commitment and skill. But both are eminently worthy of our hope, our belief, our commitment and our hard work to see them more fully realized in our collective life.

Quoting the great African-American poet Langston Hughes’ Let America Be America Again, we need to continue to put our hope, our belief, our commitment and our efforts into that truly democratic Idea of America:

“. . . the dream the dreamers dreamed. . . that great strong land of love, where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme, that any man be crushed by one above. . . the land that never has been yet — and yet must be. . .”

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Karine Schomer, PhD is a writer, speaker, scholar, and a political and social commentator. She writes on Medium at https://medium.com/@schomer44. In her essays, she explores the worlds of society, politics, culture, history, language, world civilizations and life lessons. You can read her writer’s philosophy in The Idea Factory. In her professional life, she earns her keep as a consultant at www.cmct.net and www.indiapractice.com.