Mid-Term Elections and the “Ripple Effects” of the 2016 Presidential Election

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Still think mid-term elections don’t matter? (Image retrieved from politicalastrologyblog.com.)

I know we’re fewer than 100 days away from the presidential election. I know the stakes are high, especially in the eyes of the large bloc of Americans who imagine a Donald Trump presidency would result in absolute disaster, as well as in the eyes of concerned and incredulous onlookers in foreign countries. I even know that you know that I know that I go psycho when my new joint hits, that I just can’t sit, and furthermore, that I must get jiggy with it. All this notwithstanding, let’s put aside the craziness of the race to the White House for a moment and consider that once the votes in the general election are counted and in the books—mostly correctly, we hope—this will not be the end of elections to come. Provided, you know, the winner doesn’t manage to blow Earth up before the end of 2017.

Yes, I’m talking about mid-term elections, particularly those for challenged and vacant spots in the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as state governors and legislatures. For all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the presidency, the primary season and party conventions—and the balloons, sweet Jesus, all those balloons—voting for members of Congress and gubernatorial candidates may be as critical to our sense of being represented in governmental affairs, perhaps even more so, than the vote we cast for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, or a third-party candidate we might actually like. This is where the cautionary tale of the 2010 mid-term elections fits in. At that time, a lot was going on economically as well as politically. Two years earlier, the country elected its first African-American president in Barack Obama, who ascended to the top office in the country on a platform of hope, change and “YES WE CAN!” Unfortunately for Obama, his vision, which may have lacked some degree of practicality, was already bound to be constrained by the effects of the “Great Recession,” an event we’re told is over, and yet, things are not all that peachy, rosy or whatever word you like that has been mostly sapped of authentic meaning, for the average American.

But yes, in terms of the mid-term election aspect, six years ago, the House of Representatives, for one, saw massive upheaval, with the Republican Party gaining 63 seats, recapturing the majority in the House, and winning the most dramatic turnover in U.S. history since 1948. Republicans also saw a net gain in the Senate and among state governors, and furthermore, gained 680 seats in state legislatures, ensuring the GOP would have control of a majority of the fifty states. What prompted this Republican uprising, if you will? As you might expect, there are a number of variables at play here. Certainly, economic factors played a large role, as voters were concerned about health care costs (esp. those following the passage of the Affordable Care Act a.k.a. ObamaCare), taxes, and unemployment rates, and many of them were upset at how easily Wall Street got its bailout seemingly without proportionate relief for the so-called “99%.” On this front, the Tea Party movement led the charge, elevating the economy as the top issue among independents and Republicans, as well as elevating itself in terms of political prominence. This is not to say that social issues completely fell by the wayside, however. Immigration reform, in particular, grew legs, particularly in states that are more likely to be affected by illegal immigration, and in turn, more readily see this subject as a challenge rather than an opportunity. Arizona SB 1070, most notably (or notoriously), was indicative of a cultural backlash against trends in undocumented immigration—real or imagined.

So, yes, in a nutshell, based on the state of the economy and jobs, and owing to changing laws and regulations regarding health care in the United States and immigration policy, among other areas, 2010 saw a significant shift in the political landscape. With specific respect to the Tea Party and its remnants, while Ron Paul is seen by some conservatives as a “godfather” of sorts—even if he is not an explicit founder of the theory behind the movement—other, shall we say, less respected political minds found themselves in positions of at least nominal influence by riding its wave of enthusiasm: Glenn Beck, Jim DeMint, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, just to name a few. Even today, leaders at the state and national level with ties to the Tea Party movement or sympathetic to its broad aims continue to play a notable part in the nation’s politics, including Louie Gohmert (Texas), Matt Bevin (Kentucky), Mike Pence (Indiana, and now, Trump’s VP pick), Paul LePage (Maine), Rand Paul (Kentucky, and son of Ron Paul), Steve King (Iowa), and the man everyone apparently loves to hate, Ted Cruz (Texas). I acknowledge, as a self-described liberal and supporter of progressive politics, that I disagree with a number of these figures on matters of policy, so I am not all that objective in assessing their viability for public office. That said, a number of these men and women are—and I’m putting this as nicely as I can—complete and utter morons. So, if you’re part of the large segment of Americans who think the country has gone to shit and that our political leaders aren’t doing much about it, you can, in part, blame the lot of them.

But are we, as voters, somewhat culpable in allowing a bunch of know-nothings and numb-nuts to run the show? Maybe, just maybe. I don’t always enjoy Samantha Bee’s material on Full Frontal, especially when she insinuates that anyone who won’t vote for Hillary Clinton is either sexist, stupid or both, but in speaking about the 2010 mid-terms, or what she refers to as “the most important election you didn’t bother to vote in,” she highlights how demographics factored significantly in the election results. Turnout among minorities and younger adults was relatively low in the 2010 mid-term elections, paving the way for voters mostly over the age of 45, predominantly white, and overwhelmingly, as Bee puts it, “cranky” (read: racists who don’t like the idea of a black president). By extension, these results paved the way for, among other things, a partisan battle over the Affordable Care Act which prompted a government shutdown in 2013, no real progress on immigration reform, and as one of the rings of the proverbial ripple effect of dropping a stupid Republican rock in America’s political waters, made Congress so unpopular that Donald Trump circa 2015/2016 seems like a good idea to many. It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but Samantha Bee’s analysis isn’t wildly out of bounds.

Either way, the emphasis is on more than the general election. It’s about those ripples after the fact that manifest in the form of political mobilization and voter turnout for local, county and state elections. Going back to the 2010 mid-terms, the kind of sweeping victories garnered by lawmakers under the GOP banner afforded them the power to do—or not do—what they want, more or less. When the mood or issue suited them, as with approving a repeal of ObamaCare, defunding Planned Parenthood or green-lighting ungodly amounts of military spending, they could at least railroad legislation through the House of Representatives owing to their majority. When a bill or executive order didn’t tickle their fancy, as with background checks for gun ownership, banking reform, closing Gitmo or, heck, even hearing a Supreme Court justice nomination, they could be every bit the obstructionist Congress they have been known to be of late, or as the turtle-faced Mitch McConnell would have it, not even doing their job. It has oft been said “to the victor go the spoils,” but following the sizable gains of the 2010 elections, Republicans have taken that idea and run with it, treating their victories as mandates of some sort, or otherwise all-too-appropriately acting like spoiled brats with said spoils, refusing to compromise and stubbornly pressing on with their agendas despite record lows in approval rating.

This is why—whatever happens come November—the results of the presidential election are not the end game, and consummate with this notion, if you feel like I feel, no sooner than these votes are tallied should attention be levied to organizing and rallying the proverbial troops to make sure the GOP doesn’t maintain/establish a death grip on state executive offices and legislatures, as well as federal public offices. That’s why the threat of a Donald Trump presidency looms so large—not so much because of what damage Trump himself might do while holding the nation’s top office (though that is a very real concern), but how it would stand to produce a ripple effect of galvanizing other bigots and individuals with little sense and few legitimate qualifications to serve the public interest to try to run for public office in their own right. David Duke—yes, that David Duke—has announced his bid for a Louisiana state Senate seat. The American Nazi Party—are you sensing a theme here?—has also expressed its desire to be relevant in a political sense, believing as many as three of every four Trump supporters would support their candidates as well.

Donald Trump’s securing a major-party presidential nomination has emboldened unabashed racists, and the logical conclusion is that they feel Trump and others within the GOP sanction their brand of prejudice. Average white voters, feeling alienated by a federal government they feel has neglected their needs and wants, and all around believing that “their country” and way of life is being taken away (Jon Stewart, ever the sage, recently challenged this assertion), see and hear in the Republican Party nominee a voice that “says what they’re thinking.” Of course, those of us who would never vote for Donald Trump might naturally react by insisting, repulsed, that those who think like Trump might not be, deep down, good people. At the same time, however, one has to admit that establishment Democrats and Republicans alike haven’t exactly embraced working-class Americans as well as they could or should have recently, being more concerned with winning elections, appeasing big-money donors and lobbies, and preserving the status quo. Granted, poor and working-class minorities have a yet bigger gripe on this end, but with income and wealth inequality expanding by leaps and bounds, people in this country of all sizes, shapes and shades are being ignored, or at least taken for granted.

Aside from the idea Donald Trump is a bully, fraud, liar, man-child, racist, sexist and xenophobe, this potential empowerment of white supremacists and others who may not be out-and-out Nazis but still shouldn’t be running for public office is a big reason why, in their hatred of Hillary Clinton, Bernie-or-Busters/disenfranchised independent voters shouldn’t flock to her Republican rival in an effort to stick it to HRC and the DNC. As I see it, if you don’t want to vote Clinton, your next best bet is to vote your conscience, whether that is best reflected by Jill Stein of the Green Party or Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party; that, to me, sends the clearest message to the Democratic Party that its leadership has work to do to engage your values and earn your vote in 2018 or 2020. Or you could write in Bernie Sanders, if it makes you happy. Or just don’t go to the polls at all. A vote for Donald Trump, if nothing else, to blow things up and to hasten a progressive uprising, is making a deal with the Devil, and rewards Trump and the GOP for running a campaign marked by bad behavior, divisiveness and hate. This is to say, if one views Hillary Clinton as “the enemy,” well, Donald Trump and the Republican Party aren’t your friends either.

Returning to the concept of the proletariat, if you will, in the United States being subjugated by the machinations of the bourgeoisie, though not a perfect analog to Trump’s rise (how does anyone prove a true analog to that?), Bernie Sanders’ rise in the national profile and his widespread appeal among progressives and younger voters is fundamentally important because his so-called political “revolution” speaks to the long haul. As Sanders himself has expressed—and must keep expressing to his supporters who think voting for Trump is a good idea—America must prevent Donald Trump from ascending to the role of Commander-in-Chief, and though he differs from Hillary Clinton on key points, he supports her bid for the presidency to achieve this goal. This is just the immediate concern of his political movement, however. Following the presidential election, Bernie has made it clear that the Democratic Party and/or third parties need to embrace younger voters and working-class Americans alike as a basis of its diversity and strength, and in doing so, support progressives running for office.

To this end, Bernie Sanders is spearheading something he calls Our Movement, which, beyond asking for more contributions is pretty vague, but reportedly, the organization will continue the spirit of grassroots support for progressive candidates for public office—presumably Democrats, but potentially independents as well. Obviously, the proof is in the pudding when it comes to the ability to generate donations, as Sanders supporters who already feel as if they’ve given their fair share, or otherwise feel cheated by the Democratic National Committee and possibly Bernie himself in endorsing the much-despised Hillary Clinton, may not be as willing to pony up for the sake of down-ticket Dems and non-affiliated office seekers. For those who aren’t asking for their campaign donations back and who are committed to sustaining a durable movement toward reducing the influence of corporate interests in politics, meanwhile, Our Movement could be the start of a sizable force in American politics. You know, especially when it gets some actual details about its agenda to its name.

We can debate whether or not we believe Donald Trump might actually be better as President of the United States in the grand scheme of things because the inevitable progressive backlash would be more profound than anything that might manifest if Hillary Clinton were to be elected President; with that, the conservative call to arms which could spring to life if HRC becomes POTUS might just set back the goal of Democrats reclaiming Congress and state governments from the Republican Party. Personally, I wouldn’t invite Trump into the Oval Office just like I wouldn’t invite a pack of wolves to look after a toddler, but we can agree to disagree. Regardless of who wins and who loses in the general election, it is incumbent upon supporters of the Democratic Party, especially its representatives who embrace more progressive bits of policy, to approach voting in mid-term elections in 2018—and even getting out the vote for down-ticket candidates this November—with the same sense of zeal as millennials attending a Bernie Sanders rally, or gun activists lobbying against background checks and other reforms (on that last note, I’m not sure anyone can match the fetishistic fervor with which the NRA and their ilk stand in the way of progress on gun control, but one can sure try). You know, lest we undergo a repeat of the 2010 fiasco.

It’s been said anywhere from half to 80% or 90% of the battle is showing up, and in a representative democracy characterized by a broken or “rigged” system, this seemingly has never been more accurate. If we the people are going to make a splash and take charge of how our elected representatives respond to our needs, we’re going to need to understand and appreciate the ripple effects from each presidential election. The time, my friends, is now.

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