After the Mid-Terms, Then What?

    Getting some miles away from the United States and filtering reality through the news, an emerging political scenario where the Republicans hold the Senate, the Democrats take over the House, and Trump owns the Supreme Court lock-stock-and-barrel seems to have almost acquired the stamp of certainty. Let’s say all of this comes to pass, then what? Nirvana, hardly! More likely, desolation row.

The reports include some very good news. Huge separation in the polls among many groups of women, up to 20% in some cases. Significant majority of the general public support for change in Congress, though whether or not they are distributed where the races matter, many of which are in rural, exurban areas, is another question. Let’s please remember that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by way, way over 2.5 million, and that didn’t slow the train by a single second. Reports of surges in voter registration among minorities and young people, more likely Democratic voters, in states as disparate as Pennsylvania and Georgia are very encouraging.

Trump, unsurprisingly, wants the mid-term election to be all about him and a referendum on his presidency. The Democrats seem to want that as well. Anytime that both sides want to use such a strategy to motivate their base to vote, we have an absolute guarantee of a donnybrook. Win, lose, or draw, we can bet on even more polarization raging between now and 2020.

But, let’s stick to the point about the mid-terms and see how all of this plays out as the cleaners sweep up the last crumbs and both sides declare victory over a split Congress. Trump would declare victory at Custer’s Last Stand or the Alamo, even if he had to leave it on a note pinned to his body. McConnell in control of the Senate will still prove to be a major rock in any road forward, while continuing his court packing. The House will convene one investigation after another and there will be huge fights on budgets and other matters that requite cooperation assuring more headlines about conflict, but not necessarily more proof of able governance. Meanwhile the candidate circus will come to every town as Trump campaigns for a coronation and the Democrats try to winnow their lists, maybe keeping in mind who can beat Trump and who cannot, and maybe ignoring that altogether.

After the mid-term surge, will women feel safer and more heard? No. Will the devastating attacks on workers’ rights, the environment, deregulation, healthcare, education, and economic security end? No.

Will the attack on immigrants recede? No, in fact the Republicans are signaling that they want to make “the wall” first order of business. There is discussion of yet more children separation as well.

Will there be impeachment? Of course not. Will Trump stop being Trump, absolutely not!

So, what will be the program? Trust in some still unknown savior and save your anger and activity for the general election in two years.

Is that the best we can hope for? Without moving from anger to organization, from lame leaders to mass action, then yes, I’m afraid so.

It’s not enough!

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All Politics National? All Power Local

Newark      I recently read a fascinating argument by Yascha Mounk, a Harvard instructor in The New Yorker that was wrapped in the cover of a review of some new books trying to puzzle through the political life of the nation currently.  The heart of the argument Mounk and some of the cited authors made, to boil it down, was that in these days and times “all politics is national” a rejoinder to the classic expression from former Speaker of the House and Democrat from Massachusetts Tip O’Neil that “all politics is local.”

Much of this argument was hung on a current book by the University of Pennsylvania’s Daniel J. Hopkins called The Increasingly United States.  So, full disclosure, I’ve just added the book to my Kindle, but haven’t read it yet, so I can’t pretend to do justice to him and the rightness or wrongness of his argument, but I can follow Mounk’s argument pretty well.

There is a lot going for it.  National party platforms have become more easily distinguishable.   Issues are more ideological, though the divisions in both parties between moderates and extremes within these platforms are stark, there are signposts that are easily observable by most voters.  Certainly, communications through daily news channels have become heavily nationalized with less and less local coverage past the blood and gore, traffic and crime beats.

The point is made that voters “have grown less able to name their governor and less likely to vote in local elections.”   The structure of the ballot and the diminishment of standard civics undoubtedly plays a role as well, but there has been a falloff from the top to the bottom of the ballot virtually forever unless there are heated local contests.

I don’t want to quibble though.  The real issue that leaves me scratching my head as I try to absorb this argument is less about politics and more about power.  Parties are still pretty weak in resources, structure, and their roles in daily life outside of the direct election cycle, so it is hard for me to believe that they have reached peak power in our democracy in the way being speculated in these reports.

Power is still very diffuse.  The impact of money is huge and the right with the Koch’s and the left with the Steyer’s have proven that money is especially powerful in moving the dial in the more localized frameworks of states and cities.   The way power devolved to the states and the stark differences between life and citizen expression and benefits in blue versus red states, Democratic versus Republican states, continues to make a case that pretending that all politics is national puts all of us in peril.

The truth still remains that without a strong local base, it is hard to move the political needle nationally.  My advice for what it is worth continues to be:  don’t move to Washington.  If you want to change the country, dig deep, and do the job where you are.

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