Tag Archives: midterm elections

The Essence Of My Angst

A lot of Americans were breathing sighs of relief Wednesday. With Democrats in control of the House, there will be some accountability–at least some measure of those “checks and balances” not enough of us learned about in high school civics.

The problem is, while sanity won a skirmish, it didn’t win the war. Just two examples of what reasonable people are up against:

From The Hill, we learn that Republican state Rep. Matt Shea, who published a manifesto calling for “war” against enemies of Christianity, was reelected in Washington state.

Shea, a six-term legislator, won with 58.3 percent of the vote, defeating his Democratic challenger by a comfortable margin, according to local NBC affiliate KHQ 6.

In a manifesto he published and distributed, titled “Biblical Basis for War,” Shea calls for the end of same-sex marriage, abortion and the death of all non-Christian males in America if religious law is not followed.

Nice guy.

And then, of course, the news has been full of terrifying details about Jeff Sessions’ replacement at the Department of Justice. (If you thought it would be difficult to exceed the mismatch between Sessions and the word Justice, you were wrong…).  In 2014, when the new acting Attorney General was a candidate for the U.S. Senate, he said he would only support federal judges who “hold a biblical view of justice.” And not just any biblical view–an explicitly New Testament view.

As a lawyer, one might expect him to know that setting religious conditions for holding a public office would violate the Iowa and U.S. constitutions. He was effectively saying that if elected, he would see no place for a judge of Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic or other faith, or of no faith. Yet no one in the audience or on the podium seemed to have a problem with that, and his answer drew applause.

Whitaker is also on record as criticizing the Special Counsel inquiry as a “witch hunt.” (hmm..where have I heard that phrase before?)

These are just two example out of the many, many others we might point to, and they underscore the points made in Gin and Tacos, in a post that may be the most perceptive commentary on the election and the country that I’ve seen in a very long time.

The post was titled I Know Why You’re Sad. 

On paper, Tuesday was a good day for Democrats. They took the House for the first time in eight years. Several important Governorships (in advance of post-Census 2020 redistricting battles) were won. Notably vile Republicans like Kris Kobach, Scott Walker, and Dana Rohrabacher lost. The high-visibility Senate races Democrats lost (Missouri, Tennessee) were pipe dreams anyway. You already knew that Florida sucks, hard. So you’re not sad because “The Democrats did badly.”

You’re also not sad because Beto lost, or Andrew Gillum lost, or any other single candidate who got people excited this year fell short. They’re gonna be fine. They will be back. You haven’t seen the last of any of them. Winning a Senate race in Texas was never more than a long shot. Gillum had a realistic chance, but once again: It’s Florida.

So why are we sad? Because Ed (the author of Gin and Tacos doesn’t share his last name) is right. We are still sad.

No, you’re sad for the same reason you were so sad Wednesday morning after the 2016 Election. You’re sad because the results confirm that half of the electorate – a group that includes family, neighbors, friends, random fellow citizens – looked at the last two years and declared this is pretty much what they want. You’re sad because any Republican getting more than 1 vote in this election, let alone a majority of votes, forces us to recognize that a lot of this country is A-OK with undisguised white supremacy. You’re sad because once again you have been slapped across the face with the reality that a lot of Americans are, at their core, a lost cause. Willfully ignorant. Unpersuadable. Terrible people. Assholes, even.

There’s more, and every word is worth reading, but let me just share the conclusion.

These people are not one conversation, one fact-check, and one charismatic young Democratic candidate away from seeing the light. They’re reactionary, mean, ignorant, uninterested in becoming less ignorant, and vindictive. They hate you and they will vote for monsters to prove it.

Remember this feeling. Remember it every time someone tells you that the key to moving forward is to reach across the aisle, show the fine art of decorum in practice, and chat with right-wingers to find out what makes them tick. Remember the nagging sadness you feel looking at these almost entirely positive results; it will be your reminder that the only way to beat this thing is to outwork, outfight, and out-organize these people. They are not going to be won over and they will continue to prove that to you every chance they get.

We’re sad because he’s right.

There may be some “very fine people” among the Trump voters. But there aren’t very many. And we’re sad because we are beginning to recognize that there are some compromises that are impossible– and some aisles that simply can’t be crossed– without losing our souls.

 

 

 

Long Division

There’s still a huge amount of data from Tuesday’s elections to be analyzed, but there are also some very clear lessons that emerged.

In the light of morning, it turns out that what may have seemed like a modest blue ripple was, in fact, a fairly impressive–albeit very uneven– wave: Michael McDonald of the Election Project estimates national turnout at 111.5 million. That’s the first time in US history that a midterm exceeded 100 million votes.  If the New York Times  initial estimate is correct, if Democrats won the national popular vote by 9.2 percent, that would mean the margin was over ten million. That’s pretty impressive.

The most important result, of course, was recapture of the House of Representatives. The Senate was never really in play, given the number of seats at risk and where they were–but although the odds vastly favored Republicans this year, they will be equally if not more favorable for the Democrats in 2020. (Granted, by then we may have a totally reactionary judiciary…)

There was other good news. Not only did a number of statehouses and state legislatures turn blue, there were impressive victories for good-government state-level initiatives. Florida’s was probably the most significant; despite the clear racism that characterized the governor’s race, felon enfranchisement won soundly, reversing a Jim Crow law that kept a million and a half people from exercising their franchise.

North Carolina elected a civil rights crusader to their Supreme Court, a result that almost certainly dooms the blatant gerrymandering that has benefitted the GOP in that state.

In what Daily Kos called “a hugely positive development for voting rights,”  Michigan voters approved several critical measures to make voting easier and elections more secure: automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration, removal of the absentee excuse requirement, and others.

Missouri also passed important reforms that will make voting and redistricting fairer.

And especially satisfying, voter-suppression guru and all-around jerk Kris Kobach lost his race for governor of deep-red Kansas.

All that said, the election also made America’s divisions too clear to miss. As Jennifer Rubin wrote in the Washington Post, 

We are becoming a more divided country, 77 percent of respondents said in the exit polls. But the truth is we are not evenly divided. A party that has alienated women, nonwhites, suburbanites, urbanites, Midwesterners, Northeasterners, the college-educated and all but the over-65 demographic set has dim prospects for 2020.

What that (entirely accurate) recitation omits, however, is the geography and impact of the massive divide between urban and rural Americans. As one progressive writer tweeted,  Democrats are getting trounced outside of metropolitan areas. “The consistent pattern you’re seeing is that Republicans are consolidating control of rural white America.”

Combining the geography of America’s political divide with the constitutional advantages enjoyed by small states and rural residents gives rural voters a disproportionate advantage over their far more numerous urban and suburban countrymen. (We’ve seen this operate in Indiana for decades.) The result of that reality, together with the hard-ball tactics employed by the GOP–gerrymandering, vote suppression, and increasingly unapologetic resort to blatant racism–means that the U.S. has had minority rule for some time.

That being the case, the results of the midterm elections leave us with significant–even existential–questions: will the huge and welcome increase in civic engagement last? Will the blue majority of Americans be willing to do the hard work needed to build upon the progress made in the midterms? Can we establish a national nonpartisan agency to administer the vote, so that no future Brian Kemp can rig state systems or engage in the brazen, appalling and unethical behavior that characterized the election in Georgia?

And what will we do–what should we do–to bridge the abyss between the urban and rural Americans who currently occupy incommensurate realities?

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re Number One!

As Americans head for the polls to decide whether rampant Trumpism will at least be somewhat contained, we should probably acknowledge the real significance of the votes Americans will cast tomorrow.

We love to proclaim that America “is number one!” We love to believe that we have a democratic system–that whether you label it a republic or a democracy, it is an exercise in self-government. If we are honest, however, and at all informed, we have to admit that such an assertion has become dangerously close to a lie.

A recent article from Salon began with a survey of our social ills.

The United States, by many measures, appears to be a sick society. It has one of the highest rates of wealth and income inequality in the world. Despite being one of the richest countries on the planet it has some of the highest rates of infant mortality. Poverty among the elderly is also increasing. As a whole, the country’s health care system is inadequate; life expectancy is declining. The United States has the highest rate of mass murder by gun in the world and the highest rate of incarceration.

American infrastructure is failing. There is a deep crisis of faith in the country’s political and social institutions. The environment is being despoiled by large corporations who increasingly act with impunity. Loneliness and suicide are at epidemic levels. Consumerism has supplanted democracy and meaningful engaged citizenship. White hate groups and other right-wing domestic terrorist organizations have killed and injured hundreds of people during the last few decades. America’s elites are wholly out of touch with the people and largely indifferent to their demands.

It is impossible for any intellectually honest person to deny the accuracy of that analysis. Let’s also concede that Donald Trump is the beneficiary–not the cause–of democratic dysfunction.

That said, if the America we thought we lived in is to be saved, it is absolutely critical that we contain–and ultimately defeat–Trump and the authoritarian bigots to whom he appeals.

In a column for the New York Times, a psychiatrist recently explained how the President’s rhetoric triggers and facilitates violence and hatred. I encourage you to click through and read the column in its entirety, but here are some of his important insights:

You don’t need to be a psychiatrist to understand that the kind of hate and fear-mongering that is the stock-in-trade of Mr. Trump and his enablers can goad deranged people to action. But psychology and neuroscience can give us some important insights into the power of powerful people’s words.

We know that repeated exposure to hate speech can increase prejudice, as a series of Polish studies confirmed last year. It can also desensitize individuals to verbal aggression, in part because it normalizes what is usually socially condemned behavior….politicians like Mr. Trump who stoke anger and fear in their supporters provoke a surge of stress hormones, like cortisol and norepinephrine, and engage the amygdala, the brain center for threat. One study, for example, that focused on “the processing of danger” showed that threatening language can directly activate the amygdala. This makes it hard for people to dial down their emotions and think before they act….

Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton, and colleagues have shown that distrust of a out-group is linked to anger and impulses toward violence. This is particularly true when a society faces economic hardship and people are led to see outsiders as competitors for their jobs….

There is something else that Mr. Trump does to facilitate violence against those he dislikes: He dehumanizes them. “These aren’t people,” he once said about undocumented immigrants suspected of gang ties. “These are animals.”

Research by Dr. Cikara and others shows that when one group feels threatened, it makes it much easier to think about people in another group as less than human and to have little empathy for them — two psychological conditions that are conducive to violence….

Using brain M.R.I., researchers showed that images of members of dehumanized groups failed to activate brain regions implicated in normal social cognition and instead activated the subjects’ insula, a region implicated in feelings of disgust.

As Dr. Fiske has written, “Both science and history suggest that people will nurture and act on their prejudices in the worst ways when these people are put under stress, pressured by peers, or receive approval from authority figures to do so.” (my emphasis.)

 

Local Races Are Important Too

We are approaching midterm elections and for obvious reasons, most of our attention is on Congress. But we shouldn’t forget the importance of local races.

Especially school board elections.

Not only is it critically important to improve–and support– public education, but homeowners have a fiscal interest in good schools: the value of your home is significantly affected by perceptions of the local school system.

I have learned first-hand how thankless a job on the local school board can be. Our daughter has spent the last 20 years–with a one-term hiatus–on the Indianapolis Public School Board. I’ve watched as she and her colleagues (including a former student of mine) have worked their hearts out to improve the district, while every new effort has been met with brickbats and/or accusations of bad intentions from the inevitable naysayers and people with various axes to grind.

You have to really care about children and education to serve on a school board.

Our daughter is retiring, but she has endorsed one of the candidates who is running to replace her. She recently sent out a letter on his behalf, and I’d like to share that letter.

Since I announced that I would not be seeking re-election to the Indianapolis Public Schools Board of Commissioners in July, I have been glad to see a number of high quality candidates enter the field to advocate for the interests of the IPS parents and families of District 3. These candidates represent the diversity of perspective and passion for our young people that gives IPS the incredible energy and potential it has as our state’s largest public school district. As someone who has stood for election a few times herself, I know the bravery, determination and strength of character it takes to put yourself before your own community and fight for the privilege to lead. For this reason, I wish every single candidate in this year’s election well.

With that said, elections are about choices, and when the polls close on November 6th only one candidate will take up the mantle of serving and supporting our public school system. I take pride in what I was able to accomplish as part of the team that has been guiding Indianapolis Public Schools in recent years, and I really do believe we have made incredible progress as a district.  Graduation rates are up and in District 3 more families are choosing IPS because of the expansion of successful magnet programs. But there is more work to be done. It is with the work still ahead of us in mind that I proudly and wholeheartedly endorse my friend Evan Hawkins in his bid to fill my former seat on the IPS Board of Commissioners.

Evan grew up in Butler Tarkington, just around the corner from my husband and me.  I have known members of Evan’s family for years; a family with deep roots in Indianapolis and IPS. I see in him the same passion for community and belief in our young people that drove me to run for the same office 20 years ago. Those values are important, but there’s more to Evan than what he values. IPS schools need leaders who not only have a vision for the future success of our district, but who have the experience it takes to plan and prepare for that future. Evan Hawkins is a career K-12 educational professional who has the expertise it takes to work with our school leaders, teachers, and IPS families to develop a comprehensive financial plan that will improve and sustain IPS for all of our kids.  And Evan and his wife live in Meridian Kessler and are parents in IPS.  They know first hand the the impact high quality public schools have on students, families, and neighborhoods.

From complex budget issues to school closures, my time on the IPS Board has meant hard choices for the district and the taxpaying families we serve. Everyone can see that in these changing times, more complex challenges and difficult choices will await those candidates who become commissioners after election day. IPS parents and families deserve to know that their district has the best prepared leadership at the helm to help guide our schools to success. This election, IPS District 3 has the opportunity to elect a leader with the passion of an IPS parent and the preparation of a professional in the educational field, and that is why I’ll be casting my vote for Evan Hawkins on Tuesday, November 6th.

I’ve known and deeply admired members of Evan’s family for a long time, and it’s clear that Evan shares his family’s belief in social equity and public service. If you live in IPS District 3, I hope you’ll consider voting for him. If you don’t live in District 3, I hope you will carefully consider the candidates for your local school board.

It’s one more important decision in a monumentally important year.

If Wishing Could Make It So

I hope this column from The Guardian isn’t a case of “whistling Dixie” as the old saying goes.

Titled “The Republican Party is about to face the wrath of women,” the writer suggests that the anger I’ve expressed over the GOP’s behavior in the Kavanaugh hearings is both a lot more widespread than many think–and not limited to the behavior of those involved in these hearings.

Even the dimmest and most misogynist of Republican operatives must realize, by this point, that the supreme court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh and the handling of the sexual assault allegations against him will hurt their chances, especially with women voters, in the upcoming midterm elections.

What they don’t seem to realize, though, is that huge numbers of women aren’t just mad – they’re organized and mobilized politically in a way we’ve never quite seen before. The key story of the midterms is the large number of progressive women – and to a lesser extent, progressive men – who have been taking on the crucial, unglamorous work that swings elections: registering voters, canvassing door-to-door, preparing to get people to the polls. The disdain for women that the Republicans have shown by continuing to rally behind Kavanaugh is only energizing them further.

The author cites some impressive evidence for those assertions. Beginning with the millions of Americans who joined the Women’s Marches following Trump’s election, the author describes a “multi-issue, women-led upsurge of political engagement on an unprecedented scale.”

Nearly 25,000 protests have taken place since Trump’s inauguration, involving somewhere between 14 and 21 million Americans. These figures greatly exceed levels of protest participation at any prior time in US history, even the height of the Vietnam war. And no matter the issue or focus of the demonstrations, women have consistently been the majority of those taking to the streets. (Emphasis added.)

Protests, without more, change nothing. So it is both impressive and gratifying to see the level of grass-roots activism that has accompanied those marches. Women, especially, have built what the author calls “a powerful electoral ground game.”

Substantial mobilizing for the midterms is being done through the vast array of local grassroots groups that formed after Trump took office, including the 5,000 groups affiliated with Indivisible. Like the resistance to Trump more generally, these groups are typically women-led and have already played a key role in a series of progressive electoral upsets, including Doug Jones’s Senate victory in Alabama last December to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s highly publicized primary win this past June. Their autonomy from the Democratic party gives much of their work an under-the-radar quality that can obscure their impact.

Theda Skocpol is an eminent political scientist who has investigated the resistance–the anti-Trump phenomenon that is reflected in the 5,000 groups cited in the Guardian column.

Skocpol, the longtime government and sociology professor at Harvard University, has been making research trips to eight counties that went for Donald Trump in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin, as well as communities across all of Pennsylvania. In suburban America, even in uber-conservative counties, Skocpol began to notice action groups popping up in response to Trump. And she began to notice who was doing the organizing, here in the heart of what the national media have taken to calling Trump Country: women. Specifically older, college-educated white women: “retired teachers, librarians, health care people, some businesswomen,” as Skocpol put it.

Exit polling tells us that 52 percent of white female voters went for Trump in 2016 (something I still can’t get my head around….)

Skocpol acknowledges this, but her research suggests that the political behaviors of these white women have shifted radically in the wake of the election. They are calling on Congress, knocking on doors on behalf of state and local candidates, and in some cases, running for office themselves. “Sociologically, what we are witnessing is an inflection point — a shift in long-standing trends — concentrated in one large demographic group, as college-educated women have ramped up their political participation en masse,” she wrote in a recent essay co-authored with Lara Putnam.

Skocpol’s observations certainly mesh with the enormous upsurge in women’s political activity that I’ve seen in Indiana. But the proof of the pudding–to use another old-fashioned saying–will come when the votes get counted.

I’m not hoping for a wave–I’m hoping for a tsunami. And I’m alternately terrified by the thought that we might not get either one.