Why democracy will live on even if Republicans sweep the midterms
Some polls are showing that the Republicans are edging out the Democrats in a midterm election cycle that already favors the Republicans. These polls are jim-jamming nervous white liberals.
Why? Obviously, it has a lot to do with winning and losing. But it has more to do with certain expectations, I think, that white liberals have of other white people. The options are clear: a party that can govern or a party that can bulldoze, to borrow Jonathan Bernstein’s framing.
But here we are with polls showing that the Republicans are advancing in generic Democrat-or-Republican opinion surveys.
To white liberals, democracy itself is on the ballot. That’s what the president said. Anyway, Americans are supposed to believe in democracy. Yet a white majority, in swing states like Pennsylvania, seems ready to put the fascists in power, democracy be damned.
Beneath it all is something else that’s working white liberals’ last good nerve: despair – or the dread-awe of discovering that white people, whom you thought would make the good choice if it were clear, have found reasons to make the bad choice.
The people whom you thought were not racist – anyway, not as racist as The Racists – are turning out to be exquisitely receptive to the GOP’s midterm messaging: vote for us and we’ll save you the effort of having to compete with nonwhite people putting in twice the effort. Vote for us and we’ll re-rig the system so you get the best cuts.
Are we surprised?
Democracy is hard work in the end. Voting for Republicans, however, is easy-peasy. White people already have political advantages. The GOP is just protecting them. Even so, white liberals seem to be let down by a majority of white people who are turning out to be as racist as nonwhite people have said they would be. The feeling grows deeper knowing that racism is the lazy American’s road to tyranny.
Bu bu but what about the economy?
To be sure, polls have found that large numbers of voters are worried about “the economy” more than they are about the endurance of democracy and the fall of Roe. “The economy” just so happens to be the same talking point that the Republicans are pitching. There’s also the none-too-suble hint that Democrats stand against white people. Put these together and it looks – I am shocked – like recent polling.
Inflation is a serious thing, but it’s not due to anything that the Democrats did or didn’t. (It’s related to the covid pandemic, supply chains and the war in Ukraine.) But since there’s a public cost to supporting someone who has no business running for the US Senate (ie, Mehmet Oz), it’s better to cite another reason, any reason. Inflation is visible and, well, it’s enough to fool even oneself.
All this points to the problem of hope.
Hope is anarchical, and it tempts us from the future. We go to it. Hope isn’t a story with an anticipated and emotionally satisfying end. Even so, white liberals tend to believe, I think, that racism is a figment of history, not a precursor informing our vision of the present. Such a story tells of an America purified of its original sin, so that we can believe in it again. Take that away, what do you have?
Whatever it is, it’s not hope.
Hope is almost certainly not what we think it will be. We almost certainly won’t recognize it, though it may be right in front of us. I think hope is rooted in lived experiences of human lives, and in their consequences, and in a particular time and particular place. Hope is, as in Hebrews 11:1, a political exercise in religion: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
White liberals are telling themselves a story about democracy and what’s at stake in these midterms. It’s not that that’s wrong, but that’s also not right. Stories are tools of politics, not politics itself. What matters is doing the work to get preferred candidates elected. It’s messy, loud, and anarchical. Democracy is almost always like that.
Even if the Republicans take the House, democracy will not end. America is not one nation. It will endure where the people want it to. It may wither where the people want it to. Democracy will live on, though it may be in form rather than in spirit, because the GOP is by nature prone to keeping up appearances. Even in a desiccated husk of democracy is hope. From there, good people can do good work.
The most democratic thing we can do is presume that the polls are wrong, raise a lotta hell and get out the vote. Democracy is an open practice, not a theory alone. When time comes, put in the work and create quality conditions for self-rule. Oh, and one more thing.
Hope we are lucky.
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