What kind of week has it been?
This was a good week for democracy. It was also a week that highlighted many of the ongoing challenges that we face.
I’ve honestly had a hard time focusing in the days since Election Day. This is so partially because the results are still up in the air (including that Sen. Raphael Warnock faces another runoff), but also because there is so much happening that is interconnected and I am still processing how I see it all fitting together. (And, there’s the fire pit that is Twitter. But that’s another post.)
Here’s my rough draft of history.
On Monday, I posted a meme to my Instagram story featuring a woman asking a flight attendant, “How often do planes crash?” To which the flight attendant replies, “Just once.”
Below it, I added the “VOTE” tag and wrote, “Work the metaphor out for yourself.”
There was a potential, and I don’t think it’s overstating things, that this election could have crashed the plane. (As some tried to do with the last election.)
I can’t get this meme out of my brain. We didn’t crash the plane, but the plane only crashes once, so, unless there are fundamental changes in or to the Republican Party between now and 2024, we’ll be back here in two years. (Of course, this is all premised on the idea that the plane hasn’t already crashed or isn’t on an unavoidable path to a crash. I’m, at the end of the day, a cautious optimist, so, I hold out hope that we’re not past the point of no return.)
The results of this election have, broadly speaking, been a success for democracy, on two important fronts.
Most of the most extreme candidates on the right have lost or appear to be losing. The path the Republican Party has taken away from democracy led to stark losses in some places — most immediately apparent were in Michigan and Pennsylvania — but the ripple effects led to some surprising losses across the nation.
Rep. Steve Chabot in Ohio lost re-election despite living in a state — my home state, sigh — that is increasingly appearing to be out of the grasp of Democrats in statewide races. But, Chabot voted against certifying Biden’s election back in 2021, and he will not be returning to Congress in January. Sure, that’s not the sum total of the reason for his loss, but it was there.
Secondly, the Dobbs decision was the big deal that this summer’s Kansas vote signaled it was. While many pundits, back in June and then in the closing weeks of the election, insisted that abortion rights wouldn’t overtake “fundamentals” come Election Day, it turned out that they just didn’t understand what “fundamentals” are. That’s why the electoral response to the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade is a second success for democracy. The Supreme Court is too extreme and has gone too far, and voters — especially women — responded. People voted to protect abortion rights at the state level and sent a message to abortion opponents running for office.
That is also why the ~narrative~ reporting in the run-up to the election was so off-the-mark. “Fundamentals” about the economy and President Biden’s approval rating led to a narrative — perhaps one that would have been accurate in a random midterm in the past — that the Democrats were about to get wiped out in the midterms. But just stopping for a minute and thinking about what we’re talking about — fundamentals — should have served as a big flashing sign to rethink things. What could be more fundamental than our democracy itself? And people’s ability to control their reproductive choices? And a branch of government deciding that control is no longer the right of those people?
It was an election about fundamentals — just not the ones we’re used to it being about.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, for example, won re-election with a campaign that addressed both of those new fundamentals head-on — and transformed the state in the process.
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But, and this is the reason for my continued all-over-the-place-ness: the plane is still facing turbulence.
On the first front, while the high-profile extremists mostly appear to have lost, some won. J.D. Vance will be representing Ohio in the U.S. Senate. More worryingly, as of Friday afternoon, the Washington Post was reporting that, “So far 173 Republican candidates who denied the 2020 election results have won their midterm race.” And, as soon as next week, Donald Trump is expected to announce that he’s going to run for president again — the Twilight Zone gremlin on the wing of our plane trying to tear out the engine.
On the second front, despite the many votes in support of abortion rights across the country, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and others in states fighting to restrict or eliminate abortion rights won re-election or election as well. They will keep taking actions to restrict women and other pregnant people’s rights — national election results be damned. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis handily won re-election, and Republicans did very well in Florida, likely leading to — at least from DeSantis — continued reliance on some of the “culture war” attacks like the Stop WOKE Act, “Don’t Say Gay” law, and anti-transgender administrative action that he has favored over the past two years.
And the extremism of the courts will continue to pose challenges, as was seen on Thursday night when a federal judge in Texas, who was appointed by Trump, struck down Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan. US District Judge Mark Pittman used the conservative Supreme Court majority’s newly invigorated “major questions” doctrine to find the plan “unlawful.” While the Justice Department has already begun its appeal of the ruling, it’s hard to say with any confidence that they’ll succeed. The appeal is going to the ultra-conservative US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit and then would face this Supreme Court. So long as the Supreme Court continues using its six-justice conservative majority to issue extreme decisions — on “major questions” or in other cases — those decisions will inevitably empower lower court judges across the country to issue rulings that build on those decisions.
A good one, but also one that has reinforced just how much more work needs to be done.
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