American Voters Saved American Democracy!
Did America just break its MAGA fever? Did American voters in this historic midterm election just save American democracy from election-denying anti-democrats espousing violence? Did America just yank itself off the path to fascism?
As the shock recedes and sense can be made, it seems, yes: American voters have indeed saved American democracy.
There are two kinds of upset: the bad kind and the good kind. Democrats were braced for the bad kind — big-time, historic even— as these midterms, with predictions of a massive “red wave” and MAGA violence, finally arrived yesterday. First thing my husband said to me yesterday morning was: “Today is the day America catapults itself over the wall into violence. We will be living in a much darker America.” Meaning: Might we actually vote our way to fascism…? Coming from my steady-state husband who’s a 32-year veteran of the military and 8-year veteran of our state legislature, that was…chilling.
But I agreed. Like 88% of all Americans — almost 9 in 10 — we fear the rise of political violence in America. The assault on House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband brought it, literally, home — and Republicans’ sick jokes about that near-assassination seemed to herald its normalization. It may be why my commentary “Will There Be Blood?” shot up (pardon the verb) over the weekend. How could all the energy and passion going into the midterms still be with the Republicans?
Anxious, I started taking notes for a post-midterm commentary, for what I fully expected it to be, titled: “Lamentation Restricted to One Day, Democrats. We Must Rescue America.” But there’s a limit to note-taking; I had to do more, something physical, so I cleaned the coffeemaker. (I hate cleaning the coffeemaker, but the point was: distraction and cleaning.)
Then, at 4 p.m. here on the West Coast, I tuned in for the first returns on the East Coast. I was emailing with two friends, both anxious about the impending doom. One, in Florida, wrote she was “despondent” when three Congressional seats there flipped blue to red, and couldn’t watch anymore. The other, in Washington, D.C. recovering from surgery, couldn’t watch, either. O.K., I told both, I’ll keep walking point, notify them of any news.
Unbelievably, in short order, I got to nudge them both with good news “Unbelievable! It is NOT a BLOODBATH for the Dems! It is NOT a RED WAVE for the Rs!” Later, I called my brother and his wife who worked on Marie Gluesenkamp Perez’ campaign against MAGA candidate Joe Kent, a much-watched Congressional race here in Washington state. They, too, couldn’t watch. “Guys, Marie is winning!”
The rest of the evening unspooled as in a dream. Fear’s icy fingers melted away, my shoulders unclenched. One by one, battles across the country for the House and Senate, and key state offices, like governor and secretary of state, who see to proper running of elections (see especially: the 2024 presidential election), either stayed blue or even turned blue (see especially: Senator-elect John Fetterman, Pennsylvania). Some losses were painful, like Tim Ryan’s Senate race in Ohio, to ersatz hillbilly and super-MAGA J.D. Vance, but simply by committing to the rules and saying he had “the privilege of conceding,” Ryan makes himself presidential. Map-making: Fascinating, isn’t it? Talking-heads talked of Dems holding the Senate, maybe even the House?
The map-making is fascinating, also instructive: You see how democracy operates — at the grassroots level, from sea to shining sea. This time I saw American Democracy, in a grievously wounded condition, begin to repair itself, right itself, recharge. And, crucially, start to throw off the MAGA fever which purported to “make America great again.” The cure? MAGA fever is self-induced, and the cure is self-induced, too. Voters, one by one by one by one — Democrat, Independent, Undecided finally deciding, and sanity-seeking Republican — choosing health, normalcy, the mainstream.
Waking up today, the day after, first thing I say to my husband is: “Yayyyy,” then “Was that all a dream yesterday?” My husband, always up before me by hours, confirms: No, it was not a dream.
Today’s headlines bring news of a distinctively brighter character than of late. For the most part, the election process throughout the U.S. went off without a hitch. Kudos, election-workers who braved MAGA death threats. (Law enforcement needs to be more visible about protecting both election-workers and voters.) It is vivifying to read these midterms were a “disaster” for Donald Trump, agent of our infection: Dare we hope he calls off his 2024 presidential run? And this headline in The New York Times, “The World’s Democracies Ask: Why Can’t America Fix Itself?” Dear World: We are on it.
Another headline adds to the good news: The Russians are retreating from Ukraine’s city of Kherson. Another dividend of this midterm: Continued support of Ukraine is assured.
It may be weeks before we know the final disposition of the House and Senate: Will Congress tilt red or blue? But even if Republicans do take both houses, their margins will be small, nothing like the 60-seat GOP pick-up would-be Speaker Kevin McCarthy touted. A mandate, it won’t be. Of course much depends if the party so far-gone ideologically has heard the message just sent by the electorate: Enough with the MAGA circus.
In all this, Joe Biden is the big winner, enjoying the best first midterm of any President in the last 40 years. He took a risk calling out the “MAGA extremists” in his speech in Philadelphia, and he continued doing so, for which he was vilified: Republicans claimed he called them “fascists.” To say he didn’t, that he only called them “semi-fascists,” is not meant as semantic cuteness: To the extent he could, the President was getting at the dire peril that the proto-autocrat Trump and his MAGA forces pose to the very idea of America.
So, “threats to democracy,” which polled as campaign issue №1 until it was overtaken by the Republican barrage about inflation and crime, turns out to be the issue propelling voters to the polls in this record midterm turnout. That, and abortion, restoration of the right to, per exit polls. Bless the record numbers of women and the young people who showed up. In the end, what was expected to be a bad upset turned out to be a good one — a very good one.
I might note: The weekend preceding, I surveyed two dozen friends, asking how they felt the midterms would go. Most expected the worst, but many expressed hope for a “vote of conscience”: that the American people would show up and defend democracy. They did.
“Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result,” said Winston Churchill. This life-lesson resounds now, not only because of the close electoral call the American people just experienced, but because violence — to be shot at — is a factor, and remains so as the final races in this election are tallied. And beyond: We are not out of our dark woods yet. But remember this exhilaration of surviving, and use it to power on. Well done, American People.