It’s high season for the Resistance. Early voting has started across much of the country. Signs are up. Canvassers are out. Energy is high as Democrats, or more accurately “anti-Trumpians,” see a golden opportunity to retake Congress. We even have a slight chance at taking the Senate.
Yes, the stakes are high and yes, every vote counts and yes, we need to take this very seriously. But no, this is not the most important election of our lifetimes and we’d be wise to remember that. Those desperate to roll back the damage of the Trump disaster and build a brighter future for our country face a marathon, not a sprint. What lies ahead is a three-stage contest, and the ’18 Election is the easiest hurdle. To win a solid future without a war, the Resistance has to sweep three consecutive elections, culminating with the most difficult challenge in 2022. Nothing ends on November 7th. Brace yourselves for a long, painful slog.
Three things have to happen in the US to restore democratic order without a war. Democrats must retake the House in this election and force authentic accountability on Trump. Second, they must coalesce around a sane, progressive candidate for the 2020 Presidential Election. Finally, they must secure their gains from this campaign by doing something nearly impossible in our system, winning the first midterm under a new president. Buckle up buttercup, because after the ’18 Election, things start to get more difficult.
A president’s party almost always loses ground in Congress in their first midterm. Adding to our ’18 advantage is the fact that Trump actually lost the ’16 Election by a shocking margin, earning a vote percentage in line with Dukakis or McCain. Combine that with the historic hatred inspired by his character and you have every advantage you could ask for in a midterm election. Next month’s election is a cakewalk. If we can’t win here then it’s time to brace for an grimmer future than we can imagine.
Ahead looms the challenge of uniting a Resistance around a Presidential candidate, a test made more difficult if Trump is gone. 2020 may not be the most important election of our lifetimes, but it will probably be the ugliest and most miserable. Trump or no Trump, there will still be enough stench in the air to lend fortitude to Democratic efforts, but 2020 is the year when intra-party division probably peaks on both sides. There will likely be a primary candidate (or 6) for every zoological classification of each party’s voters. In such a fractured field, the power of a few whackjob celebrity candidates will be hard to match. Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough time for an ideological consensus to jell among Democrats.
The worst thing Democrats could do in the 2020 primaries is also the most likely thing – nominate some version of Oprah or George Clooney. A celebrity president with little interest in policy and no idea how anything works would be a crippling burden in the fights that lay ahead.
The second worst thing Democrats could do is relatively unlikely: select a geriatric centrist in the mold of Joe Biden. Someone crafted by the Democrats’ many years of late 20th century decline will be a mealy-mouthed waffler who will fold every hand.
A real win, not just placing a random Democrat in the White House, would mean electing an aggressive, combative reformer. If the Democrats in 2020 fail to nominate a candidate who places my teeth on edge, and pushes the rest of their temporary centrist allies to the breaking point, they will win the battle only to lose the war. The president capable of winning the longer-term fight to more-or-less peacefully restructure the country will have something tangible to offer working class white voters, something attractive enough to be worth swallowing their racist bile and voting for a reformer. Half-measures will fail.
On the Congressional level, 2020 has potential to be another watershed year much like 2008. Advantages Republicans are enjoying this year in the landscape of Senate races are reversed in ’20, and they face a steep battle to remain relevant. Thanks to demographics, it is unlikely that Democrats could see another 60 vote Senate majority, but a substantial margin is easily within reach. Win these two contests, and the trifecta lays within sight.
Again, a new president’s party almost always loses ground in their first midterm election. All the excitement and goodwill that will meet the new president on day one will have evaporated by February of 2021.
A Washington press corps, grown fat and lazy on a rich diet of daily outrage will be itching to convert the slightest slip into Whatevergate. Right wing disinformation networks will be flooded with foreign and domestic money, operating with all the intensity you feel right now. As usual at the outset of any Democratic administration, right wing militias will be ramping up their activities and earning sympathetic commentary from major media. If those who fought to destroy the Trump administration take this moment to breathe easy, we will fall right back into our old rut.
The most important election of our lifetimes lies ahead in 2022, if we win enough fights to get there. A new president will pressing for reforms while frightened old white people shriek in primal terror. All the natural energy and enthusiasm coursing through the Resistance right now will have shifted to the other side. There will be aspects of the new administration that are disappointing. There will be personality conflicts and failures. Consolidating gains from the previous two elections will be difficult, but this is the election that will shape the 21st century.
Why mention this now? Recognizing that the most important election of our lifetimes still lies years ahead is a necessary discipline. Think hard about what you are doing this week to prepare for the upcoming election. Consider the contacts you’ve made, the volunteer efforts you have joined, the money you’ve donated. Many of us have never been this engaged in politics and may not find it pleasant. Remember what you did now, with special attention for what seemed most effective, and prepare to continue these efforts for the long haul.
Maintain the contacts you established in this cycle and prepare to build on them. Consider how you can do more in the next election. Start preparing mentally for a process that will not end on Election Day. Most of all, do not expect too much from a single election.
Restoring a just, honorable, sane government without a war is a daunting challenge, calling for a level of sustained political engagement unprecedented for Americans. If all goes as expected, November 7th should be a day to celebrate. Then it’s time to get back to work, because the damage we’ve inflicted on ourselves over the past two decades will not be fixed in a single election.