On November 6th Americans will vote in a midterm election in what could be record numbers. In the last midterm election, 2014, 36.6% of the population voted, about 82 million. The modern record is 49% turnout in 1966 – by comparison the Presidential turnout in 2016 was 58%. Early voting is hinting at a turnout that far exceeds that of 2014, and this year’s vote could bypass the 1966 total. Turnout is high among both parties, independents, and in all demographic groups. In fact, there are indications that young people and “infrequent” voters are going to the polls more than they have in the past. Americans are engaged in this election.
This election will tell us a lot about our country. Are we a country afraid of immigrants, willing to support angry and even violent rhetoric out of fear that our national identity is under threat? Are we a country willing to embrace diversity and welcome both change and people fleeing poverty and strife? It is literally a battle between fear and hope, between hate and love.
Most people, of course, fall in the middle. Yes, accept change, legal immigration is fine, but there are legitimate concerns. Most people recognize that national identity is not monolithic. And yet this election forces them to make a choice – support President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda by voting for Republicans, or send a message of resistance by voting Democratic.
For many, this is not an easy decision. Many Republicans and Independents who are pro-life, fear higher taxes, and hate government regulations will find it anathema to vote Democratic. Indeed, the ads in the House race here is full of rhetoric saying that the Democratic candidate Jared Golden will massively increase taxes and that he’s “too liberal for Maine.” Republicans skeptical of Trump hope to hold a majority in the Senate and House by pounding on those themes.
Yet on the campaign trail, the President is pounding the immigration theme, saying he’ll send 15,000 troops to the border to protect against a “caravan” of Honduran immigrants now deep in southern Mexico. It’s unlikely many will make it to the US border, but that’s irrelevant – the President wants to stoke fear of foreigners, betting that will help his party keep control of Congress. He doubled down yesterday, saying that if any immigrants throw stones, the military will open fire – he’s betting that Americans love the idea of shooting unarmed brown people.
That’s why this election is so important. With all due respect to principled Republicans who don’t want Democrats in the majority, this midterm is really a referendum on President Trump – including his rhetoric, style and tactics. His bravado, numerous false claims (the media has documented thousands), and embrace of hyper-partisan politics is unique in recent political history. Presidents once elected usually strive to show themselves to be President to all Americans, and don’t engage in slash and burn partisan rhetoric. Trump makes it clear he’s President for his base, and the goal is to win – to defeat the other side, labeling the media and Democrats as “enemies of the people.”
If Americans vote on November 6th to keep the Republicans in power, it’ll be a sign that our country is willing to tolerate rhetoric that borders on (and sometimes cross the line into) racism and xenophobia. His threat to “erase” the category of “transgender” is an open appeal to bigotry and fear of the other. In history this has parallels to the tactics of the National Socialists in Germany when they came to power, or the KKK here.
It will be a sign that America is giving up on its long tradition of tolerance, compromise, and unity – it’s not ‘united we stand,’ but ‘divided we fight.’ That will put us on a path to weakness and decline. Who knows what atrocities might down the line come from such a decision.
If Americans vote to give both the House and the Senate to Democrats, it won’t be a victory for “liberal principles” or Democratic party ideals. It will be a rejection of the hate and fear being propagated by the President. It will show Republicans that they have to reject nationalism and bigotry as being symbolic of their party, and re-establish their traditional focus on freedom and concern about government becoming too powerful. While a Democratic Congress can thwart Trump, it can’t implement new policies thanks to the power of the Presidential veto. The GOP can win it all back if it corrects course and chooses a competent leader to run for President in 2020.
If Americans reject Trumpism, it will be a victory for decency, a sense that we are above the anger and hatred that can arouse emotions, but also drive people to send pipe bombs or shoot up a synagogue. It will send a message that we are still a country that believes we are better off when we work together, compromise, and recognize our common ideals, then when we demonize, attack and lie.
I don’t know what the state of the country is in 2018. The news has been surreal, even absurd. Rhetoric I never thought I’d here in this country is now common place. On November 6th, we’ll know more about this country and its future. A victory of the Democrats in the House but not the Senate will push the issue off until 2020, indicating that the fight for the American soul continues.
But know this: this isn’t a fight to see if the American soul is liberal or conservative – both reflect the best of American values. The fight is whether we want to demonize each other or if we want to embrace our common belief in freedom and individual rights, and build a future together, compromising and respecting each other.