The massive Republican “Red Wave” that you may have heard would happen on Tuesday was more like a trickle. While it may be days or weeks until it’s known which party controls the House and Senate, right now it looks as if the Republicans will gain a narrow edge in the House of Representatives, and the Senate will remain divided 50-50.
This is a setback for the Democrats, but it’s a lot less of one than most people expected. In the 22 midterm elections from 1934 -2018, the President’s party has lost an average of 28 House seats. In 2010, Democrats lost 63 (and six senate seats). This year, despite inflation and all the rest, it looks like they’ll lose about 20 in the house and zero in the Senate.
Still, it is pretty clear two things are going to happen in 2023: The real work of Congress will grind to a halt and will be replaced by a lot of drama.
It is highly unlikely that the things you care about like climate change, the minimum wage, and the economy, will get any meaningful attention. Why? Because the House GOP is a collection of drama queens: nationalists, plutocrats, nutbags, and their enablers whose legislative agenda involves tax cuts for the rich, rollbacks of environmental laws, abortion restrictions, voting restrictions, rollbacks of student loan forgiveness, knee-jerk responses to crime and immigration, anti-LGBTQ (especially anti-trans) laws — basically, anything that provides red meat to their angry, traditionalist base. On inflation in particular, Republican proposals would do nothing to address the causes of this global phenomenon, and would instead reward the corporations whose price-gouging has made it worse.
Of course, all of this will be just for show, since none of this will pass a Democratic-led Senate or be signed into law by President Biden. (Except, of course, an increase in defense spending that Democrats will be loath to oppose.)
The most exciting drama is likely to unfold in committee hearings. The Democrats spent $3.3 million investigating the shocking and violent attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, and, they say, exposed a premeditated attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election and keep Donald Trump in office.
In response to the blockbuster Jan. 6 hearings, the Republicans are promising a lot of photos of Hunter Biden’s pixelated penis.
I’m not kidding. (I wish I were — I’ve seen the pics. Republicans are certain to investigate the president’s son, who has suffered from drug addiction and mental illness, based in part on his notorious laptop (probably stolen by Russian agents) full of really unpleasant nude selfies and alleged documents from his ill-advised consulting work for Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company. Did President Biden do anything wrong in this regard? Almost certainly not. But will it be a salacious set of hearings? You bet.
This may be part of a GOP effort to impeach President Biden — something Donald Trump really wants, although the House majority is now going to be so slim, it’ll be a risky move on McCarthy’s part. At the very least, expect numerous investigations of Biden, Attorney Gen. Merrick Garland (over the government’s seizure of documents at Mar-a-Lago), and other administration officials.
The biggest circus acts, though, may be on the (red) state level, where over 200 election-deniers have just won their campaigns. (Others are losing, but refusing to concede.) Especially in light of the successes of Florida Gov. Ron De Santis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (both easily re-elected), expect lots more voter suppression activities, censorship in schools, ludicrous campaigns against “wokeness,” and persecution of transgender people.
But — there is a bright side for Democrats. As long as they keep control of the the Senate, President Biden can continue to appoint progressives to the courts, countering some of the damage done by Trump. Nor will he have to veto everything that comes across his desk — Democrats in the Senate will stop Republican attacks instead. He might actually have time to govern.
Now, if I were a basically progressive, probably younger-than-me part-time activist, here’s what I’d do: Start playing the long game now. Because to make 2024 better than 20222, a lot of things need to change. Here are just a few examples:
· Climate change is still not an important enough issue — in a recent Gallup poll, only 4 percent of people said it was the most important problem facing the country, which according to scientific projections it definitely is, especially if you plan to be alive in the 2040s or later. As a result, Republicans and some Democrats are still getting away with coddling their fossil fuel donors and sacrificing our future for their profits (which, by the way, are also largely responsible for inflation). Now is the time to get involved in organizations building awareness of this crisis, using data-driven ways to persuade others of its importance, and forcing meaningful systemic changes (not neo-liberal garbage like reducing your carbon footprint) to minimize it.
· Ditto for guns. We’re not going to see any positive change on the federal level for two years, but we can make change in some states and make this an issue that more people really care about.
· Our country needs an army of smart people to fight stupid lies, whether it’s the Big Lie about the 2020 election, or lies about trans people, Jews, people of color, ‘wokeness’, guns, conspiracies, Covid, or any other issue for that matter. TikTok is a festering den of these lies — if you’re on it, speak up! Call out conspiracy garbage when you see it, which is often. And be sure not to spread it yourself.
· The Republican Party’s inroads in Hispanic communities, based on a combination of social issue conservatism and massive misinformation campaigns, needs to be countered. If you are Latinx or otherwise Spanish-speaking, get educated and get involved!
· Finally, we have a long way to go to get Gen Z turnout rates to equal Boomer turnout rates. If we do that — and, in an intersectional way, increase turnout in communities of color — then progressives will win every national election. It’s that simple. But that’s going to take time. It’s going to take you being “that guy” who connects the dots for your friends between some national policy debate and their real lives, or the lives of people they care about. You don’t need to out-woke everyone in your feed. You just need to remind your friends that real people’s lives are at stake, that the two parties are not actually the same, and that as we saw last night, voting does matter.
Last point: there is some really good news coming out of this election: A lot of crazy extremists just lost, when it looked like they might win. The reasons vary from state to state — if anything, the 2022 election shows that there’s never one ‘message’ that voters are sending, and that every state is different. Sometimes it was about abortion, other times about civil rights, sometimes economic issues like inflation or student loan relief. But in general, while some MAGA fiends won close elections (JD Vance in Ohio, De Santis in Florida, Abbott in Texas), many more lost (Doug Mastrianno and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, even Lauren Boebert in Colorado). The Red Wave just didn’t happen.
It turns out that while American swing voters aren’t progressive by any means, they’re not conspiracy-believing lunatics either. Last night was a bad night for Donald Trump. His brand of jingoistic, authoritarian extremism lost, and lost big, at the polls.
In the context of record-breaking inflation and a relatively unpopular president, the party in power did OK. That may not sound earth-shattering, but it actually kind of is.