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Instead of a Red Wave, The Midterms Produced a Wave of Historic Firsts in American Politics
Never Underestimate the American People
"Potential red wave turns into a trickle in disappointing midterm elections for Republicans," tweeted Fox News Politics on Nov. 9. While some of the most dangerous GOP politicians will keep their positions, like GA's Marjorie Taylor Greene, FL’s Ron DeSantis, and TX's Greg Abbott, the "red wave" did not manifest. This pro-GOP "prediction," which many media outlets thoughtlessly echoed, could have discouraged Democratic voters and kept them away from polling places.
Instead, the opposite happened. We don't yet have comprehensive data on voter turnout, but Democrats voted in numbers sufficient to ensure victory in key races (John Fetterman for Senate in PA, Abigail Spanberger for House in VA).
High youth turnout also helped to counter a red wave and assisted Democratic victories. As Victor Shi told me,“[B]ecause young people showed up and understood the stakes of this election, our democracy is in a much better position. Do not count young people out.”
Readers of Lucid and followers of my interviews and writings know that I don't shy away from blunt language in warning Americans what can happen when freedoms are lost. And yet one of my mantras is: Never Underestimate the American People. Another is: Never Give Up Hope.
As I wrote in a May Lucid essay, entitled "Hope: The Secret Weapon of Democracy Protection": "Hope is an essential part of anti-authoritarian strategy. It is the antidote to a deadly fatalism, to what Eric K. Ward calls the Other Big Lie: ‘The idea that we have already lost. That the next civil war is inevitable. That we are helpless and hopeless in the face of all the bad news.’”
In this spirit, I want to point out the numerous historic firsts produced by these midterms. MSNBC host Ayman Mohyeldin started a Twitter thread last night that now is a crowd-sourced document of progressive victories, each one a rebuke of the rising hate politics that is said to define America.
Happily, there are too many to list, but here are a few:
The first African American governor of MD (Wes Moore)
The first Muslim GA State representative (Ruwa Romman)
The first Muslim TX State representative (Salman Bhojani)
The first Black Lt. Gov and the first Black Congresswoman of PA (Austin Davis and Summer Lee)
The "Rainbow Wave" of victories of LGBTQ candidates, who ran for office in record numbers, deserves mention. At a time of rising anti-LGBTQ sentiments, which in Florida and elsewhere have been codified into law, the act of running for office, regardless of the result, sends a message that the LGBTQ community will not be silenced or made invisible.
According to the LGBTQ Victory Fund political action committee, 678 lesbian, gay, queer and transgender candidates ran for office, up from 574 in 2020. Talk about stepping up at a time of civic emergency!
Success means representation, and representation in government means daily exposure of the public and other politicians to voices and experiences that Republican states are doing their best to remove from schools and from public life. So rejoice in these outcomes (a partial listing):
The first lesbian governor in the US (Maura Healey, MA)
The first LGBTQ immigrant in Congress (Robert Garcia, CA)
The first transgender members of the NH and MT state legislatures (James Roesner and Zooey Zephyr)
The first lesbian in the MO state legislature (Ashley Bland Manlove)
The first openly bisexual PA state representative (Jessica Benhan)
Of course, we cannot gloss over the major threats to democracy that remain. We can expect the GOP to double down on its lawlessness and recourse to autocratic methods given the collapse of its imagined red wave.
In fact, ambitious election deniers in close races, like Kari Lake, who is running for governor of AZ, will likely refuse to concede --although Fox News has short-circuited other prominent election overthrowers by calling races for their opponents, as with Doug Mastriano's loss to Democrat Josh Shapiro in PA and Tim Michel's defeat by Democrat Tony Evers in WI.
The big prize --control of Congress-- also remains up in the air as of this writing. "Congress hangs in balance as Democrats defy expectations," the Washington Post tells us, reminding the public that Democrats were considered the underdog.
Moreover, the victories of rogue and extremist governors in TX and FL mean an acceleration of those states’ efforts to make themselves laboratories of autocratic methods. This is especially dangerous in the case of DeSantis, who is immediately being anointed as the frontrunner for 2024. All of the illiberal things DeSantis has been doing --up through his refusal to allow federal election monitors inside polling places yesterday-- have paid off with voters, and so he will multiply his efforts in an autocratic direction.
Yet it is very important to celebrate all of these amazing Democratic wins, many of which are all the sweeter for being unexpected. As Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta tweeted last night about the PA victories, "Don't ever tell us what we can't do and who can't win!" We will need those positive feelings to feel energized as we face whatever new political reality these elections have created.
I dedicate this essay to all the election officials, workers, activists, canvassers, phone bankers, and others who made these election results possible --and to members of the Lucid community who have contributed to our successes. Thank you to everyone who showed up and voted. You made a difference.