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The Meaning of the Midterm Election Results

I’ve read several analyses of the recent midterm election results and I find it difficult to come to any conclusion about the true bigger meaning of what happened last Tuesday. What did happen was that Southern and several rural Middle America states voted Republican in their selection of senators. Democratic congressional candidates won in many previously Republican districts in the West and Midwest, as did governors in the latter states. Those regions where Trump campaigned tended to vote for his candidates and suburban, mostly white, areas, which voted for Trump or Republicans before, switched to supporting Democrats. Those are the facts, but what they mean or portend is unclear.

My best guess is that one thing that went on during the election was that many voters chose the party they supported (regardless of which one they were registered as) based upon their reaction to the president’s rhetoric about immigration, nationalism, women and the media and whether their local candidate supported that rhetoric or not. I also suspect that it was not the substance of what the president said, but the tone he used in expressing it that mattered. In terms of economics, the most important issue that might have undermined some Republican candidates was healthcare, where their party was perceived (I believe correctly) as trying to roll back Obamacare advances, especially the mandated coverage of pre-existing medical conditions. For most of the voters who switched to support a Democrat, my guess is that their personal financial status is now better than before, as are its prospects for the next two years. 

Since the election, President Trump has doubled down on the vituperativeness of his messaging. This appears to be a strategy (or just a personal quality of his) that loses support except among his most ardent devotees. By 2020, it should push the Trump support into a smaller and smaller faction of angry voters who enjoy his way of expressing their anger about issues that bother them. In turn, that should strengthen the anti-Trump forces, who are already in the majority. Only Democratic mistakes will jeopardize their chances of regaining the presidency and more of congress. But of course Democrats are notoriously mistake-prone and quite capable of shooting themselves in the foot.

I firmly believe that equal nastiness is a poor strategy for winning support, since I believe it has been the tone of the president’s message not the substance, that has alienated people. These same people can be alienated by a message that is based on wild accusations and insults—something seen nightly on some liberal media outlets.

I’ve said it before, but what a winning party needs is a set of solid policy positions that addresses the anxiety of the majority of citizens and affirms the values of equality and opportunity while making our basic institutions once more world leaders. Even solidly middle-class Americans fear that they or their children will have a medical catastrophe that wipes out their finances or, even worse, cannot be addressed. A healthcare system that guarantees quality medical care for all is absolutely necessary. The only way that those who grow up in families and neighborhoods from which few college educated people emerge have an equal chance is for all American public education to be upgraded, probably through federal assistance, and public college or post-high school vocational education to be free for all who want it. Our immigration system needs to be fixed so it is orderly, fair and compassionate. A few congressmen working together ought to be able to do this. Some segments of our population, related to race, education, or geographic region, are chronically poor and underserved by our system. We have to make progress in reducing the disparities that characterize our society. A more progressive tax system with fewer loopholes for the rich and corporations would at least provide the funding to do something, although what to do is still a question.

Everyone in the country is going to experience a mounting sense of anxiety each new hurricane or fire season that comes around (and these seasons are getting longer), and more and more of our national and local resources are going to be used to repair the damage from natural disasters. In the short-term we can't stop this from happening, but a long-term plan that addresses both how to respond to climate change and how to slow or stop it will make us all feel as if we’re at least doing everything we can.

These are all concrete areas of needed policy revision that can be addressed to meet the fears and hopes of our citizens. Continual insults, griping about the use of politically incorrect language, celebrating nothing but identity recognition rather than the substance of progress, is not a program that will attract voters nor meet the needs of most Americans. Neither will building walls—either real ones to keep out immigrants or socioeconomic ones to keep those who have the most from having to share with those who have the least—and venting anger at a fictitious war against religion or patriotism or culture solve any of our nation’s problems or make anyone’s life any better. Those who think so will become an increasingly small minority. Those who see positive approaches to our real problems and growth of the qualities that make us a good nation will secure the support of a majority of Americans in the future.

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