By Tom Robotham
On Tuesday, November 6, the future of our nation will rest in our hands.
I know that sounds hyperbolic, but I don’t believe that it is. The importance of these midterm elections cannot be overstated. They will determine not only the policy decisions that are made over the next few years, but the question of whether there’s a critical mass in this country that still cares about keeping some semblance of democracy alive in this country.
First, the bad news: Turnouts in midterm elections are typically low—abysmally so. In 2008, according to the Pew Research Center, 57.1% of the voting-age population cast ballots — the highest level in four decades — as Barack Obama became the first African American elected president. But two years later only 36.9% voted in the midterm election that put the House back in Republican hands.
Let’s put that another way: In 2010, nearly two-thirds of the voting age population didn’t care enough to weigh in on the question of who should make the laws of this land.
There are several reasons for this, the most obvious being apathy. Presidential elections invariably draw more voters out to the polls because those races are, in essence, long-running reality-TV shows with lots of fireworks stirring passions on both sides. National TV coverage of midterm races tends to be more scattershot, depending on where the most interesting contests are taking place. Voters who want to become engaged with their local candidates must make an effort by reading the local newspaper and attending town halls meetings. For many people this is simply too much work.
Cynicism is another problem. “My vote won’t make a difference,” is a common refrain, never mind that many races are won by razor-thin margins. The cynicism has been compounded in recent years, of course, by reports and/or rumors of corruption ranging from Russian interference to state laws intentionally designed to suppress voter turnout among poor people of color and other groups.
Then, too, we must take into account that a percentage of the voting-age population—convicted felons—cannot vote in many cases, even though they’ve done their time.
But unless you’re among that group, it’s worth your time and effort to learn about the candidates, make an informed decision, wait in line and cast your ballot. It’s clear, after all, that every vote does matter. If it didn’t, candidates wouldn’t spend millions of dollars on television commercials that either tout their credentials or, increasingly, smear their opponents.
And this time, as I noted at the outset, there’s more riding on the outcome than ever. At the moment, given that Republicans control all three branches of government, the fundamental idea of checks and balances has fallen by the wayside.
If Democrats can take back the House, it would be a major step in restoring some of those checks and balances, and with a newly invigorated party no less, represented by people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, and Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American from Minnesota. In addition to bringing solid ideas into the chamber—ideas that dovetail with Bernie Sanders’—their mere presence would be highly symbolic. And in politics, symbolism is important. Omar, for example, is a Muslim and wears a headscarf. The image of her in the House would send a signal to the nation and to the world that we have not succumbed entirely to the bigotry that Trump has tried so fervently to spread.
Here in Hampton Roads, meanwhile, we have a crucial race between Scott Taylor and Elaine Luria. Taylor’s policy positions are bad enough, but last month a Richmond judge also ruled that his campaign had engaged in “out and out fraud” by gathering forged signatures in an effort to place on the ballot an independent candidate that would have potentially undermined Luria’s chances.
Most experts think it’s unlikely that the Democrats can take back the Senate, but it’s crucially important that they hold onto the seats they have—very much including Tim Kaine’s here in Virginia. His opponent, Corey Stewart, is yet another right-winger with extreme positions on gun-rights, immigration and efforts to harm women, including the defunding of Planned Parenthood. Kaine, by contrast, is a moderate Democrat and, as I’ve noted before, one of the finest people I’ve ever met. In an age in which moral character seems to be a rarity in Congress—see the despicable efforts of Republicans to get Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court—Kaine stands out as a principled man who is sincerely committed to public service.
The overarching reason that all of this is important is to send a message to Trump, who is—by a long shot—the worst president of my lifetime. At this point, I scarcely think it’s necessary to recount a long list of examples to support my argument, so let me keep it short. His policies—ranging from tax cuts for the uber-rich to his ass kissing of Putin—are doing incalculable damage to the country. But even more damaging to my mind is his viciously sexist and racist rhetoric, which is fueling hatred and bigotry to a degree that we haven’t seen since the Civil Rights movement.
Whether or not a Democratic House would move forward with impeachment proceedings remains to be seen. And of course, if the Democrats don’t have the Senate, the proceedings would come to naught anyway. But a reinvigorated Democratic party would, at the very least, signal to this egomaniac that his aspirations of ruling the United States with the same brutal tyranny that Putin rules Russia will not come to fruition.
The hour is getting late. Several scholarly studies in recent years have concluded that the United States is no longer a democracy—it is an oligarchy. In spite of this, I haven’t given up hope entirely that we can restore some degree of democracy once again. That won’t happen, though, if two-thirds of the voting-age population stays home on Election Day. And it certainly won’t happen if Republicans—the party of the oligarchy—remain in complete control of the federal government.
Yes, I freely acknowledge the partisanship I’ve displayed in this column—and I make no apologies for it. The Republican Party is no longer a party of conservatives in any meaningful sense of that word. It is a party ruled by one would-be dictator and populated by men—by and large—who are either delighted to have the opportunity to roll back the social progress we’ve made over the last 50 years or are simply too afraid to stand up to the monster in the White House.
If you feel that this language is over the top, my response would be, no—if anything I’ve not expressed the danger forcefully enough. With that in mind, it’s time to get informed, get to work, and get out the vote.