Taking place in a year when extreme political polarization collided with catastrophic reality, the election next week has the potential to be the political equivalent of an asteroid hitting earth.
Either way. Both sides are claiming that if their candidate loses, the election will have been stolen, either through fraudulent ballots or suppressed voters. Both sides predict the country will fail if the other candidate wins – by subversion of our democracy leading to authoritarianism if Trump wins or by socialism if Biden wins.
Trump’s strategy has been to focus on getting more of his base to vote. Since there are a lot of disaffected, non-college educated white voters who didn’t vote in 2016, it’s a plausible strategy. Plausible enough to keep me awake at night.
But I hope that the polls showing Joe Biden with a big lead, and Democrats challenging Republicans everywhere, are correct, and that they take into account that any increased voting from the Trump base will be more than matched by increased votes for Democratic candidates. That is what happened in 2018.
Again, that is what I hope. I don’t know enough about polling to make predictions.
I believe, however, that next Tuesday will be a great day in our country’s history. I believe that not only will Joe Biden win in a landslide, with more than 55 percent of the popular vote and at least 350 electoral votes, but also that Democrats will flip seven or eight Senate seats and add 15 more Democrats to the House. Next Tuesday will be like the election of 1932, and remake politics for a generation or longer.
On what do I base this belief?
On a trying-to-be-rational level, I base my belief not only on the 2018 elections, but also on the many special elections Democrats have won in red districts since 2018. Democrats are fired up. I expect that as in 2018, in 2020 there will be more new Democratic voters than new Republican voters.
In fact, however, my belief that Nov. 3 will go down in history as a Democratic realignment election like 1932 is based on something more than rationality, something that’s more from the “gut.” On faith, I suppose. Faith that Americans get serious when threatened by a profound crisis (in this case, crises). Faith that it has been at those historical moments—“inflection points” is the trendy term—that Americans radically realign their politics to center them again around liberal values.
The concept of a “realigning election” is a simplification, but even if elections don’t realign anything themselves, it is true that voters do realign. Realignment can take place over time or quickly. The Depression led to the New Deal era, which saw a profound realignment that resulted in the “New Deal coalition.” The switch of many white voters from Democrats to Republicans, which took place in stages, starting in the South, after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the social changes of the ’60s, was a realignment. Sooner or later realignments express themselves in elections. Of the nine presidential elections starting with 1932, Democrats won seven; of the ten starting in 1968 the Republicans won seven.
Realignments don’t occur in a vacuum. They reflect reactions to new realities.
With respect to the 2020 election, one reality was the election of Trump in 2016. There’s no question that Trump’s own personal characteristics are a reality that creates cognitive dissonance; just ask the Lincoln Project. No question that from the start, with the Women’s March in January 2017, the resistance grew.
Another new reality is the pandemic. There’s nothing like an “Act of God” to make people realize that they can have all the personal responsibility in the world and yet they still need a functioning government. Covid-19 is a nationwide Hurricane Katrina.
A third 2020 reality was the common revulsion against racism that followed the murder of George Floyd.
These specific, 2020 realities accelerated a realignment that was coming in any case. The pro-corporate, anti-labor, anti-environment economic program that began with Nixon and came into full fruition under Reagan, hit the inevitable wall, culminating in the Great Recession. The failure of Reaganomics to deliver results to masses of people, including, by the way, the white victims-of-capitalism who support Trump because he expresses their anger and says he feels their pain, is killing this country, tearing us apart. Yet that reality is, at the same time, fundamentally altering politics back towards a new, New Deal.
Meanwhile the demographic and generational change that has long been predicted to move the country leftwards is taking place. This is another new reality. Not only is the electorate more diverse, as immigrants and their children become voters, but also younger (and Millennials and Gen-Z are even more diverse than the whole of the population), more tolerant, and open more to change. The young also care more about climate change and other environmental issues.
It’s not only the young who comprise generational change: there’s a new middle-aged and getting older generation of educated people, particularly the females of that cohort, who see that good government is more than a zero-sum game about how much you pay in taxes. Conservative members of the Silent Generation and older Boomers, are, as happens to all, passing on.
Next week’s election is a great opportunity for the Left. While Trump, racial justice, and Covid-19 occupy center stage, the results of 2018 and, I would argue, Barack Obama’s election in 2008, were already evidence of realignment. It’s no accident that in spring of 2019 Joe Biden and the other principal Democratic candidates for president all already had significant leads in the polls over Trump.
The Left has seized the opportunity. At last, in vindication of Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy, Democrats are active everywhere. The drivers of the expansive strategy, however, are the grassroots, not the party leadership. The money pouring into more than a dozen purple-state U.S. Senate candidates and several dozen purple-district House candidates (on top of 40 or so flips in 2018) was not orchestrated by the DNC, the DSCC or the DCCC. (All the people needed, it turned out, was ActBlue.)
The consensus that took place overnight among all the factions behind all the presidential candidates to unite behind Joe Biden also evidenced a sense of shared purpose unusual among the Left. (For once no one is taking seriously third-party candidates yapping about “there’s not a dime’s worth of difference.”)
The fact that our candidate, Joe Biden, has the confidence (and the money) to expand the map not only into red states, but also into historically Republican areas of every state, is more evidence that voters are realigning.
In times of extraordinary crisis and upheaval the American electorate has sometimes turned inward and rejected a positive governmental approach to solving problems. More often it has reacted to crises by recognizing the need for governmental and other collective action. I believe – I have faith – that this will happen Nov. 3.
Not a prediction. And not something that auto-actualizes. Keep making calls, sending texts, knocking on doors (but be safe). Vote and make sure everyone you know votes. Let’s turn faith into reality.
Thanks for reading.