By Dick Sciaroni
So what’s to be made of November 6? Was it a tepid Blue Wave? Or vindication for President Trump and his Republican Party? Or is it all just business as usual?
In many states we’ve seen traditionally Republican congressional districts turn Blue while a Republican wins the governorship and/or Senate seat. What does that portend for the future? Pay your money and get a ticket, then hang on tight. This out-of-control train called the American Political Express may be heading into the future with a full head of steam, the engineer, fireman and conductor are back in the station, arguing over what to do next.
While Republicans claim to have the solution for bringing sanity and civility back into politics and public discourse, in practice they revel in dissention and fear. My sense for the future is continued division and rancor so long as Republicans like Donald Trump. Jim Jordan and Mitch McConnell remain consumed with winning at any cost. While Democrats emphasized the country’s needs (e.g., infrastructure, health care, immigration, economic and social justice, just to name a few), Republicans turned to crass political expediency, unleashing a flood of fear mongering and racist diatribes designed as much to set the table for a Trump presidential campaign in 2020 as for the 2018 midterm elections.
Like it or not, politics in America, like politics everywhere, is about the possible. It is all good and well to speak of moving forward, but unless and until the country can agree on where we as a nation need to go, we’ll never get our train under control. Republican politicians like Trump know only too well that the voters often look inward, toward what they want, rather than outward, toward what they need. As Roxie Hart’s lawyer, Billy Flynn, put it so aptly in the musical Chicago, Republicans will just give us more of the old razzle dazzle: “Give ’em an act with lots of flash in it/And the reaction will be passionate . . . What if your hinges are all rusting/What if, in fact, you’re just disgusting?/Razzle dazzle ‘em/ And they’ll never catch wise!”
While Republicans know that a majority of Americans disapprove of their tactics and policies, they also understand that fear can be an effective motivator. Rather than propose an immigration program that serves the ends of compassion and justice, Trump and his minions embarked on a campaign based on lies and fear, fear of migrants whose only fault was to be “huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . . .”
Not all Republicans have bought into fear and deception. But their leaders, and particularly President Trump, have coupled the notion that a lie told often enough can become the truth for the ill-informed, to the equally bankrupt idea that people should fear rather embrace all who seek to be part of the American dream. Trump’s claim that Middle East terrorists were imbedded in the migrant caravan in Southern Mexico was unfounded. Indeed, judged by numbers alone — since 9/11, terrorists have killed about 100 Americans while diabetes and high sugar levels kill up to 3.5 million people every year and 40,000 Americans die annually in traffic accidents — we have much more to fear from sugared soft drinks and automobiles than any Middle East terrorist.
Trump and the Republican leader are not fools. They believe that if they tell the people what the people want to hear, victory, it seems, may be the likely result. They also know that to tell the people what they need to hear – that climate change is real, that immigration strengthens not weakens our country, that justice demands an equal playing field for all while economic inequality is a ticking time bomb, and that unless all Americans thrive then America will not survive – then defeat will loom large.
Democrats should take pride in the outcome of the 2018 midterm elections. Their gains were the result of talking truth in the face of Republican lies and misinformation. Democrats asked Americans to think about what this country needs, not what it wants. That means sacrifice; it may mean putting others’ needs before one’s own. But unless and until all Americans, Democrat and Republican alike, begin the difficult work of engagement and citizenship rather than pursuit of entitlement and partisanship, the train called America will remain hitched to a locomotive with no one at the controls.