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Column: Midterm results offer sliver of optimism

  • Contributor Wayne Gersen in West Lebanon, N.H., on April 12, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

For the Valley News
Published: 11/21/2022 11:11:45 AM
Modified: 11/21/2022 11:11:36 AM

In December I was not feeling hopeful about our country. 2021 had been a bad year for democracy. COVID-weary Legislators were pushing back against the mask mandates health officials recommended at the same time as the Omicron variant was spreading. Authoritarian leaders across the globe were gaining a foothold as citizens in democratic countries expressed discontent over the governance of their nations. Our economy was sputtering, the planet continued to warm, former President Trump and many of his political continued to claim the 2020 election was rigged, and Kyle Rittenhouse was hailed as a national hero.

My optimism about the future was restored, however, after hearing a podcast featuring Dutch historian Rutger Bregman and reading his book Humankind, A Hopeful History.

I was heartened his perspective and examples that human beings are fundamentally decent and resonated with his assertion that the news is toxic. I began to see that my immersion in the negativity bias of the news was undercutting my fundamental beliefs about the goodness of people and concurred with his observation that news is “about the exceptional, and the more exceptional an event is — be it a terrorist attack violent uprising, or natural disaster — the bigger its newsworthiness.” And like Bregman, I felt that social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, were making things worse.

After adopting reading Bregman’s book advice that we should feed our mind the way we should feed our body: seek out healthy food and avoid junk. Consequently I began to seek out underlying positive changes in the direction in our country, changes that were moving us in a direction of unity as opposed to division. Here are four that I presented in an Osher course I offered this past spring titled “2022: the Year Democracy Was Restored to America”:

■A 76% increase in farmer’s markets since 2008

■A 35% in worker cooperatives since 2013

■An increase in Certified B-Corps from 82 in 2007 to over 3000 now

■The 2019 declaration by the Business Roundtable that “stakeholder commitment” should replace “shareholder primacy” as the overarching purpose of a corporation

Each of these indicated a seismic grassroots change: a tilt away from profit driven business goals toward communitarianism. And while some of these trends, particularly the Business Roundtable’s declaration of pleasing stakeholders, struck some members of the Osher class as proof of my wild-eyed optimism or high-minded public relations blather, over the past several months these trends are being taken seriously by the conservative wing of the GOP in the form of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ complaints that corporations are adopting “woke” agendas instead of profit.

The 2022 midterms also boosted my optimism. I sense that the election results indicate that something else is going on beneath the surface. Younger voters are more engaged and those who did vote do not hold fast to the “traditional” beliefs of capitalism that more is better. Their issues, according to Varshini Prakash, executive director of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, are one’s that are especially relevant to their generation: climate change, protecting reproductive freedoms, and ending gun violence in schools. Their perspective led 19-29 year-olds’ to support Democrats, who received 76% of their votes in Arizona, 74% in New Hampshire and 70% in Pennsylvania. In each of those states, their votes made a difference in the outcome.

The midterms also illustrated the downside of the anti-democratic gerrymandering put in place in many GOP controlled states. The primary elections became a battle between the “pro-Trump” wing of the party vs. traditional wing and in too many cases, including New Hampshire, this yielded candidates voters viewed as too extreme and led to victories for the Democrats.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, after the midterm results were in it became increasingly evident that the GOP intends to dump former President Trump as their leader. His favored candidates for office all lost and every single election denier running for offices that oversee elections lost. The worst news for the former President, though, is that his most ardent and potent supporter, Rupert Murdoch, has relegated the former President to the back pages of his tabloids and his television network is no longer giving him unforgiving coverage.

Does all of this mean that democracy is restored? I want to believe that is the case… but I fear that at this juncture we’re witnessing a case of the pendulum swinging away from the Trump-centric brand of authoritarianism without necessarily swinging toward the kind of democracy many voters seek: one where both parties offer contrasting views but are willing to work together to seek solutions to the many complicated issues facing our country.

Without Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, the GOP is likely to lose those zealous voters who viewed him as heaven-sent and bought his notion that any Democrat was the devil incarnate. If those “pro-Trump-anti-devil-Democrat” voters stay home in 2024 many closely contested states could tilt toward the Democrats, especially if the Democrats make the case that they are not “devils” but rather Eisenhower Republicans, an easy argument to make given the alignment between the GOP platforms of the 50s and 60s and the Democrats 2020 platform.

In the words of Rupert Murdoch’s headline writers, “Trumpty Dumpty” had a great fall in the midterms, and the fall has created a crisis for the GOP who hitched their 2022 election hopes and future on him. Now that his sun has set, what will the party look like in the future? If the GOP decides to track to the center, avoids the mean-spirited politics Donald Trump espoused, and offers comprehensive future plans that are different from the Democrats’, 2022 will be the year democracy returned to America. If not, there is the battle between authoritarianism and democracy will continue.


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