The Next Forty Years
It’s staggering to consider the magnitude of what was lost on Tuesday. A once-in-a-generation chance to reconstitute the Supreme Court. The death of ObamaCare and the rise of TrumpCare. Big tax cuts for the wealthy that make future progressive priorities unaffordable. A loosening of environment regulation that makes mass-scale climate change practically inevitable. Big banks acting like there’s no cop on the block. And none of that even touches the social normalization of hatred that we have spent decades trying to make categorically unacceptable.
No, a Hillary Clinton presidency wouldn’t have offered much in the way of progress. It was always about maintaining what was previously achieved, and that’s a very hard to sell to voters. With a Republican Congress hell-bent on destroying her, there was never any chance her agenda would have gotten through the legislative gauntlet. But progress in American government has always been an asymmetrical pursuit. It is infinitely easier to maintain the status quo and selectively roll back everything that the most underrepresented in America have come to rely on than to enact the change the vast majority of America truly desires.
There will be plenty of time to discover what precisely went wrong. Everyone has his or her pet theory, and they’re almost all somewhat correct. When young and diverse people don’t show up to vote, and older, whiter voters do, there are a million possible causes and solutions. We weren’t progressive enough to inspire young people. We didn’t do enough to appeal to African-American and Latino voters. We should have invested more resources in the Rust Belt. We should have nominated someone else. We should have been less corporate and listened to the people. We should have had a different FBI director. You can play this game for years and choose your own reason to be outraged. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t. Without examining what went wrong, we won’t get it right next time.
But none of that will stop what is about to happen. Republicans will hold every lever of power possible in this nation—they will have the Presidency, the Congress, the Supreme Court, and overwhelming control of the Governorships and state legislatures in every pocket of the country. They will achieve more in the way of Republican causes over the next two years than any other time in a century. Worst of all, they’ll hold some of these levers for much, much longer than that.
The cycles of American governance suggest that just as Obama and the Democrats reached the heights of power in 2008, Donald Trump and the Republicans have only downward to go. In theory, 2018 and 2020 should be good years for Democrats, as Republicans inevitably overreach and push an agenda that the rest of the country never truly ratified. Just wait until Congress moves to privatize Medicare or start chipping away at abortion rights. I expect and hope people will be pissed.
But Congressional Republicans won’t care about this. They’ve always been the “true Americans” who were meant to run this country. They spent 8 years denying Obama any chance to do all of the things that Donald Trump is promising to do—rebuild our roads and bridges, bring jobs to the most vulnerable sections of the country, investing this nation’s massive wealth into building up the middle class. Congressional Republicans instinctively believe only they can spend the nation’s purse responsibly. It's a truism they've gotten away with for decades--the federal government can't create jobs and high wages. Democrats will just add to the debt and waste taxpayer money in the process. But when the Republicans start spending (in the form of tax cuts and privatizing our roads and natural resources), well, they’ll claim that this kind of spending is necessary and proper.
The regulatory side of this equation is just as disturbing. Climate change—already nearing the point of no return—has essentially been guaranteed. Trump and the Republicans will undo every Obama environmental regulation they can, and it won’t even be that hard. Regulatory capture is a real and evil thing. And it extends from the EPA to the big banks to net neutrality to voting rights. Even if they can't get the regulations stricken from the books, they can choose just not to enforce them. How can you be regulated if no one will ever punish you?
And none of this even speaks to the Supreme Court, which was always the greatest prize of them all. Most of you reading this have never had a liberal Supreme Court majority in your adult life. You could have had one—a court that believes that the purpose of law is to further the public interest and protect the most vulnerable, and that lashing our legal beliefs to the imperfect souls who reigned in the 18th century was always an intellectual façade to pursue a conservative agenda. Affirmative action, gun rights, abortion, redistricting, money in politics—those reforms through the courts are gone for a generation, and maybe even our whole lives. This is the impact that hurts the most. I could die without ever seeing a liberal majority on the Supreme Court.
Maybe I have this all wrong. My predictions have been so wildly incorrect on the electoral side of things; maybe I’m just missing something as always. But I don’t think so. The actions of Congress are far more predictable than that of the voters. This Republican Congress wants to undo everything Barack Obama did—just wipe it off the face of the earth—and replace it with the kind of America where if you are on the team, you will get all the tax money and access you ever need. And if you dare oppose them, well then there’s no place for you in American governance.
A government by us, for us.
I have no doubt we will see our time in the sun again. It’s practically guaranteed by the cyclical nature of electoral politics. But that sunshine will be likely be dulled for the next few decades of our lives. These future good times will be about getting back to square one. It will be the equivalent of having our house destroyed in a fire, and after years of saving and hard work, rebuilding it and living in it again. It will be worth it, and it will feel good, but it will always be the duplication of previous hard work.
It heartens me to see so many people I know and love say they’re ready to fight back. I’m slowly getting to that point myself. But I don’t want to forget this feeling of what could have been. I don’t want anyone thinking that somehow this will all work out for the best. Maybe it will be worse than I think, maybe better. But it will never be that glorious spot atop a hillside, where you know the hike upward was hard but successful.
It will always be that wandering march through the fog and rain, with no guarantee the pinnacle will ever be reached.