The Big Blue Wave Is Necessary but Won’t Be Sufficient

With the midterm election just over seven months away, many Democrats, progressives and others are hoping for a big Democratic win. A big enough blue wave in November could give the Democrats a majority in the House of Representatives, control of several more state legislatures and put a few more Democratic governors in power. The US Senate appears to be out of reach for the Democrats, but a big enough wave could give them fifty seats there, weakening an already imperiled functional Republican majority in the Senate. A Democratic win will shakeup Washington and almost immediately put the brakes on the right wing excesses of the Trump administration. However, it will not restore democracy and may raise as many big picture questions as it answers.

For example, It is imperative to understand that with 67 votes needed in the Senate for a conviction following an impeachment by the house, Trump will not be impeached by a Senate that has 50, or even 48, Republicans. Instead, if the Democrats take control of the House, three things will happen. First, the Trump legislative agenda will grind to a halt. That is something worth fighting for and a good reason for progressives to redouble their efforts as we move towards November. Second, if the Democrats in the House are smart they will pass a lot of legislation around taxes, the economy, health care and education. None of these will become law, or even pass the Senate, but it will allow the Democrats to frame a progressive vision going into 2020. Third, the House will embark on numerous investigations of the corruption, shady dealings and troubling relationship with the Kremlin that has been at the core of this presidency going back to the campaign itself.

There is nothing wrong with any of these approaches, but to think that this victory alone, even if followed by the election of a Democratic president in 2020 will solve the problem, is to underestimate the gravity of what is happening to American democracy. The damage that Trump has done by creating seeding a deep hostility among his base to the media or towards any reality with which they disagree, the racial tensions that has exploited for his own political gain, correspondingly the white supremacists who he has empowered and the ongoing weakening of the democratic norms that are the political sinews that have made our system work in the past, are not going to be reversed simply by the Democrats winning one, two or even more elections.

Democratic victories are not going to change the intense distrust, anger and polarization that now define American political life. Nor it will change the problems of our system where elections for President and the upper chamber of Congress are based not on the principle of one person one vote, but on over-representing small states heavily populated by rural white voters. It is also extremely unlikely that a blue wave, no matter how big it is, will change the toxic role of money in politics or reknit the fabric of civil society on which democracy rests. The Koch brothers and their ilk are not going to away if the Democrats win; climate change deniers will not change their views and aging white voters uncomfortable with the increasingly diverse country in which they live will not suddenly embrace diversity. Instead, these opinions, and very likely the anger and force with which they are held will only become stronger.

A big Democratic win in November will slow down the decline of American democracy, but unless the broader questions of how to create a new narrative about our society and economy that does not perpetually pit us against each other, how to create political and electoral laws and institutions that are consistent with contemporary realities of democracy, how to reinvigorate news outlets that have a somewhat more than tenuous relationship to the truth and how to train a population that has been addled by Fox News, Twitter and hyper-partisanship to distinguish between fact and fantasy are addressed, the downward spiral of  American democracy will continue.

None of these problems are easy to solve, but this task will only get more difficult as these problems persist. If they are not addressed than a Democratic victory in November will only be a Band-Aid solution to a critical wound to our polity. At the moment the country is experiencing both a sharp turn towards the right and an attack on our democratic ideals. These two are related, but not the same.  Recognizing this does not mean ignoring the potential importance of blue wave in November but placing that wave in the context of a larger and more daunting set of challengers.