Your Free, Zero-Calorie Post-Midterm Election Update

If you watched news reports on Tuesday night, you may have gotten the impression that the Democrats had a somewhat disappointing election. You may have gotten the same impression if you read reactions from some of our best-known journalists on Wednesday morning. Quoting Dan Rather:

I’ve noticed some confusion about how elections work. People vote on (and now often before) Election Day. And those votes are counted. All of them. Sometimes it takes a while. Then, and only then, you know who won.

From Jennifer Rubin’s “Three Days Later, Hey, the Republicans Really Did Get Clobbered”:

It turns out the 2018 midterm elections were pretty much a rout. Counting all the votes makes all the difference in the world.

In the House, as of this writing, the Democratic gains are up to 30 with about five more races still to be called — in which Democrats are leading. A gain of 35 seats would be the largest House pickup for Democrats since the first post-Watergate midterm election in 1974.

The Democrats picked up seven governorships, with Stacey Abrams, as of now, still fighting to make it to a runoff in Georgia, and Andrew Gillum trailing by 0.4 percentage points, enough to trigger a recount in Florida.

In the Senate, Democrats may not quite have pulled off an inside straight, but they had two aces — in Nevada and Arizona. With 26 seats to defend, many in red states, it now looks as if their losses will be small. Democrats won in Nevada and are now poised to pick up a seat in Arizona. In the latter, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema surged into the lead as additional Maricopa County ballots were counted.

Meanwhile, Democrats have an outside chance to hold on to Florida. There, Republican Gov. Rick Scott leads by only 0.2 percentage points over Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. If Sinema and Nelson win, Republicans, in a year with the most favorable map in recent history, would pick up only a net of one seat (52 to 48); if Sinema wins but Nelson doesn’t, Republicans would only eke out a net gain of two seats (53 to 47). That’s simply remarkable considering they had to defend incumbents in the following states Trump won, in some cases by double digits: Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Montana, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Dakota. As conservative Quin Hillyer put it, one would reasonably expect “Republicans on this map, in this economy . . .  [to gain] at least five seats, with six or seven more likely than three or four.”

Simply because Trump [and other observers] did not see all these losses on Election Night does not make them any less real or consequential for Republicans. Put differently, outside the deepest-red enclaves, Republicans took a beating up and down the ballot.

… States also passed ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage, to expand voting [and Medicaid] access and to legalize marijuana; you have to wonder whether Trump and his ilk realize they are in retreat politically and policy-wise.

From her “The Real ‘Real’ America”:

For over two years, Trump and his Fox News helpmates have perpetrated the fraud that only they are the voice of “the people.” That’s what authoritarian regimes and their followers always say. Trump spent two years talking almost exclusively to and for his core group. Sure enough, he can get them out to vote in Missouri, Indiana and North Carolina. But they aren’t a majority of voters nationwide; not even close. His demagoguery, lies, cruelty and incompetence — what his supporters ignore or even relish (he’s our liar!) — the majority, a large majority, of equally real Americans despises.

The 2018 midterm elections are a reminder that presidents and parties have to talk to the whole country. The midterms are also a lesson that victimology only goes so far.

There are true victims in America — opioid addicts, gun victims, sexual assault survivors, cancer patients, victims of police misconduct, children without stable homes. The 70-year-old white male in the top 10 percent of income earners isn’t a victim, no matter what Sean Hannity tells him. You’re not a victim if someone tells you “Happy Holidays” or you hear a “Press 2 for Spanish” option on the phone. You’re not a victim if more and more Americans don’t “look like you”; looking like you has never been a qualification for citizenship. You’re not a victim if gays marry or transgender kids get to use the restroom of their choice at school. The price of living — the requirement of living — in a diverse democracy is tolerance, self-discipline, civility and a minimal amount of civic comprehension.

If Tuesday was about anything, it was a restatement that no American is more real than another. Yes, the majority of Americans are decent, tolerant, fair-minded people, and no one should sink into self-pity and grievance based on their inability to dominate the culture, economy and politics. We are all in this together; we deserve leaders who understand that.

Ballots are still being counted from California to Florida despite Republican efforts to interfere. The Five Thirty Eight site now projects the Democrats will have gained 37 seats in the House. That’s enough to begin restoring sanity when the new Congress convenes in January.

The “Caravan” That Made It All the Way to Pittsburgh (8 Days)

If you’re wondering how it happened, Adam Serwer of The Atlantic explains how the president’s hysterical response to a group of Central Americans seeking asylum in the US led to eleven people being murdered in a Pittsburgh synagogue. It’s a sad but familiar example of how right-wing nonsense is spread through the usual channels and then poisons the reality-based media as well:

Much of the mainstream press abetted Trump’s effort to make the midterm election a referendum on the caravan. Popular news podcasts devoted entire episodes to the caravan. It remained on the front pages of major media websites. It was an overwhelming topic of conversation on cable news, where Trumpists freely spread disinformation about the threat the migrants posed, while news anchors displayed exasperation over their false claims, only to invite them back on the next day’s newscast to do it all over again.

In reality, the caravan was thousands of miles and weeks away from the U.S. border, shrinking in size, and unlikely to reach the U.S. before the election. If the migrants reach the U.S., they have the right under U.S. law to apply for asylum at a port of entry. If their claims are not accepted, they will be turned away. There is no national emergency, there is no ominous threat. There is only a group of desperate people looking for a better life, who have a right to request asylum in the United States, and have no right to stay if their claims are rejected. Trump is reportedly aware that his claims about the caravan are false. An administration official told the Daily Beast simply, “it doesn’t matter if it’s 100 percent accurate … this is the play.” The “play” was to demonize vulnerable people with falsehoods in order to frighten Trump’s base to the polls.

Nevertheless, some took the claims of the president and his allies seriously. On Saturday morning, Shabbat morning, a gunman walked into  the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and killed 11 people. The massacre capped off a week of terrorism, in which one man mailed bombs to nearly a dozen Trump critics, and another killed two black people in a grocery store after failing to force his way into a black church

Prior to committing the Tree of Life massacre, the shooter, who blamed Jews for the caravan of “invaders” and who raged about it on social media, made it clear that he was furious [with] a Jewish group that helps resettle refugees in the United States. He shared posts on … a social-media site, expressing alarm at the sight of “massive human caravans of young men from Honduras and El Salvador invading America thru our unsecured southern border.” And then he wrote, “[the Jewish group] likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in”.

Mr. Serwer points out that “the shooter merely followed the logic of the president and his allies: He was willing to do whatever was necessary to prevent an ‘invasion’ of Latinos planned by perfidious Jews, a treasonous attempt to seek ‘the destruction of American society and culture’.” He concludes:

The apparent spark for the worst anti-Semitic massacre in American history was a racist hoax inflamed by a U.S. president seeking to help his party win a midterm election. There is no political gesture, no public statement, and no alteration in rhetoric or behavior that will change this fact. The shooter might have found a different reason to act on a different day. But he chose to act on Saturday, and he apparently chose to act in response to a political fiction that the president himself chose to spread, and that his followers chose to amplify.

As for those who aided the president in his propaganda campaign, who enabled him to prey on racist fears to fabricate a national emergency, those who said to themselves, “This is the play”? Every single one of them bears some responsibility for what followed. Their condemnations of anti-Semitism are meaningless. Their thoughts and prayers are worthless. Their condolences are irrelevant. They can never undo what they have done, and what they have done will never be forgotten.  

Note: Two days after this latest massacre, the same right-wingers are portraying the “caravan” as a major threat to America.

Help put a stop to this. Vote for Democrats up and down the ballot in next week’s election.

Understanding Them (24 Days)

You probably heard that a well-known musician visited the monster in the White House this week and spoke to the viewers of cable TV for 10 minutes. I don’t know what he said, but Charlie Warzel of Buzz Feed News explains why it all made perfect sense (in a nonsensical kind of way):

How’d this happen? Is this real? Do we even care? West’s embrace of the MAGA life is, at this point, unsurprising. But his journey — from a politically disinterested nonvoter in 2016 to the giver of a prolonged pro-Trump speech onstage at Saturday Night Live a couple weeks ago — is crucial to understanding the enduring appeal of Trumpism and the MAGA movement.

Trump’s MAGA hat–wearing, “lock her up”–chanting crowd is often described as his political base, but even that doesn’t quite do justice to the intensity of devotion the Trump coalition feels for the president. #MAGA is the 20–30% who’ll never leave, regardless of the political effects a Trump presidency might have on them personally. It doesn’t matter if Trump’s tax cuts never really trickle down or if the administration’s tariffs put a hurt on the agricultural communities that show up to his rallies in dizzying numbers, clad in the red hats. Because, for many who show up, MAGA is about a sense of community over all else.

Whether it’s a Trump rally or the toxic /r/The_Donald subreddit, MAGA communities coalesce around the idea of being proud to be an outsider. It’s why Hillary Clinton’s “deplorable” remark became a rallying cry during the election. It’s a movement that relishes turning criticism from ideological opponents into a badge of honor. Similarly, those who inhabit the MAGA world simply view confrontation and people taking offense to their actions as a byproduct of being right. It’s like driving 90 mph the wrong way down a one-way street and interpreting the honking and flailing arms of the other drivers as proof that they’re all just jealous you found the best route. This mindset allows for a particular brand of freedom: freedom from introspection, from ever having to say you’re wrong, and from ever admitting defeat.

It’s not surprising, then, that West, a lifelong contrarian, provocateur, and relentless self-promoter, found acceptance in this world. Despite being one of the most famous, sought-after people on the planet for the better part of two decades, West has always positioned himself as an outsider — for being unafraid to flaunt his ego or to call himself “the nucleus” of culture. Though Kanye has been at the center of modern popular culture, he’s frequently bemoaned a lack of acceptance — an inferiority complex that has strong Trumpian echoes…. 

Trump and the MAGA lifestyle also seem to offer a safe haven to some who’re reflexively distrustful of establishment politics. Infowars creator Alex Jones, for example, dedicated his career to a conspiratorial, nonpartisan distrust of every president from George H.W. Bush to Barack Obama. It wasn’t until Donald Trump that Jones endorsed a mainstream presidential candidate — similarly, no mainstream presidential candidate until Trump gave Jones or the Infowars audience the time of day. Kanye, while no Alex Jones, has been similarly outspoken and has publicly expressed his displeasure with commanders in chief during his infamous post-Katrina telethon speech and through a long-simmering feud with Obama. As with Jones, the always available Trump gave Kanye what he truly desired when he posed with him at Trump Tower as president-elect in 2016.

So it makes perfect sense that a person, who was once compelled to pen the line “They say I was the abomination of Obama’s nation” would not just feel comfortable among “the deplorables,” but at home. Because as with Trump, the MAGA appeal for West appears to really be about identifying with and revering an unapologetic outsider.

A movement organized around building a community of contrarians — those who feel aggrieved and disenfranchised, and who prioritize conflict and winning over all else — is quite literally tailor-made for the internet….[His] transformation helps explain why the internet has been such a powerful force for Trumpism. Kanye is, among other things, a creature of the modern internet. His penchant for sensationalism and reactionary commentary suggests he instinctively understands how algorithms and virality work; he’s a genius at igniting and sustaining news cycles. In other words, he’s an excellent troll with respect for others like him — and he has a mindset primed for tumbling down a rabbit hole of reactionary thought.

It’s unsurprising … that West would be more concerned with the “intellectual dark web–esque” culture war elements of Trumpism than Trump’s policies. West has suggested he doesn’t agree with the administration on everything, and some reports suggest there’s plenty he doesn’t know: A May piece from the Atlantic recalls an anecdote from the rapper T.I., who “was stunned to find that West, despite his endorsement of Trump, had never heard of the travel ban.”

But while Kanye’s political blind spots might be glaring, the notion that policy comes second to the culture war is shared by a number of people in the pro-Trump media. “It gets tiresome,” one popular pro-Trump media personality texted me after watching the mainstream media’s reaction to West’s Oval Office visit today. “What are MY POLITICS? I don’t have any! There’s a large side of MAGA like that. It’s more a cultural thing. The media treats MAGA as angry and missed the real story. MAGA is fun.”

For some pro-Trump pundits, the “fun” isn’t in building the wall or tariffs or tax cuts but in Trump’s positioning of the mainstream media as the opposition and fake news. For others, it’s Trump’s ability to anger both establishment conservatives and liberals. And for many in the fever swamps, the fun is in belonging to something, no matter how toxic or anonymous it might be. At a recent conference, a researcher told me the story of a polite confrontation she had had with a member of the alt-right. He had just heard her talk and wanted to clarify a point she’d made about 4chan trolls, and why they came out in force for Trump during the 2016 election. The man said he wasn’t a particular fan of Trump or his politics, but was drawn to posting memes extolling Trump as “God Emperor” because the notion that they “could meme a president into office” felt exciting, empowering, and something akin to belonging.

Connecting people and providing that belonging — whether it’s on Facebook or 4chan — is what the internet does best. And few movements have harnessed it quite like the MAGA crowd. Trumpism aligns with the internet because it shares the same mechanics as all the algorithms and recommendation engines: It favors the sensational over the factual, the emotional over the rational. It finds out what you want, no matter how bad it ultimately makes you feel, and it serves it to you again and again and again. The red-pilling process isn’t meant to be subtle, but thrilling. Again: “MAGA is fun.”

Sitting there in the Oval Office, Kanye rattled off ideas on everything from criminal justice reform to an Apple-designed hydrogen plane that should replace Air Force One. The president, who might be looking for new opportunities for ratings gold, gave Kanye what he truly desired, 10 minutes of unfettered attention and validation. For that, Trump got a news cycle devoid of stories about his taxes, murdered journalists, or Supreme Court Justice [and noted liar Bart O’Kavanaugh]. It was a perfectly symbiotic attention grab and not unlike two reactionary YouTubers agreeing to appear on each other’s channels to discuss toxic groupthink or trigger warnings going too far. Like any good YouTube shock jock, they knew we couldn’t help but click. And further down the rabbit hole we go.

Of course, not all of us clicked. And there are plenty of the monster’s supporters who love his dangerous, idiotic policies and proclivities, not the feeling of being in a gang. But understanding what motivates some of his supporters is a good thing. The knowledge may help the rest of us deal with the monster and his deplorable supporters.

Speaking of dealing with his supporters, some of whom are in Congress and statehouse, it’s encouraging to see all the interest on our side this year. I’ve never seen such interest in a midterm election. I hope that translates into excellent turnout, even better than the polls predict. We owe it to each other and the rest of the world.

How It Is and How It Got This Way (27 Days)

Most of us tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. We expect the average person to behave properly. Not perfectly, but generally to follow the rules of society. To help those in distress, to keep promises, to tell the truth. That’s why we’re willing to ask people for help instead of fearing they’ll take advantage of us. It’s why we take promises seriously. It’s why we pay attention to what other people say.

Then something like the Kavanaugh nomination comes along. Even after we’ve been exposed to dirty politics repeatedly, we still find it hard to believe that people — such as members of the Senate — who claim to value truth and justice — especially people who are viewed as “moderates” — will ignore those values. Some do rise to the occasion. Too often, we’re disappointed once again.

I kept hoping that two or more Republican senators would vote “no”. It’s still hard to believe that only one decided not to vote “yes”. I’m not crazy, so I wasn’t sure we would win. But I still thought there was a possibility as various Republicans expressed their “concerns”. I thought maybe they’d give each other courage. 

It’s still hard to accept that some politicians lie and otherwise practice bad faith so easily and so frequently. I blogged about a long article a few days ago that helped me understand how they’re able to justify their behavior to themselves:

If you believe, as my old friends now believe, that Poland will be better off if it is ruled by people who deserve to rule—because they loudly proclaim a certain kind of patriotism, because they are loyal to the party leader, or because they are … a “better sort of Pole”—then a one-party state is actually more fair than a competitive democracy. Why should different parties be allowed to compete on an even playing field if only one of them has the moral right to form the government? Why should businesses be allowed to compete in a free market if only some of them are loyal to the party and therefore deserving of wealth?

Why shouldn’t you lie in order to put the members of your group in power? Since the people on your side or in your group deserve to be in charge and make the important decisions, why shouldn’t you lie in order to get on the Supreme Court? Or vote “yes” to put that liar on the Supreme Court for the rest of his life?

Garrett Epps writes a “Requiem for the Supreme Court”:

[The Supreme Court’s] decisions were [often] controversial. Many people considered many of them wrong. But this was the nation’s Court; its decisions were rooted in the Constitution and in a shared interest in national unity.

Throughout all of this, Democratic and Republican appointees on the Court clashed, crossed, and formed coalitions. Neither those who praised it nor those who cursed it regarded the Court as the instrument of party politics.

But that idea began to fray…

One party made the Supreme Court a partisan issue. First Richard Nixon and then Ronald Reagan made attacks on the Court part of Republican Party dogma….But I think no fair-minded person could deny that a major barrier was crossed in 1991 when a Republican president, for political reasons, appointed a justice [Clarence Thomas] who was manifestly unqualified for the office, and who faced numerous, credible claims of sexual misbehavior as a government official. It was hard to watch the nominee testify in October 1991 without concluding that Anita Hill had told the truth and that Thomas had lied. But the administration pushed ahead regardless. This was the first major step over a dangerous threshold.

The next step came in 2000, when five Republican appointees on the Court extended its authority to decide a national election, in defiance of federal statutes, the Constitution’s text, and their own frequently expressed pieties about “our federalism.” The Court has aggressively made itself part of partisan politics, but even then, some of the justices who dissented were Republican appointees.

Partisanship sputtered for the next decade and a half. John Roberts was confirmed as chief justice with the votes of 22 Democrats––half of the party’s Senate caucus. Samuel Alito was the object of an attempted filibuster by Democrats, but was still confirmed with four Democratic votes. Sonia Sotomayor won nine Republican votes; Elena Kagan got five Republican votes and lost one Democratic vote. Justice Anthony Kennedy continued to move back and forth within the Court across partisan lines.

As the new Court settled in, people began to wonder whether the wounds of 2000 might be closing.

Then, in 2016, Justice Antonin Scalia died.

President Barack Obama, facing a Republican Senate, carefully nominated a moderate whom even Senator Orrin Hatch had previously designated as acceptable to both sides. But then the rules changed. Scalia’s seat, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, would not be filled, no matter what. Republicans had a majority in the Senate and could use it for any purpose they wished—including making the Supreme Court seat a plum partisan patronage job to be filled after the next presidential election. Republican nominee Donald Trump assured Republican voters that he would appoint justices who would “automatically” overturn Roe v. Wade. To make this clearer, he released a short list of nominees, in effect putting their names on the presidential ballot beside his. Another threshold was crossed: a Court seat was a partisan prize, its holders subject to popular vote.

That brings us to the last few weeks in Washington, when the Senate Judiciary Committee met under the pretext that it would listen to testimony from an ordinary American, Christine Blasey Ford….The debate and the vote that followed were not about the Court, not about the law; they were about the Republican Party. They were about teaching the rest of us that we cannot refuse what Trump and McConnell want. They were a demonstration that in the new order there is no individual, no norm, no institution not subject to the control of the ruling party.

Brian Beutler analyzes “The Trumpification of the Supreme Court”:

Even before he stood accused of sexual assault, Kavanaugh was a totem for the forces of dishonesty and bad faith, angling to deceive his way into power by hiding and lying about his career and his agenda.

Kavanaugh has been systematically misleading the Senate since 2004. Rather than own up to his history as a partisan activist lawyer, he disguised his life’s work with spin and outright lies. He disclaimed his role, as an associate White House counsel, in helping to confirm some of the most controversial circuit court judges on the bench. He feigned ignorance of the lawless torture and warrantless wiretapping policies of the Bush administration, and then counted on Republicans in the Senate and the White House to conceal his complete record. He knowingly trafficked in stolen Senate Democratic records to help coach Bush judicial nominees, and then lied about it, concocting the flimsiest of excuses, and offering the Democrats whose documents were stolen not a single word of remorse.

Despite this background, he laughably insisted to the Senate in 2004 that his “background has not been in partisan politics.”

Kavanugh’s appointment is thus an extension of Trump’s contempt for U.S. governing institutions as anything other than instruments of raw partisan power.

Erwin Chemerinsky describes “A Very Tarnished Court”:

Conservatives [have fulfilled] a quest that began with Richard Nixon’s campaign for president in 1968 and intensified during Ronald Reagan’s presidency: putting a staunch conservative majority on the Supreme Court. But the way that they have accomplished this has greatly tarnished the Court, perhaps irreparably. It is impossible to know the long-term consequences of this, but the Court and how it is perceived will never be the same.

….This will [be] the most conservative Court since the mid-1930s, with five justices at the far right of the political spectrum. No longer will there be Republican appointees like John Paul Stevens or David Souter, or even a moderate conservative like Lewis Powell, Sandra Day O’Connor or Anthony Kennedy.

What is stunning is that each of the five conservative justices—Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh—came on to the Court in a manner that lacks legitimacy. Each is a disturbing story, but even worse, cumulatively they make it clear that the current Court is little more than an extension of Republican power plays in a way that never has occurred in American history.

He then recounts the ugly events that put Thomas, Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch and now Kavanaugh on the court. He concludes:

Any one of these events would be a hit on the Court’s legitimacy. But to have the entire majority of the Court there only because of shameful behavior inevitably will tarnish the Court.

It is unclear at this moment how it will matter that the Court will be clearly perceived as an extension of the Republican Party. Maybe it will lead to a crisis of legitimacy for the Court, as occurred in the mid-1930s. Perhaps at some point it will lead to open defiance of the Court. Maybe it will cause the Democrats to try to increase the size of the Court if they have control of the presidency and Congress after the November 2020 elections. [Note: the Constitution doesn’t say the Court should have nine members. It had 10 in 1863.]

The only thing that is certain is that conservatives will gain control of the Court as they have long desired—in the process, irreparably hurting the institution by the way they have accomplished this.

Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. It also grows from the ideas of defunct economists. In the United States, for now, it still grows out of ballots cast and properly counted. 

The next election is 27 days away.

Stay Angry, Get Involved (29 Days)

David Leonhardt of The New York Times reviews how we got here and then offers encouragement:

Decades ago, a businessman built a fortune thanks in large measure to financial fraud. His corrupt gains helped him become famous. He then launched a political career by repeatedly telling a racist lie, about the first black president secretly being an African.

This lie created an audience in right-wing media that made possible a presidential campaign. During that campaign, the candidate eagerly accepted — indeed, publicly sought — the illegal assistance of a foreign enemy. When national security officials raised alarm with Congress, before Election Day, leaders of the candidate’s party refused to act.

The foreign assistance appears to have been crucial to the candidate’s narrow victory. He won with only 46.1 percent of the popular vote, less than 16 losing candidates over the years had, including Mitt Romney, John Kerry, Williams Jennings Bryan and the little-remembered Horatio Seymour.

Having won, the new president filled a Supreme Court seat that his party had stolen with an unprecedented power grab. This weekend, the president finished filling a second seat, through a brutal, partisan process. During it, the president, himself an admitted sexual molester, mocked victims of abuse.

Together, the two new justices have cemented an extremist Republican majority on the Supreme Court. It has already begun acting as a kind of super-legislature, throwing out laws on voting rights, worker rights, consumer rights and political influence buying. Now, the court is poised to do much more to benefit the wealthy and powerful at the expense of most Americans — and the planet.

This is not how democracy is supposed to work…

… The past two weeks, on top of everything that came before, have created a sense of frustration and injustice that I have never seen before from people on the left and in the center. The question now is, What are you going to do with that anger?

Here is my suggestion: Get involved. Do it now. Be smart about how. And help turn the crisis of the Trump presidency into a new day for American democracy.

The only good solution to this mess involves fighting for democratic principles. In concrete terms, this means turning your attention away from the Supreme Court, for now, and toward the midterm elections. The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh is over. The midterms are not, and, one way or the other, they will change Washington. Either President Trump will be emboldened — to fire Robert Mueller, take away health insurance and so on — or he will be constrained. There is no election outcome that preserves the status quo.

Remember, Trump has never enjoyed majority support in this country. But many of the Americans who oppose both him and today’s Republican Party don’t vote. In the last midterms, in 2014, only 16 percent — 16 percent!— of citizens between the ages of 18 and 29 voted…

The easiest way to encourage turnout is with your own family and friends. You should come up with a specific plan about when and where you will vote — which, research has shown, increases voting — and announce that plan to your friends and relatives, presumably over social media. Then ask them to do the same. “Social pressure,” says Carolyn DeWitt, president of Rock the Vote, “is mighty persuasive.”

If you’re still energized, don’t stop there. You can also have an effect outside of your social circles. Look at what happened in Virginia’s state elections last year: Turnout surged 17 percent, compared with four years earlier, and a grass-roots effort was crucial to the surge. In the campaign’s last four days, activists knocked on 1.4 million doors across Virginia. Often, they did so working in groups of friends.

Of course, Virginia was one of the few states holding elections last year. This year, the whole country is doing so, which creates an enormous need for volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls. Groups like Indivisible and Swing Left have helpfullocalized advice online.

I understand that many people feel awkward about getting involved in politics. But if you’re one of those people feeling righteous anger today, I think you need to get involved.

Imagine how you will feel if the midterms turn into a … victory for Donald Trump. That outcome, I’m sorry to say, remains entirely possible.

But not if we get involved. There are more of us than them. The world is watching and waiting. November 6th is only 29 days away. 

Who Gets to Rule a Nation? The Rise of the One-Party State

A government in which one person has unlimited power is an autocracy. A government in which a small group has a great deal of power is an oligarchy. Unlike an autocracy, there is no requirement that oligarchs have unlimited power. 

Here in the United States, we still have a representative democracy, although lately it’s been veering toward oligarchy. We also have a president who would prefer America as autocracy with himself as the autocrat.

Anne Applebaum has written a long article for The Atlantic that explains the form of government that’s on the rise around the world. Her article is labeled this way:

Polarization. Conspiracy theories. Attacks on the free press. An obsession with loyalty. Recent events in the United States follow a pattern Europeans know all too well.

Whether such governments are autocracies or oligarchies isn’t clear-cut. She suggests “single-party” or “one-party state”. The paragraphs below explain how they work and how their adherents justify them. Reading the article helped me understand the current crisis.

[Who gets to rule a nation?] For a long time, we have imagined that these questions were settled—but why should they ever be?

Monarchy,tyranny, oligarchy, democracy—thesewere all familiar to Aristotle more than 2,000 years ago. But the illiberal one-party state, now found all over the world—think of China, Venezuela, Zimbabwe—was first developed by Lenin, in Russia, starting in 1917. In the political-science textbooks of the future, the Soviet Union’s founder will surely be remembered not for his Marxist beliefs, but as the inventor of this enduring form of political organization. It is the model that many of the world’s budding autocrats use today.

Unlike Marxism, the Leninist one-party state is not a philosophy. It is a mechanism for holding power. It works because it clearly defines who gets to be the elite—the political elite, the cultural elite, the financial elite. In monarchies such as pre-revolutionary France and Russia, the right to rule was granted to the aristocracy, which defined itself by rigid codes of breeding and etiquette. In modern Western democracies, the right to rule is granted, at least in theory, by different forms of competition: campaigning and voting, meritocratic tests that determine access to higher education and the civil service, free markets. Old-fashioned social hierarchies are usually part of the mix, but in modern Britain, America, Germany, France, and until recently Poland, we have assumed that competition is the most just and efficient way to distribute power. The best-run businesses should make the most money. The most appealing and competent politicians should rule. The contests between them should take place on an even playing field, to ensure a fair outcome.

Lenin’s one-party state was based on different values. It overthrew the aristocratic order. But it did not put a competitive model in place. The Bolshevik one-party state was not merely undemocratic; it was also anti-competitive and anti-meritocratic. Places in universities, civil-service jobs, and roles in government and industry did not go to the most industrious or the most capable. Instead, they went to the most loyal. People advanced because they were willing to conform to the rules of party membership.

Though those rules were different at different times, they were consistent in certain ways. They usually excluded the former ruling elite and their children, as well as suspicious ethnic groups. They favored the children of the working class. Above all, they favored people who loudly professed belief in the creed, who attended party meetings, who participated in public displays of enthusiasm. Unlike an ordinary oligarchy, the one-party state allows for upward mobility: True believers can advance. As Hannah Arendt wrote back in the 1940s, the worst kind of one-party state “invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.”

Lenin’s one-party system also reflected his disdain for the idea of a neutral state, of apolitical civil servants and an objective media… In the Bolshevik imagination, the press could be free, and public institutions could be fair, only once they were controlled by the working class—via the party.

This mockery of the competitive institutions of “bourgeois democracy” and capitalism has long had a right-wing version, too. Hitler’s Germany is the example usually given. But there are many others. Apartheid South Africa was a de facto one-party state that corrupted its press and its judiciary to eliminate blacks from political life and promote the interests of Afrikaners, white South Africans descended mainly from Dutch settlers, who were not succeeding in the capitalist economy created by the British empire.

In Europe, two such illiberal parties are now in power: Law and Justice, in Poland, and Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, in Hungary. Others, in Austria and Italy, are part of government coalitions or enjoy wide support. These parties tolerate the existence of political opponents. But they use every means possible, legal and illegal, to reduce their opponents’ ability to function and to curtail competition in politics and economics. They dislike foreign investment and criticize privatization, unless it is designed to benefit their supporters. They undermine meritocracy. Like Donald Trump, they mock the notions of neutrality and professionalism, whether in journalists or civil servants. They discourage businesses from advertising in “opposition”—by which they mean illegitimate—media.

Notably, one of the Law and Justice government’s first acts, in early 2016, was to change the civil-service law, making it easier to fire professionals and hire party hacks. The Polish foreign service also wants to drop its requirement that diplomats know two foreign languages, a bar that was too high for favored candidates to meet. The government fired heads of Polish state companies. Previously, the people in these roles had had at least some government or business experience. Now these jobs are largely filled by Law and Justice Party members, as well as their friends and relatives….

You can call this sort of thing by many names: nepotism, state capture. But if you so choose, you can also describe it in positive terms: It represents the end of the hateful notions of meritocracy and competition, principles that, by definition, never benefited the less successful. A rigged and uncompetitive system sounds bad if you want to live in a society run by the talented. But if that isn’t your primary interest, then what’s wrong with it?

If you believe, as my old friends now believe, that Poland will be better off if it is ruled by people who deserve to rule—because they loudly proclaim a certain kind of patriotism, because they are loyal to the party leader, or because they are … a “better sort of Pole”—then a one-party state is actually more fair than a competitive democracy. Why should different parties be allowed to compete on an even playing field if only one of them has the moral right to form the government? Why should businesses be allowed to compete in a free market if only some of them are loyal to the party and therefore deserving of wealth?

Forewarned is forearmed. Please vote for Democrats up and down the ballot in November’s mid-term election. And convince your reasonable friends to vote if any of them still need convincing.