We avoided Midnight in America. The president concocted a frightscape, the caravan from hell ready to storm our white picket fences, the military deployed as a political stunt, the Constitution inches from the shredder.
By any measure, the election was a referendum on our sickly, staggering democracy. Nearly 70 percent of Americans believe President Trump has damaged the dignity of the presidency, and only half have faith in our system of self-government.
But I’m here to bring you some good news, folks: It will take at least one more election cycle, but the enemies of progress are headed back to history’s basement. And democracy, after a surge of voters who had checked out of their role in the governing part, has a pulse.
One-party rule is over. The Democrats are on pace to win the overall popular vote — that is, total tally cast in House races — by about seven percentage points. They lost it by a point in 2016, and six points in 2014. People under 30 favored the insurgents by about 35 points. Independents, our fastest-growing segment of voters, broke big for the Dems as well. They may not love the party, but they want a check on the runaway presidency.
Equally significant: Progressive and common-sensical treatment of fellow Americans won at the polls. Medicaid was expanded by vote of the people in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah. These deep-red states will now join 33 others in the forward march of Obamacare.
It will be a while before nearly every Republican stands up in Congress and proudly votes to take away someone’s health care or strips protections for pre-existing conditions. That argument is over.
As always, policies to help people — a boost in the minimum wage in Arkansas and Missouri, pragmatic restrictions on guns in Washington State — passed handily, once they got past the gatekeepers and were put to voters.
Trump did his Mussolini-lite thing — the vainglorious tilt of the chin, the boasts and lies for the cult of personality that follows his Red State One plane from bubble to bubble, the authoritarian swipes at an independent press and judiciary.
But white women, from the suburbs of Dallas and Houston and Chicago and Oklahoma City and Denver, ain’t buying it anymore. They’ve joined the majority. The Trump cult is diminishing, though an appeal to facts will not bring those people to reason.
“I can’t really say that anything he says is true,” a Wyoming Trump supporter told us a few days ago, “but I trust him.” That mind-set explains why President Trump revved up the mendacity machine to 30 lies a day in the seven weeks leading up to the midterm elections.
More to the point, as his former press-manager-for-a-moment, Anthony Scaramucci, put it: “He’s an intentional liar. It’s very different from just being a liar liar.” Got it?
No matter. For here is where history will give us some comfort. The American Know Nothing movement peaked in the 1850s on a wave of anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic sentiment. The targets then were Irish and German.
Those dark forces morphed into the Ku Klux Klan, America’s original and most durable domestic terrorists, who waged a post-Civil War campaign of murder and intimidation. They rose again in an oddball coalition — again targeting Irish, Germans and a new element, “swarthy” immigrants from the south of Italy — that gave us Prohibition.
Intermittently dormant thereafter for nearly a century, the devil we know came roaring back when Trump launched his presidency of fear and hate. And of course, he had the full backing of the Klan elements. “Go, Trump, go,” tweeted David Duke, the former Klan leader, on this year’s election eve. Duke loved the Trump anti-Mexican ad that was so racist even Fox News pulled it.
Sadly, fear of “others” was probably the deciding factor in governor’s races in Florida and Georgia. And our petulant president on Wednesday sneered at the Republicans who refused to embrace his dark vision and lost. He didn’t mention the many who did wrap their arms around him — in the Senate races in Montana and Nevada — and were shown the door.
Kansas, always a bellwether for how race shapes this country, said, enough! Kris Kobach, one of the most anti-immigrant politicians in the country, was soundly defeated for governor there. He ran caravan ads, the full Trumpian dystopia, but it couldn’t save him.
True, the caravan scare was likely to have inspired a man to slaughter people in a synagogue in Pittsburgh — probably the worst act of anti-Semitic violence in our nation’s history.
But let’s not forget what happened afterward. Ari Mahler, a nurse and the son of a rabbi, cared for the shooter. “I wanted him to feel compassion,” he wrote on Facebook. “I chose to show him empathy.”
And while we’re on the subject of our better angels, let’s cherish the 83-year-old man in Wisconsin who walked a mile to the polls after his car was totaled by a deer. Perhaps Benjamin Franklin had him in mind when he emerged from the Constitutional Convention with a now-famous answer to a question about what kind of government they had created. “A republic, if you can keep it.”