Following Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 general election, I wrote:
“After yesterday, the easy way is to believe that we are helpless and hopeless. I believe the road less traveled is the road we must continue. This road less traveled requires me to refuse to succumb to hysteria. This road requires me to continue fighting for the idea of America that inspired the people on whose shoulders I stand To embrace this nation even when it is subjugated by slavery and segregation. They have not given up on this nation, and neither have I.
I wrote these words because I feared that Trump’s election would further amplify the growing chorus of voices who would prefer to see the United States as monolithic and homogenous: a nation that looks more like Ozzie and Harriet than Abbott Elementary. A United States that will make us back away from the promise of inclusive multiracial democracy.
With almost every political Nostradamus in 2022 predicting a massive “red wave”, I prepared myself to write with a similar sentiment. Although the “red wave” was not expected to be as massive in Colorado, pundits predicted the possibility of a narrower majority for Democrats in the state House and Republicans gaining a majority in the state Senate. This “red wave” did not materialize, but the question of the meaning of democracy still exists.
Then, as now, my fears and anguish were not based in some existential hatred of all things Republican or belief in the righteousness of the Democratic Party. I firmly believe that our republic is best served by at least two political parties engaged in rigorous, fact-based principled debate with a shared commitment to the democratic institutions of this nation. Perhaps naively, I continue to hope that even in the most difficult debates with our political opponents, there is ever a possibility, as Dr. Martin Luther King preached, to “discover the element of good” in our opponents and from there to “find the center of the good and put your attention there. …”
The darkness I was expecting was the election results, which will further encourage the Christian nationalists, white supremacists, those who play fascism, and other bigots who ride on the coattails of Trumpism. In multiple polls before the term, voters repeatedly indicated their concerns about the future of democracy. President Biden has made the threat to democracy posed by the many election deniers running for office a central theme of his election campaign speeches.
Interestingly, some pollsters and commentators dismissed voters’ concerns about democracy, focusing almost exclusively on quality of life issues such as inflation, gas prices and crime. On the morning of the election, as part of their “Red Wave” coverage, The New York Times published an article titled “Inflation Hurts Democrats in the Polls. Will It Crush Them at the Ballot?”
While I agree that inflation is and has been a primary concern for voters, the New York Times and other media’s analysis implicitly assumes that voters are binary thinkers, when in fact, this election has shown that voters are able to simultaneously weigh the importance of multiple issues in their decision-making process. However, there is no room for nuance when a certain narrative is already wired.
It’s still early, but some national exit polls suggest abortion and the fate of democracy were key factors for voters, which may have significantly dampened the expected “red wave.”
An Associated Press VoteCast poll of 94,000 voters nationwide found that while inflation weighed heavily on their minds, 44 percent of voters said, “the future of democracy was their top consideration.” In the same poll, 60% of voters expressed anger at the reversal of Roe v. Wade. This discontent translated into electoral victories for pro-choice ballot measures in California, Michigan and Vermont, as well as the rejection of anti-abortion ballot measures in the deep red states of Kentucky and Montana.
If the current election results hold, election deniers will be defeated in many races they ran. In states where abortion was on the ballot, voters said emphatically that democracy means nothing unless we all have bodily autonomy.
An unknown writer once wrote these words, “Democracy is a slow process of stumbling over the right decision rather than going straight ahead to the wrong decision.” The 2022 midterms provide little hope that our nation is still stumbling toward the never-ending process of creating a “more perfect union.”
Terrence Carroll is a former speaker of the Colorado House. The first and only African-American to hold this position in Colorado. He is a Baptist preacher, lawyer and former police officer. He’s on Twitter @speakercarroll.
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