You’ve seen the headlines and no doubt received hundreds (thousands?) of action alerts from well-meaning groups and individuals informing you that the 2018 election is the most important in recent American history. The fabulous and inspiring 90 second video shared by veteran actor and all-around American show business icon Carl Reiner recently on Facebook is one of the best.
Reiner and his fellow activists are right, of course. The 2018 election results will go a long way toward determining whether the nation’s current fling with Trumpist dishonesty, plutocracy, xenophobia and racism are just that – a temporary and toxic fling – or the latest misstep in a long and perilous slide toward tyranny.
All that said, it’s vitally important for all caring and thinking people to keep another simple powerful, but difficult, truth in mind about the 2018 election – namely, that it is but one small step in the process of reclaiming and rebuilding our democracy. Whatever the final results of this year’s election, the work must begin again tomorrow.
Lest progressives have any doubts about this fact, it might be helpful to look back a decade to the night of November 4, 2008 and the amazing appearance of the Obama family in front of hundreds of thousands of delirious celebrants in Chicago’s Grant Park. At that moment, for many Americans, it felt as if a new and remarkable day had dawned – a moment at which the nation had finally discarded the hatred and divisions of the past and moved forcefully into the bright light of a new and better era.
Across the nation and the planet, millions of humans of good will gazed at their electronic screens, shed a tear and thought “Thank God I’ve lived to see this! Things will be forever different after this.”
Unfortunately, as became quickly apparent in the days following the Obama victory, there were millions of other men and women – many of them very determined and very wealthy – for whom November 4, 2008 was a call to action or, more accurately, a call to reaction. Even before Obama took office, these people organized to stymie his every move and to lay the ground work for the dark era that dawned in November of 2016.
One of the most important and dangerous manifestations of the right-wing push can be seen in the ongoing effort to seize and remake the federal and state courts. All across the nation, conservative politicians, funders, advocates and activists – even the ones who despise Donald Trump – have united in a highly coordinated and determined effort to capture the courts.
The signature event in this crusade, of course, was the unprecedented and hyper-cynical blockade of Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. In 2016, the Republicans in the United States Senate took modern realpolitik to new and previously unplumbed depths by blocking a well-qualified Supreme Court nominee for nearly a full year.
There were many other similar efforts by conservatives, of course, to block Obama at all costs and turn back the policy clock — whether it was undermining his proposals to combat the Great Recession, resisting the Affordable Care Act, combating climate change initiatives, or attempting to defeat his efforts to de-nuclearize Iran.
Here in North Carolina and in numerous other states, Republicans seized on the victories they won in the 2010 mid-term elections to usher in an era of unprecedented political gerrymandering that, in turn, has given rise to a right-wing legislative policy blitzkrieg on countless issues.
Happily, as dreadful as the conservative reaction and the rise it has spurred in phenomena like white nationalism have been, there are some important lessons that progressives can glean from the last decade and, indeed, the last several decades in the American policy debate.
First and foremost among these is the critical importance of staying engaged in the fight – both regularly and for the long haul. As I’ve noted previously, a goodly segment of the modern Right believes that it is waging a pitched, decades-long fight for the soul of the nation. These people are prepared to win a battle of attrition and do not intend to be sidetracked by an unattractive political candidate or two or the need for making occasional pragmatic compromises. They still know what they want and intend, ultimately, to get there.
If progressives want to push back effectively and ultimately overcome such a movement, it will take much more than a few positive election results. Success will require matching conservative passion and pragmatism blow for blow through several future elections and an even greater number of policy contests in between.
So, go ahead and immerse yourself in the election, but after the dust settles, let’s get back to work.