“So we cheated and we lied and we tested. And we never failed to fail. It was the easiest thing to do. You will survive being bested. Somebody fine will come along make me forget about loving you.” — Stephen Stills
We’ve discussed this before to the point of obsession. I have to admit my mind becomes stuck on certain things. In this case, it is a political phenomenon that I simply have to describe. It’s the space between what people want and what they ultimately get. It is the space between popular opinion and what actually happens. I simply don’t have a good name for the gap.
A part of that is my failing. I’m good at a few things but bumper sticker slogans isn’t one of them. I grew up thinking that if I couldn’t describe something in over 100 words than I simply wasn’t trying hard enough. It’s why these things become so long-winded.
Describing why it happens is the easy part. People simply vote against their own interests and beliefs far too often. Sometimes they don’t know what their beliefs are as presented in the political realm. Sometimes they are led by their emotions to become captive to their fears and prejudices. Sometimes they know exactly what they are doing and simply want to punish their own side for their failures to implement the policies they want.
Elections have consequences and most of them are relatively close when looking at statewide or national tickets. A few percentage points here or there will turn the whole thing. For instance, in 2016 close to a million Democrats stayed home specifically to punish Hillary Clinton. Another 800,000 chose to vote for Trump to punish her. They told themselves, “what possibly could go wrong in four years?” Well…
Add almost two million votes to her ledger and she likely would have won five additional states. Plus, it’s harder to ignore an election where she won the popular vote by five million instead of three. The simple fact that we have seen this happen twice in the span of 16 years and that it happened to the Democrats both times kind of tells you something.
If you do nothing but add the judges that George W. Bush appointed along with Donald Trump and then add in the judges blocked by Senate Republicans during Obama’s presidency the results are quite frankly staggering. That literally flipped the Supreme Court from 6-3 one way to 6-3 the other way. What it has done to the entire federal bench is staggering.
That’s just the judiciary. Imagine what it has done legislatively. Imagine what it has done in the day to day mechanisms of government. Bureaucracies have been impacted. Day to day regulations have been impacted. Executive actions on weather and natural disasters have been impacted. Just imagine competent assistance during Katrina and Maria. Imagine better assistant during the California wild fires. Imagine what might have happened during the COVID pandemic. What would have happened had we handled the pandemic as most of Europe and Asia did?
It is quite simply a ripple effect. Certainly, those that believe the other side could go through a similar mental exercise. However, they can’t complain that they have had a majority and lost. It has been minority rule and it has been there for quite some time. A plurality of people identify as Democrats. Again, national elections are fairly close, but under a parliamentary system Congress would have been under consistent Democratic control. These are just facts.
The current exploits of Joe Mancin and Kirsten Synema certainly demonstrate that majorities aren’t a guarantee of anything and yet they highlight the problem. We have a 50-50 Senate. If the Senate reflected even the advantage in the House it would likely be a 52-48 Senate. Then, they become irrelevant. If access to the ballot was unfettered and fair then the advantage likely would be 55-45 with similar larger gaps in the House as well.
Admittedly, not all of that is due to people putting their thumb on the scale. Some of it certainly is. Some of it is due to people not understanding who is for what and how that impacts them. Some of it is due to younger people getting angry and refusing to participate in the process. Then, that lack of participation is used against them. Some people have gotten so angry they’ve voted for the other side. These are relatively small numbers, but they add up to huge results.
This all pays off with the gap. We look up and we get the 21st century version of the apartheid. We get climate change unabated. We get gross incompetence in times of crisis. We get a larger wealth gap. We get fewer consumer and employee protections. We get a cold and uncaring world that most of us can’t recognize. The gap between the world we want and the world we see is real. The gap is real. We should be angry. We just need to remember who to be angry at.