The Senate Will Be Blue, The Dust Will Eventually Settle and Trust in Government Is Not Completely Hopeless
On January 5th, Georgia held its runoff elections for the Senate. That night, it was clear that Democrat Raphael Warnock had won his race by two percentage points, 94k votes. By the next day, Democrat Jon Ossoff had officially won his race by 1.2 percentage points. 50.6–49.4, 55k votes.
Those 149,000 votes are the difference between what would have been a Republican-led Senate in 2021–2022 and what is now a Democratic-led Senate. With a 50–50 split, incoming Vice-President Kamala Harris’ vote tilts the tie to the Democrats. Thank you, Georgia organizers. Thank you, Stacey Abrams. Thank you to everyone who contributed to voting equality and voter mobilization. In November, Joe Biden won Georgia by 11,800 votes — out of 5 million votes counted. The slimmest of margins. Every damn vote matters.
Why focus on these results when all hell broke lose at the Capitol the next day?
Focus on that fact because we need to remember there is good news amidst all the awful news.
Why focus on those results? Because they are the truth, and the outgoing President and his supporters (those that remain loyal despite his open disloyalty to anything resembling democracy) continue to push the lie that those votes aren’t real. 50.6–49.4%. Those are numbers. Decimals which indicate how open or how blocked the legislative path to progress will be over the next two years.
Every day since Wednesday, January 6th, we learn more about the planning that went in to Trump’s Insurrectionist mob storming the Capitol Building during the electoral college certification process. Five people died. Our lawmakers were targeted and threatened. Chaos reigned. The world gasped.
What is democracy now? A beacon of hope for the world?
The visitors who toured the Capitol the day before should have been a clear warning. The social media messages were all over the place. And yet it happened. Capitol police were at the very least under-prepared for the chaos. Did some of them openly look the other way or encourage this? Suspicion reigns.
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Despite entering office with the lowest approval rating of any incoming President since the rating was tracked (1980), Trump’s approval rating over the four years of his presidency has been remarkably consistent, ranging from the high 30s to the high 40s. Finally — after inciting a mob and threatening the Legislative Branch of our government — a small percentage of Americans have decided they disapprove. As of Jan. 13th, the number is 34%.
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The drop among self-identified Republicans: from 83% to 75%. Don’t let anyone tell you Republicans can’t change. Eight percent can recognize an insurrection when they (sort of) see one on TV! Independent-identified voters dropped from 38% to 29%.
No president has left office more unpopular than Nixon, who had a 24 percent approval rating in the final Gallup poll before his resignation in August 1974.
In 1974, a vast majority of the American people were shocked that a President would openly lie and cover-up those lies. Most Americans believed in the paternalistic ethos of previous eras. FDR had saved them from the wreckage of the Depression. By 1960, the youthful Kennedy reinvigorated the masses with hope.
Public distrust of government only started to become widespread in the late 1960s with Vietnam and mass protests. Nixon unearthed an entirely new level of distrust and cynicism.
We’ve seen a deepening of that distrust over the last twenty years. Congressional approval rating has been under 20% for a decade. The crash of 2007 and the bailout of 2008 entrenched the public’s disdain for Congress. As Robert Reich, Bernie Sanders, AOC and others have been repeating for years — Wall Street and the fortunes of big tech are almost entirely removed from our functioning economy and how people are living. People don’t trust that things will get better because they haven’t been getting better for a long time.
But as Congress begins to look more like we do…as Congress gets younger, more diverse and less willing to abide the status quo…change can and will come. Warnock and Ossoff are the latest examples. Georgia just elected a black reverend and a Jewish documentary filmmaker to the Senate.
Removing Trump from social media is a big step. We have been subliminally trained by social media. By the bias toward confrontation and controversy. By the immediate gratification of posting and receiving likes and retweets. We are lonely and have gotten even lonelier over this year inside. We are only now mildly aware of the fact that our reality is shaped by social media and that social media is removed from the human-to-human level reality that we all unconsciously crave. In 2008, Obama entered that void and filled in that loneliness and gave many hope. As Obama tried to unite the country, the Senate Republicans led by McConnell decided that it wasn’t going to happen. Any progress would be drawn-out, hard-fought, bitterly battled and filibustered. From 2010–2016, we lived in an increasingly divided country. The bailout wasn’t helping most of us. The economy stagnated, with inflated job numbers based on app-driven, gig-work as people pieced together a living. As the the gridlock built up, we gave ourselves over to the Internet and social media.
In 2015 and 2016, Bernie entered that void and filled in that loneliness for many and gave many hope. Was it possible that anyone could have united the country by 2016? In retrospect, it seems highly unlikely.
Trump’s ability to tap into the resentment of DC politics and the narcissism and hopelessness was fueled by racism and xenophobia. The South was built on resentment and racism. He just followed George Wallace’s playbook. Those rallies that led to his gaining the Republican nomination were a precursor. This violent resentment was made visible throughout the last four years. Thankfully…more of us are conscious of that today.
Perhaps the chaos of the last week will enable a newfound boldness among Democrats. Perhaps the rhetoric of “reaching across the aisle” will be outweighed by the immediate needs of the American people. Trust is gained slowly, but erodes quickly. Building back that trust, one person at a time, be the key to rebuilding a functioning democracy.
January 21st in a week away. The National Guard has been called in. Don’t forget that good news exists underneath it all. It just doesn’t make the headlines as often.
Here’s Warnock’s victory speech: