I dread this November’s midterm elections. And not just because most pundits predict Republicans will take control of the House and Senate. Rather, I fear the elections will highlight the unfortunate reality of today’s politics. Many of us are voting out of fear rather than hope. We vote to keep “the bad people” out of government rather than to endorse a specific agenda.
My statement, of course, does not apply to everyone. I know several principled Democrats and Republicans who study agendas and vote in the belief that one party is better for America than the other. Unfortunately, for every one of these voters, there seems to be three or four others who simply want “to keep Nazis out of power” (meaning Republicans when voiced by Democrats) or “stop socialism” (meaning Democrats when voiced by Republicans).
Voters using their precious franchise to vote against something or somebody rather than the opposite is nothing new, but today, the trend is becoming dominant.
I no longer expect to uncover a coherent Republican policy agenda. There has not been one since 2016. Trump was never a Republican in the true sense of the word and threw the legacies of the likes of Reagan and George H.W. Bush into the trash. Free trade, reasonable regulation of the economy, and world leadership were replaced with tariffs, deregulation at any cost (celebrated as dismantling the “deep state”), xenophobia, and outright racism. Trump championed the new agenda, vilified his opponent, and won the election.
Democrats won back the White House not because of the left-leaning agenda reflected in the 2020 Democratic platform, but because voters were sick or afraid of Trump. I know no Democrats who voted for President Biden who proclaimed that Biden was their first choice as the party’s nominee. All my Democratic friends wanted someone “who could win,” and Biden was deemed as “less toxic” or “more electable” than the alternatives, especially after Representative Jim Clyburn (R-SC) endorsed him and locked-in the African American vote.
Biden’s polls for the first year and a half of his presidency tell us that there is little enthusiasm for him. Unfortunately, there is also little confidence in his vice president. This brings us to a troubling truth: Absent somebody to hate at the top of the Republican ticket in 2024, the Republicans are likely to retake the presidency.
The prospect of a Republican president with a Congress controlled by legislators who still embrace the Trumpian strategy of “America First” should frighten every American. America First means ignoring the necessity of progress in the areas of human rights, economic justice, fighting climate change, and maintaining democracy. If the current Republican agenda returns to power, democracy as reflected in the constitution will be living on borrowed time.
The Democrats to date have not put forward an agenda that can win elections without the boost that hatred of Trump and all that he represents provides. The progressive agenda reflected in the President’s “Build Back Better” agenda and his 2023 budget are not likely to win over voters who are more afraid of inflation than of increasing billionaires’ wealth. Biden’s efforts to promote diversity and racial justice, unfortunately, have alienated many white voters, including Democrats. One such Democrat asked me recently, “As a white man, do you think they are focused on you?”
As a supporter of things like addressing income inequality, eliminating racism, and cleaning up the environment, I see a lot of appeal in the Democratic agenda. But I am more motivated by fear of what Republicans will do if they return to full power in Washington. I wake up at night worrying about a President DeSantis trampling civil rights to create a “Christian America,” locking down borders, and making isolationism the centerpiece of American foreign policy.
I am concluding that both political parties are broken because both have lost the ability, and the interest in, running on policy rather than fear. Books have and will be written about how the parties have gone astray, but I have yet to see a blueprint for reversing the trend. And if our two-party system collapses, where does that lead us?
I fear that the emphasis on the negative, practiced to an art by today’s Republicans, but also embraced by many Democrats, will convince voters, especially younger ones, that our system is broken—that democracy no longer works. If our parties collapse under their own weight, where will that leave us?
A few weeks ago, I passed a house with a “Let’s Go Brandon!” banner proudly displayed. We all know what that banner means. Do you need more evidence that our political parties are broken?
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and other subjects.