Our country is in a dark place. How dark it ultimately gets remains to be seen, but optimism would be foolish. So would despair, which can be incapacitating.
Yes, RBG’s death is a kick in the teeth, but it’s also an enormous distraction. All the machinations to replace her — when, how, and by whom — are going to play out in their own time, no matter what we do. The only certainty is that Mitch McConnell will do what he thinks best for him.
Dwelling on the possible scenarios will only make us crazy, and our influence over events is limited. There are plenty of shiny objects demanding our attention, so let’s not chase too many.
Because this is still, above all, about the election. No matter what we do, say, think, or fight about, this is the prize we absolutely must keep our eyes on.
If Democrats can take over the Congress and the presidency, much of what’s happening now can be mitigated. But right now, the only thing that matters is removing these criminals from office.
And to do this, I’m afraid we’ll need to let hate into our hearts. If it’s not there already.
The prime motivator of the current electorate is what Rachel Bitecofer calls “negative partisanship.” But she’s being scholarly and polite. The real word for it is hate.
Ms. Bitecofer is a political scientist with serious analytical chops, who has become, in recent months, one of the go-to people for electoral analysis. She has parsed most of the available data from the 2018 mid-terms, and called bullshit on the conventional wisdom.
That wisdom says it was the Democratic strategy — ignoring Trump, while focusing exclusively on healthcare and “kitchen table” issues — that drove record turnout, which swept Democrats into power on a righteous blue wave.
Bitecofer shows that the wave came in spite of that strategy, not because of it. That the record turnout — on both sides — was the whole point. And that the turnout was driven, not by issues, but by negative partisanship. Each side felt the other was destroying their way of life. They still do.
Wave elections don’t come along that often, but when they do, they’re always fueled by extreme negative partisanship.
In other words, it was all about Trump. Hate him or love him. There were few shades of gray. Yes, healthcare was on our minds, but it was Trump-hate that turned us out to vote.
In recent history, Democrats have usually had the numbers to win, but they turn out too sporadically for their own good. Republicans have fewer numbers, but they turn out religiously. And yes, Republicans had their own record turnout in 2018, just not enough to overcome the wave of Democrats.
So if the mid-terms are a guide — and there’s every reason to think this next wave will be even bigger — Bitecofer says:
“The 2020 election will be a battle of the bases, with nothing less than the country’s survival as a functional democracy on the ballot. Partisanship is a hell of a drug—especially when it’s cut with a heavy dose of existential fear.”
I know that drug. I know how it got me going in 2018. Yes, I was concerned about all the life-altering issues at stake. But with the benefit of hindsight, I can see they were secondary to my fear and loathing of Trump. And if I thought I hated him two years ago, I look back now and I’m appalled by my naivete. The drug is kicking in right now.
Republican voters are similarly driven. They have been conditioned to think of Democrats as godless pedophiles who will turn this country over to hordes of immigrant rapists and rampaging minorities, all of them invading the suburbs.
We can’t change their minds, so don’t even try. But we can learn from their hate.
Democrats don’t do hate very well. Hate embarrasses us. It’s too extreme, too visceral, and we’re generally people of moderation.
Real hate is as intense as love. Both live in the gut, both can cause gastric distress. Both can motivate.
The implication of Bitecofer’s work is that the only issue on the table is Trump, and it’s folly to focus on anything else. There is no better strategy we can come up with than a stomach-churning hatred of Donald Trump. We have no recourse but to embrace that hate and channel it. To use every weapon available to us to make him go away.
Each of us needs to figure out how to put the hate to constructive use. At a bare minimum, we need to give our own votes the best possible chance of being counted.
This is not a given. This is the first election, certainly in my lifetime, where the actual voting is not a no-brainer. Between the virus, the election chaos, and the breakdown of our system of government, there’s real work involved.
We each need to assess the options available in our state, understand the rules, and consider the risks both to our vote and to our health. We each need to weigh the odds and plan accordingly.
Because overwhelming turnout is mandatory. You don’t need to stress about issues. You don’t need to obsess on the Supreme Court. You don’t need to binge-watch MSNBC. You already know what you need to know.
As the Beatles might have said under these circumstances, all you need is loathe.