Following Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 General Election, I wrote:
“After yesterday, the easy path is to believe we are powerless and hopeless. I believe the road less traveled is the one we must pursue. This less-traveled road requires that I refuse to succumb to hysteria. This road requires that I continue to fight for the idea of America that inspired the people on whose shoulders I stand to embrace this nation even when subjugated by slavery and segregation. They didn’t give up on this nation, and neither will I. I will not allow those who objectify women, speak in dog whistles, and are purveyors of divisive stereotypes control the destiny of this nation.”
I wrote these words because I feared Trump’s election would further amplify the growing chorus of voices who would rather see a monolithic and homogenous United States: a nation more reflective of Ozzie and Harriet than Abbott Elementary. A United States that would have us retreat from the promise of an inclusive multiracial democracy.
With nearly every political Nostradamus in 2022 predicting a massive “Red Wave,” I was preparing myself to write with a similar sentiment. Although the “Red Wave” was not expected to be as massive in Colorado, pundits predicted the possibility of a narrower majority for Democrats in the State House and Republicans gaining the majority in the State Senate. This “Red Wave” did not come to pass, but the question of the meaning of democracy is still ever present.
Then, as now, my fears and anguish were not grounded in some existential hatred of all things Republican or a belief in the inherent righteousness of the Democratic Party. I firmly believe our republic is best served by at least two political parties engaged in principled rigorous debate based on facts with a shared commitment to this nation’s democratic institutions. Perhaps naively, I continue to hope that even in the fiercest debates with our political opponents, there is ever the possibility, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, to “discover the element of good” in our opponents and from there to “find the center of goodness and place your attention there….”
The gloom I anticipated were election results, which would further embolden Christian Nationalists, white supremacists, those playing footsies with fascism, and other bigots riding the coattails of Trumpism. In multiple polls prior to the midterms, voters repeatedly indicated their concerns about the future of democracy. President Biden made the threat to democracy posed by the numerous election deniers running for office a central theme of his election stump speeches.
Interestingly, some pollsters and pundits dismissed voters’ concerns about democracy, focusing nearly exclusively on quality-of-life issues such as inflation, gas prices, and crime. On election morning, as part of their “Red Wave” coverage, the New York Times published an article titled “Inflation Plagues Democrats in Polling. Will It Crush Them at the Ballot Box?”
While I agree inflation is and was a primary concern for voters, the New York Times’ analysis and those other media outlets implicitly assume voters are binary thinkers when, in fact, this election has shown voters are capable of simultaneously weighing the importance of multiple issues in their decision-making process. However, there is no room for nuance when a particular narrative has already been hardwired.
It is still early, but some national-level exit polling indicates abortion and the fate of democracy were key factors for voters, which may have significantly tempered the highly anticipated “Red Wave.”
The Associated Press’ VoteCast survey of 94,000 voters nationwide found that while inflation weighed heavily on their minds, 44% of voters said, “the future of democracy was their primary consideration.” In the same survey, 60% of voters expressed anger at the reversal of Roe v. Wade. This dissatisfaction translated into electoral victories for pro-choice ballot measures in California, Michigan, and Vermont as well as the rejection of anti-abortion ballot measures in the deep red states of Kentucky and Montana.
If the current election results hold, election deniers will have been defeated in many races in which they were candidates. In the states where abortion was on the ballot, voters emphatically said democracy has no meaning unless all of us have bodily autonomy.
An unknown writer once penned these words, “Democracy is a slow process of stumbling to the right decision instead of going straight forward to the wrong one.” The 2022 midterms provide a modicum of hope that our nation is still stumbling toward the never-ending process of forming a “more perfect union.”
Terrance Carroll is a former speaker of the Colorado House. The first and only African American to ever hold that position in Colorado. He is a Baptist preacher, attorney, and former police officer. He is on Twitter @speakercarroll.
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