And just like that, it was over. The months of campaign ads, the debates, the divisive rhetoric, and the push for voter turnout all came to an end with the election just last month. Despite the relief that we will no longer get texts from strangers urging them to vote, it is doubtful that many woke up on November 9th feeling elated by the results. For Republicans, this election was undoubtedly marked by disappointment for what could have been. With a faltering economy and Joe Biden’s critically low approval rating, this election should have been a show of strength for the party of Trump. However, the predicted “Red Wave” did not materialize. The GOP failed to take the Senate and now only has a narrow lead in the House. Likewise, there are very few reasons for the Democrats to truly celebrate the election. While they did effectively turn the MAGA-driven red wave into a moderate-led pink ripple, a party cannot lose an entire house of Congress and be considered the winner of an election without the helpful bliss of delusion. However, perhaps it is for the best that this election was a bit more of a whimper than a roar for both parties. Maybe this election, more than any other in the last three cycles, is a return toward normalcy and restoration of our democracy.
In the pre-election fervor, extremist rhetoric ruled the campaigns, especially in cases where MAGA candidates represented the Republican party. This kind of rhetoric could have lowered voter turnout, especially when paired with conspiracy theories of corruption or false claims of voter fraud. The fact is that this election was competitive, with relatively high voter turnout for a midterm election. This indicates that the American public does not believe that the country is so divided that voting is no longer the most effective means of creating change. Regardless of who won, the fact that the election was — for the most part — competitive with high voter turnout is a net positive for democracy.
Furthermore, the nature of those who won is important. This election season was marked by divisive, polarizing statements, particularly from the MAGA camp of the Republican party. The most harmful iteration of this extremist rhetoric was the repeated false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, which, to be clear, is something experts and unbiased international observers have dismissed as entirely ridiculous. This kind of rhetoric is common among populist authoritarian leaders who use false claims of voter fraud to dismiss any results they do not like and continue their rule regardless of the actual opinion of the people. Suppose the Republicans had their predicted “red wave.” This could’ve been seen as a tacit endorsement of the MAGA side of the party, its populist authoritarian rhetoric, and a mandate for Trump’s continued rule over the party. The fact that many of the MAGA candidates lost shows that the American people do not, in fact, feel that this kind of extremist rhetoric represents them or their values. Furthermore, to their credit, the MAGA candidates who did make false claims of election fraud for the 2020 election have, for the most part, accepted the results of this election.
The final positive to take away from this election is the voting demographic. Young people and people of color both voted in mass during this election. This is promising for two significant reasons. First, it means that the push for voter suppression over the past few years has been wholly unsuccessful. Second, it means that young people are engaging actively in the democratic process. This shows that young people still believe that democracy works and that voting is an effective means of achieving change and improving their lives and the lives of generations to come.
The election results, as they stand, clearly indicate that the American people still prefer moderate candidates and still believe in democracy. The last six years of American politics have been an exercise in polarizing extremist rhetoric from both sides of the aisle, with both sides employing a doomsday approach to politics whereby if the opposition won, it would throw the country into some hypothetical apocalypse. This year’s election was a step away from doomsday politics and a step toward healing our democracy. There is still work to be done to reverse the worst effects of the 2016 election, the Republican party’s flirtations with populist authoritarianism, and the COVID-19 pandemic. For those who still love American democracy, this election provided hope that it may have a better future.
By Nick Oestreich