Where We Are

I’d planned to introduce today’s post with a rundown of what we’ve narrowly escaped OR what comes next after a disappointing midterm. I still don’t know where the results will land us, but it is obviously neither a rout nor the Blue Wave I’d hoped to see.

The good news, as Heather Cox Richardson reminded us yesterday, is that many more Americans today are concerned about our democracy, and determined to reclaim it, than were even paying attention to it in 2016. As she pointed out, we see new organizations, new connections, new voters, and new efforts to remake the country better than it has ever been.

And new efforts to prevent a rightwing populist takeover.

In last Sunday’s New York Times book review, two recent books exploring the decline of democracy investigated “the F word”–fascism

As the review noted, the use of that epithet used to be reserved for extremist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society. No longer. Even mild-mannered Joe Biden has admitted what virtually any person familiar with politics and political history can see: the Republican “MAGA philosophy” is–if not full-on–at least “semi-fascism.”

If we look at the 1920sand ’30s versions of fascism, some things are different but other elements are frighteningly similar.  As the reviewer noted, anti-democratic ultranationalism — one definition of fascism — looks different today, but overall,  MAGA Republicanism “employs many of the rhetorical tropes of traditional fascist politics.” Those tropes include a focus on racial purity, a proud anti-intellectualism, and especially the invocation of “a mythic past and appeals to blood and soil.”

The two books focused specifically upon fascism that were reviewed by the Times were “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them” by Jason Stanley, and “Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present” by Ruth Ben-Ghiat. Both authors emphasized the importance of “alternative facts”–invocation of a mythical past, and the absence of a shared factual reality.

The invocation of the past is politically strategic. “It is never the actual past that is fetishized,” Stanley writes. He notes that monuments to the Confederacy were erected long after the Civil War ended in part as propaganda to whitewash the horrors of slavery. Fascists, both authors suggest, want to destabilize the shared sense of reality that is necessary for democratic dialogue. They seek to create what one might call an air of QAnon-like unreality, in which elected officials and government institutions are targets of bizarre claims — including, for instance, that they are covers for child sex-trafficking rings.

And of course–as we have seen in the most recent electoral cycle–there is a constant drumbeat of “othering”–an insistence of the dramatic differences between “us” and “them.”

The classic debate between liberty and equality is distorted by fascists, who see equality as a denial of a natural law whereby some people are inherently more deserving of power than others. For fascists, democracy makes unequal people equal, and tries to equate “them” with “us.” Fascist rhetoric is designed to divide citizens into two distinct classes: the sons and daughters of the soil, who are the true citizens of the nation, and the “other” — the foreign, the rabble, the lawless.

 I know my constant insistence on the importance of civic literacy can seem tiresome–the carping of an academic convinced of the supreme importance of her area of “expertise.” But a citizenry unfamiliar with the history of their country and unacquainted with the most basic premises of its system of government is uniquely vulnerable to the distortions that turn one American against another.

Just one example: Voters who don’t understand why the Founders separated Church from State are easy targets for revisionists who deny both the history that impelled that separation and the fact that the language of the First Amendment was intended to erect it. They are receptive to the fascist claim that their God has made them the rightful custodians of the country.

The philosopher Santayana warned that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”


  1. Well I’m viewing the midterms from afar and honestly I do not see any real difference between pre & post election. The MAGA Fascists are still there and still spreading propaganda about the US. I still do not think the future bodes well for the continuation of democracy in the US.

    BTW, I’m an amateur historian and believe I’m better read than most. If I had pursued a traditional course of study I would have been a history teacher. I truly enjoy the subject including reading fiction of alternative outcomes such as what would have happened if the CSA had won the Civil War.

  2. Irrespective of “Dr.” Lightner’s self-service, last night’s election proved that the fascist camel’s nose that Trump and the GOP stuck under the tent of democracy got stepped on. The huge voter turnout for a mid-term election proved that the people still trust our system of government.

    Then, there’s Florida. If you listened to or watched Ron DeSantis’ victory speech, you heard full-throated fascism VERY similar to the ravings of another tyrant in 1930s Germany. So, naturally, Florida Republicans voted against their own best interests…again.

    Still, with the lack of a red wave and the defeat of anti-abortion initiatives across the land, it’s clear that the future DOES bode well for democracy. While some cowards try to justify their decisions, the fact is that the pollsters vastly under-estimated the political vigor and intelligence of the American voter. We’re still deeply divided, but this election gave voice to the fact that democracy will NOT die an easy death – if it dies at all.

    When do you plan to return to your home country, Stan?

  3. “anti-democratic ultranationalism” Isn’t that term a redundancy? We have watched as Trump and his cronies claim ultranationalsim via their White Nationalist MAGA party foundation; it cannot be denied that they are accomplishing this through extreme coercion of the once valid Republican party and those staunch Republican voters. Georgia announced prior to the election that if neither Warnock or Walker received 50% of the votes, there would be a runoff election in December. At last report SENATOR Warnock was barely falling short of that 50% with walker close behind; IF Warnock gets above the 50% will there be a recount and we could view the continued stalling of that election results into the new year for that runoff election? Will Georgia’s reelected Secretary of State go along with this, CAN he ignore the Trump demands again for a recount as he did before? Thinking people who have paid attention since before Trump came down that escalator in 2015 to announce his presidential bid that he has run his businesses and his personal life on an anti-democracy level as he has screwed (no pun intended) businesses and attorneys who worked for him, women in general and the U.S. government by refusing to pay his taxes for approximately 30 years. We are looking at a continuation of “Where We Are” now into an unknown future. We are also looking into a future with “No one is above the law.” continuing to be a blatant lie due to the “extreme coercion” which allowed anti-democracy ultranationalist lawmakers to remain in office with newly elected “deniers” joining them in Congress.

  4. Vernon, don’t put any weight behind what happened yesterday. It’s still the status quo in Washington, and neither oligarchic party has any answers for the American people. More lip service on social issues backed by voter’s fears.

    That is all reactionary stuff. Fluff.

    Once again, the significant issues are at a macro level, and with Xi flying into Saudi Arabia to meet with MbS, I suspect a significant upheaval in the reserve currency. There is a video of John Kerry and Macron kissing Maduro’s butt at COP27. Macron wouldn’t recognize his presidency of Venezuela, and the State Dept had a reward for his death. LOL

    My how the pendulum swings…

  5. Let me note that J.D. Vance, who wrote a book in which he repeatedly denigrates the people of southeastern Ohio and northeastern Kentucky, won handily in his race for Senate. Next, let me point out that Ohio had a referendum on the ballot to limit the voting rights of non-citizens. I think the second thing goes a long way toward explaining the first.

  6. It seems that we have three parties now, Democrats, Republicans, and MAGAs. The only way Republicans win is by maintaining a position of subservience to MAGAs which apparently they are collectively willing to do. The question is whether that is a sustainable position among Republicans. It seems to be so among Republican “leaders”, but among the base, some cracks are showing up.

    Now we can start worrying about 2024.

  7. I was a poll worker (Judge) at a precinct on Tuesday. My first time and was told during pre-training to plan to bring a book for the slow periods. The doors opened at 6:00 am and 26 people were waiting and it did not stop all day. Average wait time went from 45 minutes to almost 2 hours. There were 3 precincts represented and we had 5 voting machines. At 6:00 pm we had 76 people still in line (they were in the building and voted). Total of 1193 people went through. I was told by those who have worked a mid-term election at this location the numbers were unexpected. Everyone voting was patient, polite, friendly and glad to be there . As a first time poll worker I was surprised at the amount of paperwork that had to be completed, signed off on by two people of opposing parties, checks and double checks, even assisting the voter required a Democrat and Republican judge at the same time, locks to open and close during set-up and take down and the final delivery of the machines and paperwork to the county court house by a Democrat & Republican. The problems we had were often due to votes who did not check their voting location ahead of time or if they were registered. For those who doubt our voting is not fair need to spend a day as a poll worker. Yes, I am sure there were precincts with problems but as a first time poll worker I was impressed with the efficiency of the system and dedication and expertise of the returning poll workers. I am glad I had the opportunity to experience the ‘other side’ of voting.

  8. My initial response this morning is we all need to stop listening to polls and pundits who love to hear themselves talk. Also, things are still very much fragile and if Dem’s ‘won’ it is by the skin of our teeth, but we are not in safe waters at all.

    JD Vance won? Marjorie Taylor Greene? DeSantos and Rubio?—still too close in Georgia it maybe a run off. Too close in my opinion for most of the seats in Arizona. Ron Johnson is a nut and yet he is ahead and the margins are slim. So, Oz lost and potentially Boebert is losing.

    I am not quite convinced that this election was pro-democracy. It’s like Roe Vs Wade–nobody REALLY believed it was going a way until it has. I am not quite convinced that folks REALLY feel democracy was on the line and they chose to save it.

  9. Wow, people who make comments here are the glass is half empty types. And that’s being charitable.

    Let’s reset what happened. Democrats control the White House. In every first mid-term election, the party in control of the White House loses seats in the House and Senate. (For example, in 2010, Obama lost 63 seats in the House. In 2018, Trump lost 40.) The only exception is Clinton and GWB who were both riding waves of popularity, the former because of impeachment backlash and the latter due to 9/11.

    Biden’s approval rating is like 44%, more than 20 points below Clinton and GWB at their first midterms.. We have inflation of over 8%. We have 85% of the population saying the country is on the wrong track. By all measures, the Democrats should have gotten walloped yesterday and lost 40 plus seats in the House and several in the Senate. Instead, the Democrats only netted losing a few House seats and will probably keep the Senate 50-50.

    I can’t begin to tell you how historic yesterday’s election was. It’s never happened before where the party in power does so well in a mid-term despite horrible numbers going into the election.

    And here’s something else to be happy about. Virtually every candidate endorsed by Trump lost. Virtually every election denier on the ballot lost. Trump was proven to be the loser he is and a drag on the GOP.

    You all should be DANCING. Yeah, maybe the Republicans will control the House, but it will be by such a VERY small margin that the crazy is going to have to be kept at a minimum. And there’s a good chance McCarthy never becomes speaker. Yet another blessing.

    CELEBRATE! You all won!

  10. Elaine; I also stopped paying attention to poll numbers and instead watched what was going on with both parties. My gut reaction was pretty much what we are seeing today with expectations of numerous recounts and slowing final counts by the MAGAs and the weak Republicans who fear reprisals. Will there be another insurrection, a continuation of Trump’s coup? Probably but when and where is the question. We are in a new world; not only with our government and politics but with carrying on our day-to-day business of living our lives. My gut feeling is that “it is what it is” and it ain’t goin’ nowhere!

    Booklady; thank you for some positive, first hand views of election day in America…especially here in Indiana. My last experience at the polls was 2016 when I was manhandled by a very large lady who drug me with my ballot through the crowded room, ignoring my pleas to let go of me. I have voted mail-in since that experience and I have always been proud to go to the polls to cast my votes since 1958.

  11. Peggy,
    As a native Ohioan, I’ve watched a solid blue populace turn into a ruby red embarrassment. Your comments are SO spot on. Then, it’s really that easy to brainwash dolts. If you look at the map of Ohio, the counties that have more universities and educated people voted blue. That leaves the rest to keep voting against their own best interests. DUH!

    Oh, and the disgraceful Lauren Boebert is being drubbed and will probably be voted out of office. Colorado’s embarrassment nightmare is about over.

  12. The polls yesterday were not off. People need to stop expecting so much out of polls. Most polls have about a 4 point margin of error. That means the margin between the candidates could be as many as 8 points. (Those in the media do not understand how the margin of error works…it applies to each candidate’s poll result…it is not a measurement of the possible margin between the candidates. To get that, you have to double the MOE number.) We had 11 Senate races where the polling average was within the margin of error. I’m not sure any of the results were outside the MOE range. We had I believe 8 governor races with averages within the MOE range. I’m not sure any of them finished outside.

    Yes, the estimates on the House races were off some, but you have to understand that there is very little quality independent polling on House races. So it’s hard to gauge what’s going on in House races.

    By the way, yours truly made Governor and Senate predictions yesterday. The only one I missed so far is the Wisconsin Governor’s race. I’m batting like 95%…so far.

  13. A few stats for you smilers this morning:

    – Matt Gaetz won with almost 70% of the vote
    – Marjorie Taylor Greene won with more than 66% of the vote
    – Jim Jordan won with almost 70% of the vote

  14. Gerrymandered beyond belief, Lester, and thus of no national moment. Boebert, another showboat, enjoyed no such gerrymandering and is an ex.

  15. Lester, a potted plant with an R by their name would have better numbers than Gaetz, Green and Jordan. Blame the gerrymandering districts, which both parties do by the way.

    Gerald, Boebert has not lost yet. She is only down 3,500 votes with 8% of the vote still to be counted. Not sure where those votes are coming from, but if they’re coming from red precincts, she could make up that deficit.

  16. For a textbook example of rigging the system, look no further than good old Florida. The state constitution prohibits Gerrymandering for partisan advantage. So how did we get three districts to flip from blue to red? First the governor appointed an entirely new state supreme court. Then he vetoed the redistricting bill that passed the legislature. Then he sent the legislature the map he wanted and told them that this was what he would sign. Since they are all spineless toadies, they passed his bill. The state supremes let it pass, because they all owe their positions to the only person in all of Florida whose vote really matters, Ron DeSanctimonious. If you saw his last campaign ad, you’d know why that is a perfect name for our governor.

  17. Hey there Lester… Michigan has a Democratic legislature for the first time in 40 years! Why? Independent Commission drew the districts for the first time ever. The three races you site are gerrymandered beyond all ridiculousness. When the “game” is fair, there are different outcomes.

  18. Paul K. is trying to create his own “Red Wave” here today! Won’t work; we are watching the counts.

  19. But, only a few states have independent commissions for redistricting Congressional districts, the only “red’ ones are Montana, Utah and Idaho – total of 8 members between them!

  20. Where we are….At least 143 Republican election deniers running for the U.S. House had won their races as of Wednesday morning….

  21. We coulda been contenders, but we went all Wokery and turned off the real progressives, who are waiting for Obama/Carter 2.0. –Posey Parker–

  22. I have to agree with Paul – mostly – the glass is half-full (which also means it is half empty) – I always have a cigar on election night (in the privacy of my own home) – either as a celebration or a condolence – last night it was just a smoke

    While there wasn’t a wave in either election, if you think about it, gerrymandering might have made the difference in control of the House. Yes, both sides gerrymander, but the Republicans are better at it. Also, Rs in Florida gerrymandered; Ds in New York gerrymandered, but the courts in NY said NO. Advantage R.

    As TLentych pointed out, in Michigan, the commission did away with gerrymandering and the Democrats reclaimed the Legislature. I wonder what would happen nationally if commissions eliminated all gerrymandering.

    I am still happy, even though Hamilton County seems to have gone crazy on school boards and Indiana elected someone who wasn’t fit to work FOR the Secretary of Sate AS the Secretary of State. Also we reelected a Senator who claims to have invented the Chips Act, sliced bread, and puppy dogs. (Okay, I made up those last two. At least he did vote For the Chips Act.)

    The Secretary of State race has convinced me that a rutabaga with an “R” in front of its name would be elected for state-wide office in Indiana.

    (Trivia note – Rutababa is the name of a fruit fly mutation with severe mental deficiencies – named because it was as dumb as a vegetable. Fly geneticists have wry senses of humor.)

  23. Overall, iit’s good!
    JoAnn’s second comment is spot-on.
    The Electoral College and Gerrymandering need, badly, to go.
    Palin and Boebert can go walk off into the obscurity they both deserve.
    Michigan,California, Montana, Kentucky Vermont, added abortion rights to
    their respective constitutions!!!!!!!!!!!!
    KariLake is loosing by about 12,000 votes as of very recently!

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