Putting people over politics
So many of the political pundits commenting on the results of the U.S. midterm elections Tuesday have been focussing on the bitter divisions in the country, to explain how Democrats regained control of the House but the Republicans, fuelled by U.S. President Donald Trump, solidified their control of the Senate. The United States is hardly united anymore, that is true, but the name of the country has always been sadly ironic. The tensions between urban and rural, the north and the south, the wealth and power centres in New York and Washington clashing with the rest of the country, have plagued America for more than 200 years.
They are familiar to Canadians, especially the urban and rural divide, while our geographical split is more east/west and it’s Toronto and Ottawa that drive us crazy (and provincially Vancouver and Victoria).
The difference, of course, is that, unlike our American cousins, we don’t have a civil war in our past.
The closest our anger with one another has come to morphing into organized armed conflict was during the FLQ crisis in Quebec in the 1970s.
Even that was a little more than a handful of Quebecers so serious (and crazy) about independence for La Belle Province that they thought murder and terrorism were justified.
Americans, however, have always been willing to pull up their guns and kill one another over ideology. Some feel that the current social, cultural, racial and political tensions across the United States will inevitably descend past random violence and into ongoing conflict, perhaps another civil war and even states leaving the union.
While that’s not out of the realm of responsibility, a calmer analysis of what’s going on in America, especially from the outside looking in, shows how superficial the “divided country” narrative is.
Tuesday’s election results show a huge swath of Americans outright ignore party politics. Even those who identify as Democrats and Republicans seem to go into voting stations as independents, easily moving back and forth between the two parties.
That led to a real mixed bag of results, as revealed by David Beard of the Poynter Institute.
Some Republicans who professed unconditional loyalty to Trump got the boot from voters, even in traditionally Republican areas like Kansas, while others won election over incumbent Democrats, like in North Dakota and Missouri. Some Republicans, such as the governors of Maryland and Massachusetts, clearly distanced themselves from Trump and won re-election.
In Iowa, a 29-year-old Democrat was elected over a Republican incumbent being investigated for ethics violations. In other states, Republicans charged with crimes ranging from embezzlement to insider trading were still elected.
Elsewhere, Colorado elected the first openly gay governor in American history.
Native American women will be in Congress for the first time and three of them were elected Tuesday – one from Kansas and two from New Mexico. The new Congress will also have the first two Muslim women ever, representing districts in Minnesota and Michigan.
Still in Michigan, voters there approved that state becoming the 10th in the union to legalize marijuana.
Over in Florida, where Republicans look to have won razor-thin victories for governor and the Senate, voters simultaneously endorsed an initiative that will let as many as 1.4 million people take part in future elections but who were previously not allowed to cast a ballot because they had spent time in jail.
When the political magnifying glass is put away and Tuesday’s election results are looked at through a simpler lens of good campaigns and appealing candidates, the United States looks less divided, filled with a majority of citizens who vote by personality, likeability and practicality, rather than hard-and-fast ideology.
Millions of Americans who voted twice for Barack Obama for president voted for Trump in 2016 and continue to support him.
Despite Trump’s numerous flaws, they were (and still are) drawn to his brashness, his charisma and his confidence. That makes perfect sense to the many Canadians who voted Conservative in support of Stephen Harper but flipped to cast a ballot for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals three years ago.
On both sides of the border, this massive bloc of voters don’t fit into easily defined categories for pundits and pollsters. They pay scant attention to politics outside of election periods, they hang up on anyone asking them to take part in an opinion survey, they vote by how they feel about the candidates with little or no mind to their platform, meaning they also vote against candidates as much or more as they vote in support of a particular candidate, and they have no loyalty whatsoever to any party or politician.
While the politically engaged endlessly argue for and against Trump, for and against Trudeau, for and against everything from free trade agreements and immigration to transgender rights and military spending, the quiet majority are too busy (some would say too lazy) working, raising families, paying bills and hanging out with family and friends to care about the political scene.
So perhaps the divisions in the United States, in Canada and in B.C. are less about politics or geography or identity or wealth and more about the people who really care and the ones that don’t care nearly as much.
Both groups get to vote and both do so but their thought process heading into the ballot box is completely different.
So maybe those mixed results aren’t so bad after all.