Picture five pencils. On a table. Two are red. Two are blue. One is green. Move one of each color to the center. Set two aside. First put the green with the red. Take a breath. Next put the green with the blue. Repeat this a dozen times. Two dozen. Back and forth. What do you have before you?
This is a simple but accurate representation of off-term congressional elections. Over the last century, about the same number of seats (on average 30) have been lost each cycle by the President’s party. It’s like clockwork. Or the sunrise.
But something extraordinary did happen this week. Those two other pencils came out of escrow. They returned to the center of the table. That’s two fifths more. Wow. It is as if only 83 million people voted in 2014 and then 114 million ballots were cast yesterday.
Indeed. That happened. In a country where half the people do not vote it is remarkable when forty percent more than usual do.
This remarkable fact does not, however, explain what happened to the clock. Or to the sun. Or in the House of Representatives.
What consequences, then, did flow from this extraordinary pump-up of political participation? The answer….at least the answer for those with the “big picture” in view, those who have been with good reason at fever pitch about the state of our country and the prospects of fascism….is nothing. About thirty seats changed hands in the House. As usual. Some outliers ran a tight race and lost. Or won. As usual. The Senate may gleefully anoint another Justice. Sound familiar? The critical trajectory of the American constitutional system remains the same. This is not good news.
Let me be clear here. Not everything is dire. While what we are seeing in Congress is the normal spectrum of change, it can happen within a normal spectrum of change that new lights rise and new shadows fall. Did I mention that the Democrats gained a majority in the House and their dance cards will be overflowing? Or that important local changes are likely to be wrought by Democratic mainstays or newbies? Some big fights have certainly found more solid footing. We will see where they lead.
But is the extraordinary the cause of what is ordinary? Only a fool thinks that. Did the Democrats seize a major “victory?” Not on your life.
The ordinary electoral gains of democrats were the debt history pays to losers. Still, we had better ask, what caused the extraordinary turn-out of voters this year, and what does it mean?
You know the cause. You’ve heard the reasons. It was Donald Trump. Obamacare. Tax cuts. #MeToo. Kavanaugh. China. Climate change. Everyone believed that these things would produce a vast new mobilization. And that is what we had.
Except not. Mobilization happens to parties. The American electorate is in ferment. And when an ordinary result — like the reshuffling of the House — follows an extraordinary event — like a massive expansion of voting — you should know that something different is going on.
Whatever it was that burst upon the scene in 2016 — that came from the pundits’ blind side — is here again now. Open your eyes.
Look more closely at those other two pencils. At that forty percent increase. Were you waiting for angry Democrats to storm the scene? Perhaps you have not noticed that only one of those additional pencils was blue. And you can’t draw a blue wave with a red pencil.