We won last night.
No, we didn’t clinch the slaughter we hungered for. That was always a distant dream, best used for motivation, not a serious performance metric. The true prize was the House, which we have. With it we’ve paralyzed Trump and his Red minions until 2020 at the worst. Obamacare is safe. Most of Barack’s legacy lives intact (for good and ill). That long battle is over. Rejoice.
All this is only as much of a “defeat” as you make of it. It’s only a disappointment in the sense that we didn’t get everything we wanted, if you frame total victory–seizing both House and Senate with iron claws quick-rusted in the spent blood of our enemies–as the only victory. That’s not how you win a war. Remember how poorly the first half of the Civil War seemed to go for the Union. Self-inflicted despair, treason of the spirit, is our greatest foe. Rome didn’t give up after Cannae. This was Fabius’ first stroke.
Setting aside irresponsible historical metaphors for a moment, we won big on the policy front, one of several rising bastions that will lift us to the ultimate victory: Florida re-enfranchised its felons, Medicaid expansion surged forth in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah (our enemy’s heartlands), Michigan defeated gerrymandering and voter suppression, more states decriminalized marijuana in some form, on it goes. Our vision has become reality. It hasn’t yet come to full ripeness, nor may it ever in some crueler fields, but it’s survived a harsh frost..
A quick, easy lesson you should learn, Blue, if you haven’t yet somehow, is that narratives are a double-edged sword, vital and dangerous. Like all guides, they can go astray. We need them and our own eyes, ears, hands, and legs. There’s cause for frustration and hope in everything we see. So many of our bitter defeats were within a hair’s breadth in places we had no right to threaten: Georgia and Florida, for one, but one can find a plethora of contests all across the country within a 5-point margin, shedding further light on the existential crux of voting rights, which we’ve long neglected. Red persists in it because it still knows this better than us. In the deepest crooks of its cunning, it grasps how just much it must cheat to survive. It’s why they’ve trudged away at it for generations and why we must do the same. Our enemy remains strong, but so do we.
Instead of narrative, focus on reality. There now exists an undeniable check on Trump’s power, our check, to drag his grosser excesses into the pitiless light of day, to dismantle the charlatan’s image propping up his standing in the eyes of fools. We already know he doesn’t stand up well to actual scrutiny, while his success has painted him into a corner from which he can’t easily dart, his trademark survival tactic. It may seem unwise to focus so much on the person of Trump instead of things that seem to have more weight, like pet policy issues, but again, consider reality: Trump’s image is his policy. He’s the epitome of a rich, white bigot, the kind that flouts the most basic norms, says the terrible things his racist kind has wanted to say for so long, makes stupid, selfish decisions with wild abandon, all while getting away with it. By showing the way, he lets others do the same. To its benefactors, it’s as concrete a policy as any other, the only one he has, a mighty one indeed, and now the Republican Party has cleaved unto it. There’s no going back. The die is cast.
Is that disgraceful to our country and its professed ideals? Of course it is. Still, remember that those have been a convenient facade from the beginning. America aspires both to equality and a vicious racism that has inspired many. It remains a Great Experiment, worthy of love and praise, now fanaticism and fawning. As for their hate, it’s wicked, still wickeder for the fury and power it gives their limbs, letting them punch far above their rightful weight. It’s wickedest, though, in that it’s an untruth. These always have their due. “Nothing matters?” No. Everything matters, this most of all. Those who truly love him will never leave him, not even perhaps when the river rises. Those that use him have their limit, and those who hate him outnumber him on every level. It’s a gamble on genetics, culture, and socioeconomics, hoping that chance will have rendered someone vulnerable to its lies, just enough to cobble an army together.
But they remain lies, sound and fury, signifying nothing. They will pass and are passing. I take this as an opportunity to address the forlorn hope of Demographics is Destiny, which we’ve abused. What is meant by that is so simple: the old bigots aren’t replacing themselves. The polarization of the country continues unabated: the farms and wide spaces rush right, the suburbs and cities, the beating heart of our nation, flee left. It does not and has never meant that we will win the day by automatic math, because Latinos and Blacks and women are ours to command, without minds and feelings of their own, whose oaths to us they must respect. It means that those capable of holding forth the banner of modern conservatism are decreasing unto its doom. Red has mortgaged its future to win its present.
Understand, Blue, that this doom may not come in a form you or I expect. Before us lie many defeats unlooked-for and victories unforeseen. As I say, this is a war, of words and ideas. In such wars, things shift. What was “conservative” and “liberal” yesterday in America isn’t that today. We may see tomorrow’s climate “conservatism” as being pro-nuclear and opposed to a harsh carbon tax in the face of a bold Green New Deal. That’s a good future. Should a new Red Phoenix arise, one that shifts left and embraces our greater causes–universal healthcare, gay rights, etc.–we ought to welcome it with open arms. We destroy the Republican Party not to blot out the word “Republican” from every text in the universe, but to erase what it’s chosen to represent. When they remind us that “Democrat” used to signify slavery, they make this point for me.
None of this is to lull you or me into complacency. War is a hell fraught with risk. However, this one is no evil. Ours is a holy war, most holy, for we know our cause is true, not through faith in tomes and saints, but the stronger knowledge of science, reason, and judgment, the careful, disciplined uncertainty of evaluation and reevaluation that gives rise to true certainty, reinforced by the preponderance of the evidence, strictures mightier than any commandments of hate. They win every time because they aren’t that: they don’t rely on having to whip idiots into a frightening, fragile furor, because they don’t have to expend that energy in the first place, because they’re their own witness that stands the test of time. All we have to do to keep them alive is to practice them.
Here’s a most instructive illustration: do you remember how bad things were when Germany had conquered Europe and Britain stood alone? Imagine how much worse things might have been had Hitler stood back, consolidated his gains, and asserted what he’d won in a calm, confident manner? He didn’t have to commit the Holocaust. He could have written a Novus Ordo Seclorum, accepting Jews and others into his cause, rolling back the dreaded tide of revolutionary communism and other feared hordes on the horizon. But he couldn’t, could he? Crafty and cunning, formidable and fearsome, yet when all was said and done, when all the theories and speculation as to what he was really up to passed into history, he was a plain and simple bigot. He believed in his hatred with heart and soul, in the fevers of his mind with an unwavering conviction. He couldn’t resist invading the Soviet Union, in pushing his luck, making mistake after unnecessary mistake, until he died at his own hand in utter humiliation. Evil is both devilishly wily and incredibly stupid, capable of such comical errors Good could never imagine. Fear most the Evil that hasn’t yet fallen so low. Trumpism has.
Keep faith, Blue. Never stop. Never give up. Take your victories and know what they look like. Hope lives. The Republic fights another day, in the form of you and countless others. We won and will win, if only you want it.