This Is Progress, Even If It Doesn’t Feel Like It

This Is Progress, Even If It Doesn’t Feel Like It November 8, 2018

Right now I’m supposed to be working on Outline #2.

Before the election, I outlined three blog posts for today. Outline #1 was “Blue Wave.” Outline #2 was “This Is Progress.” Outline #3 was “So This Is How It Ends.”

The election results fit “This Is Progress” almost perfectly. But I’m just not feeling it.

This is not a rational, reasoned response. This is a gut-level emotional reaction.

I live in Texas, where no Democrat has won a state-wide election since 1994. Beto O’Rourke was a good, solid, charismatic candidate who ran a brilliant and tireless campaign. And he still lost to Ted Cruz, the worst senator in the country: 50.9% to 48.3%. That’s about 200,000 votes out of 8.2 million cast.

I had a lot invested in Beto, emotionally and otherwise. I knew losing was a distinct possibility, even a probability. The turnout he generated is probably responsible for flipping two House seats from red to blue, not to mention siphoning off Republican resources from other states where Democrats won. Beto lost, but his campaign was not a failure.

Still, Ted Cruz is going back to Washington. I’m experiencing the devastation of being so close and yet so far.

I had intended to write something inspiring, comforting, or perhaps challenging for like-minded readers. Instead, I need to write for myself. If you find this helpful, great. If you don’t, well, maybe you’ll like Sunday’s post better.

This is progress

Whether in religion, politics, or life in general, I strive to be a voice of reason. Accept that things are what they are. You don’t have to like them, but you do have to deal with them, and that works best when you take a dispassionate look at the facts.

And a dispassionate look at the election results shows a lot of progress.

  • The Democrats now control the House of Representatives. There will be no gutting of Social Security and Medicare. There will be no border wall. There will be no more tax cuts for the rich. There may be more government shutdowns (which infuriate me) but there will finally be somewhat of a check on Trump’s excesses.
  • Florida, not a liberal state, voted to restore voting rights to felons upon completion of their sentences.
  • Massachusetts voters confirmed a state law protecting transgender people from discrimination by a 70% – 30% margin.
  • Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah approved measures establishing independent commissions to handle redistricting, bringing the total to 12 states with such commissions. This will help reduce  gerrymandering, even though it won’t completely end it.
  • Colorado elected Jered Polis, the first openly gay governor in the country.
  • Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota will be the first Muslim women in Congress.
  • There will now be over 100 women in the House of Representatives.
  • Other states had firsts for African Americans, Native Americans, Latinx, and other minorities. Congress is slowly starting to look like the country as a whole, and that’s a good thing.

I was hoping for a Blue Wave, but the odds on that were very long. This was possible. This is progress. This is good.

Turnout: the good and the bad

The high numbers reported during early voting had me encouraged, but I never got the whole story. Here’s an excerpt from Vox.com:

Interest in this election was abnormally high for a non-presidential year, which many attributed to energy among Democrats and fired-up bases on the left and right in reaction to President Donald Trump. And that appears to have translated to voter turnout:

The New York Times is currently estimating that some 114 million ballots were cast this year, well above the 83 million votes cast in 2014 and 91 million ballots cast in 2010. That doesn’t quite rival a presidential year — in 2016, for example, about 138 million people voted — but it’s a pretty big deal.

Yes, it’s a pretty big deal. But only 58% of eligible voters voted in 2016, which means less than half of us voted in 2018, and that’s pretty pathetic.

We simply must do a better job of showing up to vote in 2020, even if the Democratic candidate for President isn’t as friendly or as energetic or as pure as we’d like. If we do, we’ll win.

If we don’t, we’ll get another four years of Donald Trump.

The Democrats are never going to be our saviors

A couple weeks ago I saw a meme going around Facebook. It said:

In this moment of emergent fascism, of ecological cataclysm, of white nationalist terrorism, it’s disheartening that so many self-identified leftists cannot (or will not) envision a solution beyond restoring Democrats to power.

To which my response was:

Restoring Democrats to power is the equivalent of bandaging a bleeding wound. It’s something tangible we can do right now to keep the patient from getting worse.

But if the patient is to get well, we’re going to need to do a whole lot more.

We got a couple rolls of bandages. They’ll help, but even if we had gotten a whole case we would still need so much more.

Just electing Democrats doesn’t fix the long-term problems. That requires major systemic changes, which in turn require changing the culture.

And changing the culture is a multi-generational project.

The lure of the strongman is still here

We’re less than two weeks removed from Brazil’s election of far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro as President. We’re only two years removed from the Brexit vote, and they still haven’t figured out how to implement it. We’re seeing more and more conservative and nationalist candidates elected around the world. People are scared about the economy and they’re susceptible to candidates who blame it all on “the other” and promise to take care of them. Like Trump did in 2016.

Honestly, I was hoping for a Blue Wave as a repudiation of Donald Trump and his cruelties. But this election reminds me that there are still a huge number of people who like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. People who want to build a wall, turn the clock back to 1950, and pretend everything is just fine. People who want to keep immigrants out, intimidate women and minorities, send gay people back into the closet, and pretend transgender people don’t exist.

Those people make me very angry.

Some of them are old and will die before the next election. But as Charlottesville showed us, there are plenty of young people with racist and nationalist leanings. They have to be actively opposed.

No quarter for homophobes and transphobes. No quarter for racists. No quarter for Nazis.

Not every conservative is a Nazi – let’s show a little more depth and understanding than that. But when people advocate for fascism, give them no room to stand.

Politics is one tool, not the only tool for change

I need to shift from politics back to religion for a moment… although the two are never completely separate.

Last year’s Beltane ritual included the following words. I wrote them, but they are not mine.

If we put our trust in the law, we will always be disappointed. If we put our identity in politics, we will always be incomplete. If we put our faith in government, we will ignore our allies in this world and in the world beyond.

We have put our faith in the wrong things.

You think government is strong? Nature is stronger. You think politics is strong? The human spirit is stronger. You think the law is strong? Magic is stronger.

Who can stand against us when we align ourselves with the currents of Nature? Who can stand against us when we ally ourselves with our Good Neighbors in honor and respect? Who can stand against us when rank upon rank of mighty ancestors surround us? And who can stand against us when we ally ourselves with the Gods?

A Blue Wave would not have changed the culture. Because of low turnout, it wouldn’t even prove that a culture change had already taken place.

Whoever won in 2018, whoever wins in 2020, my work is still the same – and I don’t work for the Democratic Party.

This is progress and progress is good

Last week I said there are no moral victories in politics – either you win or you lose. But we did make progress, and that’s a good thing.

We are citizens with the obligations of citizens – there are no house elves in a democracy. The Democrats in the House of Representatives can’t do all the work. We saw first-hand the kind of engagement it takes to make progress and so we know what we need to do going forward. If we do it again in 2020 we can make even more progress.

Changing a culture and changing a system is long and hard, but it is possible. Conservatives have been doing it since their humiliating defeat in 1964 – perhaps 2016 will be the memorable date for progressives.

I’m going back to my religious work now.

But I’m going to stay engaged with mainstream politics and culture.

Because this country and its people are too important to abandon them to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

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