I have many emotions about this week’s election results in Virginia and New Jersey.

Glenn Youngkin’s win over Terry McAulliffe in Virginia’s gubernatorial race and the apparent razor-thin re-election of Phil Murphy in New Jersey (as of this writing, there was no declared victor in the Garden State) hold ominous signs for Democrats. Just one year ago, Biden won Virginia by 10 points and New Jersey by 16! While we should not give too much credence to statewide contests held a full year before the next Congressional races, I could not help but a feel a bit of “deja-vu all over again” as we contemplate another year of a paralyzed legislature and the possibility of a future run by Donald Trump and his wannabes.

I shiver to think about what the next few years may hold as this week’s elections bring two things into blunt focus. First, the good will engendered by having a “stable administration” replace the self-described “stable genius” has evaporated. Democratic in-fighting and continued Republican intransigence have led to largely unmet promises in Biden’s agenda. The American people, exhausted by the continuing drumbeat of chaos in Donald Trump’s White House have begun to ask whether the do-nothing Democratic caucus that cannot even agree on their own President’s agenda is any better suited to tackle those day-to-day, bread and butter issues that Americans care so much about.

The vitriol is no longer there—and everyone seems glad about that—but action is also absent. And while we are relieved that the anger is gone, we remain impatient about fumbling fits and starts in leading the country into a more forward-looking future. Polls indicate that only 29% of the country thinks America is headed in the right direction.

The second disquieting note is how both Glenn Youngkin and Jack Ciattarelli portrayed themselves as “Trump light”—losing the bombast, while still espousing policy prescriptions that the Republican base holds dear. Avoiding important quality-of-life issues like gun violence, police reform, a woman’s right to choose, economic inequality and the climate crisis remains central to these candidates’ campaigns. If the former President learns from this election and stays quiet and behind the scenes, Republican candidates in swing districts could prevail. Progressive approaches to these endemic challenges are in jeopardy. In this regard, it can be argued that an even more troubling election result for Democrats in Virginia was the apparent loss of control of the House of Delegates to the Republicans.

The short-term hope for Democrats lies in the expectation that Donald Trump will revert to his past pattern and inject himself into the mix as an explosive wild card, thereby sabotaging his party’s chances in the mid-terms and in 2024, as he did in the two Senate runoffs in Georgia.

But, Democrats beware: this is wishful thinking and an unsustainable quick fix at best. In the long view, Democrats must recognize their vulnerability to candidates like Youngkin and Ciattarelli, get out of their own way and pass legislation that is supported by majorities of the voting public (i.e., the infrastructure bill, the build back better bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights bill and other legislation) and offer a compelling message that begins with actually listening to what the people want and then responding with creative solutions to the vexing problems that confront our nation.   

3 thoughts on “Ominous Signs

  1. This is not a question of how did the Republicans win (or come so close), it’s a question of why did the Democrats do so poorly? Why are Democrats alienating their constituency? I blame the liberal media for a lot of this, because if you only read the NY Times and you only watch MSNBC or CNN, it seems as though much of the Democrats’ platform is really popular and the only people opposed are right-wing nut jobs. But if you spend more time talking to parents who feel increasingly like schools are driving a wedge between them and their children, or if you talk to women who do not appreciate being referred to as “menstruators” and “birthing bodies”, or if you talk to people of color that don’t want to be boxed in by identity politics, or you talk to white people that don’t want to be branded oppressors, or LGB people who fear that “transgender medicine” is sterilizing gay children, it will become pretty clear that the Democratic party is in crisis. I’ve had all of the above conversations with scores of people, all of whom consider themselves left-wing. I’m bereft over the loss of “my media” but if people want to understand why the Democrats are losing right now, stop saying that all of the things I mentioned above are “right wing conspiracies” and start listening to the people voicing these concerns. Every single one of those items I listed is a major issue for me, and I’m a lifelong Democrat. The more times people like Michelle Goldberg refers to issues that I care about as “conservative talking points” the more I’m going to believe I’m not a Democrat after all. How many other Democrats felt this way yesterday, I wonder?

  2. Riffing on Kierra’s comment, I am stunned by mainstream media’s need to headline and lede each story with near-apocalyptic dramatics. Doing so perpetuates the struggle an informed electorate have with the media. The ‘If it bleeds it leads’ trope no longer carries weight when, point of fact, every story and editorial commentary is drenched in blood.

    In the days leading up to and now after the Nov. 2, 2021, election, I have found it necessary to cautiously step back a bit from my exposure to mainstream media if for no other reason than to maintain my perspective and, more important, my mental health.

    WNYC’s “On The Media” has made some attempts of late to address the vexing polarization of media, yet it too often falls prey to an ‘us versus them’ interpretation of media, politics and stories.

    Similarly, Freakonomics Radio recently addressed negativity in U.S. media and the extant effects of contempt and polarization within the broader culture (Oct. 6 and 13 episodes, respectively). The news was not good.

    Mainstream media is failing us.

    1. Randy, I agree about the mainstream media. I haven’t watched MSNBC, CNN, or listened to NPR in months now. I barely read the NY Times. I mostly read certain trusted Substacks and listen to podcasts on issues important to me. I find it much more enriching than my previous hours and hours of the same recycled stories! I highly recommend Bari Weiss’s substack. She often has guest writers with a few different view points. Mostly center and center-left, and more nuanced deep dives than you see in mainstream. In fact this recent post is exactly what we’re talking about here: https://bariweiss.substack.com/p/how-journalism-abandoned-the-working

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