Last night’s results were solid, and I use that word for a reason. Democrats staved off a destabilizing disaster by coming out in numbers to oppose Donald Trump’s agenda, and on the national and local level, there are terrific results to show for it. Regardless of what the president claims, this was a repudiation of encroaching fascism, and by sheer numbers it will be the most lopsided victory for any party since 2008.
That said, this wasn’t the emphatic victory of our dreams. Several key races along the Sun Belt went the wrong way, especially in Georgia, Florida, and Texas, and race played an obvious factor in a few of those close losses. A few rising stars had their wings clipped. An impossible Senate map stayed impossible, with Republicans looking very likely to end up with 53 seats. Worst of all, the reality of American voting hit home—in ways both purposeful and accidental, we live in a gerrymandered country. You only have to look at the fact that Americans voting in Senate races chose Democrats by a margin (currently) of 45 million to 33 million, and Republicans still gained seats; that Democrats will win more than 54 percent of the House vote while winning just 52 percent of the seats. In my home state, North Carolina, voters chose Democrats by a slim margin of about 1.8 million to 1.6 million, but Republicans will come away with ten seats to Democrats’ three. Our federal Congress is skewed toward rural votes, and rural voters have fallen irrevocably into the pit of right-wing conservatism; and that’s before we talk about rampant voter suppression.
Which leads me to my point: This was a critical show of force for the American left, but if we nurtured dreams of a comprehensive victory that would neuter Trump for good, those dreams were dashed. The truth is, we never should have had them in the first place—America today is a partisan war zone, and I’m prepared to make an extremely accurate prediction for 2020: There will be a slew of very close races around the country, and the re-election or defeat of President Trump will come down to a handful of votes in a few swing states.
If there’s a victory for Republican voters last night, it comes in the fact that they weren’t drowned by the blue wave. They lost, yes, but they dug in their heels and proved that they’re going to stick by the Trump version of conservatism, with all its hostility, partisanship, racism, and general cultural grievance. They, too, are capable of being inspired—they didn’t stay home as a horrified nation rushed to the ballot boxes. They met them there in force. It should be a bracing wake-up call for those liberals and leftists who still need one: Trump was no aberration, and his people are not going away. It’s possible to take power from them, but nothing will come easy. It will be a war.
We have to be ready for war. We have to make our entire lives about politics, whether we like it or not. Nobody can save us but ourselves, and the creeping notion that there will be a force from above to rescue us from Trumpism—be it Robert Mueller, “good” Republicans in Congress, or some secret #resistance cabal close to Trump who care more about democracy than personal gain—should be put to rest for good. This is a top-down problem, but it has to be a bottom-up solution. There are no saviors but ourselves, and there is no victory that is not long and difficult.
It has been the privilege of many Americans to live a life largely unconcerned with politics. It required a certain blindness, but it was possible to vote every couple years—or not—and trust that life would carry on as usual. That privilege has been revoked, and the greatest challenge of the American left will be attuning themselves to the new reality. It requires effort, it requires conscientiousness, and it requires activism that goes beyond voting, which is no longer good enough. It will require embracing the struggle; it will require embracing the idea that politics is our life now. It will require bold and decisive action, and it will require the understanding that defeat in the interim is inevitable due to the very powerful forces aligned above us.
In many parts of the country, including my own, we’re going to have to fight like hell for scraps, and we’re going to have to fight with the understanding that the people who should be our allies will not be, for reasons spanning from racism and cultural brainwashing on the right to apathy and laziness on the left. Both will be infuriating—we must fight on regardless.
If we really care, it is necessary to internalize politics and to make it integral to our lives. That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun or be happy or prioritize our loved ones; it just means we have to enter a state of heightened political consciousness, and dispense with the notion that this battle is something temporary. Even if Trump loses in 2020, even if Democrats control all three branches of federal government and every state, reactionary conservatism won’t go away. Nor will global warming, or any of the other crises facing our world.
There’s quote attributed to Trotsky, possibly apocryphally, that says “you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” Change “war” to “politics,” and you’ve summed up the new American zeitgeist. The bad news is that if you long to return to the old way, you can do so only after abdicating your civic responsibility and becoming a useful tool for conservatives who will be thrilled at your non-participation. The good news is that a life lived in active, mindful accordance with your political beliefs will be a more fulfilling one—I’m already experiencing this myself—and that historical momentum is on our side. Further, once you begin to think of yourself as a political creature, the mission will become second-nature—not nearly as difficult or arduous as you imagine today.
This kind of commitment is not easy to make, especially when it’s never been asked of us before, but it will fill you with purpose and positive energy, and ultimate victory is just one of the many rewards.