The 2022 mid-term elections are less than 90 days away. Conservative pundits, sifting historical data, are predicting Republican gains and have been buoyed by Trump’s claims of persecution, which have – for the moment – energized the base. But the decidedly pro-choice abortion vote in Kansas is a more enduring bellwether of what’s happening across America. Fading ardor for Trump, declining support for Trumpists, and growing rejection of Trumpism (and extremism), suggest a November surprise may be brewing.
Across the country, our political system is blinking red, a domestic analog to the United Nations Secretary General’s recent warning the world is “one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.”
Republicans, under the guise of protecting rights, are seeking to shift power away from Washington even on issues of demonstrable national interest. (The exception is Republican wielding of “national” power to achieve purely party-centric goals, such as attacking Federal law enforcement, manipulating Supreme Court appointments, and threatening legislation to criminalize abortions nationwide, if they return to power after the upcoming midterms.)
CNN analyst Ron Brownstein warns us that Republicans are “building a nation within a nation.”[ii] To that end, Republican legislators have gerrymandered districts and passed measures to suppress voter turnout by making make it harder to register, restricting mail-in balloting, limiting the number of voting locations, and curtailing voting hours. Pennsylvania’s Republican gubernatorial candidate even is claiming his right to overturn Federal election results in his state.
But, at the Federal level, Republicans in Congress and the Supreme Court have painted themselves into a demonstrably unpopular political corner. They have:
Tried to block health care for military veterans, a subcomponent of their broader resistance to public health care measures, promoting anti-science/anti-medicine views and increasing our vulnerability to pandemics.
Overturned a woman’s right to manage her health, and choose if and when she bears children, attempting to re-subordinate women to control by men, even in cases of rape, incest, and medical necessity.
Prevented meaningful gun reform, by intentionally misinterpreting the Second Amendment, refusing – in the face of tens of thousands of shooting deaths and injuries every year – to take actions supported by the majority of Americans.
Frustrated efforts to deal with complex economic challenges, by holding down wages, cutting off efforts to lift children out of poverty, avoiding negotiations on immigration, and ensuring many corporations and ultra-rich pay little in taxes.
Thwarted sex-trafficking, justice, and policing reform, by asserting that simply adding police personnel and weapons will address criminality, use of force excesses, and other structural, policy, and personnel shortcomings.
Neutralized national and international efforts to respond effectively to human-caused climate extremes, by limiting actions at home to set tougher standards for polluters and blocking participation globally to set cleaner air goals.
A few moderate Republicans are alarmed at these extreme positions and the autocratic company their fringe is keeping. As one example, the Conservative Political Action Conference hosted – then celebrated – the racist keynote speech of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The proto-fascist Orban mirrors extreme Republicans, like Trump, who seek power by injecting lies, disinformation, and conspiracy theories into the public discourse, then exploiting the resulting fear, division, grievance, and hatred.
No President in American history has been the subject of so many serious investigations. And Trump’s endorsement of Georgia football star Herschel Walker has been exploitative, given reports of Walker’s odd behavior and speech patterns, which suggest he may be suffering from some kind of football collision-induced malady.
In Florida, Governor DeSantis’s blocking of public health measures, limitations on pandemic health access, demonization of pro-choice advocates, creation of a police force to monitor elections, attacks on public education and teachers, and on the gay and trans communities, suggest an authoritarian bent. However, his actions do help explain Florida’s polarization and recent net citizen loss.
Regardless of Trump’s protestations, voters know – “where there is smoke” – and are tired of the chaos. A political chasm has opened between what the Republican fringe is promoting and what the majority of Americans want from their representatives, politics, laws, and government. Americans know that the nation cannot survive on a diet of lies, disinformation, and conspiracy theories. Countervailing forces are emerging.
The Congressional 1/6 committee, by presenting convincing evidence, has placed Trump at the center of a conspiracy to destroy the integrity of our voting and prevent the peaceful transition of power. It has provided an essential public service and underscored, by contrast alone, what integrity means, and what it means to be a patriot. The Department of Justice (along with several state and city-level jurisdictions) is pursuing multiple cases within its own purview and is undeterred by Republican threats.
To be sure, Democrats face their own challenges. They need to weave together a unity of effort and unity of message tailored to local circumstances and also relevant nationally. And they need to talk more frequently and forthrightly with members of their own party, and with Independents and moderate Republicans, about how we got here, and how we navigate through this, without running our ship and its precious cargo onto the rocks.
Democrats also need to demonstrate fiduciary responsibility for hard-earned voter dollars entrusted to them, rather than squander them through cynical efforts to prop up extreme Republican candidates, hoping to defeat them more easily in November.
This is an American moment.
Growing counter-chaos/counter-extremism sentiment is informed and motivated by bedrock American and democratic values. Its gathering strength and momentum reflect the better angels of our nature. Recall the women’s march on Washington the day after Trump took office – a harbinger of the surprising results of the 2018 midterms two years later. These are voices of the center, calmer, fact-based, patient, persistent and more, reasonable, prepared to hold extremists to account, and likely to prevail.
Moderate Americans are a winning coalition. They can gain and hold the high ground that will enable the country to overcome the challenges of the moment and govern far more effectively than current extremism and gridlock permit. In doing so they will make clear America – in November and beyond – is a country of laws, embracing all, with a brighter future that belongs to protectors, not destroyers.
Norman Blake is the former professor of leadership and organizational behavior with Johns Hopkins University’s Public Safety Leadership graduate program, and a former professor of national security studies at the National War College. An intelligence professional with over forty years in the wilderness of mirrors, he has served at the White House, supporting the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, at the National Military Command Center, in a liaison capacity to the FBI, and at home and abroad with the CIA. He continues to research, write and consult on systems approaches to counterintelligence, security, performance, and transformation.