“I’m not going to vote,” a college student in Los Angeles told the New York Times’ Alex Altman, back in 2009. “It’s affecting me.” Then he told her that one of his friends had contracted the meningitis-like disease fungal meningitis, killing him. She believed him, not only because she had followed his life growing up in Alabama, but also because — as she wrote in a 2015 essay for The Atlantic — she had become alarmed by the growing number of young Americans who were hesitating to vote at the polls, becoming discouraged by the seemingly endless gun violence and mental health crises around them.
Fast forward to Friday, and more young Americans than ever before have felt similarly discouraged and unable to bring the end to the incendiary divide in American politics. According to a new New York Times/CBS News poll, 64 percent of Americans now say it is extremely or very important that they go to the polls on November 6. But, like the one pollster whom Altman quotes eight years ago, more people today say it’s extremely or very important they not vote than says they’ll definitely be out there. And, like those same pollsters of 2009, these pollsters are convinced that their data is the first indication that a historic Republican sweep might be on the horizon.
Unlike those of 2009, the evidence now points to the opposite. U.S. public opinion, and the public’s right to participate in democratic elections, are more divided than ever before. Yet it seems unlikely that it will remain that way.
Politico offers some interesting parallels between the rise of Donald Trump and the American politics of 1979 and 1980. In the previous two midterm elections, “increasingly bitterly divided American electorates elected Congressmen who were in their first and second terms.” Trump too has entered the midterm elections as an incumbent, who has never lost a race in American politics, and for whom the only conceivable path to re-election would involve a firestorm that would have lifted Trump to the White House in 2016 had it happened then.
It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Trump’s re-election in 2020 could be as devastating to the Democrats as George W. Bush’s were to the Republicans in 2002. He is commanding an army that most of them can’t come close to matching, but his class-warfare message, his adamant disrespect for the opposing party, his apocalyptic threats and his sustained use of class warfare tactics continue to create a financial fear factor that Republicans are so far succeeding in shrugging off.
The Democrats would have their own internal wounds to deal with — Obama and Hillary Clinton, who won without a majority in either chamber, face the prospect of losing majorities in Congress, a prospect they might well welcome. But Trump would be in a weaker position come November 2019 than he is today. As for the Democrats’ promised investigations into Trump’s possible criminality, all recent Republican Presidents before him survived a congressional investigation of their alleged behavior without being impeached.
Like the Democrats in 1979 and 1980, the Republicans have been tepid about their open-door policy toward big money, warts and all. And like the Democrats of 1979 and 1980, the Republicans would have tried to ride the wave of anger and promises of change and salvation that a fulsome corruption investigation into a president — even one who has proved so easily compromised — would seem to so clearly unleash.
But now, as those earlier elections proved, so do the Democrats. When the Democrats decide that it is time to strike, it is hard to see how they can resist the unprecedented power of the anti-Trump conservative agenda, and thus it is no surprise that people like Altman and her former college roommate have made more important forecasts than the once unstoppable Trump train.