Enough Americans rose up against President Trump on Tuesday to take from him and his party one house of Congress, and that will partially block his path of destruction through the nation. For that we are grateful. Democrats also won governor’s offices previously held by Republicans in Kansas, Maine, Michigan and Wisconsin and flipped legislative houses in Maine and Minnesota. It was a referendum on Trump and Trump lost. It was indeed a blue wave.
But not a tsunami. It was not big enough to show that the populist reactionary movement that elected Trump in 2016 was an anomaly. Buoyed by the president’s xenophobic attacks on migrant “invaders,” Republicans held on to some House seats in districts thought to be vulnerable, and they strengthened their Senate majority. And Trump, as he demonstrated at his postelection news conference, remains the same preening, excuse-making, dissembling, self-obsessed reality-show-host-turned-politician that he was on Nov. 5.
Many Americans had believed that Trump’s election two years ago was a brief deviation from the norm that would be reversed once rational voters saw what he was like in office. The returns were a depressing wake-up call to the true extent of division in the country. In fact, tens of millions of people turned out to vote in favor of Trumpism.
The mixed result gave the president room to claim a “Big Victory,” ignoring the challenges he is certain to face from the newly Democratic-controlled House. It also tightened his control of the GOP, as many of the Republicans in swing districts who’d kept their distance from the president either retired or lost their reelection bids.
In short, Trumpism lives. It continues to be the nation’s loudest voice, and its chief message to our own people and to the peoples of the world.
That message is horrendous. It is a message suffused with alt-right, racist ideology, most often broadcast to the president’s 55 million followers on Twitter but occasionally from a White House podium as well. It is a message that bullies and disparages longtime allies and cozies up to foreign tyrants. It is a message of ridicule for essential U.S. institutions, including courts, Congress, citizenship, the FBI and the intelligence community. It is a message that demonizes journalists, scientists and others who seek to find and report the truth. It is a message of support for people like accused sex predator Roy Moore. It is a message that pushes back against the #MeToo movement and the efforts to end sexual misconduct in multiple strands of American society.
It is a message that manifests itself in shocking policies that, for example, separate immigrant families seeking asylum from their children, who are traumatized and locked up in facilities where they receive inadequate care. Or in inept directives to, for example, deny entry to the United States for people with entry visas. Or in the drive to roll back healthcare, nutrition and other safety-net services to the poorest Americans.
It tells our allies and enemies alike that the president of the United States — the leader of the free world, and a person who once embodied not just the majesty of the office but the American values of liberty, equal justice under law and human dignity — is ignorant of the nation’s history and role in the world.
Many Americans are still biting their tongues and voting Republican, waiting to see if perhaps Trump might somehow be a net gain for the country. And many — a minority, perhaps, but a sizable one — embrace his attacks on people, nations, institutions and truth.
Some comfort can and should be taken in the flipping of the House of Representatives. Voters in congressional districts around the country ended the Republican power monopoly in Washington, and they ended the opportunity for Trump’s party to push through legislation without Democratic support. They made over Congress, making it more reflective of the people it serves. They elected a record number of female lawmakers, including Native Americans and Muslims. They elected the first female senator from Tennessee — albeit a Republican who is firmly in Trump’s corner.
That diversity is, itself, a rebuke to Trump, whether or not he cares to admit it.
Kansas voters, in electing Laura Kelly as their governor, not only chose a woman and a Democrat, but bloodied Trump’s nose in rejecting Kris Kobach, leader of a ridiculous and short-lived commission the president created to seek out supposedly massive voter fraud.