Losing Virginia

I’m not a political scientist, or a data expert. I haven’t looked at any exit polls, done any message testing, or honestly even read that much about this election. It’s almost 9pm on Election Night and I’m watching the West Wing and we’re losing an election. It’s five years later and my stomach hurts and time is a flat circle. We have, in fact, stepped in the same river twice.

Lots of people are going to have a lot of smart things to say about this election, and even more people are going to have really dumb things to say about this election. A lot of the latter are Democrats in Congress, waiting to vote on an infrastructure deal, a substantive economic agenda that invests in climate, health care, and education, and a voting rights bill. This result is going to make a lot of them question their priorities, question the wisdom of passing big legislation, of bold, progressive ideas and they are all going to be wrong.

I don’t need to look at data to know that we can’t keep playing the same game, that we can’t keep doing politics as usual. The planet is burning, Republicans don’t believe in Democracy, and Democrats in Congress are about fifteen years behind the rest of us, blissfully ignorant of the impending destruction.

Four years ago, Ralph Northam won the Virginia gubernatorial election, taking the mantle from Terry McAuliffe. Maybe you believe in a higher power, in karma, or in the guiding hand of the universe, or maybe you don’t. But the guy who was governor when Trump was elected, getting nominated again when we’re all trying to pretend we can get back to normal, who then loses the governor’s race seems like a pretty strong sign that “back to normal” isn’t achievable.

You could argue that Democrats in Virginia were too productive, they passed too much legislation, they helped too many people and this is a backlash to a productive legislature. A lot of people are going to argue that. I’d argue that an unpopular federal government stuck in the quagmire of legislative sausage poisoned by two corporate obstructionists probably had more to do with it.

But one real lesson is this: nothing is obvious, nothing is promised. We don’t know which elections we’re going to win, or lose. Nothing about the next cycle is promised — pass what you need to pass now. Pass what you can now. Protect voting rights now. Pass family leave, universal pre-k, and invest in health care now. Protect the planet before it burns down, before we flood Miami, New York, DC. Protect democracy now while we still have it.

And that’s the second real lesson. Nothing is obvious. Republicans too can wear half zip pullovers and talk about how much they love your kids. They have a huge right wing media apparatus and a mainstream media that also wants to believe that politics are getting back to normal, and they don’t all sound like Trump. They worked with your neighbors at investment firms and in private equity, they went to college with your kids, they know your language and they are going to use it to gerrymander your districts, ban books from your schools, and legislate your body. They are going to destroy your environment and make you pay for the privilege. When you elect a Democrat, they are going to tell you that you didn’t. They are going to tell you that you elected a Republican, and they are going to appoint people who tell you that you elected a Republican, and they are going to use their state legislatures and Supreme Courts to make sure that Republican gets his spot, and gets yours too.

The planet is burning. Republicans are trying to overthrow Democracy. And we don’t have time to wait. If you were mad when Trump was elected, you’re still mad. Trump isn’t the president anymore, but Trump was only a symptom of the problem. If you were mad at children in cages, if you were mad at the Muslim ban, if you were mad about the lies and the discrimination and the corruption, if you were mad after Sandy Hook, mad about leaving the Paris climate accords, mad about the racism and the violence and the uncertainty — you’re still mad. We’re all still mad and we all need to act like it. This is, quite literally, a fight for our lives.

We can’t keep doing the same things over and over again. We can’t keep fighting the same fights. There is too much at stake. We have too much to do. And every single one of us who wants something different needs to stand up and be bigger and louder and tougher than ever before. I’m not done yet. And I hope you aren’t either. Let’s fucking go.

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