Now that the election results are (I think pretty much all?) in, this week’s Extra! Extra! reflects on what the 2020 election says about America. We also look at what the Supreme Court has been up to this week with its new ultraconservative majority, where things stand with the pandemic and some political situations unfolding around the world (including proposed protections for LGBTQ+ people in the EU).
The Results Are In: What the 2020 Election Says About America
Himani: The basic premise in the first article here—that Republicans can’t win a majority but America’s political structures are rigged so that they secure power—is not new. What I appreciated about this article is that it points out how this electoral bias affects the ability to push forward non-Republican policy. As Ezra Klein writes:
“It forces Democrats to lean into the messy, pluralistic work of winning elections in a democracy, and allows Republicans to avoid that work, and instead worry about pleasing the most fervent members of their base. It forces Democrats to win voters ranging from the far left to the center right, but Republicans can win with only right-of-center votes.”
As I read this, I thought about the rift among House Democrats that started with anonymous claims that progressive positions cost seats in the House, followed by AOC’s interview with the NYT and then Conor Lamb’s interview. That whole fiasco was truly, as Klein writes, “the messy, pluralistic work.”
It’s frustrating, to say the least, to be forced into the position of watching the policies you believe in constantly be compromised while the other side can run with the increasingly extreme versions of their agenda. Practically none of us wanted Biden to be our candidate. The issues we care about the most won’t get nearly the resolutions they need (more on that below).
And yet the cold, hard reality of the numbers remains. The second article linked above, an interview with Ari Berman about redistricting now that the census is over, discusses how Democrats did not regain control of state houses and so maps will be as gerrymandered or possibly even more gerrymandered than they were after the 2010 census. Which means Republicans can continue to secure power at all levels of government without ever winning majorities. Buried in that article, is this statement from Berman:
“I don’t think [Democrats failing to win state houses] was for lack of effort or for lack of organization. I just think these were really, really difficult places to win seats. And I think Democrats have a red America problem. It’s very, very clear they’re not competing as strongly as they should be in states that are red or haven’t flipped yet from red to purple. And a lot of the seats that needed pickup were in the redder parts of purple states. It was about the more conservative suburban areas, the rural areas? That’s where the Democratic Party really underperformed.”
So at the state-level, the same issue exists: needing to pull together a pluralistic coalition that, by necessity, must include some conservative constituents.
We can argue that the electoral college has to go (it really does) or that districts should be determined by independent, non-partisan coalitions (they should). But that’s never going to happen so long as Republicans can continue to hold power, and they will continue to hold power because the scale is tipped in their favor.
We can argue that the two-party system has failed. But I’m not sure that the alternative will get us out of this mess. We see this in countries that have parliamentary systems, that at the end of it, there’s a coalition building that has to happen across ideological lines. And, historically in America, voters on the left splinter off from the Democratic party in favor of third parties that cost them elections far more off than voters on the right splinter off from the Republican party.
I don’t have an answer here. Within myself, I’m constantly divided. At times, I become frustrated with those on the left who are unwilling to compromise, even though I agree with their political positions, because their inflexibility costs us any progress we might make. But often, I also find myself frustrated that “compromise” means putting limits on abortion access or gun control or racial justice and allowing the oil, gas and auto industries to continue to exist.
At the heart of this problem, of course, is how many white people supported Trump’s reelection. Their unwillingness to be persuaded or to compromise on any of these issues is what’s going to do us all in.
Natalie: Just to piggyback off what you’ve said here, Himani, one of the things that’s been interesting (read: distressing) to me about the current conversation is how much of it is gendered and racialized because of the involvement of Alexandria Ocastia-Cortez. As she pointed out on twitter yesterday, she’s not saying anything that’s demonstrably different than what Beto O’Rourke or Doug Jones — both red state Democrats — are saying but she’s the one that’s singled out as “radical” or accused of “lashing out.”
Himani: One thing I find frustrating about these articles about social media and polarization is that it seems to imply a false equivalence of people on both ends of the spectrum growing further and further apart. But let’s just be clear: a not insubstantial portion of the far right is deep down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole as a result of social-media-driven polarization. And, social media’s approach to political coverage is blatantly one-sided. Consider, for example, this expose from October, revealing that Mother Jones and a host of other progressive news sites that were specifically targeted to reduce traffic on Facebook to appease the right. Youtube continues to host content that undermines the election results.
To the thesis of the first article we’ve linked here, this is just another form of “too little democracy” and it, too, is stacked in the favor of conservatives and the Republican party.
What the Future Holds
Himani: This overview article and the series as a whole provide a balanced look at what we can realistically expect from Biden given the divided government and issues of pluralism mentioned above. It’s not enough, but it certainly is leaps and bounds ahead of where things stand today. (Or where they will likely stand in two months.)
Natalie: So much of this hinges on Georgia so just in case we’ve got some folks from the Peach tree state reading this:
GEORGIA: It’s time – again! Runoff elections for both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats will take place on January 5. Request your ballot NOW at https://t.co/7mvF0m9IGx #LetsGetItDoneAgain #gapol pic.twitter.com/IjuqEmwEoO
— Fair Fight (@fairfightaction) November 10, 2020
Meanwhile at the SCOTUS
Natalie: Despite having a vested interest in case’s before the Supreme Court, the left has never been as invested in the future of the courts in the way the right has been…to, I believe, to our detriment. As of today, the president has appointed 222 judges, including two district court judges approved by this week, and more approvals are coming during the lame duck sessions. Even if Congressional Republicans have a “coming to Jesus” moment after 2020’s said and done, as Joe Biden hopes for, the judicial legacy of the Trump era will reverberate for years. But, I digress….
The new session of the Supreme Court started the day after the election and, already, they’ve heard two big cases that’ll have a disproportionate impact on the LGBTQ+ community. First, there’s Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, which essentially asks if Philadelphia was justified — legally — in its removal of Catholic Social Services as a foster care contractor because of CSS’s refusal to certify unmarried couples or same-sex married couples to be foster parents. The city felt that CSS’s position violated its non-discrimination policy. The case was the first heard by newly appointed justice, Amy Coney Barrett.
Then, earlier this week, the Court heard California v. Texas, a case that could destroy the Affordable Care Act. Court observers who are far smarter than me, including Elie Mystal at the Nation and Mark Joseph Stern of Slate, seem to agree that “Obamacare” is safe, for now. But what’s worth noting — at least from my vantage point — is how deeply the “religious freedom” argument (read: anti-gay animus) reaches on the bench.
During oral arguments in Texas, one of the big arguments was around the individual mandate and its current penalty. Since the ACA’s passage, Republicans in Congress have effectively ended the mandate without actually ending it: that is, they haven’t eliminated the mandate’s language from statute but they have set the tax penalty to zero. Conservatives on the Court are so bothered by this…even though no one is actually harmed, the mere possibility of harm warrants the dissolution of the ACA. Contrast to their reaction in Fulton, where the mere possibility of harm — no gays were harmed by CSS because gays know enough to go to another foster agency — isn’t enough to justify Philadelphia’s strict adherence to their non-discrimination policy.
The hypocrisy, it burns.
Natalie: When I talked to Mary Bonauto, the Civil Rights Project Director at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), she noted that the opponents of marriage equality have been relentless in their efforts “to delegitimize the Court’s ruling and reasoning in Obergefell.” And while that’s helped me gird myself for attacks from the right, hearing Justice Alito speak so brazenly last night was jarring.
In a different time, this kind of speech would’ve been unthinkable, but with the wind of a 6-3 conservative majority at his back, Alito breathed new life into the bench statement from Justice Thomas that he’d co-signed. Alito was a man who was certain that he could be as brash and as brazen as he wanted and suffer no consequences….which, coincidentally, undermines his entire argument because if opposition to same-sex marriage meant social castigation, then why is Alito on that stage in the first place? Why hasn’t he been thrown out of the public space?
But, as the saying goes, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression,” and Justice Alito feels very oppressed…and that could spell danger for the rest of us.
Himani: Remember back when everyone was blaming the wet markets for COVID-19 and a few voices timidly pointed out that factory farms in the West pose the same (or possibly even greater) threat? Well, here we are. COVID-19 has mutated on mink farms in Denmark, according to Vice over 200 people have contracted the mutation and there are concerns that the mutated version will interfere with vaccine efficacy. For now, scientists are saying there isn’t enough data available and we should all hold tight. But in the meanwhile, a few million minks are going to be killed just in case (after being bread and living in inhumane conditions just for their fur…) I really, really have no faith in humanity.
Natalie: This is going to be a real stain on American leadership and its people…how much we turned a blind-eye to the suffering of those behind bars. In my home state of North Carolina, we’re seeing a spike in COVID transmissions in our prisons and those incarcerated inside the deadliest federal prison in the country are suing in federal court.
We have so much to answer for…let’s just hope we’re all alive to see justice.
Natalie: As encouraging as these numbers are, the thing that threw cold water on my celebration about Pfizer’s progress — aside from what Vox lays out in their piece — is the reporting that the virus needs to be stored at -94°F (-70° C). There’s no precedent for distribution of a vaccine on this large a scale even anyway…so we’re already in uncharted, difficult territory…the idea that we’d have to navigate that and prepping all pharmacies to store the vaccine in dry ice? That feels like an impossible task.
Himani: Also, you gotta love Big Pharma. Pfizer’s CEO sold millions of dollars worth of stocks the same day as this announcement. So, you know, instead of working to figure out the scientific and logistical issues regarding the vaccine development and distribution, he was busy figuring out how he could make the most money off of the whole situation. Cool.
Some Political Updates from Around the World
Himani: This seems like a long overdue but incredibly encouraging step in the right direction. I’d love to hear from folks living in the EU for their perspectives on this proposal and what its potential impact could be.
Himani: It looks like the war in the Caucasus may finally be coming to an end? There have been a couple of ceasefires the last few weeks that fell through, though. This article does a good job of explaining the recent peace deal and how that affects the different players in the region.