48 Percent of Americans Voted Against Democracy

That’s not good.

As one of my friends reminded me, if David Brooks says something, the opposite must be true. So I violated one of my personal rules and read Brooks’s recent column which—after the obligatory several paragraphs of false equivalences (somehow chanting “Abolish ICE” is equivalent to attempting a coup)—claims that we have passed the point of peak Trump.

Brooks’s argument is one of a burgeoning genre of “hot takes” celebrating the Democrats’ better-than-feared midterm performance as a triumph over authoritarianism. Of course, keeping control of the Senate is better than losing control, and winning an election by a percentage point is better than losing by a percentage point. But, as I wrote a few days ago, it’s hard to read the actual election returns as anything but a warning sign for democracy.

In Nevada, coup supporter Adam Laxalt won 48 percent of the votes for Senate and coup supporter Jim Marchant won 47 percent in his bid to become the state’s top election official. In Arizona, coup supporter Kari Lake won 49 percent and could still become governor, while coup supporter and January 6 insurrectionist Mark Finchem won 47 percent of the votes for secretary of state. In Wisconsin, Tim Michels, who would dismantle the state’s bipartisan election commission, won 48 percent of the votes for governor. In Georgia, Herschel Walker (??!!!) won 49 percent and is headed for a runoff.

Those are just the swing states. Well over one hundred coup supporters won election to the House of Representatives. All of this happened just months after the Republican Supreme Court abandoned all pretense of respecting its own precedent, its own promises to senators, the will of the American people, or half of the human race. And, because it bears emphasizing, less than two years have passed since the head of the Republican Party tried to overthrow a democratic election and remain in power illegally.

Right now, the media and the punditocracy more generally are making the mistake of reading far too much into a couple of percentage points. Those percentage points matter a lot for what happens in the next two years. But had two percentage points gone the other way, the same people would be describing America in diametrically opposed terms—and it can’t possibly be true that the fundamental makeup of our country depends on what boxes are checked by a few low-information voters. It’s like sports fans who think that a last-minute victory in a close game means that their team is fundamentally stronger than their opponent and will necessarily win the next game.

Again, it’s better that Herschel Walker got 49 percent of the vote than 51 percent. But a country in which Herschel Walker can get 49 percent of the vote in any state—and he surely would have already won in many other states—is a country in deep, deep trouble.

We already knew that 25 percent of Americans, thanks to Facebook, truly believe that Donald Trump won the 2020 election, school shootings are faked, COVID was a hoax designed to allow the government to inject chemicals into people, and schools have litter boxes because children identify as cats. What we learned last week is that another 23 percent know that all of those things are false—but are nevertheless willing to vote for the conspiracy theorists and authoritarians over the Democrats. As a side note, that doesn’t say much for the Democratic Party.

More importantly, we have one party that, for all its failings, is in favor of democracy. We have another that couldn’t care less about democracy. If that sounds unfair, consider that a majority of Republican congresspeople objected to the Electoral College results, and a majority of Republican senators refused to convict Donald Trump for attempting a coup. As a kid growing up, if you had been told that one party was in favor of democracy and the other was against it, you would have thought the pro-democracy party would win 99 to 1. In real life in 2022, it won 52 to 48.

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James Kwak

Books: Take Back Our Party, Economism, White House Burning, 13 Bankers. Chair, @southerncenter. Co-founder, @Guidewire_PandC. Freelance cellist.