A lot of self-styled hot takers have dished steaming hot takes since Tuesday night’s election, a great many of them mourning or mocking the weak showing by Democrats. But this is hungover history. Everything went more or less as expected. Democrats never had a chance of flipping the Senate, and, surprise, they didn’t. They were projected to take control of the House, and they did, picking up 28 seats at the time of this writing, five more than they needed. That pickup — 28 — is the average gain for every midterm election since the Eisenhower administration.
And in a more general sense, the New York Times reports that the Democrat’s national popular vote margin — +9.2 — was larger than the margin in the major 1994 and 2010 Republican waves. The margin in the Senate was even larger: About 10 million more people nationwide voted for Dems. Despite this, they lost three seats. (More specifics on that number below.)
There were, of course, painful disappointments, particularly the losses of Beto O’Rourke in Texas, Andrew Gillum and Bob Nelson in Florida, and Stacey Abrams in Georgia. Abrams, however, hasn’t conceded to her opponent Brian Kemp, who, as Georgia’s Secretary of State, ran the election he won. Kemp suppressed or attempted to suppress as many as 300,000 or 400,000 votes, significantly more than his current margin over Abrams, and precincts across the state reported problems with voting machines and seemingly intentionally under-prepared polling places, which forced thousands of voters to wait in line for hours, and dissuaded many people from voting entirely. Abrams should—and apparently is—challenging the election and angling for a runoff.
Even Beto’s loss came with a few points of light. Not only did he put up the strongest showing of a democrat in a Texas Senate race in decades, he had coattails: Democrats flipped three House seats in the state, including somewhat surprisingly longtime GOP goblin Pete Sessions. Thanks to Beto, Texas is in play for 2020, as Beto may be too.
Dems not only flipped the House, they took seven governorships and seven state houses.
Additionally, twenty-nine of the 55 candidates Trump personally endorsed on Twitter — more than half of them — lost. And in the three states that carried Trump to his 2016 victory (by a total of 80,000 votes across those three states), the Senate and governor races all went blue.
All in all, then, the election turned out almost exactly as expected. Ignore the takes that say otherwise, because they’re overselling the expectation and underselling the results. Trump will clearly exploit this misleading narrative.
But, yes, some things really did suck for the Dems. First, there’s the bizarrely overlooked fact that after all the corruption, cruelty, incompetence, and assclownery of the last two years, any of these GOP cretins were re-elected at all. In other words, it just sucks that a vast swath of America is still openly racist, and that most American voters are jerks.
But then again, it’s not most voters in America. Four million more Americans voted for Democrats than Republicans in the nationwide aggregate of House races, and ten million — ten million — more Americans voted for Democrats than Republicans in the nationwide aggregate for the Senate. Of course, the Senate stat, though not totally meaningless, should be taken with a lot (!) of salt: Far more Democrat-held Senate seats were up for re-election than Republican seats this year. This doesn’t necessarily account for a ten million-vote gap (though it’s impossible to quantify this either way), but we should look at the split more fairly. But here’s another way of looking at it: The GOP came up short by about 9% in the House and 12% in the Senate. To put that in perspective, Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by about three million votes, or 2% of the electorate.
And to put that in perspective, Democrats have won the popular vote in four out of the last five presidential elections. One more stat: Currently half of our Senators represent collectively only 16% of the country’s population, and the majority of those Senators are — ding ding ding! — Republicans.
These aren’t flukes. This is an established trend, and has only appeared recently. We’re not talking thin margins here. We’re talking several million people, and the discrepancy is growing. Something is very, very wrong when, election after election, the government doesn’t represent the will of millions of Americans.
It’s also inarguably one-sided: For some weeeeiiiiirrrrrd reason the phenomenon only favors Republicans.
But of course, that’s the way our representative democracy was structured. This is, in strict pro forma terms, perfectly American. Democrats can cry all they want, but this is how we structured the system. Republicans have just figured out how to work it.
That last part, however, isn’t entirely true. Though the GOP has shamelessly gerrymandered voting districts to shameful degrees, effectively rigging elections and, yes, cheating — though the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a gerrymandering case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agrees — the most powerful element is a factor of American life we rarely think about anymore: Geography.
The main problem with our electoral system today is that we don’t see the same America the founding fathers did.
When we first developed our representative system — including the Connecticut Compromise that resulted in a bicameral legislature, where the smaller states were compensated with equal representation in the Senate — there weren’t cars. There weren’t planes. There was no internet. There weren’t even trains. There were only horses and boats. It took a lot of time, money, and effort to travel, and natural boundaries made it even more difficult: The East Coast rivers that run laterally, and the Appalachian mountains that fenced in the West.
Naturally, people didn’t relocate a lot, and the founding fathers couldn’t have anticipated anything approaching the advanced means of transportation operating at the massive and frictionless scale they do today, let alone the volume of rich information we can share at fiber-optic speed. So: Are you a liberal who wants to move from Milledgeville, Georgia, to New York City? Pack your car. You’re less than a day away, and the gas will cost you a few hundred bucks. Are you a liberal who wants to move from Lebanon, Missouri, to Los Angeles? Hop on a plane. Are you a conservative who grew up in Milledgeville, Georgia, and wants to stay there? By all means do nothing.
For visual evidence of the acceleration of liberal concentration in cities, just look at the cranes swinging iron beams over junior cities across America: Nashville, Atlanta, Greensboro, Raleigh, Austin, San Antonio, Seattle, Portland, Denver, St. Paul, and on and on. Those cities are growing increasingly blue. Geographical barriers aren’t barriers anymore.
Of course, the car is more than a hundred years old. Trains decades older still. But the internet accelerated this self-selection. We’re connected more quickly and more directly with ideas and people we like, who most often happen to think and believe the same things we do. We’re tribal creatures, and given a low-risk and relatively effortless opportunity to do it, many of us will gravitate to people like ourselves.
This explains why electoral maps adjusted for population look nothing like the America we grew up absently casting our eyes over on the walls of high school civics classrooms. When it comes to politics, that America no longer exists. You and Thomas Jefferson see wildly, wildly different Americas.
Which brings us back to our representative system. Cities have grown increasingly liberal, and the less populated areas have grown increasingly conservative. These concentrations accelerate ideological division. Liberal ideology incorporates and must resolve within itself a panoply of ideologies — often at odds in a variety of ways — so liberal circles in the immigrant-nation United States have tended to sort of dilute the most extreme leftist elements. This is why radicalization has accelerated far more quickly in the pressure of the conservative echo chamber. When these innate ideological characteristics met with the supercharged information-sharing of the internet age, political polarization in the United States increased exponentially.
And lo and behold, in the year 2000 George W. Bush beats Al Gore while losing the popular vote. Since then we’ve increasingly self-selected our locations both virtually and geographically, and both virtually and geographically it’s gotten worse.
This isn’t academic. Look at where we are today — literally today, the day after this very weird election — with an obvious trend of imbalance asserting itself (and accelerating) in the Electoral College and Congress. Even Donald Trump — after his 2016 victory — called the electoral system “unfair.” The Senate particularly — that great Connecticut Compromise — has skewed towards over-representation to a degree the founders couldn’t have predicted.
This would have worried them. Partisan polarization feeds itself, and, as they noted often, when people become more susceptible to radicalization, things fall apart.
And they have. Millions of racist jerks call the shots. They have no moral, ethical, or mathematical authority to do so.
So should rethink the Connecticut Compromise? Scrap our representative system?
Absolutely. If we don’t find a way to reasonably reintegrate the people with their government, they will lose faith in that system entirely. Geography will reassert itself in a primal way, in the form of a seismic fracture between rural and urban America. No one will be happy. Nothing will get done. And conservatives, if you don’t care about reforming this broken system as long as you’re winning, I’ve got news: In the long run, we’ll all lose.