‘Our democracy is in crisis. . . . These midterm elections are our last chance to defend our democracy,” says Hillary Clinton.
“If we don’t stop [President Trump] now, we will have a revolution for real,” says L.A. Confidential actor James Cromwell. “Then there will be blood in the streets.”
“Hate is on the ballot next week,” says New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Trump has gone “full Hitler,” says Sarah Silverman. “You can kind of kiss democracy goodbye on a number of different levels if Republicans hold the House,” says MSNBC’s Jonathan Alter.
It’s understandable that Democrats and their media allies are trying to convince their voters that the fate of the Republic depends on what happens next Tuesday, just as it’s understandable that President Trump and his media allies are trying to convince right-leaning voters that a ragtag caravan of hapless would-be asylum seekers constitutes a reason to stockpile ammo and lock up your daughters. But future historians are going to look at the surge in turnout and be puzzled by what all the fuss was about during the 2018 midterms.
From a distance of a few decades — maybe even a distance of a few weeks — this fall is going to look like a fairly uneventful, indeed largely peaceful and prosperous moment, comparable with the fall of 2014, when Americans went to the polls terrified of ISIS and Ebola, each of which was more or less instantly forgotten afterward.
Consumer confidence is at an 18-year high. Unemployment is at a 49-year low. The stock market is about 7 percent short of an all-time high. GDP is growing at its fastest pace in 13 years. Crime rates are not quite at historic lows, but they’re close, and trending down. Although the war in Afghanistan continues (and we’re losing it), it is not causing large numbers of U.S. casualties. Terrorism isn’t spiking.
The horrific massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue (by a Trump hater) isn’t likely to lead to a season of attacks on Jews, just as the Charlottesville murder did not unleash a wave of white-supremacist massacres. There probably is no disturbing trend of anti-Semitic attacks ongoing. The synagogue attack is one extremely awful event, not a symptom of a virulent disease sweeping the nation. In the first year of the Trump administration, there were 19 anti-Semitic assaults in the entire United States, down 47 percent from the previous year.
There is an almost exact parallel to the Pittsburgh massacre: Another instance of religious hatred fueling a mass killing at another extremely visible place on U.S. soil. It happened almost a year to the day earlier, and it’s been completely forgotten. You probably don’t even know the name of the guy who (allegedly) did it: Sayfullo Saipov. Saipov, a green-card-holding Muslim from Uzbekistan, used a pickup truck to kill eight people and injure eleven more on a bike path across from the World Trade Center in New York last Halloween. The man “smashed into a school bus, jumped out of his truck and ran up and down the highway waving a pellet gun and paintball gun and shouting ‘Allahu akbar,’” the New York Times reported at the time. Was this an indication of a fresh wave of Muslim terrorism? Did it show that America was facing a crisis? Did it prove that we needed strict new measures to combat religion-based terror attacks? It doesn’t look that way.
Overall, things look even better now than they were in the fondly remembered 1990s. Yet the rate of violent crime was massive compared to today: A bomber took 168 lives in Oklahoma City, there was a spate of attacks on abortion clinics, and even the Atlanta Olympic Games of 1996 were marred by a bombing that killed one person and injured more than 100. Individual horrors tend to fade from memory. Even the 9/11 attacks didn’t define the early 2000s, though they certainly reverberated loudly.
Today is nothing like as fraught a moment, or it shouldn’t be. The U.S. is facing the usual, perennial problems such as dealing with the cost and availability of health care and massive entitlements-fueled debt, but problems specific to our moment are few. The main source of angst and anger appears to be the personality of the president. That’s hardly comparable to the importance of the Iraq War or the 2008 financial crisis or even an ordinary recession.
It’s an unpopular message, but 2018 isn’t a particularly eventful year. At the moment, things are more or less okay. Beneath the surface, there is bipartisan agreement on this. The Republicans don’t have a legislative agenda. The Democrats revealed in a breathless New York Times interview that their big plan after retaking the House is a package of political-process ideas aimed almost exclusively at bolstering the fortunes of the Democratic party, such as Voting Rights Act adjustments and more campaign-finance disclosure requirements. It can’t be the case that 2018 is both an apocalyptic moment for America and that these are the central issues.
But prove me wrong. Go to the barricades and get specific about policy. Chant along with Nancy Pelosi:
“What do we want?”
“Nonpartisan commissions to work against gerrymandering of congressional districts!!!”
“When do we want it?”
“In due course!!!”