The election is mercifully over — mercifully, because no matter the outcome, elections are aberrant, bizarre, rituals of democracy that take us out of routine, bash us with advertising and leave us panting in a partisan passion, exhausted.
I spent most of Election Day driving a shuttle bus from my home institution, from spot to spot on campus, picking up voters and dragging them into the maelstrom. Our elections supervisor had a token for a lot of my passengers: a neat little ceramic button with a flag and “I Vote” on it (when I think of those sad little states without so much as a sticker, I wonder why they participate at all).
We were a diverse group: Democrats, Republicans, no-party folks, “No Party But Feeling Guilty.” Some went online, trying to figure out the amendments as we drove the few blocks over to the church that is our polling place. The separation of church and state is not celebrated when it comes to voting places, apparently. And who knows, perhaps the presence of the Deity has a salutary effect on the process.
The driving, dashing and voting — between classes, of course — was followed by “Election Watch,” an all-campus party to listen to presentations and watch the numbers roll in.
This year’s edition had a lot less drama, sturm und drang, than the 2016 model; everyone seemed to have something to cheer about.
For the Republicans, holding onto the Senate was a relief, but winning the Florida races felt like real victory, especially for the kids who had been out knocking on doors for these candidates for the past couple of months.
If you were of the Democratic persuasion, it felt like some kind of blue wave, even if the tide was not quite as high as some had hoped. The Dems won major psychic victories: they took the governorship in deep red Kansas, and the suburban vote in Johnson County, Kansas, returned not only a Democrat, but the first gay Native American woman to the House; Wisconsin threw out Republican Scott Walker, a bane to many Democrats for the past eight years; and above all, Democrats regained control of the U.S. House itself by a decent, if not stunning, margin. More women were elected to the House than at any time in its history — a solid crowd-pleaser among these millennials, regardless of party.
But as to that Democratic takeover.
This is a rare opportunity, for both the president and the new House majority. Divided government used to be feared. "When the government is divided," we worried, "all falls into stasis."
But for the past two years, for good or ill, the dominance of the Republican Party in all three branches of governing has meant static non-movement. While some might argue that this is not all bad (that is, in the old saying that “the government that governs least, governs best”), the facts are that plenty of business needed to be done. And it wasn’t.
The GOP simply fragmented into its various camps and battled it out over issues important to the factions, while the Democrats played obstructionist. My present opinion is that when the parties are placed in sharp, bare-knuckle opposition across the chambers, they govern. Only the best, fairest, most centrist ideas survive.
If President Donald Trump has demonstrated nothing else this past two years, it's that he loves the deal, the battle, the blood on the tracks and the final resolution.
He has shown us that he will literally work with anyone. But battling with his own House has been like punching a bowl of Jell-O: they slosh around, trying to half-heartedly please the president while pushing their own little district agendas: draining the pork barrel while the majority held.
With the Democrats in power, the battle lines are drawn: a cage match between diametrically opposed superpowers. The president will not get his wall. The Democrats will not get a huge tax increase. But between these two unmovable positions lie an array of key issues that we, the folks out here, would love for them to assault.
This will be an invective-filled, ugly, name-calling, brutal two years. It's all we expect from politics.
But in the end, we may actually get results. And that’s what will bring these young voters back to the polls in 2020 — and for years after.
R. Bruce Anderson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Dr. Sarah D. and L. Kirk McKay Jr. Endowed Chair in American History, Government, and Civics at Florida Southern College in Lakeland.