As I write, the 2018 midterm elections are just a week away. What is at stake? There have been lakes of ink, and whatever the digital equivalent of ink is, spilt pondering that question.
Since I write on Halloween, let me confess that I find the prospect of Speaker Nancy Pelosi pretty frightening, ditto the prospect of replacing Devin Nunes as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee with Adam Schiff, or the elevation of Rep. Elijah Cummings to the chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. I am told that Maxine Waters would be in line to become chair of the House Financial Services Committee, which is not so much scary as surreal. And there are a number of other changes that would be made that would put the trick in trick-or-treat.
I forbear to describe what would happen to the Senate should the Democrats take it not because I am faint of heart — imagine, if you can bear it, Dianne Feinstein as head of the Judiciary Committee — but simply because that is not going to happen. I do not, as of Wednesday morning, 31 October, believe that the Democrats will take the House either, though I say that in full recognition of the following:
1) A week is a long time in politics, and who knows what additional early November surprises the Democrats have up their sleeves? Perhaps they’ll produce an equivalent of Christine Ford to make groundless hysterical accusations against various candidates at the last minute: who knows?
2) Most pollsters disagree with me. The World’s Greatest Psephologist™ Nate Silver recently put the odds of the Democrats retaking the House at 86.1 percent. It’s things like that tenth of a percent that endows Silver’s prognostications with such an aura of authority. All those numbers, Virginia! He must really know what he is talking about. (Of course it pains me to note that Silver put the chances of Hillary winning in 2016 even higher.)
Yes, it would be a serious thing for the republic should the Democrats take the House. For one thing, computer keyboards would need to come with an extra “i” or two on account of the wholesale deployment of the word “impeachment.” But at the end of the day, what is really at stake in the midterms is something even larger.
In the deepest sense, what is at stake can perhaps be best formulated as a question. Was the 2016 election, or more specifically, was the election of Donald Trump a horrible anomaly, a sort of political black swan event?
I suspect that most of President Trump’s more doctrinaire opponents, from the Right or soi-disant Right as well as from the Left, believe this. Like many who support the president, I have often entertained myself on sleepy afternoons by watching one of the various compilations that have been made of the mocking predications that were made in the days leading up to the election. It’s good family fun. Those reactions, especially the stunned reactions on election night as the awful truth was born in upon the punditocracy, was partly amusing, partly alarming. It was amusing because of the discrepancy between the pundits’ smug self-assurance and the reality of Trump’s election. It was alarming because of the uncomprehending virulence of their response to what was, after all, a free, open, democratic election in which their gal happened to lose.
According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her colleagues, there are typically five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. Looking around at the effusions of the Left and the NeverTrump former Right, I’d say that President Trump’s most excitable opponents are just now caught somewhere between anger and bargaining. In fact, it is the prospect of the midterms that opened the door for them onto the corridor between anger and bargaining. If only the Democrats sweep the midterm elections, they say to themselves, then we can put this awful anomaly, this hideous wrinkle in the order of the universe, behind us.
Some such sentiment, I believe, was behind all the talk of a coming “blue wave” last spring and into the summer. I never believed that there would be such a cerulean tsunami, especially one that would sweep Democrats into control of the Senate. The House? Maybe. But even that seems to me to be increasingly doubtful.
Adamant anti-Trump and NeverTrump commentators have circulated and then taken solace from the Blue Wave meme not because they are especially credulous, but because the election of Donald Trump offended their sense of existential propriety. The unforgivable datum is that Donald Trump, as I have said many times, was elected without their permission and indeed over their strenuous objections. That is the intolerable insult they cannot abide. It was an event that not only should not have happened but could not have happened. Hence the widespread access of denial, followed by anger, that greeted the advent of this great anomaly.
The midterms seem to offer a chance to set the universe back on its proper track. “The time is out of joint,” you can hear these wretched Hamlets mumble, “O cursèd spite,/ That ever I was born to set it right!” I don’t know what the self-help gurus have to say about instances when grief is is not allowed to mellow into acceptance but is met by fresh assaults and griefs compounded. I will note, however, that that is often the way of the world. Claudius mournfully acknowledged this when confronted with Ophelia’s madness: “When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.”
I do not of course know what is going to happen next Tuesday. But if, as seems to me increasingly likely, the Republicans hold the House, the anti-Trump and NeverTrump fraternity will be dealt a cruel blow. Not only will they have lost, not only will their confident predications have been in vain, but their entire sense of the way the world works will have been further undermined. The thing that was impossible, that could not have happened, will have turned out to be not an inexplicable singularity but a corroboration of a new dispensation — a dispensation, moreover, that has no place for them.