Hello from California – where the 2022 election results may or may not be released before the last new gas powered car is sold in the state in 2034.
Let’s catch up, shall we?
As my wife puts it, we lived a lot of life this year: I published my second book and got a new job; we found out we are becoming parents; my father passed away; we moved west and, in two weeks, we are hosting Thanksgiving. (Recipes welcome.)
Along the way, I’ve given myself a bit of space to let all the new things settle in. After well over a decade of writing almost every day, sending many of you my Sunday night musings, I haven’t written much over the last six months.
Which means I’m out of practice. And given that my reading list swings wildly between the joys of parenting to democracy doomsday scenarios, expect even less coherence than usual.
But I wanted to get back to writing because I missed the process of writing, arranging, rewriting, rearranging. Look, I have no delusions I am a good writer. But I like writing. And I don’t really get hung up on whether or not anyone likes reading my writing. Writing helps me think about what I’m thinking about.
In my previous life, I was singularly focused on immigration. Now, as part of the democracy field, I have an entirely new issue set to explore. And, as a soon-to-be new father who will turn 50 next year (it was a good 49-year run of no responsibility), opportunities for me to share my mistakes and terrible decisions will be endless. All to say, I’m looking forward to fiddling with different topics, exploring formats/platforms, seeing what surfaces. Let me know what you think and I’m taking ideas for a new newsletter name.
Onward through the fog.
To Swaddle or Not to Swaddle?
We are surrounded by incredibly kind and generous friends and family who have stocked our house with everything we might need for the arrival of our daughter. From boxes of baby gear to stacks of parenting books, we are ready. Or at least have the potential to be ready. (I am not going to be ready.)
Skimming through the books, I am surprised by the range of recommended parenting practices and philosophies. For some reason I thought the debate was settled and our friends would all be recommending the same advice.
The “fourth trimester” school of thought advocates for cozy swaddling, side/stomach time, shushing, swinging and sucking. Meanwhile, the “free baby” movement that trusts your little bugger to figure things out on her own timeline as she happily flails her arms, climbs on other babies and decides when she is going to rollover or sit up. And I won’t even start on Montessori play time versus toddlers and house chores conversation.
All of this reminds me of the importance of trust. Everything is built on it. Our institutions, our relationships, our sense of self.
In my case, I deeply trust my wife will be an incredible mother. Just a fantastic mother. And I trust my daughter will be an astonishing human being who will surprise me every single day with wonders and delights.
And I think I trust myself to be a good, maybe decent, parent, a good husband. Very far from perfect. But with a little luck, I believe I can clamber to the high side of the average.
But how do I help my daughter understand and value trust? Especially since she will grow up in a time that could not be more different from my formative years. What begins with protection – so our daughter trusts we will always be there for her – will quickly become the relationships she has with people and institutions. The decisions defining those relationships come at us in ways that are nearly impossible for adults to manage. I can’t even imagine being faced with these decisions as a kid.
That swaddle doesn’t sound so bad.
About the Midterms
Going into the midterm elections, sixty percent of Americans had an election denier on their ballot. And, a 40,000-person study of the US population found that between, “15 million and 20 million American adults agree that the ‘use of force is justified’ to restore Trump to the presidency and “about 10 million Democrats agree that the ‘use of force is justified to change’ US laws and institutions that are ‘fundamentally unjust.’”
Things didn’t go as bad as they could have.
Was democracy saved? Yes and no.
Even though 125 election deniers secured House, Senate and governor seats, in each battleground state voters rejected election deniers who sought to be secretary of state. And, as of this writing, there has been no political violence directly tied to the elections. Most importantly, as multiple Republicans have pointed out, extremism was defeated at the polls.
One of the most important results of the election is that ticket splitters played an outsized role in a number of swing states where both Democrats and Republicans secured statewide offices. (This Ezra Klein podcast with Lynn Vavreck and John Sides underscores how important ticket splitters are in our time of calcified politics.)
All of which is great. But the challenge to our democracy run deeper than our elections. Because, as you may have seen, a recent poll by Quinnipiac University discovered that 69 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of Republicans believed democracy was “in danger of collapse” – for very different reasons.
The solution does not lie in turnout alone. Or electing more Democrats. In fact, participation in our democracy is not the issue because 2022 “turnout is still on track to easily surpass other recent midterms.” Particularly in states with highly contested races.
If Americans are exercising their right to vote – despite efforts, some successful, to obstruct that right – the question is, what kind of democracy are we aspiring to?
I think the midterms show that a majority of Americans seek a democracy that protects the rights and opportunities of all Americans. Yet, there are powerful forces advocating that our democracy only serves Americans who share their economic, racial or religious beliefs. If you are outside this ingroup, these forces see you as a threat.
Our opportunity is to speak in plain English to our fellow Americans – across race, gender, class and geography – about the value of a vibrant democracy to their lives. That our system, while far from perfect, strives to protect our freedom of speech, freedom of worship, our opportunity to reach our fullest potential. Regardless of race, gender, class, religion.
To do this, we need to build coalitions that make us a little uncomfortable. Because even if we do not agree on every issue, we are all stakeholders in building and sustaining a democracy that can allow disagreement to thrive without our citizenry resorting to violence.
If our democracy protects some at the expense of others, our national experiment has failed.