Like a crocus tentatively emerging through the late-winter snow, I have begun to awaken from the darkness of Impeachment Season, and as the blustery winds of the Democratic Primaries pummel my delicate spirit I search desperately for some warmth which will encourage me to bloom. Fortunately I see some rays of hope, and I turn gratefully towards them. The hope that I cling to is that, like the long dark winter nights, voter apathy is receding into the past.
I see people all around me newly engaged in the political process. They are awakening to the power of their vote and to the importance of their roles as active members of the democratic process.
I see friends devouring the news and paying surprisingly close attention to what the president is doing and saying in these days after he has been given free rein to flout our laws and our Constitution. And they are desperately awaiting their opportunity to have their say.
So many voters have also woken up to the importance of races up and down the ballot. They see how much it matters which party is in control of Congress and the influence of committee chairs. They have had their eyes opened to the enormous power wielded by the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader. The name Mitch McConnell is now familiar to people who had never heard it three years ago.
They see that who the president surrounds himself with matters: Cabinet Secretaries and White House advisers actually do have a huge impact on the quality of our daily lives, and so it matters not just who the president is, but also the nature of his judgment regarding who he will select and nominate to these un-elected positions.
More people are politically aware than at any other time in my memory. Young people are involved like they haven’t been since the turbulent ’60s. Formerly apathetic individuals are not only registered to vote, but registering voters, phone banking, attending rallies, and holding up signs at street corners. Some brave souls are even wading into the waters of local politics. And it does my heart good to see it all happening.
I’m encouraged because I’m seeing growth and engagement with my own eyes. I’ve had the pleasure of having political conversations with people that I never would have dreamed would be interested in discussing primary strategy or the pros and cons of the electoral college.
Yes, it’s true that turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire was disappointingly low. Yes, there are fears that if it doesn’t pick up in Nevada and South Carolina this bodes ill for November.
I choose to believe that that since it is still early in the season many people new to the political process are still adjusting to their role as masters of their own political fate and as yet don’t trust themselves to make such a monumental decision. As the season matures, so will the voters. I feel certain that as we get farther into the process, Democratic support will coalesce around a single candidate and turnout will increase. Otherwise, we run the risk that a marginal candidate with a small but dedicated following may capture a plurality of the vote while other candidates split the small number of votes that remain. This is the exact situation that gave Trump the victory in the Republican primaries in 2016. Our result will be far better if we have a large primary turnout, and I remain hopeful that this will happen.
I will maintain my positive outlook. I’ll keep my eye on the overall positive trend and not be discourage by unseasonable dips.
And I have hope that no matter what happens during the primaries, voters will turn out in great numbers in November.
Here are a few of the positive acts that I’ve personally witnessed:
- My co-workers actually making predictions about the New Hampshire primary — not just who the winner would be, but ranking the candidates all the way down the line.
- My friend, who rarely reads anything deeper than People Magazine, debating the relative merits of the Democratic nominees and assessing whether it makes more sense to nominate a far-left candidate or to hew more to the middle of the road.
- My neighbor, who always reminded me that politics was just a bunch of meaningless noise, sporting a Pete 2020 bumper sticker on his car.
- A high school acquaintance who has told me that it makes absolutely no difference who the president is, because no president ever did anything for anyone, reminding her friends on social media to “Vote Blue people, it matters!”
- An old friend dipping her toe into the waters of public service at the local level, and beginning to consider the idea of running for elected office. (I think she should!)
It’s true that it has taken the near-death of our nation to wake people up. But fortunately it’s not too late, and sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom before you begin to clean up your act.
And the disastrous Trump era has been the wake up call we, the people, needed in order to realize that a healthy national democracy requires care and attention. Because when we’re not paying attention there are plenty of people lurking in the dark corners to make sure that the system works for them and not for us.
For now I will continue to focus on the positive aspects of this season of awakening, and I will nurture these delicate little buds of democracy and try to ensure that my little plot of land flowers and flourishes.