Leave it to Fox News to find a way to take the 2022 Election Day hype to a whole new level.
“This one night could change the course of history,” says a presenter in an advertisement for coverage of Tuesday’s vote count.
Fox is not alone, of course. Talk show hosts, candidates and activists want you to think that the fate of the universe depends on which party holds 51 or 49 Senate seats and who wins the race for governor of Oregon.
President Joe Biden, who never misses an opportunity to exaggerate, trotted out the classic line over the weekend: “Two days until the most important election of our lifetimes.”
This one is as old and tired as it looks. As the president likes to say: Come on, man.
It is only natural that those who invest so much time, energy and money in campaigns present them like this. But it’s bad for our body politic and our sanity that every election is portrayed as the last train stop before Armageddon.
No matter what happens Tuesday night, daily life will continue much the same on Wednesday and Thursday. We will have more elections in two years, despite the president’s alarmism about “democracy”. (It’s a weird definition of democracy that says it only matters if one party wins, but both of our parties have backed off in that corner.)
And whether it’s Democrat Chuck Schumer or Republican Mitch McConnell running the Senate, your life won’t be much affected either way. A divided government means a little less is done on some things, a little compromise happens on others. And anyway, everyone immediately starts looking towards the next election, even if they tried to scare you that it might be canceled.
I was guilty of that hype, too. Somewhere in a box in my garage is probably more than one election news coverage shot in which I’ve written all sorts of big words about the majesty of democracy and the fate of the Republic. But I can’t remember how the 2006 midterms changed the course of history.
I don’t want to diminish the importance of the vote or the seriousness of our problems. We desperately need progress to contain inflation, create a healthy immigration system, reduce crime and improve schools. It is important to know who makes the policy at all levels.
But progress in our system is intentionally slow. An election is not supposed to change the trajectory of humanity. When leaders and pundits constantly declare that one outcome will be glory and the other doomsday, and nothing happens, you get even more cynicism.
And that we have extra.
The structural crises of our politics are real. Congress is not functioning well, every party is overly influenced by extremists, and the growing risk of political violence is frightening. But the answers are not in this election or any other.
No, it is increasingly clear, our fractured politics is only a reflection of something that is cracking in our society. We are divided and afraid of each other.
Consider these data points. In 2021, the bipartisan Battleground poll asked respondents if they thought “compromise and common ground should be the goal of political leaders,” and 66% said yes.
Next, pollsters asked whether voters were “tired of leaders compromising my values and ideals” and whether they “want leaders who will stand up to the other side.” Again, 66% agreed.
If you were a member of Congress, what would you do with it?
The good news is that more recent polls have found that more voters, forced to choose, favor compromise, around 2:1. But then four in five members of either party told NBC News pollsters last month that the other party’s agenda threatened to destroy the country.
It’s more than politics. Although good leaders can help us out, with these kinds of numbers we will continue to elect those who fuel anger and mistrust.
So go ahead. Vote as if it were the final or most important election, or both.
But take a second and ask yourself: is this true? And if it isn’t, why are so many politicians trying so hard to convince you that it is?