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Are people in U.S. awakened to the importance of the rapidly approaching midterm election?
With both Democrats and Republicans vying for control of the House and Senate, the majority party will have the advantage to pass their legislative agendas producing outcomes that could hugely impact Trumps presidency and the direction of the nation.
On this episode of Making Contact, we speak with Dr. James Lance Taylor about the how the midterm elections actually work, and its significance in shaping our political landscape. Redistricting? Voter Disenfranchisement? (more) conservative Supreme Court judges? Whats the power of local and state elections without the Electoral College in play? If theres such a thing as a blue wave and a pink wave what would a Black wave mean?
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The X Factor in the Midterms
Anita Johnson: The 2018 midterm elections are fast approaching with both Democrats and Republicans vying for control of the House and Senate. With control of Congress, the majority party will have the advantage to pass their legislative agendas producing outcomes that could greatly impact the future of Trumps presidency and the course of our nation. This midterm, possibly more than any other, offers the chance for American voters to weigh in on issues far more important than Kayne Wests visit to the White House.
Hi Folks, Im Anita Johnson and this is Making Contact. Today were talking about good old American democracy at work. And to help me provide you with a comprehensive understanding of how the midterm elections actually work, its significance in shaping our political landscape as well as its importance to You the American voter, so I sat down with Dr. James Lance Taylor, a professor at the University of San Francisco and the author of Black Nationalism in the United States: From Malcolm X to Barack Obama.
Prof. James Taylor: These midterms are so important for one reason is that they determine the redistricting that happens every 10 years. And what we’re experiencing now is the after effect of the Republicans winning in 2010 in the year of the Tea Party and their outrage over Barack Obama’s successful passage of the Affordable Healthcare Act.
This system is set up by Congress and by the Constitution that every two years you basically have a a regional election at the level of Congress. So in terms of the congressional districts all 435 members of the House of Representatives, the lower house are always up every two years. Members of the Senate, which is in America are considered the upper house, only one third of them are running every two years and effectively every six years for the total 100 members of the U.S. Senate. So this is by constitutional design a system of staggered leadership. Where to show you how antidemocratic it is, the only branch of government that the American people were allowed to directly elected from the outset were their members of the House of Representatives and the presidency. And even with the president see the people don’t directly elected president because of the Electoral College system. And so the way the system is sort of set up in terms of the Senate it cannot be overturned radically by let’s say a democratic impulse that says let’s throw the bums out. All 100 could never be thrown out legally. Only 33 can but the house where people do directly elect their members of Congress can be all thrown out at once. All 435 people who are members of Congress can be voted out at once.
If that by some perfect storm in politics could happen, it is permissible by the Constitution where democracy is limited because the people can directly limit members of the house they cannot. It wasn’t until 1913 with the 17th amendment that Americans could vote directly for the U.S. senators. So even the idea of voting for a senator is relatively new in our system’s history. So there’s a great deal of anti or democratic, which means pro Republican small are not party, but the concept of philosophical Republicanism where the minority share some rule with the majority the democracy. So many Americans don’t understand that the midterm elections are every bit as vital as the presidential elections but because of the way our media and the sort of sports coverage nature of our presidential elections people see it and view it through the lens of winning and losing. You know red or blue you win or lose. But the midterm elections are much less ideological and much more immediate and proximate where you live. The midterm elections have more to do with ballot initiative, propositions, who your governor will be, who your school board leaders will be, who the municipal leaders will be. They more directly impact the everyday realities of people’s lives. While Washington of course has powerful influence, the midterm elections become very important because they allow people to sort of participate on a regular basis. But again it ultimately undermines democracy.
Anita Johnson: Whoa, did he just say undermines democracy? Historically, Americans have placed less political stock in midterms as compared to presidential elections. But this could be due to a myriad of different factors the main one being the belief that voting doesnt matter. As you rcan recall, many expressed a sense of apathy after the 2016 presidential election where Donald Trump won despite the fact that Hillary Clinton secured the popular vote. And this week, the Public Research Institute projected that only one in three young Americans, between the ages of 18-29 in the U.S. will vote in the November midterm elections.
That number is in sharp contrast to the expected turnout for other age groups; 81 percent of seniors age 65 and up.
And if we factor in all the current shenanigans being pulled to disenfranchise voters the biggest electoral problem in America – its looking like Democracy is fighting an uphill battle. Dr. Taylor…
Prof. James Taylor: Republicans can’t win outright except in red territory but nationally again you go back to Trump and Bush they need. They had they couldn’t win through popular vote. They went through the Electoral College mechanism. And I think it signals that the Republicans have a demographic problem going forward because this country is browning. Trump is a symptom of the reaction to it the country projections are that 100 million people are will be a part of the new population over the next 50 to 75 years. The African-American population is going from 44 million which is what it is now to 65 million and 25 to 30 years to 75 million by 2050. So we’re not talking we’re not talking 100 years. We’re talking about the Asian population in the United States has doubled the fastest growing group out of all groups in America are South Asians. So the Asian population in the U.S. doubles the Latino population is the most pronounced population growth in every county in America including Vermont, Maine, Iowa, South Dakota…places like that. So they Republicans have a demographic problem. America is browning and they are completely out of touch with it and can only win by mechanisms like the Electoral College or redistricting or gerrymandering. Basically what people call political cheating. Both parties do it but the Republicans are doing it now for their survival. The Democrats have a geographic problem the way the electoral college system is structured. You have a handful of people living in Montana and they get the same kind of senatorial and Electoral College representation as someone in a larger population and in the country. And so Republicans have a geographic advantage that even though they have fewer people they still get electoral college votes based on where they do exist and that’s the way the system was set up. So mainstream media I think you know has not done a good job in really sort of expressing the outrage like the way you see people now expressing outrage about shogi.
There’s no outrage about voter suppression. There is information and news reporting but there’s no sense of this is morally wrong. And there’s been no have you no shame Republican Party moment. And so they continue to thrive in this way. Kemp obviously is in trouble with Stacey Abrams. She’s tapped into something going back to the civil rights Democrat New Deal roots which I think is the future of the Democratic Party if it has any use. Kemp has a long record of voter suppression trying to cut back on voter rights. This is what the Republicans have done generally. But this is what was done in the last election cycle for example in Alabama. They closed down. I think some 20 to 30 DMV stations where people could vote and register on site throughout the African-American community. So this is the nature of the tactics. But we’ve been doing it for 80 years. When it was the Democrats that were the racist party they were doing it. So at what point…I mean we saw Ava DuVernay movie Selma and it showed the scene with Oprah Winfrey’s character where she had to figure out the jellybeans we know about the poll taxes the white primary. At some point the Democrats and the progressives have got to build this in as a factor that they know is going to emerge in every election cycle is that Republicans are going to do everything they can to offset their numbers problem. And as a consequence the ACLU, the NAACP, Stacey Abrams own campaign, and other campaigns have got to challenge these people directly before the courts. Even if Trump’s appointees are there, let’s not assume that they dominate. He’s gotten 75 people in the last one year. But Barack Obama had eight years to put his own kind of judges there so they are there too still and Obama has that made an imprint on the federal courts too. Even though Trump has gotten more attention because there are more recent. But so I think challenging these tactics and these methods should be an ongoing part of the process like our ancestors knew that there were going to be obstructionist efforts at the polls and they did everything they could. The SNCC and other voter registration efforts down in Loudoun County, Alabama and McComb, Mississippi they educated the people, they provided voter education, they provided transportation, they did everything they could cause they know what they were up against. So if the Republicans are able to cheat at this point, in plain sight, I don’t want to blame the Democrats, but I’m just saying, I’ve been watching the political parties operate for the past 30 40 years and it seems like, and I like to joke around about this, that the Republicans act like the Washington Generals to the Harlem Globetrotters. The Washington Generals in basketball-the Globetrotters only play one team all the time and that’s the Generals- are contractually obligated to lose to the Globetrotters all the time. You know the Democrats have behaved like that. So when you select people like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker you know going cut throat if you will, excuse the language, after Kavanaugh going sort of real blunt, people were excited that Cory Booker said I’m willing to have myself censored and removed as a senator at this moment because I’m going to drop this dime on Kavanaugh about his position on affirmative action, that got lost. But what I’m suggesting is that kind of boldness, that kind of strident conduct, is what Democrats have long been waiting for in their leadership.
Anita Johnson: Youre listening to — The X Factor in the Midterms. This is Making Contact. To listen to past shows, subscribe to our podcast, get our updates or support our work. Go to radioproject.org. You can help us do this work. Please make a donation right now at radioproject.org and hit the donate button. No corporate or government funding just you. Any amount of support helps. Thank you!
With key issues such as education, healthcare, immigration and the environment leading political discourse, it will be interesting to see just how things play out this midterm election and beyond. Again, Dr. Taylor…
Prof. James Taylor: I think the Democrats and the conservatives their table is set and they’re getting everything they want to eat. And they’re realizing it’s not nearly as good as they thought it was going to be. The chaos that they are creating–the unintended consequences of eliminating women’s reproductive rights as a national policy–it won’t go away. Women will still have the right to choose around the country in states at the state level because certain states like California New York will make sure but that disadvantages people mainly in these red states. You know Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, you know Texas, it disadvantages even Republican women and families in those places and because of politics and ideology that tends to get lost in the in the in the winning and losing and that’s the problem I have with American politics. All of this is shaped in the form of winners and losers. My whole analysis of Donald Trump and Kavanagh was that Donald Trump was only concerned about winning. He didn’t care about the morality, the lessons his teaching a generation of young people, it was all about winning and losing. And that’s where we are in American politics when we come back to winning and losing in terms of the midterm elections, I’m the only professor and scholar I know of across the country who said that Barack Obama’s presidency was effectively reduced to a two year presidency. Once the Tea Party rose up against him in 2010 and then Donald Trump came to champion the birther movement right after that, Barack Obama’s presidency you can’t think of a signature piece of legislation that came from him outside of recognition of Cuba in the second term. He got re-elected. And there’s nothing we can really point to.
He spent all his political capital on the Affordable Healthcare Act. In term one and right away in term one and that engendered the fierce backlash. I think Trump is doing the same thing with offending so many groups including the LGBTQ transgender individuals and promising that they were going to erase them, all one point five million of them, as people and as having any kind of legal status in the country and they can’t anticipate the backlash that comes from this. Even with these voter I.D. and voter suppression efforts people didn’t expect black turnout in 2012 to set a record. Black people set a record. Voters in ’08. That’s predictable. Obama was showing up and they finally found a candidate who could win. 2012 was not predictable but Black voters turned out in record numbers in 2012. They turned out in Alabama with the Doug Jones Roy Moore election. Black women win number one. Black men were number two. And so everyone’s talking about a pink wave. And there is going to be one is already in place even if November 6 doesn’t happen it’s already been a pink wave. People are talking about a blue wave. That’s obviously happened. But what no one’s talking about is the black wave. And I want to reiterate if you look down in Shelby County, Mississippi where Memphis is, in that county, African-American women and men voters were able to capture 21 of 26 seats across the county including the two most powerful seats-Mayor of the county and Sheriff . So Black people are in power in those specific seats.
And it’s all because of the mobilization of people at the grassroots in Memphis and they’ve won. And we’re not talking about it like we should be but I think the idea the audacity of Republicans in 12,for example, to go after our mothers and grandmothers who weren’t allowed to vote in the 50s and the 60s and before they leave this earth they were being told again like the group of Black people in the bus recently in Atlanta that will pull over by the police in Georgia that they can’t vote again. What I’m trying to say is no one saw the anger of Black voters in 2012 and no one has actually reported on it but they turned out in a record number the second time outperforming every group in America including whites as a voting age. Eligible numbers of people came out who could vote. And so that’s what I expect that these sort of offences, offending LGBT communities, threatening women and reproductive rights, threatening blacks, and going after these voter suppression and voter ID tactics I think will backfire. The exit polls will say one thing in about two months later. The research from political scientists will look at the census and give us a different set of facts but whatever they are I suspect that they’re going to show large turnout amongst women and African-American people in particular.
Anita Johnson: The expected mobilization of the Black voting populous is high this midterm. But the turnout is expected to be equally significant for women and Democrats. Im sure youve all heard terms such as the Pink wave and the Blue wave. Heres Dr. Taylor with a breakdown of waves. He shares which political body may have the biggest impact this election and why the Kavanaugh effect is significant for American voters.
Prof. James Taylor: The pink wave is the prediction by national media and pundits that there will be a 1992 style year of the woman electoral effect and turnout that women will be the headline on November 7th. I think it’s already happened.
If you look at what’s going on in the Democratic side, 70 percent of their candidates who are women who run against male candidates have won. There’s been a record number of African-American women at the city level in terms of municipalities like London Breed here in San Francisco. All three major cities in Louisiana are now mayored by Black women. So you know you have that effect across the board. The pink wave is responsive to what happened on January 17 where women around the country gathered around the world in massive marches and then this is where “Me To” enters is as a part of this as Black women were saying to their white sisters where they realized they were invisible in the pink movement was hey me too. Now all of a sudden “Me To” kind of got co-opted in that way too. Now we don’t even know “Me To” was a Black thing but I don’t want to offend our liberal brothers and sisters. ut the pink wave was about this idea that there will be a replication of the 1992 election that gave us Dianne Feinstein, Carol Moseley Braun in Illinois, Barbara Boxer, and a record number of women senators and members of the house already those numbers have been surpassed by the Democratic column. Ironically on the Republican column they’re only offering up women in 30 percent of their contests. So it’s like two different phenomena happening Democrats and women are uniting for women’s own causes and interests just like if blacks had their own interests. Women have identify with the Democratic Party for their own purposes. Even though the majority of white women have been Republican conservative since 1964. White women have never voted for a Democrat in the majority since 1964.
Now I would imagine, if in normal politics Donald Trump would be able to expect a fierce back electoral backlash in what we call in the literature academic electoral rewards and punishments. Donald Trump should expect and the Republicans a severe electoral punishment but that’s not what is being projected. The Republicans are doing fine in the Senate and there’s some question that’s whether or not Democrats can take over the house. So that’s the pink wave is this projection that women will rise and they already have the. There’s a blue wave, the idea that Democrats will usher in a large reaction to Trump and defeat and take over the House and the Senate. The reality is that in American political history in the modern era since FDR only two presidents have gained seats while in office. And that was all that was Clinton in ’98 after the country punished Republicans for impeaching him rather than simply censoring him. And then also add 2002 after 9/11 Americans voted to support Bush in 2002. But apart from that every president who’s in office loses seats. So Donald Trump should we should expect him to lose seats. And if you listen to his language he’s becoming more and more desperate, more and more inflammatory, more and more you know focusing on culture, because of the lack of issues and because I think next month, at least with the House, Democrats are going to really have some impact.
And so supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh is I think going to be an important issue for voters on the margins both the hard left and the hard right. I don’t think many middling Americans will focus on Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination and the nomination process and debacle an actual vote as much as they will focus on bread and butter issues at the more immediate level around health care and minimum wage and some environmental kinds of issues. Taxes on large corporations like over in San Francisco you have what I call the Trump tax where city officials, the progressives, and city council are going after all of the companies that have made you know who benefited from Donald Trump’s tax cuts. These are the kinds of efforts that are happening. I think Judge Kavanaugh is one issue and it’s a settled fight as Donald Trump said they won. But I don’t think anyone can expect and predict the kind of reaction that will happen. I think there will be a fierce electoral response to the Kavanaugh hearings by the most mobilized. But I think will be a general move along kind of reaction from average people who are some time voters as it relates to this big issue of the Supreme Court justice nomination that we all just observed. So I do think that the most dedicated partisans are going to be the most mobilized and the most angry in these times. But the middling Americans that’s where the competition is.
And that’s why I think the Republicans have lost in their messaging, lost in their appeals, and lost in terms of being able to stand by any achievements outside of increasing national debt, increasing the debt by I think five trillion dollars since January, and now they want to go after Social Security and health care and Medicaid. So if that doesn’t mobilize people to vote and react to this then I don’t know what will. So for all of the above reasons the best prediction I can give and there’s always a danger in this especially for academics because you always look bad because you always end up wrong, I would say that all of the signals are that the Democrats will take back the House and that they would shock the world if they took back the Senate. But it’s not likely.
Anita Johnson: Well, anything is possible. But the outcome of this midterm election will be truly based on whether people actually get out and vote. But of course, we cant count on the individuals whose names have been purged from the voter rolls. Like in Georgia where over 100,000 people have been denied their rights to vote. Well, its like this under the state’s “use it or lose it” law, a person is removed from voter rolls if they fail to vote, respond to a notice or make contact with election officials over a three-year period. Yikes! That kind of hurts. Is this Democracy at its best?
Mmmm, Id tend to lean towards a solid response of no. But keep in mind, Im only here to guide you towards the information. Information that would even suggest that theres lessons and brilliance to be observed from Trumps election campaign. Yup, I said it. There are powerful lessons to be learned from Donald Trumps election win. Dr. Taylor….
Prof. James Taylor: And this is why I think people should study Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 with the Electoral College. Minorities and women and other groups that are less powerful like Donald Trump in terms of real electoral, in terms of real voter power, should do like Trump did what Trump did was caught everybody off guard. People were apathetic in Wisconsin, in Ohio, in Michigan. And he woke up the people that Hillary wouldn’t go after they were there for her but she just did not appeal to them just assume their Democratness. And what I’m saying is Black voters, politicians, women politicians, LGBTQ people, all off year elections should be when they mobilize more than ever because they have a greater chance of catching everybody off guard because everybody asleep. If Black politics, you know again this is Monday morning quarterbacking, but ideally you know Black politics of the last 50 years would have been, hey we do off year elections because they’re not paying attention and that’s when we can win our issues locally that the county level, where we can win Sheriff seats, we can win you know all kinds of county positions, and in fact county and municipal policy but we just sort of like everyone else go to sleep every off year election and then wake up may be for the presidential election. But if we wanted to win all the time we would go for the off year elections and that would be our sneaky tactic, our subterranean tactic would be nobody is really participating if we really do we can win our issues because it strengthens our numbers because they’re not looking.
And that’s what conservatives do and that’s what older white voters do every off year election for Republicans is they can rely on those groups to turn out and they do faithfully. And that’s when Republicans win redistricting and other kinds of policy. This is what Democrats need to learn to do is learn how to win in these alternative ways rather than the traditional ways.
Anita Johnson: I guess theres a lesson in almost anything. And as one might look at the Democratic party to become more progressive in their approach, getting in step with voters and becoming more in touch with the needs of the people are common themes among all the current political campaigns. On November 6th we will see which political party has galvanized the most American voters. One thing is for sure if you dont vote, you cant complain.
Hey Everyone, thanks so much for listening to Making Contact — The X Factor in the Midterms
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The Making Contact team is Lisa Rudman, Salima Hamirani, Monica Lopez, Anita Johnson, Sabine Blaizin, and Im Anita Johnson. Thanks for listening to, Making Contact. and well see you again here next week.