Despite polarization, what can this election teach us? Skip to content

Despite polarization, what can this election teach us?

Are there lessons for both parties from the surprising results of this election? Ken Wolf thinks there are.

3 min read

Although the final results of the 2022 midterm election will not be available for days or weeks, there is much that both parties can learn from what we know so far. And we can learn this from the voting public more than from polls or nasty commercials.

First, we can see that the recent Supreme Court decision reversing Roe v. Wade has significant political implications for Republicans. Those on the right who want to follow the end of Roe with further legal and judicial measures controlling human sexual behavior had best back off. Perhaps now, LGBTQ+ folks and transgender citizens can relax just a bit.

Maybe banning literature in schools and libraries that don’t meet conservative evangelical religious standards of righteousness will slow down a bit.

Perhaps it is clear now that the American people are tiring of election deniers, conspiracy theories, and Christian Nationalists who think America is a nation specially chosen by God for white people instead of one built upon slave labor and the destruction of indigenous peoples.

Second, this election suggests that there will not be either a “blue wave” or a “red wave” in our political future. Instead, we may be seeing a “democratic wave” in which more and more people turn out to vote to protect our threatened democratic republic. One pundit I read last week made fun of Joe Biden for making this an election to save democracy when “people aren’t interested in that issue.”

I think he was wrong. We may be on the verge of a “common sense” wave among voters. Our polarized political scene may soon convince know-it-all pollsters and opinion writers that voters are just not going to pick one side or another. The message seems to be that party leaders need to move toward the center of the political spectrum — and that means talking to each other without name-calling and demonizing of opponents.

Television advertisements before this election hit a new moral low. They were embarrassingly ugly. They were clearly ineffective in persuading most Americans to jump on the bandwagon of either side. Donald Trump’s candidates did not sweep the board as he hoped, and neither did those on the left wing of the Democratic party.

Democrats are doing better than most people thought they would in this election. Perhaps Joe Biden will get some respect for fighting for democracy when everyone thought that inflation and the economy were the only things people cared about. Maybe the voting public is not as shallow as Trump Republicans think we are.

I would not be surprised if Biden’s poll numbers didn’t rise a bit in the future, and I would expect that the number of election deniers would decline as well. Republicans may want to think twice before nominating Donald Trump for president in 2024.

Republicans may control one or both houses of Congress, but if they do, and misuse their majority to punish their enemies in Trumpian fashion instead of actually working with Democrats to sensibly and humanly solve our immigration issues, voters will remember in 2024.

Voters will also hold politicians in Congress to account if they do not stop posturing to please the fossil fuel lobbies, and start getting really serious about addressing ways of sensibly addressing climate changes.

Both parties need to return to the traditional view of politics as the art of the possible, not a vehicle for imposing one’s ideology on the other side. If this election seems to carry a message, it may be that people want a return to what historian Arthur Schlesinger called “the vital center” in a book by that title written in 1949.

Humans can only maintain high levels of emotional energy for short periods of time; then we must rest. Americans have spent too many years divided in ways that have become not just nasty, but dangerously depressing for folks on both sides.

This election makes clear that neither side will win this war. It is time to solve rather than create problems; it is time to have a peace conference.

Maybe Joe Biden can arrange something next year.


Print Friendly and PDF

Ken Wolf

Ken Wolf spent 40 years teaching European and World History, punctuated by several administrative chores, at Murray State University, retiring in 2008. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)