The midterms are this Tuesday, and as of right now Republicans are projected to take back the House and maybe even the Senate. For many conservatives, this is a chance to hold the Biden administration accountable for its economic and social policies. For many progressives, the fate of democracy is at stake.
By the way people talk about them, it would seem that elections are a battle for the very soul of our country.
Indeed, this frightened disposition is what led Michael Anton to write his notable 2016 essay, Flight 93 Election, in which he argued that “a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto.” It is what led to historic voter turnout against President Trump in 2020, who for years was accused of being the living embodiment of fascism. The same existentialism is what led rioters to storm the U.S capitol on January 6th, convinced that their enemies stole the election.
After a while, the tendency to treat every election cycle as the Moment We Save America is exhausting. Not to mention, unrealistic.
Will the country end if the right people don’t get elected?
It’s just not that simple. People forget that social and political change, in many ways, happens outside elections. Of course winning helps. Good leaders are crucial to achieve any objective. Not all policy is created equal. But the road to change involves more civics than we care to let on.
Oftentimes, the most important impact occurs where community happens, institutions are built, and people come together to deliberate over the common good.
Just look at the pro-life movement. It took over 40 years for conservatives to build institutions, create a grassroots movement, and work through the legal system. Now Roe v. Wade is overturned and lives are being saved.
Not all change is that slow, but the point stands: not everything is about elections. Some of the most impactful work is done on a ground level, whether it be through schools, town-meetings, churches, non-profits, or businesses. Society is far, far more than its governments.
Everyone is responsible, in some part, for the future of our country. We must bear this in mind as we reflect on the midterm results.
The fate of America will not depend on our preferred candidates winning or losing. But it will be hard for it to endure if we keep acting like it does. If every potential result is an existential crisis, things like virtue and character won’t matter in the grand scheme of winning. Victory will be more important than people.
In fact, this tendency to entertain tribalism at the expense of everything good is destroying our country from the inside out. Without the ability to find any semblance of common-ground or even come to the table with a willingness to listen, elections become mere contests of will. They become less about what politics are supposed to be and more about hamfistedly owning the other side.
We can do better.
Reality is, there will always be work to do. There will always be justice to pursue. But some of the most important change will be done by people who, forsaking despair, are able to think level-headedly about the problems we face. We need more people willing to live with integrity and carry themselves out in love for their neighbor.
The fate of the country depends far more on whether there will be enough people willing to do the hard work of civics than whether Our Savior ™ is elected. It is important to keep elections in perspective. While they are crucial vehicles of change for sure, they are not the whole picture. And the solution to our problems cannot be reduced to them.