Here come those headlines again:
“On The Trail: Why 2020 is the most important election in our lifetime.”
“Hannity: The single biggest choice election in modern American history.”
“This November’s presidential election is ‘the most important’ since 1860.”
“Why 2020 Is the Most Consequential Election Ever.”
“The Most Important Election of Our Lifetimes — Really, This Time.”
“How often have you heard politicians say…” “It is a tired cliché…” “It’s been said of the last eight elections….”
Yet politicians – and pundits – keep saying it: “the most important election.” (Some after having said it of the previous election.)
So here it is: 2020 is not the “most important election” of anything. Because – listen up – there is no such thing.
It’s been said that history – and politics – have long tails. You think the many transformative actions and reactions that could result from Sleepy Joe and his crowd winning this year suddenly popped up from nowhere?
The Green New Deal, even the “Biden-lite version?” Nuts, right?
Medicare-for-All (or Joe’s functional equivalent, the “public option”)? Unaffordable and unthinkable.
Student loan forgiveness, free college and day care? Not even possible.
Defunding (e.g., “reallocating”) the police? Who can take that seriously?
All outlandish notions, of course. But outlandish notions “suddenly” become reality after elections because of changes in perspectives that built momentum over time – often thanks to seemingly “inconsequential” votes.
Take an event from the not especially earth-shaking 1952 campaign (a mere quadrennial before this commentator’s lifetime commenced). Earl Warren, Governor of California and a presidential “favorite son,” stepped aside at the Republican convention in favor of General Dwight Eisenhower.
Yeah. THAT Earl Warren.
Whether or not as a quid pro quo for clearing the way (that aspect’s disputed), Ike made Warren his first Supreme Court nomination.
The “Warren Court,” starting with the correctly decided but constitutionally questionable Brown decision, set a new standard for judicial legislating, upending criminal procedure, the place of religion, civil rights, sexual practice, and social convention.
That Court’s expansive constitutional perspective led to the Griswold contraceptive decision, discovering a right to privacy in the “penumbras and emanations” of the Bill of Rights.
Griswold’s connected to the Roe case. Roe is connected to the Lawrence case (overturning sodomy laws.) Lawrence is connected to the Obergefell case (same-sex marriage).
Oh, hear the word of the Warren!
All of which, BTW, opened the way for the seemingly overnight turnaround on views toward the transgender movement, including last month’s stunning decision – by a Trump appointee, no less – allowing LGBT discrimination suits under the Civil Rights Act.
Could one not argue – given the momentous legal, political, social and even fiscal and economic earthquakes just this wave of cases let loose – that the seemingly sleepy 1952 election was the “most important in (pick your time period)?”
Or maybe Tricky Dick Nixon’s win in 1968. That administration saw the launch of the Environmental Protection Agency, the poster child for excessive, out-of-touch government. Plus the wildly unsupportable decision by its first administrator, career elitist William Ruckelshaus, to totally ban DDT – which has resulted in the deaths of maybe 100 million people worldwide from malaria (coronavirus? a comparative piker). And set the precedent for setting aside science based on purely PR considerations.
Or the 2000 election – that produced America’s longest war, from which two successive administrations have been able to extract the nation. And freed one Al Gore to engage in his own science-free, Oscar-winning crusade that may well culminate in a nationally bankrupting end to newfound energy independence.
Meanwhile, what about the supposedly “transformative” 1980 election? Many Reagan domestic reforms are gone with the wind. “Tear down that wall” and the fall of the Soviet Union, you say? Russia doesn’t seem altogether friendly these days. And the old Cold War seems positively comfy compared with the new one with a supremely more powerful China.
2016 seemed pretty momentous – until a virus exported by said Chinese and a cop kneeling on an ex-convict’s neck disrupted the disruptor. And flabbergasting Supreme Court defections let the air out of a heralded judicial “remake.” Now it seems the whole Trump Revolution may turn into a brief speed bump on the long road to leftist radicalization.
So what of 2020? One thinks the reader has gotten the point by now. The expected shocks in the event of a win by The Somnolent One are really just straws snapping long-strained camel backs. If Trump somehow triumphs, he’ll still remain essentially Gulliver-bound by Pelosian Lilliputians.
Meanwhile, a novel long tail may be building toward a new, family-and-worker-oriented conservatism led by thinkers like Oren Cass. Or perhaps inexorably toward the heretofore equally outlandish notion of another secession (the term preferred here is “partition”), as the Whole Foods and Cracker Barrel Americas accept that their differences are indeed irreconcilable.
The “most important election in (fill in the blank)?” Fuggeddaboudit. Unless you’re like this correspondent, who, being ever the forward-looking optimist, chooses the next one. Or maybe the one after that.