In the era of chyrons and clickbait headlines, pundits are prone to calling each election "one of the most important" in American history. The 2018 midterms have certainly received that treatment. And in this case, the characterization is probably on target. The stakes are enormous and the outcome has the potential to determine the answers to these five big questions concerning the future of our nation.
Will power be balanced?
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The balance of power between the President and Congress looms large on Election Day. Many Americans have been taken aback by the ways in which Donald Trump has ruthlessly exercised presidential power. With a compliant GOP in control of Congress, he has encountered little resistance while embarking on one of the most aggressive uses of presidential power in recent history.
In ways that would make Richard Nixon blush, Trump has flexed his executive power to deregulate the economy, erode the Affordable Care Act and ramp up immigration restrictions. Trump has also broken almost every norm of presidential behavior as he stirs up the most extremist elements of his base. Overseas, the President has ripped apart international treaties, engaged in provocative behavior with his adversaries and cozied up to autocratic regimes such as Russia.
The key to President Trump's success has been the passive role of the Republican Congress when it comes to checking the White House. The election of a Democratic majority in Congress -- even if it's just the House-- would mark an important step in restoring some balance between the two branches.
Democratic control of either chamber would also allow the party to shape investigations, set the agenda and check the President in his legislative initiatives. If Republicans retain their hold on Congress, the party will likely feel emboldened to move forward with legislation and drop the Russia investigations, giving the President at least two more years of free rein.
How healthy are our democratic processes?
Putting aside the question of election interference by governments overseas, the biggest threat to our democracy is homegrown. Since the Supreme Court knocked down a key section of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, the nation has witnessed a steady erosion of our democratic process when it comes to the right to vote.
Numerous states, including Georgia, Kansas and Wisconsin imposed stringent voting restrictions -- some of which were struck down and contested -- based in part on false charges of widespread fraud. In an election where the margins of victory are likely to be narrow and voter participation will matter more than anything else, the impact of these laws could be immense. Election Day will provide a first look at the impact these laws have had on the heart and soul of democracy.
On the other hand, my podcast co-host Sam Wang has highlighted numerous measures on the ballot that have the potential to expand voting rights. In Florida, voters will decide whether to enfranchise 1.6 million ex-felons, while Michigan, Colorado and Utah will consider the creation of nonpartisan redistricting commissions. The success of these measures could offer an important counterpoint to voter suppression.
Is the condition of the Democratic Party improving?
The Democrats are clearly excited and enthused, mobilized and angry. But there are still plenty of problems that plague the party. While everyone from Oprah to Joe Biden has been touted as a possible contender against Trump in 2020, the Democrats still lack a leader with the vision and stamina to succeed in a brutal campaign.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, who appeared to be a possible frontrunner, prompted a swift backlash from members of her own party after releasing a video about her Native American heritage.
A victory for the Democrats would provide a huge boost to the party's morale, and energize potential candidates for 2020. If they don't win either chamber, the next presidential election will look even bleaker, along with the future of key policies surrounding the Affordable Care Act, climate change regulation, gun control, the Dreamers and progressive taxation.
Who will control redistricting after 2020?
The biggest story overlooked after the 2010 midterm elections was the success of Republicans at the state level. In his book "Ratf**ked", Dave Daley offered a terrific account of how the Republican national party invested in state elections.
The GOP vastly increased the number of state legislatures and gubernatorial seats that it held. The result was that the party controlled the redistricting that followed the release of the new census and drew solidly red districts. In other words, they built an electoral wall to keep Democrats out. Currently there are only 16 Democratic governors.
The 2018 midterms offer Democrats a chance to reverse this. Democrats are facing good prospects in a number of states, which could empower the party for the next round of redistricting, and of course offer them a chance to shape policy at the local level-- even with President Trump in the White House
What are our national values?
The midterms will provide a measure of our national values in response to President Trump's controversial vision for the future of America.
More dramatic than anything has been his passionate embrace of a hardline position on immigration. After many Americans believed the fight for pluralism and diversity was over, the President has floated out white nationalism in a defiant stand against newcomers in our society.
Trump is a one-man wrecking crew against what he considers "political correctness." He has mocked the #MeToo movement and peddled anti-Muslim rhetoric, while his embrace of America First, a term loaded with negative historical connotations, flies in the face of former leaders who were committed to internationalism.
Many Americans are wondering whether the nation will continue to support a President who represents such incendiary ideas. His closing argument, a campaign ad suggesting that people who seek asylum in the US are murderers, made this choice clear. A vote for a Democratic Congress could be interpreted as a strong rebuke against Trump's rhetoric, while a victory by the Republicans would help legitimize the values of this White House.