Northam Victory A Relief Not A Bellwether

It was a big sigh of relief for all rational people everywhere early Tuesday night when it became clear Democrat Ralph Northam had defeated the racist Republican Ed Gillespie for Virginia governor.

Although Gillespie had supposedly distanced himself from Donald Trump—the liar-in-chief did apparently record last minute robocalls for him—his campaign rhetoric was based on stoking fear of minorities in coded messages much like the unhinged leader of his morally bankrupt political party. Perhaps not as extreme, Gillespie’s strategy followed Trump’s campaign model of hate and racism in the 2016 election.

Gillespie’s anger and hatred didn’t work in a state that Hillary Clinton won by 5 percentage points in 2016. Yet the results show on a pragmatic level that Democrats elected a governor in a swing state in a relatively close victory or, at least, a too-close victory given the reckless actions and current dire circumstances of Trump and his regime and Virginia’s close geographical connection to liberal Washington, D.C.

Some pundits, of course, saw the result as the mighty, final political blow to fell The Donald, and the headlines screamed it, but it really simply revealed that Democrats are trending upwards against Republicans in Virginia as they were in 2016. In other words, it’s, again, welcome news for Democrats, but Northam’s 54 percent to 45 percent victory only means Democrats are in a slightly better place than in 2016. It wasn’t a landslide, and, yes, it should have been in a rational, functioning democracy given the particular election and its geographical location.

I know I open myself up for criticism here, and I’m relieved and happy Northam won, but overplaying the result as a major mandate of change will only lead to crippling apathy. Do not go to bed tonight thinking all is well in this country because a Democrat won a governor’s seat. Trump is still president and his corrupt cronies still hold major offices in his authoritarian government.

With 99 percent of the votes counted, Northam collected 1,401,229 to Gillespie’s 1,168,360. What strikes me by the result—the glass is half empty—is that incredibly more than 1.1 million people out of 2.6 million in a swing state voted for a man affiliated with Trump on the party level and also on the campaign-strategy level. It has been a year since Trump’s election. If people don’t get the threat he poses to our democracy now, it’s probably not going to happen without fundamental changes in Democratic Party leadership and in the tired rhetorical frames used by the mainstream media. Those two changes haven’t happened yet and probably won’t. Northam’s victory gives them both an argument to maintain the status quo, which leads to the same mistakes made in 2016.

This is not to downplay the results, but Virginia isn’t Michigan, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, states that gave us a demented, corrupt man as president. We really don’t know if the Trump kooks and right-wing extremists in those places—even given Trump’s historic low approval ratings—have had a change in heart about the malignant narcissist, who lies to the American people on a consistent basis and colluded with the government of Russia, a hostile foreign nation, in order to sway the election. I’m guessing, if only for defensive purposes, that they haven’t.

In New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy beat Republican Kim Guadagno for governor in a no-surprise election given the absurdity of Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump sycophant played as a chump by the leader he once so adored. Christie has turned the Republican Party in that state into a caricature of corruption and utter nonsense. It might even be funny if Trump wasn’t president.

But, as Northam himself claimed after his victory, “It was said that the eyes of the nation are now on the commonwealth . . .”. Ah yes, “the eyes of the nation.” Indeed, the Democratic Party establishment and media made the Virginia gubernatorial election a referendum on Trump, and in this regard it was utterly inconclusive. Virginia, with its growing metropolitan suburbs near D.C. simply voted along the same lines with an upward trend that it voted in 2016 in terms of presidential candidates. A 60 percent to 40 percent victory or better for Northam would have been a clear sign of change. But an approximate 8 to 9 percentage point victory only tells us that there are still plenty of people who support Trump, which seems inconceivable at this point.

There was also reason for Democrats to celebrate other election victories Tuesday throughout the country. A state Senate win in the state of Washington means Democrats now are fully in control there. But while the signs are encouraging it’s too early to call the victories collectively a wave. Republicans still control the U.S. House and Senate, the presidency and more than two-thirds of the country’s state legislatures. Tuesday night didn’t change a thing about that. Republicans and their leader Trump still hold all the power.

Again, Northam’s victory is a big relief, but if it generates complacency and emboldens the centrist-right element in the Democratic Party then we’re going to replay 2016 in 2020 if the country hasn’t already degraded into a completely criminal, fascist state by then because leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer want to play it safe as they always do.

Let’s be clear that demographics aren’t going to save the Democratic Party or the country as long as Trump is the president.

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