America’s partisan divide is deep and growing: one that dominates conversations and sometimes challenges long-held relationships. Contentious issues have, for many, become visceral, capable of causing bile to rise in throats and excess blood pooling in the eyes.
America turned out record numbers of 2018 midterm election voters. Hard-fought race results were often razor thin. Some of the losers — Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s epic $70+million campaign against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz being a notable example — were funded by record tsunami-sized green waves of special interest cash.
Whereas both sides suffered losses and declared victories, these broad-brushstroke pictures invite diverse detailed interpretations. On the whole, however, Democrats, as generally expected, reclaimed control of the U.S. House for at least the next couple of years, while less expectedly, Republicans extended a much-coveted Supreme Court justice-appointment vote margin in the Senate.
Overall, progressives took greater overall trumpings in both House and Senate races than more moderate Democrats. The same was true for old guard establishment holdouts on the GOP side.
Those who stood with the president tended to remain on their feet.
Elizabeth Warren’s 1/1,024th Native American heritage apparently wasn’t enough to keep her liberal tribe on the reservation. Despite millions in wampum she raised with campaign promises of free medical and college blankets for all, most of her war party candidates added only casualty statistics.
Which issues and priorities were most influential with voters? According to a nationwide CNN exit poll, Americans care most about many of the same issues, although not necessarily in the same ways or with common solutions.
The importance of good healthcare topped the list for those identified with both parties.
While each side supported preexisting condition insurance coverage, the Democrats who enacted Obamacare actually favored the greatest overall changes.
Next came immigration policy (a split between too tough versus just right or too soft), followed by the importance of having a strong economy (which a two-thirds majority felt good about).
About three-quarters of all voters polled said that extremist violence was an important factor in their House votes, and even more (men included) favored electing more women to public office (which occurred).
Seven-in-ten also wanted more racial and ethnic minorities to gain seats.
Americans also have strong views about top government leaders. While nearly half had unfavorable personal views of President Trump, even fewer liked the idea of Rep. Nancy Pelosi becoming speaker of the House again.
There are big differences between predominate rural and urban perspectives on a variety of these and other social and political issues — less so, overall, between suburban Democrats and Republicans.
A May 22 Pew Research Center poll found that all Democrats gave Trump a very cold overall rating on a “feeling thermometer” scale: (78 percent of urban and 75 percent rural). Republicans shared comparably cold views of former President Obama (78 percent negative in rural areas, 70 percent in urban). Most urban Democrats gave Obama a warm 83 percent rating, as did 72 percent of the rural Democrats.
Demographic attitudes were also highly divided regarding whether or not increasing immigration rates benefit or threaten traditional American customs and values. Whereas the great majority of Democrats (75 percent of urban; 81 percent rural) held favorable views, nearly the same proportion of Republicans disagreed.
The Pew poll concluded that a significant gap in attitudes regarding abortion rights has more to do with demographic communities than parties. Similar shares of Republicans and Democrats in urban areas (61 percent) favor legality, versus 46 percent in rural locations.
There can be no doubt that Republican Senate mid-term gains benefited at the expense of mercilessly brutal Democrat character assassination smear campaign attacks against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings.
There is little hope that acrimonious matters will become more civil anytime soon.
New Democratic House leaders, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep, Jerry Nadler and Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings promise to launch an endless anti-Trump hyperinvestigation frenzy of subpoena and impeachment assaults.
Although much can change before the 2020 elections, the Democrats face a couple of big hurdles. One is growing public fatigue with a drum beat of resistance to a record job-producing economy, citizen and small business tax relief, a booming stock market, long-overdue international trade rebalancing, and muscular national security progress with ISIS and North Korea.
The other challenge is to define a viable candidate and platform of their own.
If the midterm results served as a teachable moment, what have we ultimately learned?
Perhaps the biggest takeaway is to expect that while next couple of turbulent years will continue to strain bounds of political civility, there is a good side to this as well. Those contentious passions that sometimes pit neighbor against neighbor also reflect a deeply shared love of country and concern about a common future.
Let’s endeavor to remember that above all, however divided on many issues, we are a family of Americans.
Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. He is the author of several books, including "Thinking Whole: Rejecting Half-Witted Left & Right Brain Limitations" (2018), "Reflections on Oceans and Puddles: One Hundred Reasons to be Enthusiastic, Grateful and Hopeful” (2017), "Cosmic Musings: Contemplating Life Beyond Self" (2016), and "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles." — Click Here Now.
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