When we talk about this year’s elections, what we’re most obviously talking about is the election, the 2024 presidential election that will, in all likelihood and to what seems like a significant share of the country’s annoyance, pit President Joe Biden against predecessor Donald Trump once again.
I don’t have much to say here beyond what’s already been said and will be said ad nauseam over the next 10 months, which is that if there is a single lesson that Trump fundamentally took from his term and his failed attempt to overthrow the 2020 election, it’s that he didn’t push hard enough against the institutions that foiled his authoritarian designs and if allowed any modicum of power, he will absolutely do it again, probably more effectively this time.
What’s on the table
Locally, New York was considered ground zero of Democrats’ loss of the House in 2022, with a particular bloodbath on Long Island. Now redistricting is back on the table — it’s a complicated legal back and forth, but the takeaway is that the Independent Redistricting Commission is redrawing the state’s congressional maps — and the Democratic party wants to use it to reverse some of the losses.
If Democrats are able to hang on to the Senate and the presidency, picking up just a few districts axes the GOP’s razor-thin House majority and consolidates the executive and legislative branches in Democratic hands for the first time in a generation (as for the Supreme Court, well, it’s not experiencing an ideological drift anytime soon). These efforts will likely center on Long Island, whose wild swing right could in theory be swung back with the proper organization.
There are also a variety of State Assembly races to watch, though there’s zero risk of the body meaningfully changing politically. And, of course, there’s NYC Mayor Eric Adams, who is not facing reelection until next year, but who is facing a looming federal investigation and the potential for an indictment that could, if it comes, seriously threaten his ability to stay in office.
An increasingly chaotic information environment
Setting aside the particulars, I want to take a moment here to address something of higher order about the actual nature of political campaigns in the 2020s, which is the sheer power of narrative detached from real factual basis or even basic plausibility, and cemented almost entirely on exploiting personal grievance. This isn’t a new phenomenon, of course; 60 years ago, Barry Goldwater rose to the Republican presidential nomination in large part on the strength of a platform based largely around loose resentments towards social progress rather than a more traditional policy approach. This paved the way for Richard Nixon’s victory four years later in arguably the first real triumph (at least in the United States) for a movement that was fundamentally reactionary. You can of course look even further than that for examples.
What I mean is that we’ve gone way past that, reaching the point where political operators can literally outline a plan to weaponize certain concepts for electoral success without any real substance or having to so much as establish any foundation to their claims, and have it work anyway. This is a kind of a specific jab at Christopher Rufo, the right-wing provocateur and anti-woke crusader who notoriously sketched out, almost three years ago, a plan to strip “critical race theory” of all meaning and use it as a pure cudgel to bash ideological enemies, only to see the strategy completely pay off.
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, rode the CRT panic to victory in a tough purple-state election and then issued an executive order against the policy on his first day in office, despite the pretty clear evidence that it was fundamentally a non-issue. The rather arcane, academic study of CRT as a discipline simply doesn’t occur at the K-12 level, but that didn’t matter. It was Rufo’s plan executed to a tee, and the only thing he and others have taken away from this is that this approach works and there’s no real reason to have a policy-based approach to elections when manufacturing a narrative is easier, more cost-effective, spreads faster, is difficult to argue against (you can’t really engage with an emotion-driven fiction), and it works.
Rufo might be one of the more open and consistent purveyors of these narratives (see his latest work on weaponizing plagiarism claims against higher education) but he’s far from the only one, and while it seems to be a predominantly right-wing phenomenon, it’s not exclusively so. There is, for example, a tendency on the left to wave away positive economic signals as pure conspiracy and establish the facially ridiculous idea that Biden and Trump are practically indistinguishable on economic policy, among other things. All of it is powered by an increasingly chaotic information environment bled dry of authoritative arbiters and rife with mistrust, all taking place against the backdrop of all-encompassing culture and an unraveling sense of shared reality.
Nobody is immune
The reason I’m dedicating so much of what is ostensibly an election overview piece to this is because, simply, you are not immune, and it will get worse. We like to think that as generally smart people, as I assume my readers are, we’re above getting caught in these narrative lures, and will be making our decisions rigidly based on the facts. To be frank, it’s a bit presumptuous to assume that will happen without due effort, and the reality is it’s not easy to be an informed and attentive civic participant. People are trying to trick you for electoral gains, and most of the time they only tenuously believe or don’t care at all about the underlying claims; they’re counting on you to fall for it.
With all that in mind, I have just some simple asks for you: when you come across what seem to be specific political narratives — there is some nebulous school instruction trying to teach your kids reverse racism; industries like rail and airlines are experiencing failures not because of corporate consolidation and cost-cutting, but some commitment to diversity; wages are actually down and Biden is trying to crush unions despite all available economic data and a pro-labor NLRB; etc — think about the objective of the claim.
What is it trying to get you to do, and why? Who benefits, and who’s making the claim? What is their own trajectory? Have they made a lot of claims like this that they’ve abandoned once it’s no longer convenient? What is the actual, factual basis — not what feels right, or seems to make sense, but the specific undergirding set of assertions, figures, and outcomes that establishes or disproves what you’re being told? Maybe you already do this, but do it more meticulously. Tell your friends and family to do it. Don’t let others get away with misleading you and your community. This is all too important to be vibes-based.