Democracy Was on the Ballot—And Won

The American crisis isn’t over, but the midterms were a good sign.

American flags in the US Capitol.
American flags in the US Capitol. (Samuel Corum / Getty)

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Some observers ridiculed Joe Biden for making a closing pitch for democracy, but as it turns out, Americans do care about more than the price of gas. Voters concerned about democracy and their rights defied predictions of a red wave and sharply limited Republican gains.

But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.

Deniers Denied

Let’s get the bad news out of the way: In yesterday’s midterm elections, a fair number of odious candidates managed to buy tickets to Washington. Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson is going back to the Senate, where he will be joined by Ohio’s would-be hillbilly whisperer J. D. Vance, whose campaign will stand for years to come as a monument to cynicism and hypocrisy. We don’t know yet if Kari Lake—or as my friend Tim Miller calls her, the “Empress of Trollistan”—will become governor of Arizona. And we still don’t know who will control Congress.

Nonetheless, yesterday was a good day for democracy. Some of the worst election deniers and kookiest candidates were sent packing, in many cases by larger margins than anyone—including me—expected. Among those who must now go back to writing angry Facebook posts and griping on conservative podcasts were such notables as Don Bolduc, the retired general who promised to get to the bottom of the Great Kitty Litter Mystery, and Mehmet Oz, the carpetbagging celebrity doctor.

At the state level, things look even brighter for the protection of democracy, as voters turned back a fleet of extremists and outright weirdos. Michigan, whose Democratic governor was the target of a bizarre kidnap plot two years ago, is now under a unified Democratic government for the first time in nearly 40 years. A crackpot running as the GOP candidate for governor in Pennsylvania was drubbed in a double-digit loss to an utterly conventional Democrat. And let’s even give a cheer as well for one Republican: Brad Raffensperger, who had to endure death threats for defying Donald Trump’s demands to upend the 2020 vote in Georgia, was reelected as secretary of state.

As the elections analyst Sean Trende said today on Twitter: “It turns out that selecting your candidates from the Star Wars cantina might not be a recipe for electoral success.”

If you want to know how bad a night it was for Republicans, check Trump’s temperature, which apparently zoomed last night past “boiling,” through “molten lead,” and is now somewhere near “the surface of the sun.” And rightly so: Some in the GOP are holding Trump responsible for their party’s losses and are now trying to push him out of the way. Even Trump’s conservative hometown paper, the New York Post, twisted the knife this morning with a cover photo of Governor Ron DeSantis and a one word caption: “DeFuture.”

The best news in all of this is that the pundits and advisers who told Democrats to talk only about the economy and inflation and avoid any boring yakety-yak about democracy were wrong. As my colleague McKay Coppins tweeted after looking at an AP VoteCast poll, “it’s striking how many voters were motivated by concern for American democracy.” I have been arguing for months that voters are in fact capable of thinking about more than one thing at a time, but I admit that I also was starting to wonder whether fears about GOP authoritarianism could break through the noise.

And so I was especially glad that Biden made the case for democracy in his closing argument at Union Station, because I thought it was his duty as president to speak on the threats to our system and warn the voters of what was at stake. In any case, to argue over grocery prices while ignoring Republican threats to stomp on our rights and nullify elections would have been malpractice, with Democrats taking the bait to apologize for the economy (much of which no one can fix right now) while giving a pass to unhinged candidates who couldn’t care less how much a gallon of milk costs.

Looking ahead, American democracy now has some breathing room. What I and others were most worried about was not some overnight establishment of a dictatorship—our country is too big and diverse for that—but rather the ripple effect of having multiple state offices and governorships in the hands of fanatics and election deniers while Congress was firmly in the grip of a Republican majority. That’s not going to happen now. Important battleground states, such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, will continue to be led by normal politicians of both parties (and yes, that includes Brian Kemp in Georgia, who also defied Trump).

This means, in turn, that the nightmare scenario of ultra-extreme governors and secretaries of state refusing to certify their own elections is now a lot less likely. Of course, the Supreme Court could still decide in the upcoming Moore v. Harper case that state legislatures, not actual voters, control the outcome of elections, and then we’re back in the trenches once again to protect our rights and liberties—but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Besides, we’re not out of the woods yet. Trump is almost certainly going to run for president again, and then we’ll see just how many Republicans are willing to join the former president on his own personal Titanic and go chasing more icebergs. We’re not done with Trump’s cult of personality by a long shot. But Americans have held off the vandals who sought to win offices specifically, it seems, in order to subvert future elections. That’s good for the United States, and it’s good for democracy.


Today’s News
  1. Russia’s defense minister announced that he has ordered the retreat of Russian forces from the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, signaling a possibly serious setback for Vladimir Putin.
  2. Voters in Michigan, California, and Vermont pushed through amendments to their state constitutions to include abortion protections, and Kentucky voters rejected an amendment that would have denied the right to an abortion.
  3. Elon Musk held a public meeting to address concerns from Twitter’s advertisers and marketing partners.


Evening Read
Football on fire
(Erik Carter / The Atlantic)

America Has Ruined College Football. Now College Football Is Ruining America.

By Devin Gordon

Every sports fan, whether they acknowledge it or not, has a line they won’t cross—where the intrusion of the ugly real world onto the playing field becomes too much to ignore and they have to look away. Maybe you’re a Miami Dolphins fan, so you’ll root for Tyreek Hill, the Dolphins’ $120 million wide receiver whose girlfriend accused him of threatening her life and breaking their 3-year-old son’s arm, but you refuse to draft him in your fantasy league. Maybe you stuck with the Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving when he wouldn’t get vaccinated, but dropped him when he finally got suspended this week for refusing to apologize for tweeting out the link to an anti-Semitic, Islamophobic documentary.

… I was so obsessed with college football growing up that I would spend all of December watching every single televised bowl game, until it got preposterous, until I was wasting a Saturday afternoon watching the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl. I still love so much about the game—the unhinged unpredictability, the ludicrous offensive schemes, the mad carnival that is ESPN’s College GameDay, Lee Corso going to his grave in a Wisconsin Badgers mascot head. I wasn’t looking for reasons to break up with college football. The reasons came and found me.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break
A split collage of a black-and-white photo of a Chicago street in the 1920s (left) and a black-and-white photo of a drag ball in Harlem in the 1920s (right)
Left: Chicago, 1920s. Right: A drag ball in Harlem, 1920s. (Chicago Daily News / Getty; Schlesinger Library, Harvard Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University)

Read. An Angel in Sodom, by Jim Elledge, offers a rare glimpse into a 1920s and ’30s queer movement about which the general public still knows remarkably little.

Watch. Try something new from our list of 20 perfect TV shows for short attention spans—including shows that will remind you of the joy of community, shows that offer bite-size scares, and more.

Play our daily crossword.


Nostalgia is a complex emotion, and in politics, as I wrote in one of my books, it can be absolutely toxic. But I was reminded of how easily we can fall into missing things we rationally know are terrible when I was in New York City’s Penn Station today. As I walked through the beautiful new Amtrak entrance in the Moynihan Train Hall, I had the strangest thought: I sort of missed the entrance to the old Penn Station. (Not the old old Penn Station, which was gorgeous, but the awkward mess that replaced it when the original was torn down, starting in 1963.)

This is, of course, ridiculous. For years, the central hall of Penn Station was a blight. You stepped off the train and into a hot wind tunnel that smelled like a combination of stale popcorn and questionable hot dogs and … maybe some other things you’d rather not think about. But many happy memories are bound up in that hellhole, like taking the train from Massachusetts at 17 to meet a girl and go see Beatlemania at the Winter Garden Theatre. It was my portal for rides back home while I was in graduate school at Columbia, and later, for business trips and short vacations.

The old Penn Station is still there, but many of us now arrive over in the new hall, and it feels different. I suppose it’s like missing the old Times Square: You know it was a nightmare, but you’d like to peek at it one more time. (Admit it: You just clicked on that link.) My reverie reminded me of how the barflies in The Simpsons reacted when Moe thought of upgrading his tavern to a family restaurant. Carl asks: “You ain’t thinking of getting rid of the dank, are you, Moe?” “Ah, maybe I am,” Moe answers. “But, Moe, the dank! The dank!” This is what nostalgia, in life as in politics, can do: We think we miss the dank, even if we should know better.


Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.