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The Long Road Ahead

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Some elections are still in play but it is fairly likely that the US 2022 midterm elections have resulted in a small Republican majority in the House whilst the Democrats retain control of the Senate. Just 24 hours before the elections, the betting markets I look at were giving well over 70% odds on the Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate. Add to that the experience that midterms tend to go against a sitting president and that the economy is in dire straits with inflation and reduced labour participation, and you have to say the outcome is a modest victory for the Democrats. 

With control of the Senate and the White House, team Biden will be able to push through more legislation. Hearings to hold the President and the administration to account for the last 30 months are now unlikely to happen.

More importantly, the results show propaganda and disinformation still ‘works’ in what I think of as ‘occupied territory:’ the states with ongoing pressure to get vaccinated, to wear masks, and with a recent history of school closures and lockdowns. Whilst there might well have been some role for election fraud, the reality remains that the betting markets, which price in expected levels of fraud, overestimated the anti-Democratic sentiment. 

Lockdowns, school closures, vaccine damage, masks, etc., have not been the big vote-swinger that I had hoped they would be. Indeed, Team Lockdown has had a good day, for instance with wins in New York and California. The top-5 mentioned reasons for voting were inflation, abortion, gun control, crime, and migration. No mention of vaccines, freedom, or lockdown, and that’s in part because with few exceptions the Republicans did not campaign on those issues. 

Unfortunately, we have seen the same in other countries in the last 18 months. Justin Trudeau was not punished at the end of 2021 by the Canadian voters for his draconian lockdowns, nor his treatment of the trucker protests. Emmanuel Macron did not face a backlash from French voters in 2022 for 2 years of economic and social destruction. The story was the same in Australia, the Netherlands, and Germany: pro-lockdown governments were not punished. Only in Italy can we reasonably say that a sizable part of their 2022 electorate went with a staunch anti-lockdown politician, Giorgia Meloni, against the policies of the government. 

The reality is that people do still vote for their captors. They really do not want to admit the damage they have been party to, even if that damage is to their own children, their own businesses, and their own communities. The big takeaway is that what Charles MacKay said in 1841 really does hold: “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.” Recovering senses takes years, not months. 

The silver lining for Team Sanity is the big Ron DeSantis win. He took Florida with a 20% margin, despite being demonised by lockdowners. His win suggests that when people experience a good alternative, they recognise it to be a good alternative. So as a long-run attractor good governance wins, but it wins slowly. Interestingly, the betting markets have now put him as the favourite to win the 2024 Presidency, ahead of Trump or Biden. 

Still, the ability of money and media to push the young (whose loss from lockdowns has been huge) to vote Democratic in many of the occupied territories will embolden the billionaires and laptop-class backing Biden. According to a CNN exit poll, a stunning 70% of the under-25s seem to have favoured the Democrats in key Democratic states, which means the most damaged by lockdowns and vaccines have bought into with the propaganda fed to them. That is ominous. Democratic strategists and donors will have paid attention. 

If the Democratic loss had been across the board or concentrated in core lockdown territory, the vaccine narrative might have broken down. Via hearings in the House and Senate, we could have seen a real attempt at accountability for the damage and authoritarianism inflicted. The hope was even that the Democrats would have walked away from their adherence to authoritarianism and rediscovered their democratic roots. 

Alas, California and New York, two lockdown-mad states, voted pro-Democrat with well over 55% of the vote. Even a bit of fraud will not change the conclusion that the voters there have not punished their overlords for the lockdown damage.

What can Team Sanity now expect for the near future? For one, a major Democratic narrative pivot now seems unlikely. After all, why would they take the hit that comes with admitting guilt to vaccine and lockdown damage now that they know the population is not very motivated by justice? So the Democrats are likely to double down on the scare-mongering and propaganda. The globalist agenda favouring the large corporations, as seen recently with the bid to transform the WHO into an instrument of Big Pharma and Western health authorities, will then also keep being pushed, perhaps even harder than before. 

The importance of money in campaigns spells trouble for moderate Democrats. They were already feeling the heat, as evidenced by how quickly the Democrats pushing for negotiations with the Russians were shouted down (followed a mere week later by the American government doing just that anyway, showing that what is wanted is pure obedience to the leadership). Now that they are not empowered by the results, the danger to the leaders inherent to their disobedience is even less likely to be tolerated. Polarisation is likely to increase.

The second element is now what will happen inside the Republican Party. The big win by DeSantis might lead to copycats among Republican governors, choosing competent governance as a selling ticket. Trump seems to already be resisting the push to put DeSantis on a pedestal, but his own candidates have done rather poorly, meaning it is possible that good governance becomes a real voice inside the Republican Party. Another message is that abortion is more of a vote-loser than Republicans have counted upon, so one should expect some form of tacit walking back on that issue among ambitious Republicans.

On balance, the midterms have thrown up an election result that will embolden the fascist-feudal ruling elite enough to keep going. It has reduced the space for both Trump and for moderate Democrats, which means there is space for principled Republicans. Yet, precious few votes seem to have been motivated by freedom versus autocracy. There is a long road ahead.

Author

  • Paul Frijters

    Paul Frijters, Senior Scholar at Brownstone Institute, is a Professor of Wellbeing Economics in the Department of Social Policy at the London School of Economics, UK. He specializes in applied micro-econometrics, including labor, happiness, and health economics Co-author of The Great Covid Panic.


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