Joseph Backholm is senior fellow for Biblical worldview and strategic engagement at the Family Research Council. This article appeared in WORLD Magazine on November 11, 2022.
The midterm election was not a red wave or tsunami, but it may have been a sign. Republicans shouldn’t be too disappointed in the results of the midterms since they are likely to control the House and still have a chance at a Senate majority as well. Still, it was not what they had hoped for nor what Democrats had feared. Democrats seem satisfied that, regardless of what happens in the yet-to-be-decided races, democracy will not truly end this year.
The biggest winner in Washington D.C. could be the status quo. Divided government all but guarantees there will be precious little legislation and lots of name calling.
President Biden is certain to interpret these better-than-expected results as an affirmation of his presidency and charge ahead, but that’s not necessarily good news for Democrats. Before the election, most Americans did not want him to run for re-election, and exit polls showed that 60% of Democrats share that sentiment as well. Combined with historically poor public approval ratings, there have been rumblings that it was time to find someone else for 2024. But how do Democrats turn around and claim he’s a political liability when he outperformed both Obama and Clinton in the midterms? Unless his health declines, President Biden seems locked in as the Democratic nominee for 2024.
But that doesn’t mean things will get easier for him. The new Republican majorities (if they indeed materialize) in Congress will undoubtedly interpret their election as a mandate to oppose President Biden at every turn. Indeed, if we are to learn anything from public behavior, “Go fight” could be the best summary of what the American people said by their votes in this election.
While we may be frustrated by a closely divided Congress, we should consider that it is an accurate reflection of a deeply divided country. While Washington, D.C., did not get a clear mandate for what to do next, many states did, even if they were told to go in different directions.
Republican Governors like Brian Kemp in Georgia, Ron DeSantis in Florida, Kim Reynolds in Iowa, and Kristi Noem in South Dakota won decisive victories after resisting COVID lockdowns, refusing to close schools, opposing vaccine mandates, and being proudly pro-life. At least in some places, that turns out to be a winning formula, and their constituents appreciate the way they have governed.
Meanwhile, Democrat governors like California’s Gavin Newsom, Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, and New York’s Kathy Hochul also won decisive victories despite closing schools, closing businesses, implementing COVID vaccine mandates, and zealously promoting abortion. Their constituents also seem to appreciate how they have governed.
This election was a sign of a continental drift. Florida and California are not just different states, they are becoming different worlds—masks were just the beginning. Abortion and drug policy are becoming their own fault lines and dramatic differences will soon appear around issues like school choice, crime, parental rights, and pronoun related speech codes. Life in one state may soon be unrecognizable from life in another state and people, as they are able, will seek a home where they can live as they feel they must. The genius of our founders is that they created states where these differences could play out. But they also created a federal government where we would come together to achieve common goals based on shared values.
But what are those shared values? The answer to that question is elusive. Is it life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? We certainly don’t agree on what the right to life means. Our founding documents declare, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal” but that doesn’t make sense if you deny the existence of a creator, and many Americans not only do, but make sport of it. As a result, many of us view our neighbors not as equals but as problems to be solved.
Perhaps the silver lining in this election is to relieve us of the hope we may have had that this election—alone—would solve our problems. Our most pressing human problems are far beyond the reach of government, and it’s good that we recognize that fact.