What The 2022 Midterms Mean For And About America: An Historical Perspective

view of st paul cathedral

With the midterms all but over, many Americans who feared a red wave are justly rejoicing over this historic result. And, in the rejoicing, hot takes abound about what carried the day for the Democrats. There’s even a palpable hope that Trump and the MAGA movement may be done for. But there’s also the fact that the analysis of the midterm has been overly focused on celebrating that things didn’t get worse, while ignoring the larger context of America in 2022. So, let’s take a moment to consider the missing context to the historic 2022 midterms by sifting through the noise of the short term causes and consequences so we can arrive at an understanding of where America stands now. 

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In the short term, there are three main factors of the election to evaluate: the nature of the Democrats’ victory; the cause of the Democrats’ victory; and the immediate consequence of the Democrats’ victory. 

The nature of the victory was hopeful and encouraging. But it was neither resounding nor overwhelming. Strictly speaking, for the House it was not a victory at all. Republicans won the majority. And, however narrow the Republican majority will be, it will have real and pragmatic consequences on peoples’ everyday lives. Moreover, the fact that Republicans won the popular vote and had bigger turnout says a great deal about the Nation’s values. 

Conversely, Democrats retained the Senate and over-performed in the House, and many Democrats and small “r” republicans are rejoicing over the loss of election deniers in key battleground states. Still, despite those states dominating the headlines, a lot of election deniers won. Indeed, 67% of election deniers are predicted to win their races. The numbers play out this way. 4 out of 12 election-denying candidates for Secretary of State won. 8 out of 22 election-denying candidates for Governor won. 10 out of 19 election-denying candidates for Senate won, with Georgia heading to a run-off. So, though only 22 of the 88 non-incumbent election-deniers won, we are still left with a disheartening result in the grand scheme of things. In totality, 192 candidates for serious and powerful offices believed that election denying would assure them power, and at least 134 of them were right. Objectively, one such candidate winning is unacceptable to a functioning democracy. So, it is impossible to argue that at least 134 winning is anything but a bad thing. 

Now, let’s turn our attention to the cause of Democrats’ victories. The unfortunate reality of our 24/7 news cycle is that people, in a wave of excitement, claim that the issue they care most about is what led to victory. For example, a barrage of tweets and think pieces about how America voted to preserve democracy have gained a lot of steam. However, the data do not support this claim. According to exit polling, the biggest issue that drove Democratic votes was abortion rights. Indeed, even people that listed the economy and inflation as their top issues and (wrongfully) believed Republicans were better on those issues, voted Democrat because of abortion rights. 

So what does this all mean in terms of immediate consequences? It means that our political reality is not going to get significantly worse in the next couple of years. It means that there won’t be a national ban on abortion. It means that we likely won’t abandon Ukraine. It means that President Biden will be able to continue to appoint qualified judges to Federal Courts. And, it means that, most likely and most importantly, the 2024 elections will be fair and legitimate. All of this is truly worthy of celebration. But, it does not mean that Americans are overwhelmingly concerned about the state of the republic. Indeed, with abortion now protected in many states, there could be fewer Democratic votes next election because voters feel less inclined to vote — leading to lower turnout, which, again, was already lower than Republican turnout this election.

So, the election results do not mean that America is fine, politics are back to normal, or that the threat of Christo-Fascism in America is over. Because all this election really signifies is that America did not become more extreme right wing in the last two years. Again, that is fantastic news. But, people like Marjorie Taylor Green and Lauren Boebert are still members of Congress. Kari Lake lost by less than 1%, not 40%. J.D. Vance is the newly elected Senator from Ohio. And the House is prepared to begin a series of sham investigations and even a ludicrous impeachment. Why is this significant? Well, from an objective view, reason demands that we conclude that levels of anti-republicanism and active fascism — not to mention alarming stupidity — that previously would’ve been unacceptable in America are now normal to a significant portion of the country. Every moment that these beliefs and people like this become more normalized and accepted is a step closer to the republic’s demise and authoritarianism’s rise.

And, though it may feel like America is “moving in the right direction” — specifically, away from Donald Trump — let’s provide an historical example that shows that such a conclusion based off of two elections might be hasty. In Germany, from 1924 to 1928, the NAZI party, over the course of three elections, dropped in representation in the Reichstag from 6.6% to 2.6%. However, in 1930, their representation rose to 18.3%. Two years later, the NAZIs would see their representation rise to 37.4% before falling to 33%. The next year, Hitler would become Chancellor. 

Why bring this up? In order to show that though history provides no direct parallels, it does provide powerful instruction as to how societies function and change as a whole and over time. Another such example: In 63 BC, the Roman republic was at a fragile time. Just 19 years earlier, Rome was caught up in a civil war between a populist, Marius, and a republican, Sulla, resulting in the terror of the Sullan proscriptions, in which he killed 9,000 political opponents, and reserected the long out-of-use dictatorship. Upon his abdication, there was question as to if the republic could legitimately endure or if one man’s violence, not the senate and the people, would rule Rome.

So, in 63 BC, a Senator named Cataline, having lost three straight elections for consul (the Roman head of state that had two people elected to it annually) was not pleased with being denied power. He conspired to violently overthrow the republic and seize power unto himself. However, Cicero, the consul for that year and perhaps the greatest mind Rome ever produced, was made aware of this conspiracy. Ever the republican stalwart, Cicero successfully proved the conspiracy to the senate. And, with the help of a passionate speech of a fellow republican stalwart and George Washington’s personal hero, Cato, convinced the senate to kill Cataline and his conspirators. It was Cicero’s finest hour and one of history’s greatest acts of republican virtue. Indeed, John Adams would come to model his entire life after Cicero in large part because of his actions during the Catalinian conspiracy. This feeling of relief that the threat of authoritarianism was over in Rome foretells what may happen if we are too optimistic about the midterm elections and the potential threats to the republic that remain in America. 

America can’t afford to be too optimistic because it could end up like Rome where, 14 years after the republic’s great triumph, Caesar, inspired by Sulla, would cross the Rubicon, bringing with him civil war and the end of the republic by naming himself dictator for life. By 43 BC, just 20 years after they had heroically saved the republic, Cicero and Cato — who took his own life in 49 BC to shame Caesar — were dead. Cicero’s head and hands, at the behest of Caesar’s deputy Marc Antony, were cut off and nailed to the Senate doors. Rome would be consumed by civil war until Augustus ushered in the Pax Romana and the Roman Empire in 27 BC. All this is to say, history demands of us that we not become complacent. 

But, the bigger historical perspective is not all doom and gloom. One of, if not the most, significant results in this midterm cycle is that losers accepted the results. Though it is jarring that such a statement is noteworthy in America, it is incredibly good news. Violence, too, has yet to be a part of the aftermath of this election, which many rightfully feared could become a staple Republican response to gain power as it was the NAZIs’ in Germany and the populists’ in Rome.

So, having evaluated the midterms through both a narrow and broad scope, where does it leave us? In a good place because the red wave of authoritarianism did not manifest. But, this fact does not mean that the threat has lessened since the start of the MAGA movement in 2016. Indeed, as mentioned above, more than 130 anti-republican candidates hold major elected office in America now. This would’ve been unthinkable just 7 years ago. But, it is the case, and it’s the case because a large portion of the country wants it to be. And it is a large enough portion that, if we don’t stay passionate and vigilant, they will overcome us in 2024. 


Another significant consequence is the Republican party and Fox News seem to be moving on from Donald Trump. In my next episode, I’ll argue that that is far easier said than done. And, even if it is done, it does not mean that Republicans are becoming more moderate and reasonable. 

Published by Noah McMillan

Lover of philosophy, antiquity, and political theory.

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