If history were to repeat itself in 2018, this would give Democrats the Senate and keep the House in Republican hands. History rhymes, it doesn’t repeat.
Jimmy Carter was very popular at this point in his term, in the wake of the Camp David accords. His approval rating was 56%. The fact that Republicans won in 1978 despite this shows their issues had saliency. The Wikipedia entry on the election notes that it set the stage for the Reagan Revolution, and that the Republicans who won were far more conservative than those they replaced.
Another important point to remember about 1978 is just how firm the Democratic coalition remained, even 46 years after FDR’s victory in 1932. (We’re now 50 years from Nixon.) The Democrats went into 1978 with two-thirds of the House, and 61 votes in the Senate. It would be the last mid-term election where, with a Democratic President, they retained Congress.
It’s in Congress, not the White House, that you find the enduring power of a generational thesis. The inclination has grown stronger with each passing generation. Republican isolationists remained in control of the Middle West and Mountain states deep into the Roosevelt period. These areas remained Democratic for years into the Nixon period. It was the Reagan Revolution that blew them out.
If a generational thesis holds, especially if the newly-dominant industry and medium weigh-in on the side of that new thesis, it becomes inevitable. It gets a second wind. It becomes a habit. Gradually elite opinion shifts and adapts to it. Washington is the last place to get the word on change, especially generational change.
In 1978, the existing print media and even TV were giving Carter and the Democrats the benefit of every doubt. They were still thinking in terms of the 1930s and 1940s. They didn’t see the powerful economic forces under the surface, the rise of resources as the dominant driver of profit, and the increasing frustration that industry had with any policy limiting energy’s power.
Walk away from the headlines, take a 30,000-foot, historical view, and that’s what we are seeing now. Analysts still assume resource holders like the Koch Brothers dominate, that technology doesn’t care about policy. This makes the most important headline of the week Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff’s purchase of Time Magazine. It was the fourth major media property to go directly into the hands of a tech billionaire, following Jeff Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post, Laurene Powell Jobs’ purchase of The Atlantic, and Patrick Soon-Shiong’s purchase of the Los Angeles Times. (We’re not even counting Pierre Omidyar of eBay https://firstlook.media/.)
These properties were not purchased so that techies could lose money printing newspapers or magazines. They were purchased because tech understands that media power is shifting to the Internet, and that buying powerful brands is the quick way to a big voice in this medium.
To repeat what I’ve been writing throughout this decade, in American politics economics drives the train. The business of America is business. This is not a bad thing. It’s why America continues to grow. Those who defy the growth imperative are ground under by it.
The Democratic Party has plenty of people who are skeptical of technology, and Bernie Sanders loves to rail against Amazon’s warehouses, but the Republican Administration is openly hostile to technology itself. Technology is this generation’s growth engine, nurturing the next wave, biology (to be more precise, biochemistry). Manipulating genetic codes, on a massive scale, will be necessary to maintain human life on this planet, long enough for terraforming (terra-reforming) to take hold. The manipulation of genes is also key to extending lifespans, and that’s what we all want.
Standing in the path of technology, in the path of growth and economic progress, is suicide in American democracy. This is our genius. Autocrats can ignore economics. Democratic leaders can’t.
What technology needs from politicians, is support for immigration, for education, and diversity. That’s because the gating factor in technology is human capital, highly-trained and motivated minds. Tech doesn’t care about the bodies these minds are to be found in, where they come from, what color their skin is, what their sex is or who they love, how old they are, even whether their bodies are fully capable. They want brains and any government which seeks to limit the supply is going down.
This is great news for human freedom. Technology accepts democracy, knowing its economic power will dominate. Technology accepts ordered liberty, knowing this will maximize the field of ideas minds may wander in search of innovation. Technology wants human rights, because it wants more minds to freely serve the machines technology is building. It should be China, not the United States, that must adapt to tech, if we had pro-tech policies. We can have them. Yes, we can.
Donald Trump was a wake-up call for the technology industries. The video conservatives recently leaked, of Google employees expressing shock over Trump’s win, may show alleged bias, but that bias is real, it’s ingrained, and (most important) it’s economically essential.
How high can the 2018 wave get? Consider that Trump has been doing everything possible to anger farmers and other manufacturers with his tariff policies. Consider how Trump has been dismissing young voters on gun violence. Consider women, rape and choice and equal pay. Consider how Republicans are now talking about cutting Medicare and Social Security, even veterans’ benefits, to pay for their tax cuts, which have exclusively benefitted investors.
There is a lot of willful blindness there. What the Republican party is left with is the investing class, the religious right, militarists, racists and “deplorables,” what the late Bill Hicks called the “people who hate people party.” Think they can get a majority out of that?
Yes, gerrymandering. Yes, voter suppression. Yes, voter purges. Yes, ICE and the routine suppression of ethnic minorities. Yes, Jim Crow in all its forms. Yes, money. But when a wave gets high enough, it will break the highest levee and sweep everything before it. North Carolina is finding that out now.
Republicans are going to find out in November.