Mike Littwin: The election is finally over, and now we know just how divided we really are
November 10, 2018
Now that the elections are over, we can get back to our boring old lives in the land of TrumpWorld.
Take Wednesday for starters.
Jeff Sessions gets fired. The Robert Mueller investigation is under threat. Some Dems are calling it a constitutional crisis. The interim attorney general, now in charge of the investigation, once called the Mueller probe a witch hunt and has suggested defunding it. GOP Sen. Susan Collins warns that Donald Trump must keep his hands off Mueller probe. Everyone laughs at the thought that Collins would do anything more than send a tweet.
Trump holds a 90-minute news conference, during which he yells at several reporters, whom he seems to have called on for just that purpose. "You're a very rude person," Trump rudely tells CNN's Jim Acosta. And then the White House takes away Acosta's press pass, but only after sending out an edited video making it seem as if he had "placed his hands" on a White House intern. He hadn't.
Oh, and then there was Trump's lesson for those losing House Republicans who had failed to sufficiently "embrace" Trumpian policies: Good riddance. Mike Coffman is one who gets the, uh, rude treatment. "Too bad, Mike," Trump says with all the empathy he can muster (which is to say none). That's just before Trump warns House Democrats that if they deign to investigate him, he will respond with a "warlike posture," one which I'm assuming he learned in military school.
The thing about Wednesday — and Trump's post-election warlike posturing — is that it explains everything about Tuesday.
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There's no point in arguing who won the day nationally. Dems easily winning the House, where they can now check any Trump legislation, handily beats Republicans adding a few more seats to keep the Senate. But here in Colorado, when I saw that Democrats had, for the first time since 1936, swept all the statewide constitutional seats and won both houses of the legislature, I figured that was all you needed to know about Colorado's election.
Turns out, I was wrong. (I wasn't rude, but I was wrong.)
Colorado is not an outlier. Our election night was not unlike a lot of election nights across America. I hate to keep bringing up Trump all the time, but this is all about, well, you can guess.
According to research done by someone else (in this case, The Washington Post's esteemed Dave Weigel), Colorado was one of five states in which Democrats won all the statewide offices. It happened in Delaware, in Connecticut, in Minnesota and New Mexico.
But there's more than that. In research also done by someone else (Ballotpedia), 36 states now have the so-called trifecta, in which the governor and both houses of the legislature are controlled by one party — 22 Republican and 14 Democratic, with Georgia still pending. More astounding still (via the National Conference of State Legislators), only one state — Minnesota — has split control of the legislature. In the other 49, one party controls both houses. If you don't think that's astonishing, the last time only one state was split was 1914.
So, what you can see is that Colorado was fully part of a national trend of the kind of political polarization we haven't seen since, well, 1914, and I have no idea what people were so upset about then.
It's hard to place a starting point on the current polarization. Having lived through the '60s, when assassinations took this divide to places not seen since the Civil War, there is polarization and there's polarization. You could take the modern divide back to 1994 and Newt Gingrich. Or you could take it to the Bill Clinton impeachment fight, which, I naively thought at the time, was the last of the '60s culture wars. You could take it the 2000 triple-overtime George Bush-Al Gore election, which was the lowest-key presidential election of my lifetime — the Cold War having ended, the economy moving along, no real threats to America's superpower powers — until Florida happened and the Supreme Court happened and red versus blue (fresh from a CNN election-night map) would come to define our politics ever since.
You can blame demographics. You can blame left-behind rural America vs. fast-growing urban American (yeah, that's us, Denver). You can blame cable TV news scream-fests. You can blame talk radio. You can blame Watergate and the resulting lack of trust in institutions. You can blame the gaping black hole of the internet.
Whatever you blame, though, you can pretty much say that Trump's election campaign was the first based on a full-out division and on the bet that his side of the divide would be more energized and far angrier. That bet, you may recall, ended with Trump winning the electoral-college race without winning a majority of votes, a division piled upon division.
In Colorado, it has reached the point that some are now speculating whether Cory Gardner, who would have to run for re-election on the same ticket with Trump in 2020, would give up his seat and do what ex-politicians with Washington cachet often do, which is to cash in. Count me as a skeptic. Gardner is extremely ambitious.
But Trump isn't likely to win in 2020 in Colorado, and a quick look through the data, in Colorado and across the country, tells us that ticket-splitting is becoming a lost art. The divide is deep and (here's an easy prediction) will get only deeper. The House will fire up the investigations into Trump. The Mueller probe will come to some sort of conclusion. We may be in the midst of a slow-moving Saturday night massacre. And it has been less than a week.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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