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By Paul K. Schwartz
To really appreciate the importance of the Nov. 6 election, it is essential to first understand one of the primary goals of our founding fathers when drafting the Constitution. More than just about anything, in crafting the Constitution, the founding fathers wanted to prevent the newly-formed federal government from becoming an autocracy.
After breaking free from the aristocracy of King George III, the drafters of our Constitution were hell-bent on preventing the President of the United States, whoever he may be then or in the future, from becoming a despot.
You can see this right off the bat in the first two amendments to the Constitution.
The First Amendment provides protection against government prohibitions on the freedom of speech and the press, the right to peaceably assemble and petition, and the right to practice one’s religion.
The Second Amendment was designed to prevent the President of the United States from having his own standing army. A citizen army meant that if you voted, you served, and if you served, you voted.
It is for this reason that the wording of the Second Amendment concerning “a well regulated Militia” is so critical and equally as defining as the wording regarding “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” A citizen soldier needed to have ready access to “arms.”
Possibly most relevant to the founding fathers’ concern about autocratic leadership was their commitment to the concept of “separation of powers” and their incorporation of checks and balances in the design of our federal government in the Constitution. This is made clear in the first three Articles of the Constitution as they designed the legislative branch, the executive branch and the judicial branch of our government with each designed to provide a check on the others.
What the founding fathers did not envision, however, was a Trump presidency combined with a McConnell Senate, a Ryan House of Representatives and a Roberts Supreme Court. It is for this very reason that the midterm election of Nov. 6 took on such critical importance.
Whether you are a Trump supporter or not, it should be clear to any individual not suffering from denial that the last two years represented a complete abandonment of the concept of checks and balances. The results of the Nov. 6 election, however, would make it abundantly clear whether the people of this nation do, indeed, believe in the need for checks and balances and the separation of powers and the wisdom found in the guiding principles of our Constitution.
With a Democrat takeover of either the House of Representatives or the Senate or both, at least one of the three branches of our government, the legislative branch, would be in position to provide some check on the powers of the presidency and, in so doing, place the responsibilities to the people of this nation above the loyalty to the autocratic hand of King Donald the First (and, I hope, the last).
Elections, as is often the case, are determined based on turnout. The 2018 midterms turned out to be no different. The record-breaking turnout in early voting across the nation, more than 38 million early voters, provided a clear indication that turnout would be significantly up from the 2014 midterms. Remember, in 2014, Maryland, a strong Democratic state, elected a Republican governor with a margin of victory approximating the difference in Democrat turnout from the 2006 midterm to the 2014 midterm in Montgomery County alone.
There is an old saying that when Democrats vote, Democrats win. The problem with that thinking is that although registered Democrats far outnumber registered Republicans across the nation, that is not the case in several individual so-called “red” states such as North Dakota, Indiana, Georgia and Texas in which Republicans far outnumber Democrats.
What makes this year’s turnout a bit different is it should have been not only about Democrats versus Republicans, but as much about pro-Trump versus anti-Trump regardless of political party. Yes, the polls leading up to the election indicated that voter enthusiasm among both Democrats AND Republicans were significantly up. Among Democrats the uptick was clearly a response to the abhorrent behavior of Trump and his abandonment of our long-held values as a nation while the uptick among Republicans was the result of a successful effort to portray Brett Kavanaugh as a “victim.”
Regardless, it was always the degree of motivation of the independent voters combined with millennials, minorities and women of either party that would most likely determine the outcome on Nov. 6. Unfortunately, those constituencies did not speak as loudly as needed to send a significant enough message regarding the importance of the separation of powers and the effective reining in of the abuse of power by and the abhorrent behavior of the current president. Nevertheless, a message was still sent, if not as loud as expected.
Fortunately, the House of Representatives races across the nation resulted, in effect, the reining in of this president. As of this writing, all indications are that the Democrats won back the House of Representatives with a margin exceeding the additional 23 seats needed. With that comes the chairmanship of House committees and the ability to conduct real investigations into possible wrongdoing by this administration and its history of corrupt behavior. Congressional oversight is a key component of the checks and balances our founding fathers had envisioned.
As for the Senate, however, the electorate failed to recognize the need for similar Senate oversight of the executive branch of our government in the age of Trump and resulted in a loss of Democratic seats. Maybe the placement of ultra-conservatives on the Supreme Court was a much bigger motivation for Republican voters than protecting a woman’s right to choose was for Democrats. With the electorate failing to flip the Senate to Democrat control, a blind eye was turned to the Constitution and, with it, a disregard for the separation of powers and the need for checks and balances.
On a more local level, the Republican governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, was re-elected for a second and final term. Like Anthony Brown before him, Democrat Ben Jealous was not able to energize a significant enough turnout of the African-American vote, a significant constituency of Maryland, to make the difference.
As for the County Executive race, the election of Marc Elrich sends a clear message to Democrats who toy with the idea of running as a third-party candidate rather than entering the Democratic primary. The message: Don’t.
Lastly, and most importantly, the real loser of the 2018 midterm election may very well be our democracy by further emboldening Donald J. Trump to continue his assault on our Constitution and all of the values that once made America great! It will be up to the Democratic House of Representatives to serve as the counterbalance to this president and his complicit Republican Senate. BRING ON THOSE TAX RETURNS!