What Happened Today: November 09, 2022
Red-wave mirage; Taiwan businesses prep for China invasion; migrants stranded in Sicilian port
The Big Story
Republicans made inroads with key voting demographics in Tuesday’s midterm elections—garnering votes from a majority of white women, which was split between blue and red in 2018, and seeing a significant surge from Latino men—but the widely anticipated nationwide red wave never materialized. The reason, it would seem, is that voters from both parties crave a return to political moderation. With several key races yet to determine which party will control the two chambers of Congress, a CNN exit poll found that 38% of Democrats and 57% of Republicans considered both parties too extreme.
In Pennsylvania, 48% of voters who told the Associated Press they lacked confidence that winning Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman was healthy enough to serve effectively in office after a recent stroke, but that concern paled in comparison to the 59% of voters who said Republican nominee Mehmet Oz’s views were too extreme. Flipping Pennsylvania could prove decisive in the Democrats’ efforts to hold on to control of the Senate, which now depends on tight races in the battleground states of Nevada, Arizona, and Georgia, the last of which is likely to force a December runoff that could ultimately decide control of the upper chamber. The GOP currently has the easier path to take over the House, though the slim majority could become a headache for House Republican leaders keen to maintain a united front as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a polarizing far-right figure, has already promised to “hold our party accountable.” While Rep. Green, and Ohio Senate winner J.D. Vance successfully leveraged their close association with Donald Trump into electoral victories, the overall results so far send a more mixed message about Trump’s standing with voters. Several Trump-endorsed candidates lost big in crucial races, while some Republicans without Trump endorsements garnered more votes than Trump-backed candidates on the same state ballot.
Trump’s mixed record, along with the 20-point re-election of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who managed to turn Florida from a swing state into a solid red block, could prove to be a decisive momentum shift within a party eager to move on from discussions about a stolen 2020 election. Politico’s Jonathan Martin reported recently that a Republican senator told him less than five of the GOP’s senators wanted Trump to make a bid for the 2024 election, though it’s still expected he’ll announce his campaign at a scheduled rally in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, on Tuesday. Seeming to already prepare himself for a potentially contentious primary battle with DeSantis, Trump made ominous statements about the Florida governor, telling a reporter, “I would tell you things about him that won’t be very flattering—I know more about him than anybody—other than, perhaps, his wife.” But it was DeSantis who flipped longtime Democratic counties red, including the predominantly Hispanic Miami-Dade. Early indicators suggest his approach to governance—which is more tempered and competence-focused, with strong positions on culture war issues like critical race theory—could prove appealing to a national right-of-center majority.
In The Back Pages: The Status Quo Wins
→ The crypto industry was rocked on Tuesday when Changpeng Zhao, chief of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, Binance, announced a letter of intent to rescue its rival FTX, the exchange led by Sam Bankman-Fried. But Binance said on Wednesday they’re walking away from the deal.
FTX had been an investor’s darling, picking up high-profile fundraising as its valuation neared $32 billion this January. The platform’s success drove Bankman-Fried’s personal fortune to $24 billion—at least on paper—as he became a rising crypto star and new Washington, D.C., player, spending big on recent Democratic campaigns.
But crypto-market volatility and a surge of withdrawals totaling more than $6 billion unraveled FTX balance sheets in less than 72 hours and cratered Bankman-Fried’s personal wealth to less than a billion dollars.
“This is a historical moment … a bit of a ‘what the fuck’ moment,” said Pascal Gauthier, the top executive at Ledger, a digital wallet. “It shows that no one is too big to fail. FTX seemed untouchable.”
Bankman-Fried wrote to investors that he was “sorry I didn’t do better,” but that the deal, if it goes through, will allow FTX to pay out customers—his first priority, he said—and then try to satisfy FTX shareholders, who he said were his “second priority.”
Crypto insiders worry about wider industry contagion because of exposure to FTX investments, a fear growing stronger after The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday afternoon that Binance walked away from the deal after a review of FTX books. It remains unclear now what will happen to FTX investors as the exchange has halted all crypto and fiat withdrawals from their platform.
→ After Chinese leader Xi Jinping alluded to a forthcoming “reunification” with Taiwan at the recent Community Party summit, a Nikkei survey of 50 foreign companies doing business on the island found that roughly half had completed or begun drafting emergency operation plans should China invade Taipei. One Japanese financial firm and three other international companies said they also completed detailed evacuation procedures for getting expatriate employees and their family members off the island, though a possible Chinese invasion has even some domestic workers entertaining a possible departure. “We’re currently asking all of our Taiwanese employees whether they would want to stay or leave,” one executive said.
→ Nearly half of British households anticipate they’ll reduce their holiday spending to offset the soaring cost of living, a forecast that worries U.K. businesses and eateries already struggling with ongoing inflation. A recent Barclays survey of British citizens found that 59% of respondents would spend less money on holiday gifts and 42% would reduce their time and money spent socializing throughout the holiday season. Already, restaurants and leisure business have felt the crunch, with spending across both categories expanding at the slowest pace since the spring of 2021, during COVID-19 lockdowns. Not that those who stay at home are saving that much money, as spending on energy bills was up 36% for Brits compared to this time in 2021.
→ Fresh off the success of Get Back, the 2021 seven-plus hour Beatles documentary, Apple Corps, which manages the Beatles business empire, just released a super-deluxe edition of the band’s 1966 album, Revolver. And lo and behold, amid the alternate versions and outtakes of classics there is a curious little track called “Speech Before Take 2.” Primarily a conversation between producer George Martin and Paul McCartney about the relative merits of two approaches to the “Eleanor Rigby” strings, the track also captures the moment when a restless violin player starts playing the opening bars of Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah.” There are no doubt Beatles scholars who can offer insight here, but my working theory is this: In the studio that day—April 28, 1966—there were four violinists: Tony Gilbert, John Sharpe, Jürgen Hess, and Sidney Sax. As a prolific arranger and session musician, Sax sometimes used the pseudonym of Josef Sakonov, as he did on his 1972 album Great Violin Encores, which also featured the London Festival Orchestra. Some seven years prior, in 1965, not long before the Revolver sessions, the London Festival Orchestra, the “house orchestra” for Decca Records, put out an album of Jewish music called Music of a People, which had as its concluding number a very grand rendition of “Hatikvah.” Could it be that Sax was part of that orchestra? Maybe another of the violinists in the studio for “Eleanor Rigby” was in that orchestra, too? One fiddler perhaps sharing a little musical memory with another? This is all conjecture, but one can always … hope. — Gabriel Sanders, Tablet’s Engagement Editor
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→ A showdown between officials in Rome and two rescue ships, which prevented some 235 migrant passengers from disembarking at a dock in Sicily, led three migrants to leap into the water earlier this week. Local police captured the trio alive, though where they were taken remains unknown as of Wednesday. In October, newly elected Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said it was a priority for her to stem the high volume flow of migrants arriving illegally on Italian shores, a primary point of entry into Europe, where, according to the United Nations, at least 85,000 migrants have arrived by boat this year.
→ After an impressive 2021 for the used-car marketplace Carvana, which saw its market cap break $60 billion that year, the company has taken a steep dive. Carvana’s success last year was driven by supply chain issues that slowed new car production, leading buyers to rush to the secondary vehicle market. But surging interest rates and concerns over a looming recession have given consumers pause about spending so freely on all-time-high used car prices, and now the company’s stock is down 97% over the past 12 months to a record low. Analysts at Morgan Stanley say it could be on its way to becoming a $1 stock.
→ Quote of the Day:
The diversity of bird-visible colors in hummingbird plumages exceeds the known diversity of colors found in the plumages of all other bird species combined.
That comes from a recent Yale study of hummingbirds, a bird that includes 361 distinct species, with most in possession of a retina cone that allows them to see an ultraviolet spectrum of colors invisible to mere humans. The most colorful species of bird on the planet, the hummingbird has extra-sensitive vision that soaks up a more detailed view of the iridescent gold on red-tailed comet males and the hot-pink bib on the wine-throated species.
TODAY IN TABLET:
Imagining a Jewish Atom Bomb by Or Rabinowitz and Yehonaton Abramson
Revisiting the history of Israel’s secretive, influential nuclear program
The Halftime Show by Tablet Podcasts
Taking a break to dance with the 1990s New York Knicks and analyze the Kyrie Irving controversy
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The Status Quo Wins
The midterm elections were a victory for status quo centrists in both parties
By Michael Lind
The red wave may have turned out to be a red ripple but, despite inflated expectations, it’s not the Republicans who look to have been hardest hit by the midterm election results but the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Assuming that the House is captured by the Republicans, with or without the Senate, it is clear that the progressive policy agenda, the progressive theory of American partisan politics, and the progressive theory of the American constitution are now quite dead.
Let’s start with the progressive policy agenda. The economic agenda of the Democratic Party today is the “low carbon care economy.” This is a synthesis of the Green New Deal, a crash program to kill the oil and gas industries and replace them with heavily subsidized renewable energy sources, and the American Families Plan, a massive expansion of taxpayer subsidies for institutional child care, universal preschool and elder care. The jobs of the future, in this vision, are divided between a small number of gigs assembling windmills and solar panels which will replace coal, oil, and natural gas in America’s energy mix, and a much greater number of positions in federally subsidized day care centers and retirement homes.
To dramatize the low carbon care economy, the Biden White House last year issued a series of cartoon panels, “The Life of Linda,” modeled on a similar Obama administration cartoon, “The Life of Julia.” Biden’s Linda is an apparently unwed mother who works in manufacturing and has a son named Leo, who grows up to work in green energy: “Thanks to his community college training, Leo lands a good-paying, union job as a wind turbine technician.” The cartoon series explains how both Linda, the single mother, and Leo, the fatherless child, will flourish within an expanded system of cradle-to-grave welfare and education subsidies. As the fantasy world of the cartoon suggests, the progressive agenda sought to appeal to different groups of key Democratic Party supporters who do not share many economic interests. To work, the progressive vision had to unite the Democratic Party’s green donor class with overwhelmingly Democrat-supporting service sector unions like the teachers unions and SEIU as well as the “anti-patriarchal” feminists for whom husbands and fathers are unnecessary and oppressive.
Following Biden’s election in 2020, progressives hoped to use their guaranteed two-year trifecta of control over the White House, House, and Senate to ram through the massive subsidies for renewable energy and vast expansions of caregiving and education jobs at the core of their policy agenda. They planned to do this by means of the parliamentary maneuver known as “reconciliation,” which allows a bare majority in both houses to circumvent the Senate filibuster’s de facto supermajority requirement. The opposition of two Senate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, derailed that would-be juggernaut.
The low carbon care economy is now as dead as a doornail, even if the Republicans end up controlling only one house of Congress. In the unlikely event that the Democrats win another trifecta in the next few electoral cycles, it will be difficult if not impossible, given the impacts of rising energy costs, for Congress to oppose greater extraction and use of oil, natural gas, and even coal in the U.S. Moreover, if there is a turn toward austerity to reduce inflation or the debt built up during the COVID pandemic, the money will not be there for the enormous increase in spending on day care, elder care, preschool and community college that makes up the other half of the progressive agenda. The low carbon care economy blew up on takeoff.
Just as dead as the energy-and-care agenda of the progressive Democrats is their theory of American partisan politics. The Democratic left, backed by their echo chamber in the media and the universities, attributed the 2016 election of Donald Trump to racism on the part of resentful, lower-class white “deplorables,” and the supposed epidemic of “disinformation” coming from Russia and malicious saboteurs online. The party’s progressive wing took comfort in their conviction that, as immigration made Hispanics a larger share of the electorate, a “coalition of the ascendant” made up of college-educated whites and “people of color” would soon establish one-party Democratic rule at all levels of government.
Oops. Between the 2018 and 2022 midterms, the Democratic advantage over Republicans among Black women dropped 7 percentage points, while that among Black men dropped 11 points. For Hispanic voters, who were supposed to secure the Democrats their permanent majority, the advantage declined by 14 percentage points among women and 21 percentage points among men.
Racial depolarization was accompanied by educational polarization. Between the 2018 midterm and the 2022 midterm, the Republican advantage among non-college-educated white voters climbed from a 24-point margin to a 34-point margin, and Republicans even gained slightly among college-educated whites. According to CNN, from 2018 to 2022 “voters of color,” both non-college and college-educated, while mostly voting for Democrats, shifted in significant numbers from the Democrats to the Republicans.
As I have argued elsewhere, “educational polarization” is really a marker of class polarization, inasmuch as the children of college-educated parents in the U.S. are much more likely to graduate from college, making a college degree a semi-hereditary title of nobility. Underlying racial depolarization and educational polarization is the trend, seen among Western democracies in general, for “the left” to be identified with affluent, educated whites and for “left” parties to lose not only working-class whites but many minority group members to the increasingly downscale and populist parties of the right. In 2022, that trend continued in the U.S.
Last but not least is the politics of the American constitution. Anticipating a Republican tsunami that would sweep them out of both houses of Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024, many progressive pundits and academics hysterically argued that the 2022 election might be the last small-d democratic election in American history. Before the midterms, the presidential historian Michael Beschloss warned that if Republicans won control of the government, “our children will be arrested and conceivably killed” by a MAGA regime which, to use President Biden’s phrase, was “semi-fascist.” Less apocalyptic Democrats like the pollster David Shor warned that without greater appeal by Democrats to the working class, “the modal outcome for 2024 is Donald Trump winning a 'filibuster-proof trifecta' with a minority of the vote.”
In spite of the alleged biases of the Senate and the Electoral College, in 2020 the Democrats won the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. When this year’s midterm votes are all counted, the Democrats may end up controlling the White House and the Senate while losing the House, the body in which Democrats should do best under the theory that the Constitution is rigged against the Democratic Party.
America’s progressives suffer from bipolar mood swings. Now, thanks to racial polarization, they predict the inevitable triumph of the Democratic Party with the help of “voters of color,” while the Republicans survive only as a permanent minority party filled with resentful whites. At the same time, according to other progressives, it is the Democrats who may forever be frozen out of the federal government, thanks to an unfair Constitution designed by slave owners that permanently advantages white supremacist Republicans who want to arrest and kill Michael Beschloss’ children.
The boring truth is that the pendulum in American politics swings back and forth. Parties that get tired of losing sooner or later change their appeals to win over some members of the other party, making elections more competitive again.
For the time being, the U.S. remains a 50-50 nation, with the political branches of the federal government going back and forth between the two national parties. The kind of generational hegemony enjoyed by the McKinley Republicans after 1896 and the Roosevelt Democrats after 1932 is unlikely to return. That is bad news for progressive Democrats, who dream of the kind of sweeping structural transformation of the U.S., led by the federal government, that can only occur through a supermajority. It is bad news as well for those on the libertarian right or New Right with ambitious schemes for public policy reform. It is not necessarily bad news for status quo Republicans or for incrementalist centrist Democrats, two factions that can flourish in conditions of divided government and narrow majorities.