Most Americans think that gun laws ought to be stricter, and it’s not hard to see why. A series of high-profile, high-casualty mass shootings from 2016 to 2018 have ensured that regulation of semiautomatic rifles remains a salient political issue. The public outrage is great enough that even the Trump administration has taken mild steps to regulate nearly-automatic weapons.
But the focus on mass shootings can obscure some key facts about gun violence in America, its causes, and how it differs from the rest of the rich world. Guns killed 38,658 people in 2016, of which 59 percent died from suicide. Mental illness is a minor part of the gun problem. And guns are basically the entire reason why the US has an unusually high homicide rate for a rich country.
Read on for more important, sometimes surprising facts about one of America’s most prominent national crises.
How to handicap the upcoming congressional leadership elections.
Now that the midterm elections are behind them, several members of Congress have thrown their hats in the ring to run for party leadership posts. Most of the attention has been given to the election for speaker of the House, which current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appears likely to win, though she faces some resistance within her own party.
Other party leadership positions are being contested too, however. Republicans will be selecting their top leader, a contest between Republicans Kevin McCarthy (CA) and Jim Jordan (OH). Democrats, meanwhile, are facing elections for five posts: majority whip, assistant leader, Democratic Caucus chair and vice-chair, and chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Elections to these positions, especially the lower-level ones, seldom get much attention. But they can be quite significant. Those who win acquire a wider public platform and can influence the policy direction and electoral success of their party.
The winners are also likely to move further up the leadership ladder, thereby gaining more influence and public attention. For instance, Tom DeLay was elected Republican Conference Secretary in 1992, later becoming one of the most effective majority whips and floor leaders in the modern Congress. Incoming Majority Leader Steny Hoyer had previously won a contested race for Caucus chair in 1989, while Assistant Leader James Clyburn got his start by winning an election for Caucus vice-chair in 2002.
Each of this year’s contested leadership elections features different candidates, issues, and campaign tactics. But despite these differences, our research suggests a few common rules of thumb for gaming the outcome.
Depending on the race, many variables may enter into legislators’ calculations of whom to support for a leadership office. They include ideology, seniority, shared state delegation or committee, and if a legislator serves in leadership.
One variable, however, is consistently important: campaign contributions. When two or more candidates run for a party leadership office, donations from leadership candidates to their colleagues are a statistically significant explanation of vote choice.
Assuming that money influences these upcoming contests, certain candidates already have a crucial advantage over their rivals. For instance, Kevin McCarthy has far outspent Jim Jordan: His leadership political action committee (LPAC) gave more than $2 million to more than 200 Republican incumbents and candidates through the end of September, whereas Jordan did not even have an LPAC in this election cycle.
Katherine Clark (MA), running for Caucus vice-chair, donated $120,000 to more than 90 Democratic incumbents and challengers, while the LPAC of her rival, Pete Aguilar (CA), gave just $16,000 to 15 House incumbents and first-time candidates.
Campaign contributions have also been a potent factor in Pelosi’s bid for the speakership. Besides the fact that Pelosi chalked up some major legislative wins during her last stint as speaker, her fundraising prowess has served as a persuasive argument among Democrats that she should be elevated to the position.
Freshmen can be an influential bloc
Many of the candidates in these contested leadership elections have been cultivating votes from their incumbent colleagues for months. But when many new legislators are elected to Congress, those newbies may help swing a leadership election one way or another.
The midterm elections will bring at least 50 new lawmakers to the House Democratic Caucus, giving them an outsized role in the outcome of leadership races. Also worth noting is that many of them are women or ethnic minorities. Because gender and ethnicity can be statistically significant predictors of vote choice in leadership elections, their votes may give a leg-up to nonwhite and women candidates for leadership posts — candidates like Ben Ray Luján (NM), who is running for assistant leader against David Cicilline (RI).
Surprises do happen
Much of the variation in vote choice cannot be explained by measurable variables. Personal relationships, behind-the-scenes deals, and other factors may help one candidate win over her rivals, which means there is always the potential for an unexpected outcome. Tom Cole (R-OK) and John Larson (D-CT) are among those who chalked up surprise wins in their races for leadership posts in recent years.
Perhaps the most famous example of how a candidate’s personality and personal relationships can cost him votes was the 1976 election for House majority leader. Phil Burton (D-CA) was considered the frontrunner over the other three Democratic candidates, but his heavy drinking, erratic personality, and aggressive ambition had alienated many of his colleagues. He maintained a solid lead in two rounds of balloting before losing on the last ballot by a single vote. The unexpected winner, Jim Wright (D-CA), would go on to become a powerful and controversial speaker of the House.
Finally, history suggests that it is wise to keep one’s eye on both the winners and the losers of these races. While the victors may continue illustrious careers in leadership, the losers do not necessarily disappear from view. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), for instance, came in last place in a contest for majority leader in November 1998. Less than two months later, after both Speaker Newt Gingrich and Gingrich’s likely successor, Bob Livingston (R-LA), had resigned from Congress, Hastert was sworn in as the next Speaker of the House.
Even those who cannot fulfill their aspirations for leadership in Congress may pursue successful careers elsewhere. When John Boehner (R-POH) was reelected minority leader in November 2006, he trounced his opponent, 168 to 27. Boehner would later rise to the speakership before resigning in October 2015. Meanwhile, his opponent left Congress, got elected as governor of his home state and, in 2017, acquired a new title: Vice President Mike Pence.
Since its first episode, Riverdale has been an ultra-meta fever dream of a show, a vast, churning stew of winking pop culture references and plot lines that play as though the writers’ room picked up both a newspaper from the 1980s and a 10th-grade English class syllabus, proceeded to do, like, all the acid there is, and then said, “Well, there’s gotta be a season of TV in here somewhere!”
It is a show whose current storylines involve one teen being forced to participate in an underground prison fight club, another teen operating a (non-alcohol-serving) speakeasy out of the milkshake shop she owns while also being blackmailed by her drug lord father, and two more investigating a string of murder-suicides apparently inspired by a dangerous game called Gryphons and Gargoyles.
It is also a show where an apparently big-time mobster decided to make an incredibly stupid teenage boy his second-in-command and everyone around him just went, “Yeah, that seems like a good way to operate your business”; a show with a maple syrup sex/drug cult; a show where, when a teenage girl is menaced by a serial killer, she makes sure to put on her hunting cape before shooting him with a bow and arrow — and that’s not even the most absurd thing that happens in that episode.
I’m telling you all this so that when I say “The Midnight Club” is maybe the wildest episode of Riverdale yet, you understand that the superlative truly means something.
“The Midnight Club” captures Riverdale’s madcap absurdism
“The Midnight Club” is Riverdale’s tribute to the ’90s, if we understand the ’90s to mean roughly 1985 through 2003. (It’s a Breakfast Club tribute scored to the music of the ’80s, but the clothes are mid- to late ’90s, basically.) The episode takes the form of an extended flashback to the high school days of the main (teenage) cast’s parents, and while it’s ostensibly meant to give us a backstory for the parents and their deep hatred of the game Gryphons and Gargoyles, all of that is gravy, and the show knows it.
Really, what “The Midnight Club” does is give Riverdale an excuse to a) indulge in nonstop absurdity, and b) have its teen leads recreate the iconic ’90s performances of the famous actors who play their parents on the show. It does not disappoint.
At some undefined time in the ’90s, we learned this week, all of Riverdale’s adult characters were in the same class at Riverdale High. (Yes, this does mean that all the adults are the exact same age and they all had their kids in the exact same year. Go with it.) Most of them were strangers, but when they were all assigned Saturday detention together, they formed an unlikely bond. They further cemented that bond when they all became addicted (as you do) to the Satanic pleasures of Gryphons and Gargoyles — until one especially vigorous game of G&G ended with the principal … dead.
One of Riverdale’s favorite meta devices is to cast former teen stars in the roles of its adult characters. Archie’s parents are 90210’s Luke Perry and John Hughes muse Molly Ringwald (she goes unmentioned in this episode, despite the plentiful Breakfast Club references, but fellow Hughes alum Anthony Michael Hall shows up to play the doomed principal). Betty’s mom is Twin Peaks’ Madchen Amick. Jughead’s dad is Scream’s Skeet Ulrich.
All of that means that when the kids in the main cast were tasked with playing their characters’ parents in “The Midnight Club,” there was plenty of documentary evidence for them to use as research — which the rest of us can now compare them to.
The eeriest resemblance here comes from K.J. Apa, who clearly put some time into learning Luke Perry’s forehead-wrinkling school of emoting. (The always-solid Cole Sprouse seems to have mostly relied on his Skeet Ulrich wig for his impression, and it more or less works.) But the most compelling performance comes from Lili Reinhart, who seems to revel in getting the chance to shed her plucky, tense Betty Cooper image and go full bad girl with hair-pulling, leather-jacket-wearing teen Alice. And while her wig might not quite live up the majesty of Amick’s Twin Peaks-era hair — even if Alice’s flashback voiceover does describe it as “enviable” — Reinhart has Amick’s smile and mannerisms down cold.
The rest of the teen cast doesn’t get quite so literal with their performances (Marisol Nichols, who plays Veronica’s mother in the present day, was a bit of bombshell, but Camila Mendes does a lovely job playing the teen version of the character as a mouse), but they’re still clearly having a ball ditching their familiar characters for new territory. And when the flashback becomes a long acid trip of a sequence where the whole cast starts running around the school in Renaissance Faire garb and hosting impromptu concerts while hallucinating gargoyle-masked monsters everywhere — well, then the rest of us are all having a ball, too.
On any other show, it would be a disappointment to leave behind the fever dream joys of the extended flashback sequence and go back to boring old everyday Riverdale. But Riverdale, bless its batshit heart, gives us the gift of ending “The Midnight Club” with Jughead locked in an underground survivalist bunker, strung out on Gryphons and Gargoyles (in this universe, role-playing games apparently have known hallucinogenic properties), raving about how he’s about to ascend to the next level and meet the Gargoyle King. This is Riverdale at its best, when it never met a pinnacle of absurdity that it couldn’t immediately top.
For most of the second season, Riverdale was not at its best. It languished in a disappointing gang storyline that dragged on forever without once finding an effective tone, and it sidelined some of its best characters into side plots that went nowhere. (Oh, Cheryl Blossom, what is to be done with you?) The madcap glee of “The Midnight Club” is an encouraging sign that Riverdale is on its way back to the unhinged nonsense that makes it great — but even if it isn’t, even if Riverdale never quite returns to its former self, this is still a beautifully ridiculous episode of television.
Riverdale airs Wednesdays at 8 pm Eastern on The CW.
The president repeated his claims he doesn’t know his new acting attorney general in a pair of Saturday morning tweets.
President Donald Trump keeps insisting he doesn’t know the man he seemingly hand-picked to take over the Justice Department.
In a pair of tweets sent early Saturday morning from Paris, Trump claimed — again — that he had “no social contact” with Matthew Whitaker, his pick for acting attorney general following his Wednesday firing of Jeff Sessions. Repeating claims he made on Friday that he didn’t know or speak to Whitaker about the Mueller investigation, Trump tweeted that he hadn’t previously known his new Cabinet-level official, “except primarily as he traveled with A.G. Sessions.”
As Vox’s Andrew Prokop pointed out Friday, this is easily disprovable. Multiple sources — from the Washington Post to the New York Times — report that Trump was frequently briefed by Whitaker, whom he considered his “eyes and ears” in the Justice Department, because he preferred not to talk to Sessions.
That personal connection has raised eyebrows because Whitaker wasn’t the natural choice: Trump had to go around the DOJ’s line of succession, under which Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would take over, in order to pick him. None of Trump’s denials — on Friday or from France Saturday — do much to assuage concerns that he specifically wanted to install a friendly face who might rein in or end Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Matthew G. Whitaker is a highly respected former U.S. Attorney from Iowa. He was chosen by Jeff Sessions to be his Chief of Staff. I did not know Mr. Whitaker. Likewise, as Chief, I did not know Mr. Whitaker except primarily as he traveled with A.G. Sessions. No social contact…
….Mr. Whitaker is very highly thought of by @SenJoniErnst, Senator @ChuckGrassley, Ambassador @TerryBranstad, Leonard Leo of Federalist Society, and many more. I feel certain he will make an outstanding Acting Attorney General!
Trump’s latest comments are also at odds with the another recounting of the two men’s close relationship: Murray Waas reported in a Vox exclusive Friday that as Sessions’ chief of staff, Whitaker directly counseled the White House on investigating Clinton — behind his boss’s back. While Sessions, Rosenstein, and other senior department officials resisted Trump’s demands to open politically motivated investigations into this enemies, Whitaker met with the president privately to discuss how they might pressure Sessions and Rosenstein to accede:
Sources say that Whitaker presented himself as a sympathetic ear to both Sessions and Rosenstein — telling them he supported their efforts to prevent the president from politicizing the Justice Department. A person close to Whitaker suggested to me that the then-chief of staff was only attempting to diffuse the tension between the president and his attorney general and deputy attorney general, and facilitate an agreement between the two sides.
But two other people with firsthand information about the matter told me that Whitaker, in his conversations with the president, presented himself as a vigorous supporter of Trump’s position and “committed to extract as much as he could from the Justice Department on the president’s behalf.”
One administration official with knowledge of the matter told me: “Whitaker let it be known [in the White House] that he was on a team, and that was the president’s team.”
Whitaker also counseled Trump on how to pressure the Justice Department into naming a special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton.
As to whether Trump “knew” Whitaker, Waas reports that Sessions’ chief of staff met with the president at the White House at least 10 times, and “frequently spoke by phone with both Trump and Chief of Staff John Kelly… On many of those phone calls, nobody else was on the phone except for the president and Whitaker, or only Kelly and Whitaker.”
Trump likely picked Whitaker to help him fix a few headaches. Instead, he’s causing more.
Trump has good reason to pretend, however implausibly, that he doesn’t know Whitaker. Democrats and Republicans alikehave expressed concern over the acting attorney general’s public criticism of Mueller’s investigation — an investigation he now oversees.
As a CNN legal commentator, Whitaker wrote that “Mueller’s investigation of Trump is going too far,” calling it a “witch hunt.” As acting attorney general, Whitaker will have power to oversee, curtail, or even shut down the investigation. The investigation has been a thorn in Trump’s side, one he has publiclydisparagedad nauseam, recently calling it a “Rigged Witch Hunt” that Sessions ought to stop.
That’s something Whitaker has thoughts about. In a CNN appearance before he became Sessions’ chief of staff, Whitaker laid out one way that Mueller might be curtailed: “I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment, and that attorney general doesn’t fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.” Whitaker has also been highly critical of Hillary Clinton, repeatedly suggesting she ought to be investigated.
Other elements of Whitaker’s past raise questions about his suitability as attorney general. Whitaker served as an advisory-board member of a Florida-based company now under FBI investigation for scamming $26 million from customers, the Wall Street Journal reported. He appeared in promotional videos and was quoted in company press releases, drawing on his background as a US attorney to reassure customers.
And footage from his failed 2014 Senate bid shows him arguing that states have the right to nullify federal law, something constitutional experts disagree with.
Given all that, Trump’s denials might make sense politically — if not factually.
What centrists like Nick Kristof and Bret Stephens get wrong about the midterms.
You might think that Democrats winning the House in Tuesday’s midterm election, which gives them tremendous power to obstruct and investigate Donald Trump, should count as a major victory for the anti-Trump resistance.
But the emerging conventional wisdom among Beltway centrists is the opposite: that Democrats overreached, tacking too far to the left and ending up with a mediocre-at-best result.
“Don’t listen to Democrats who portray these midterms as an important triumph. In 2016 and again this year, liberals listened too much to one another and not enough to the country as a whole,” writes the New York Times’s Nick Kristof, a center-left columnist.
“The result of the midterms means, if nothing else, that the president survived his first major political test more than adequately,” Bret Stephens, Kristof’s fellow columnist on the center-right, wrote the day after Kristof. “Unless Democrats change, he should be seen as the odds-on favorite to win in 2020.”
These two columns, and severalsimilarones published in recent days, follow basically the same script. They argue that the most progressive parts of the Democratic Party are to blame for the party’s allegedly weak performance in the midterms. On this argument, Democrats would have won big if they hadn’t nominated progressives like Beto O’Rourke in Texas, or if they hadn’t gone all-in against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
But that narrative rests of a faulty premise: Democrats actually did pretty well on Tuesday! Democrats flipped — as of Friday morning — nearly 40 seats in the house. It is, as Cook Political Report analyst Dave Wasserman notes, the largest Democratic House wave since Watergate.
The Senate was a less happy story for Democrats, but that’s largely because they faced a historically unfavorable map. Pundits made the point that had Democrats not skewed so far left, incumbents in red states like Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota could have hung on. Yet Beto O’Rourke came closer than any Democrat to winning a Texas seat in decades, while Ohio labor populist Sherrod Brown handily won a state that grows redder by the cycle.
This doesn’t mean progressives uniformly did well. Indeed, their record was fairly disappointing. But moderates also had a mixed record: Jon Tester won in Montana as did Joe Manchin in West Virginia; but Claire McCaskill (Missouri), Joe Donnelly (Indiana), and Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota) all lost despite their centrist campaigns.
So, no, the Democrats shouldn’t heed the Kristofs and the Stephenses of the world. The true lesson of the 2018 midterm, instead, is that there isn’t a single ideological posture that Democrats can adopt and win with across the board. There is no neat moderate-versus-progressive takeaway here, despite pundits’ best efforts. It’s a messy, divided country, split along race, education, and geographic lines, and winning elections is more complicated than a simple matter of breaking with — or sticking to — Clinton-era Democratic Party orthodoxy.
Centrists are getting it wrong
One of the most common arguments offered by the centrist camp is that Democrats should have won more House seats. The 29 seats that had flipped red-to-blue at the time of Kristof’s writing constituted not a blue wave, but a “blue ripple” (as he put it), a testament to the party’s underperformance and overreach.
On this point, I’d recommend a piece by Nate Cohn, the New York Times’s sharp election analyst. Cohn points out that Democrats faced huge structural barriers, including severe partisan gerrymandering and a heavily urban voter base, that makes winning the House an uphill climb. When you factor those in, Cohn writes, the Democratic victory looks on par with recent wave elections, and in some cases even more impressive:
Democrats are likely to win the national popular vote in this election by seven to eight points once late votes — which typically lean Democratic — are counted. That would be a slightly larger margin than Republicans achieved in 2010 or 1994. It would be about the same as the Democratic advantage in 2006. It would be, in a word, a wave.
Cohn’s not alone in his analysis, especially since the number of Democratic House victories have increased in recent days as votes continue to be counted. “ was the biggest one-election House loss for Republicans since 1974, playing out on largely favorable maps, with the party presiding over full employment,” tweeted Dave Weigel, a Washington Post congressional correspondent.
The second common centrist argument is that Democrats performed badly at the statewide level, owing largely to progressive candidates in red and purple states.
“Of the three highest-profile Democratic candidates who were repositories of the party’s hopes — Beto O’Rourke, Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum — not a single one won,” Kristof writes. “Yes, the margins were narrow. But while it’s fine to make excuses, it’s better to win elections.”
This argument hangs a lot on three data points — and ambiguous ones at that. Gillum is within Florida’s margin for a mandatory recount, and could still win. Abrams hasn’t conceded, arguing that outstanding votes could force a runoff election under Georgia law. In blood-red Texas, O’Rourke lost by a scant 2.6 percentage points, the best result for any Democratic Senate candidate in decades.
Meanwhile, Sen. Sherrod Brown, a labor populist from Ohio, won reelection by a comfortable 53-47 margin. If progressivism were such an albatross, Brown would have lost in a state that looks more and more Republican by the year. He didn’t.
And there’s a plausible case that conservative Democrats actually did worse than their progressive peers in red states.
Sens. Claire McCaskill (MS) and Joe Donnelly (IN), who both tacked to the Trumpian right on immigration during the 2018 campaign, lost by a six and 7.5 percentage point margin respectively. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota moderate who voted with Trump 54 percent of the time, lost by about 11 points. Sen. Joe Manchin held on in West Virginia, as did Jon Tester in Montana, but that doesn’t prove moderation is the key to victory any more than Brown’s victory proves the same about progressivism.
This mixed bag suggests that ideology simply wasn’t the decisive factor. The reason for the party’s net loss in the Senate isn’t that they tacked too far to the left: It’s that they were defending 26 seats to Republicans’ nine. At the state level, where the playing ground was more even, Democrats flipped seven governors’ mansions and gained over 300 seats in state legislative elections. These kinds of results, combined with retaking the House, are hardly what happens to a party that overreached ideologically.
The final centrist redoubt is that Democrats were punished for “resisting” Trump too much. Stephens points to Democrats’ nearly united front against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, in particular, as a key reason why they couldn’t win over moderate voters in 2018:
The Resistance didn’t convert…It didn’t convert when Chuck Schumer chose to make Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court the decisive political test of the year. It didn’t convert when it turned his initial confirmation hearing into a circus. It didn’t convert when media liberals repeatedly violated ordinary journalistic standards by reporting the uncorroborated accusations against Kavanaugh that followed Christine Blasey Ford’s.
The strongest argument in favor of this point is that red-state Democrats who voted against Kavanaugh all lost, while Manchin, who supported him, won. Thus, the logic goes, Democrats paid a price for Kavanaugh.
Maybe! But the Kavanaugh hearings may cut the other way too. Take a look at this chart from Brian Schaffner, a political scientist at Tufts University, analyzing a poll conducted just before the election. It shows that voters who scored low on measures of “hostile sexism” were much less likely to support GOP House candidates in 2018 than in 2016, whereas voters who scored highly on such a scale were no more supportive than they were last cycle:
This, Schaffner argues in a Data for Progress analysis, is partly an anti-Kavanaugh effect. Educated female voters in the suburbs, who played a major role in turning the House blue, reacted negatively to the hardline GOP defenses of the nominee against sexual assault allegations:
This is a pattern that helps to explain the dramatic increase in Democratic voting among college-educated women in 2018. It’s a natural reaction not only to how Republican lawmakers have increasingly embraced Trump’s sexist rhetoric since 2016 (most notably on display during the divisive debate over the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh), but also due to the successful mobilization of women’s rights groups during the past two years.
In short? The centrist arguments don’t really hold up under scrutiny. Democrats did exceptionally well in the House, did not lose the Senate due to ideological hubris, and did not suffer for fighting back too hard against President Trump — who remains exceptionally unpopular for a president presiding over a healthy economy.
Ideology can’t explain the election results
Now, the fact that centrists are getting things wrong shouldn’t be taken as a sign that progressive candidates did great.
My colleague Ella Nilsen put together a list of leading progressive candidates and how they did on election night; it’s not very impressive. Progressive House candidates in competitive districts like Katie Porter (California) and Scott Wallace (Pennsylvania) mostly lost. The ones who did win, like Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, were competing in deep blue territory.
Sean McElwee, one of the leading activists working to push the Democratic Party to the left, admitted in his election postmortem that things didn’t go as planned in tougher districts.
“We know that many of the insurgent Democrats that progressives were most thrilled about were not able to pull through,” McElwee writes. “What’s clear is that progressive insurgents had a mixed bag…in purple districts.”
This bodes poorly for the popular theory in some left quarters that Trump voters are angry about their personal economic situation, and ready to be won over by progressives touting Medicare-for-All and other redistributive policies. While those proposals may be good on the merits — I tend to think so, personally — they weren’t the electoral silver bullet in 2018 that their advocates hoped they would be.
The truth of the matter is that there is no neat ideological story to tell about the midterms, no obvious conclusion to be drawn about the future of the Democratic Party. Some progressives did well and others floundered; some moderates triumphed and others perished. Ideology, conceived of in terms of a basket of policies unified by an overarching view of government, did not seem to be a decisive factor one way or another.
Why the 2018 midterms ended the way they did: race and identity
Republicans did well with rural voters, white Southerner voters, and low-educated voters — while Democrats won among city-dwellers, minorities, and highly educated white suburbanites. The strength of these divides led to some consequential results, like Josh Hawley’s defeat of Claire McCaskill elections or the Democratic “biggest upset of the night” in an Oklahoma House race.
The results make clear that American politics is polarized not on the basis of class or even ideology, but on identity.
Democrats campaigned on bread-and-butter issues like health care, while Trump’s outsized media presence and insistence on his issues — like the so-called migrant caravan — practically ensured that the debate would be a referendum on Trump’s brand of identity politics. The Trump strategy was to continue polarizing the electorate along identity lines, and to hope for a repeat of 2016.
This worked, to a degree. Republicans who ran Trump-like campaigns on identity issues, like Rep. Steve King in Iowa and Ron DeSantis in the Florida governor’s race, were rewarded by the rural and non-college white electorate. It also helped defend some Republican House seats in the South, where statistical studies suggest racial identity issues are particularly important for white voters.
But this time, the Democratic dominance among minority voters and gains among more educated whites more than offset the losses. Democrats even managed to claw back some of Trump’s gains in Midwestern states, like Wisconsin and Michigan, that were billed as the archetypal places for blue-collar Trumpism to succeed. The president’s identity politics helped him consolidate his base, but it also cost him a fair number of voters — enough to lose the House of Representatives.
“The factors that divided the electorate in 2016 are dividing them even further now,” John Sides, a political scientist at George Washington University, told me on election night. “One example is the education divide within whites, which appears as large if not larger among women … another example is the rural-urban divide. All of those demographic characteristics are correlated with views of race and immigration.”
Some individual candidates defied the overall tend — Tester and Manchin, in particular, succeeded despite the shift towards identity politics rather than because of it — but, on the whole, this election was a story of candidates’ fates being set by demographics and identity.
The new divide has less to do with ideology as traditionally conceived, but rather over what Democrats and Republicans want the country to look like in the future. Is increasing diversity a good thing or a bad thing? Are movements like Black Lives Matter about helping minorities or hurting whites? Is immigration a threat to the American project, or the source of its strength?
These questions are increasingly bound up in other kinds of identities, like religion and urban-versus-rural, with partisan identity serving as a kind of cultural catchall. Specific policy stances are comparatively less important, electorally, than a candidate being seen as a part of Team Blue or Team Red.
The result is an electorate polarized into two camps, with very little room for compromise; a nigh-intractable electoral split that I’ve termed a cold civil war.
What this suggests, then, is that thinking about Trump-era elections as competitions between competing policy visions is a category error. Voters aren’t voting on the basis of thought-out views about the role of government; they’re voting on the basis of group identity and affiliation. If Democrats want to think about improving on their 2018 victories, they should spend their time pondering this new reality rather than reading centrist fan-fiction.
In the developed world, these levels of gun violence are a uniquely American problem. Here’s why.
America is an exceptional country when it comes to guns. It’s one of the few countries in which the right to bear arms is constitutionally protected. But America’s relationship with guns is unique in another crucial way: Among developed nations, the US is far and away the most homicidal — in large part due to the easy access many Americans have to firearms. These maps and charts show what that violence looks like compared with the rest of the world, why it happens, and why it’s such a tough problem to fix.
1) America has six times as many firearm homicides as Canada, and nearly 16 times as many as Germany
2) America has 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but almost half of the civilian-owned guns around the world
3) There have been more than 1,600 mass shootings since Sandy Hook
In December 2012, a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 20 children, six adults, and himself. Since then, there have been more than 1,600 mass shootings.
The number comes from the Gun Violence Archive, which hosts a database that has tracked mass shootings since 2013. But since some shootings go unreported, the database is likely missing some, as well as the details of some of the events.
The tracker uses a fairly broad definition of “mass shooting”: It includes not just shootings in which four or more people were murdered, but shootings in which four or more people were shot at all (excluding the shooter).
Even under this broad definition, it’s worth noting that mass shootings make up a tiny portion of America’s firearm deaths, which totaled nearly 39,000 in 2016 alone.
4) On average, there is around one mass shooting for each day in America
Whenever a mass shooting occurs, supporters of gun rights often argue that it’s inappropriate to bring up political debates about gun control in the aftermath of a tragedy. For example, former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a strong supporter of gun rights, criticized former President Barack Obama for “trying to score cheap political points” when Obama mentioned gun control after a mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.
But if this argument is followed to its logical end, then it will just about never be the right time to discuss gun control, as Christopher Ingraham pointed out at the Washington Post. Under the broader definition of mass shootings, America has around one mass shooting a day. So if lawmakers are forced to wait for a time when there isn’t a mass shooting to talk gun control, they could find themselves waiting for a very long time.
5) States with more guns have more gun deaths
Using data from a study in Injury Prevention and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mother Jones put together the chart above that shows states with more guns tend to have far more gun deaths, including homicides and suicides. This has been found across the empirical research: “Within the United States, a wide array of empirical evidence indicates that more guns in a community leads to more homicide,” David Hemenway, the Harvard Injury Control Research Center’s director, wrote in Private Guns, Public Health.
6) It’s not just the US: Developed countries with more guns also have more gun deaths
7) America is an outlier when it comes to gun deaths, but not overall crime
It would be one thing if the US happened to have more crime than other nations, but the existing data shows that not to be the case. America is only an outlier when it comes to homicides and, specifically, gun violence, according to data from Jeffrey Swanson at Duke University.
As Zack Beauchamp explained for Vox, a breakthrough analysis in the 1990s by UC Berkeley’s Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins found that the US does not, contrary to the old conventional wisdom, have more crime in general than other Western industrial nations. Instead, the US appears to have more lethal violence — and that’s driven in large part by the prevalence of guns.
“A series of specific comparisons of the death rates from property crime and assault in New York City and London show how enormous differences in death risk can be explained even while general patterns are similar,” Zimring and Hawkins wrote. “A preference for crimes of personal force and the willingness and ability to use guns in robbery make similar levels of property crime 54 times as deadly in New York City as in London.”
This is in many ways intuitive: People of every country get into arguments and fights with friends, family, and peers. But in the US, it’s much more likely that someone will get angry at an argument and be able to pull out a gun and kill someone.
8) States with tighter gun control laws have fewer gun-related deaths
When economist Richard Florida took a look at gun deaths and other social indicators, he found that higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness didn’t correlate with more gun deaths. But he did find one telling correlation: States with tighter gun control laws have fewer gun-related deaths. (Read more at Florida’s “The Geography of Gun Deaths.”)
This is backed by other research: A 2016 review of 130 studies in 10 countries, published in Epidemiologic Reviews,found that new legal restrictions on owning and purchasing guns tended to be followed by a drop in gun violence — a strong indicator that restricting access to guns can save lives.
9) Still, gun homicides (like all homicides) have declined over the past couple decades
The good news is that firearm homicides, like all homicides and crime, have declined over the past two decades. (Although that may have changed in 2015 and 2016, with a recent rise in murders nationwide.)
There’s still a lot of debate among criminal justice experts about why this crime drop is occurring. Some of the most credible ideas include mass incarceration, more and better policing, and reduced lead exposure from gasoline. But one theory that researchers have widely debunked is the idea that more guns have deterred crime — in fact, the opposite may be true, based on research compiled by the Harvard School of Public Health’s Injury Control Center.
10) Most gun deaths are suicides
Although America’s political debate about guns tends to focus on grisly mass shootings and murders, a majority of gun-related deaths in the US are suicides. As Dylan Matthews explained for Vox, this is actually one of the most compelling reasons for reducing access to guns: There is a lot of research that shows greater access to guns dramatically increases the risk of suicide.
11) The states with the most guns report the most suicides
12) Guns allow people to kill themselves much more easily
Perhaps the reason access to guns so strongly contributes to suicides is that guns are much deadlier than alternatives like cutting and poison.
“Time is really key to preventing suicide in a suicidal person,” Harkavy-Friedman said. “First, the crisis won’t last, so it will seem less dire and less hopeless with time. Second, it opens the opportunity for someone to help or for the suicidal person to reach out to someone to help. That’s why limiting access to lethal means is so powerful.”
She added, “[I]f we keep the method of suicide away from a person when they consider it, in that moment they will not switch to another method. It doesn’t mean they never will. But in that moment, their thinking is very inflexible and rigid. So it’s not like they say, ‘Oh, this isn’t going to work. I’m going to try something else.’ They generally can’t adjust their thinking, and they don’t switch methods.”
13) Policies that limit access to guns have decreased suicides
When countries reduced access to guns, they saw a drop in the number of firearm suicides. The data above, taken from a study by Australian researchers, shows that suicides dropped dramatically after the Australian government set up a mandatory gun buyback program that reduced the number of firearms in the country by about one-fifth.
The Australian study found that buying back 3,500 guns per 100,000 people correlated with up to a 50 percent drop in firearm homicides and a 74 percent drop in gun suicides. As Dylan Matthews explained for Vox, the drop in homicides wasn’t statistically significant (in large part because murders in Australia were already so low). But the drop in suicides most definitely was — and the results are striking.
Australia is far from alone in these types of results. A study from Israeli researchers found that suicides among Israeli soldiers dropped by 40 percent when the military stopped letting soldiers take their guns home over the weekend. The change was most pronounced during the weekends.
This data and research have a clear message: States and countries can significantly reduce the number of suicides by restricting access to guns.
14) In states with more guns, more police officers are also killed on duty
Given that states with more guns tend to have more homicides, it isn’t too surprising that, as a study in the American Journal of Public Health found, states with more guns also have more cops die in the line of duty.
Researchers looked at federal data for firearm ownership and homicides of police officers across the US over 15 years. They found that states with more gun ownership had more cops killed in homicides: Every 10 percent increase in firearm ownership correlated with 10 additional officers killed in homicides over the 15-year study period.
The findings could help explain why US police officers appear to kill more people than cops in other developed countries. For US police officers, the higher rates of guns and gun violence — even against them — in America mean that they not only will encounter more guns and violence, but they can expect to encounter more guns and deadly violence, making them more likely to anticipate and perceive a threat and use deadly force as a result.
15) Support for gun ownership has sharply increased since the early 2000s
Over the past two decades, Americans have shifted from mostly supporting the concept of gun control to greater support for protecting “the right of Americans to own guns,” according to Pew Research Center surveys. This shift has happened even as major mass shootings, such as the attacks on Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School, have received more press attention.
16) High-profile shootings don’t appear to lead to more support for gun control in the long term
Although mass shootings are often viewed as some of the worst acts of gun violence, they seem to have little effect on public opinion about gun rights, based on surveys from the Pew Research Center. That helps explain why Americans’ support for the right to own guns appears to have risen over the past few decades even as more mass shootings made the news.
17) Specific gun control policies are fairly popular
Although most Americans say they want to protect the right to own firearms, most also back many gun control proposals — such as stronger background checks, a database to track gun sales, and banning assault-style weapons, according to Pew Research Center surveys.
For people who believe the empirical evidence that more guns mean more violence, this contradiction is the source of a lot of frustration. Americans by and large support policies that reduce access to guns. But once these policies are proposed, they’re broadly spun by politicians and pundits into attempts to “take away your guns.” So nothing gets done, and preventable deaths keep occurring.
In interviews this fall with half a dozen senior House Democratic aides, health care lobbyists, and progressive wonks, it became clear the party is only in the nascent stages of figuring out its next steps on health care.
But Democrats are less certain about an affirmative health care agenda. Most Democrats campaigned on protecting preexisting conditions, but the ACA has already done that. Medicare-for-all is energizing the party’s left wing, but nobody expects a single-payer bill to start moving through the House. Drug prices offer the rare opportunity for bipartisan work with Senate Republicans and the Trump White House, but it is also a difficult problem with few easy policy solutions — certainly not any silver bullet that Democrats could pull out of the box and pass on day one, or even month one, of the next Congress.
Winning a House majority to ensure Obamacare’s safety is an important turning point after so many years in which health care hurt Democrats much more than it helped.
But the path forward for the party on their signature issue is surprisingly undefined.
The likely first item on the Democratic agenda: Obamacare stabilization
Democrats do have some ideas, of course. Democratic aides emphasized the various investigations they could launch into Trump’s health department, not only looking into any efforts by the White House to sabotage Obamacare but also focusing on more obscure issues like Medicare payment rates.
But wonky oversight inquires probably aren’t the big-ticket item that new Democratic members and their voters are looking for, especially heading into the 2020 presidential election.
After campaigning in defense of Obamacare, warning about Republicans rolling back preexisting conditions protections and the Trump administration’s sabotage of the health care law, a bill to stabilize the Obamacare insurance markets would be the obvious first item for the new Democratic majority’s agenda.
Several sources pointed to a bill by Democratic Reps. Richard Neal (MA), Frank Pallone (NJ), and Bobby Scott (VA) — who have been serving as the top Democrats on leading health care-related committees — as the likely starting point. The plan is designed to build off Obamacare’s infrastructure to expand federal assistance while reversing the recent Republican efforts to undermine the law.
That bill would expand Obamacare’s premium subsidies, both by extending federal assistance to more people in lifting the current eligibility cutoff and by increasing the size of the tax credits people receive. It would also bolster the cost-sharing reduction subsidies that people with lower incomes receive to reduce their out-of-pocket costs, while extending eligibility for those subsidies to people with higher incomes.
The Pallone-Neal-Scott bill would reverse the Trump administration’s recent regulations intended to funnel more people to insurance plans that are not required to meet all of Obamacare’s rules for preexisting conditions. It would also pump more money back into enrollment outreach, cut by the Trump administration, and establish a new program to compensate insurers for high-cost patients, with the hope of keeping premiums down.
Two things stick out about this bill: It would be the most robust expansion of Obamacare since the law first passed, and it is just narrow enough that, with a few sweeteners for Senate Republicans, it could conceivably have a chance to pass. Democrats are waiting to see how the GOP majority in the upper chamber reacts to losing the House.
“Undoing sabotage and bringing stabilization to the ACA markets, that’s something we should really be thinking about,” one House Democratic aide told me. “It depends on what kind of mood the Republicans are in. Maybe they’ll say that actually now that the tables are turned, we should probably sit down.”
Senate Republicans and Democrats did come very close to a narrow, bipartisan deal — it wasn’t even as robust as the Pallone-Neal-Scott bill — to stabilize Obamacare in 2017. It fell apart, ostensibly after a tiff over abortion-related provisions, but that near miss would be the reason for any optimism about a bipartisan deal on the divisive health care law.
Then again Senate Republicans might have no interest in an Obamacare compromise after gaining some seats. Democrats would still likely work on stabilization to send a message to voters on health care ahead of the 2020 campaign.
Shoring up Obamacare is a good start, but what next?
In the case, the Pallone-Neal-Scott bill might be a nice starting point — no Democrat really disagrees about whether they should help the law work better in the short term — but it still lacks any truly ambitious provisions. It is just about as narrowly tailored as an Obamacare stabilization bill offered by Democrats could be, a fact that aides and activists will privately concede.
Missing are any of the bolder policy proposals animating the left. Not even a hint of Medicare-for-all single-payer health care, which is or isn’t a surprise, depending on how you look at it.
Medicare-for-all is quickly becoming orthodoxy among many in the party’s progressive grassroots, and a single-payer bill proposed this Congress in the House (similar to the one offered by Bernie Sanders over in the Senate) has 123 sponsors.
But House Democratic leaders probably don’t want to take up such a potentially explosive issue too soon after finally clawing back a modicum of power in Trump’s Washington.
Still, the current stabilization bill doesn’t even include a Medicare or Medicaid buy-in, the rebranded public option that never made it into Obamacare but would allow Americans to voluntarily join one of the major government insurance programs. It is an idea that even the more moderate Democratic members tend to support, and polls have found three-fourths of Americans think a Medicare buy-in is a good idea.
The plain truth is House Democrats haven’t reached a consensus yet about what they want to do to cover more Americans. They agree Obamacare was an important first step, and they agree the status quo is unacceptable. But the exact mechanism for achieving those goals — single-payer, a robust public option, or simply a buffed-up version of Obamacare — is still very much up for debate.
“People will want to do something, but any further action is going to be a consensus-building process,” a senior House Democratic aide told me. “Democrats have lots of different ideas on how to continue working to reduce the uninsured.”
That is all well and good, but few issues are exciting the Democratic grassroots right now like Medicare-for-all. During the midterm campaigns, Democratic candidates and even grassroots leaders were happy to let those words mean whatever voters wanted them to mean. For some people, it meant single-payer; for others; it might mean a Medicare buy-in or something more limited.
The unreservedly progressive members who were just elected to Congress will only wait so long before they start pressing Democratic leaders to take more aggressive steps to pick up one of their top campaign issues. That pressure will only intensify as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up and Democrats debate what kind of platform they should run on as they seek to take back the White House.
For now, Democrats have tried to put off a difficult debate and focus on what unites them. But the debate is still coming.
The riddle of high drug prices still needs to be solved too
Even with Obamacare and preexisting conditions mobilizing Democratic voters this year, prescription drug prices remain a top concern for many Americans. That’s another area where Democrats know they want to act but don’t know yet exactly what they can or should do.
The issue could be an opening for serious dealmaking: Trump himself has attacked big pharma since his presidential campaign. His administration has actually launched some interesting initiatives to rein in drug costs — approving a record number of generic drugs, trying to even the playing field between America and foreign countries — that have some policy wonks intrigued, even if the impact is still to be determined.
Democrats have mostly stuck to slamming Trump for feigning to act on drug prices while cozying up to the drug industry. But it’s a top priority for both parties, and there could be some room for compromise. One progressive policy wonk thought a drug prices bill might actually be the first Democratic priority. It helps that drug prices are a populist issue that the new House majority might really be able to pass a bill on.
But first, Democrats have to figure out what exactly they are for — and what would actually make a difference.
The rallying cry for Democrats on drug prices has been letting Medicare directly negotiate prices with drug manufacturers, a proposal that Trump also embraced as a candidate, though he has since softened as president. The problem is the Congressional Budget Office doesn’t think Medicare negotiations would save any money unless the government is willing to deny seniors coverage for certain medications. But adding such a provision would surely invite attacks that Democrats are depriving people’s grandparents of the medications they need.
There are a lot of levers to pull to try to reduce drug prices: the patent protections that pharma companies receive for new drugs, the mandated discounts when the government buys drugs for Medicare and Medicaid, existing hurdles to getting generic drugs approved, the tax treatment of drug research and development. Pharmacy benefits managers, the mysterious middlemen between health insurers and drugmakers, are viewed skeptically by lawmakers and the public.
But none of those are silver bullets to lower prices, and they will certainly invite pushback from the politically potent pharmaceutical lobby, focused on the concerns about how much cracking down on drug companies to discourage them from developing new drugs. Democrats also don’t know yet what specific policies could win support from Senate Republicans or the Trump White House.
“How do you take this gargantuan Chinese menu of things and figure out how things fit together in a way that stem some of the abuses?” is how one Democratic aide summarized the dilemma.
It is a problem bedeviling Democrats on more than just drug prices. Health care was a winner on election night this year, and it has always been a priority for Democrats. Now they just need to figure out what to do.
In Tuesday’s midterm elections, voters in Michigan and North Dakota will vote on ballot initiatives that would legalize cannabis for recreational purposes in those states. And voters in Utah and Missouri will vote on medical marijuana.
This is not how previous successful ballot initiatives worked. They left a lot of room for state lawmakers and regulators to flesh out a system under which marijuana can be bought and sold, but the initiatives generally set up a framework that these policymakers had to follow. North Dakota, at least, is taking a different approach — and it will be interesting to see what, if anything, state officials come up with.
Medical marijuana is already legal in North Dakota, so the ballot measure would have no significant impact in that area.
Public polling on the measure is limited and mixed. According to Ballotpedia’s tracker, one poll in February found plurality support, but another in August found majority opposition. It would be surprising if deep-red North Dakota legalized marijuana before more liberal states like New York and New Jersey, but the limited polling suggests it’s not impossible.
Medical marijuana legalization in Utah
Utah Proposition 2 is mostly a standard medical marijuana legalization initiative. The big points:
Allows patients to obtain medical marijuana cards via a doctor’s office for certain qualifying conditions, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, chronic pain (if someone is at risk for opioid painkiller addiction or overdose), and multiple sclerosis. (The medical use of pot for pain and multiple sclerosis is supported by some research, but other areas need more study.)
Maintains a prohibition on smoking marijuana, instead allowing vaping, edibles, and other means of consuming marijuana.
Imposes some restrictions on doctors, including prohibitions on owning or working for a medical marijuana dispensary and on recommending a card to more than 20 percent of their patients.
Creates a system through which state officials will license and regulate medical marijuana businesses, from growers to dispensaries.
Allows growing up to six pot plants for personal medical use, but only if a patient lives more than 100 miles from a licensed dispensary.
There’s a twist: In the lead-up to the election, Utah advocates, policymakers, and other stakeholders agreed to compromise legislation that will change how medical cannabis is actually implemented. The compromise agreement will need approval from the legislature and governor, but lawmakers appear poised to pass it, especially if voters okay Proposition 2.
Removes some qualifying conditions, including autoimmune disorders, but adds others, such as receiving hospice care.
Requires doctors to get training to be able to recommend medical marijuana cards.
Gives municipal governments more room to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries.
Imposes new rules on medical marijuana dispensaries, including that they each have a licensed pharmacist, and calls them “pharmacies.”
Doesn’t allow growing marijuana for personal medical use.
Bans marijuana edibles (on top of smoking), but allows other means of consumption.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) said he will hold a special session to pass the compromise agreement, regardless of whether voters approve Proposition 2. The compromise has powerful Utah advocates behind it, including the Mormon church. Whether it actually passes the legislature, though, remains to be seen.
Proposition 2, meanwhile, has strong support in Utah. According to Ballotpedia’s tracker, polls have consistently found that more than 60 percent of surveyed Utahns support the initiative. This helps explain why the legislature might act: If they don’t, medical marijuana seems likely to be legalized anyway — under terms more conservative lawmakers don’t want.
Medical marijuana legalization in Missouri
Missouri will have three different ballot initiatives dedicated to legalizing medical marijuana. All of the initiatives would legalize possessing, using, buying, and selling pot for medicinal purposes, and allow the state to license and regulate dispensaries through a new system.
But there are some differences on taxes:
Amendment 2 would impose a 4 percent tax on marijuana sales, and the funds would be mainly used to pay for services for military veterans.
Amendment 3 would impose a 15 percent tax on marijuana sales as well as additional taxes in other areas of production and sales, with the revenue primarily dedicated to a research institute that will try to find cures and treatments for cancers and other medical conditions.
Proposition C would impose a 2 percent tax on marijuana sales, and the revenue would be set for veterans’ services, drug treatment, early childhood education, and public safety.
There are also some differences with qualifying conditions. If a patient doesn’t have a qualifying condition under the law, Amendment 2 and Proposition C still let the patient get permission to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s approval. Amendment 3, meanwhile, is more limiting — only letting patients petition a board to get a condition added to the state’s list.
And Amendment 2 allows home growing, while the other two measures do not.
The face-off between three medical marijuana initiatives is bizarre, created by disagreements over what Missouri’s medical marijuana program should look like.
So what happens if they all pass? As Will Schmitt at the Springfield News-Leader wrote, Missouri law does actually provide some clarity here. First, the constitutional amendments would take priority, leaving Proposition C in the dark if all three initiatives pass. Second, the initiative with more votes would take precedence, so it may come down to which initiative can get more support.
A poll from August found that medical marijuana has majority support in Missouri. But it’s only one poll, and it’s unclear how majority support will ultimately translate to a ballot with three different initiatives.
Marijuana is already legal for recreational use in nine states
Based on the Marijuana Policy Project’s count, 30 states have already legalized medical marijuana, and nine have legalized cannabis for recreational uses (to varying degrees).
Generally, not many people deny that at least some of the components of marijuana can help with some medical conditions. The debate around medical marijuana is mostly about the details of how states implement medical marijuana — particularly about whether a state system is too lax (creating de facto legalization), and whether it would be better to take the specific components of marijuana through the federal approval process for other medicines instead of legalizing the whole plant for medicinal use through a voter initiative.
Public discussion about recreational legalization is, generally, more binary.
Supporters of legalization argue that it eliminates the harms of marijuana prohibition: the hundreds of thousands of arrests around the US, the racial disparities behind those arrests, and the billions of dollars that flow from the black market for illicit marijuana to drug cartels that then use the money for violent operations around the world. All of this, legalization advocates say, will outweigh any of the potential downsides — such as increased cannabis use — that might come with legalization.
Opponents, meanwhile, claim that legalization will enable a huge marijuana industry that will market the drug irresponsibly. They point to America’s experiences with the alcohol and tobacco industries, which have built their financial empires in large part on some of the heaviest consumers of their products. This could result in far more people using pot, even if it leads to negative health consequences.
It’s worth noting, though, that legalization doesn’t have to be so binary. Although most states that have legalized have adopted a model that lets for-profit companies produce, sell, and market the drug (similar to alcohol), policy experts argue that there are more options.
The government could legalize possession and gifting but not sales, as Washington, DC, has done. It could put state agencies in charge of selling pot, as some provinces in Canada are doing (which research has linked to better public health outcomes for alcohol). A RAND report, in fact, noted that there are at least a dozen alternatives to standard prohibition.
Again, though, only prohibition and the standard commercial model have gotten a lot of discussion in policy debates. That’s essentially what’s on the ballot in Michigan.
But that may be changing. As more state legislatures get involved in marijuana legalization (including potentially North Dakota, since the ballot initiative is so vague that it may force lawmakers to act), they could consider a broader array of options — ones that are more tuned to public health and safety concerns. But that will require more legislative work than what’s currently on the ballot for 2018.
Much of the built-in Republican advantage in the House has been in these states.
The consequences of this week’s midterm elections will ripple outward through the next decade: Should Democrats win key governorships and state legislative seats, they can begin to roll back the advantage Republicans have built in for themselves in the House of Representatives.
This fall, I wrote a longer piece on how important this year’s midterms will be for unwinding Republican gerrymandering in key states. This is mainly because many state politicians elected this year who get a say in redistricting — largely governors and state senators who serve four-year terms — will be in office in 2021, when the next round of redistricting begins. Neither party will have another bite at the apple for these races after they are settled this week.
The last time this batch of governor and state legislature seats went up before a redistricting, in 2010, Republicans dominated them. And they used those wins to draw House of Representatives maps in key states that gave the GOP a built-in advantage — which has helped them hold onto control of the chamber ever since.
Democrats are optimistic they’ll make progress in state legislatures on Tuesday, but they doubt they’ll reclaim too many key chambers outright. That’s because many state Houses and state Senates are themselves heavily gerrymandered to benefit Republicans. Democrats hope a blue wave will lead to some unexpected wins, but many chambers seem set to remain firmly in the GOP’s hands.
That means Democrats’ realistic best-case scenario to get a seat at the table in any GOP-dominated state may be winning just one race: the governorship. (After all, the governor’s race is a statewide contest, meaning Democrats don’t have to deal with gerrymandered borders.)
“If Democrats win one statewide race in what looks like it could be a wave year, they can assure themselves at least of veto power” over new maps in 2021, David Daley, an author who’s written a book about gerrymandering, told me this summer.
So, even if faced with one or two Republican state legislature chamber majorities, a Democratic governor’s veto could either force a bipartisan compromise or create gridlock and throw the matter to the courts. Either would likely be a dramatic improvement over the Republican-only maps crafted last time.
These, then, are the key governor’s races Democrats would need to win to get that power.
Florida is the third-most-populous state in the country. It already has 27 US House seats and is projected to gain another two after the 2020 census because of its growing population, so its map will be enormously consequential for control of the House.
And despite close presidential and statewide races, Republicans have held onto a solid 17-10 or 16-11 advantage in Florida’s congressional delegation for years now. (That’s even though the state supreme court already forced Florida to alter its congressional map in the middle of the decade, saying the initial map violated the state constitution because it was drawn with partisan intent.)
Now, Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) are locked in a close race for governor. Whoever wins will get the ability to sign or veto Florida’s new congressional map in 2021 — and the sheer size of Florida, combined with those expected two new seats the state will get, makes that quite important. Gillum has consistently led polls, but on average, his lead is quite narrow.
Donald Trump won Michigan by 0.2 percent in 2016, and Barack Obama won by double-digits twice — yet its US House delegation was dramatically gerrymandered in Republicans’ favor in 2011.
In the 2012 election, Obama won the state by 9.5 points. But, amazingly enough, Republicans won nine of the state’s 14 congressional districts, reflecting one of the worst pro-GOP gerrymanders in the country. (At the time, a GOP staffer enthusiastically emailed about cramming “ALL of the Dem garbage” into certain districts.) The GOP held onto the exact same House advantage in the 2014 and 2016 elections, too — the gerrymander worked exactly as planned.
This year, Michigan’s electorate will get to vote on a ballot initiative that would dramatically reform the redistricting process, taking it out of the legislature and governor’s hands and setting up an independent commission of 13 ordinary citizens (four Republicans, four Democrats, and five independents) chosen at random from applicants. This would be a massive change from a process dominated by politicians.
But there’s a danger to the commission strategy. Back in 2015, four conservative Supreme Court justices voted to strike down Arizona’s independent redistricting body, saying the US Constitution guaranteed state legislatures must be involved in redistricting (rather than being cut out through a ballot initiative reform).
The Court’s five-justice majority upheld the independent redistricting body, but only with the vote of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has since been replaced by Brett Kavanaugh. A more conservative majority could conceivably strike down redistricting commissions nationwide.
That’s why a win of the governorship is so important for Democrats in reversing Michigan’s gerrymandering. And the party’s nominee, former state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, has built up a solid lead over her Republican opponent Bill Schuette in polls.
Ohio is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. Even when Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney there in 2012, Republicans won 75 percent of the state’s House races — giving them a 12-4 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation that they’ve held on to ever since.
This spring, the state’s voters approved a reform proposal that modestly changed the process by which Ohio will draw its district lines. However, this reform still effectively gives the governor and state legislature majorities the final say; if they want to pass maps without any minority party support, they still can do so.
So Democrats’ best shot to try and roll back the state’s Republican gerrymanders is to win the governor’s race, in which former consumer financial protection bureau director Richard Cordray (D) is running against Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (R). Cordray has had a narrow edge in recent polls.
If you’re looking for an example of how consequential a state’s new House district map could be, look no further than Pennsylvania. From 2012 through 2016, the state flipped from a mid-single digits Barack Obama win to a narrow Donald Trump win. But all along, Republicans kept winning 13 of the state’s 18 congressional seats — a massive advantage for a swing state.
But earlier this year, the state supreme court (which has a Democratic majority) threw out the map, saying it violated the state’s constitution by being an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The new map is dramatically more favorable to Democrats, and has helped put them in a good position to pick up at least three and potentially several more seats there. Still, that map won’t last long, since the next redistricting is coming up.
Unlike the other states on this list, Pennsylvania already has a Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, who is running for a second term. He’s the overwhelming favorite to win, leading his GOP opponent Scott Wagner by nearly 20 points in RealClearPolitics polling average. So if Wolf does win, Democrats won’t have to rely on the state’s Supreme Court to change the maps next time — his veto pen will give them a say throughout.
Wisconsin is smaller than the other states above, with only eight members of Congress, so its map is of somewhat less importance for control of the House. (Wisconsin’s infamously gerrymandered state legislature districts, which made it up to the Supreme Court this year, have gotten much more attention.)
Still, Republicans drew the House district lines so they’ve had a 5-3 advantage in that congressional delegation, even when Obama won the state by 7 points in 2012.
This year, Gov. Scott Walker (R), who signed the current maps into law, is running for a third term — but he’s facing his toughest race yet. The Democratic nominee, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, has led most polls so far. If Evers wins, he’ll be able to try to roll back GOP gerrymandering in Wisconsin.
Georgia has not been considered a swing state on the presidential level in recent years, but it’s been getting closer. Obama lost it by 8 points in 2012, but Hillary Clinton lost it by just about 5 points in 2016. Yet the state’s congressional delegation has been a Republican stronghold throughout, and is currently 10 Republicans and four Democrats. (Only two Republican-held seats are expected to be remotely competitive this year.)
Should Stacey Abrams (D) defeat Brian Kemp (R) to win the governorship, in addition to her win being a historic first, she’d be able to try to wield her veto pen to help force a more favorable map for Democrats. Polls show this race as very close; the RealClearPolitics average currently shows Kemp up by about one percentage point.
Almost no one gives Democrat Lupe Valdez any significant chance of defeating Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in Texas. (She’s trailing Abbott by about 18 points in the RealClearPolitics polling average.)
Still, the Lone Star state is worth a mention here because of Texas’s size and growing population. The second-biggest state in the country, it already has 36 seats in the House of Representatives and is expected to gain two more after the 2020 Census.
That congressional delegation is currently dominated by Republicans — there are 25 of them, compared with 11 Democrats. Should Republicans hold power in Texas’s state government and manage to finagle an even more GOP-leading map than last time, it could cancel out some Democratic improvements in other states.
Rami Malek stars as the Queen frontman, who was far more interesting than the movie he’s in.
There’s probably some rock star out there whose life could only result in a boring biopic. But it takes a certain degree of, um, talent to make a crashingly dull movie about Freddie Mercury, one of the least drab humans who ever lived.
But even if the stories of Singer’s troubled production weren’t common knowledge when they were happening a year ago, Bohemian Rhapsody, directed from a screenplay by Anthony McCarten, bears all the signs of something having gone awry. What could have been a colorful, imaginative rendering of a talented artist who exulted in being profoundly extra is instead weirdly hollow and plodding. It feels more like a high school skit about Freddie Mercury — albeit one starring Rami Malek — than a movie about the Queen songwriter and frontman.
And though some fans of Queen will still find something to love about Bohemian Rhapsody — the recreation of the band’s 1985 Live Aid performance at the end of the movie, in particular, delivers some much-needed highs — the way it scrambles some aspects of Mercury’s career while seeming strangely ashamed of his personal life may be enough to ruin it for others. Sloppy storytelling may have been bearable in a movie that showed some passion for its subject. But Bohemian Rhapsody is just a limp mess.
Bohemian Rhapsody plods perfunctorily through the story of the Queen frontman
Malek does his level best to rescue the film, in which he plays Mercury with aplomb, prominent buck teeth, and an occasionally wavering accent. (He does sing at times, too, but most of Mercury’s performances are an amalgamation of Queen recordings and, in a weird twist, a solid imitation of Mercury by Christian rock singer Marc Martel.) It’s more of an impression than a performance, but it’s big enough that everything else gets pushed out when he’s onscreen.
Born in Zanzibar to parents of Parsi descent and named Farrokh Bulsara, Mercury moved to England with his family as a teenager; there, he fell in love with music, met his bandmates, changed his name, and fought with his parents (played by Ace Bhatta and Meneka Das) about his life choices.
In Bohemian Rhapsody, that sequence of events ticks the first item off the rock biopic must-have list: Rebellious young man escapes stern home life by joining a band. In this case, the band is Queen (the other members are played by Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello, and Gwilym Lee). Freddie meets them by chance in a parking lot outside a gig and quickly becomes their frontman and artistic visionary. At first they’re just playing college gigs, but soon, they’re a much bigger deal.
Tick two: He meets a girl. She’s Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), and she believes in him when nobody else does. They love each other. They form a lasting bond. She is his lifeline and biggest support.
But the obstacle that threatens their relationship — tick three — comes not from other girls but from Freddie’s growing realization, and Mary’s along with it, that he is gay. He and Paul Prenter (Allen Leech) strike up an affair, one that both proceeds and eventually ends in a manner that seems ripped from a time when this sort of relationship was only depicted as scandalous and aberrant. In Bohemian Rhapsody’s rendering of Mercury’s story, he is not so much a man acting on his own desires and power as a gay man as someone who falls sway to a sinister influence, and pays the price.
The bill comes due with the AIDS crisis of the ’80s. In real life, Mercury died in 1991, having publicly revealed his AIDS diagnosis only the day before. In the film, he makes the diagnosis public the day before performing at the 1985 Live Aid concert, which brought together some of the world’s most famous musical acts for what is still one of the largest rock shows in history,and which was broadcast around the world to raise funds for Ethiopian famine relief.Queen’s set at Live Aid — considered one of the greatest live performances of all time — is ably reenacted at the end of Bohemian Rhapsody (while the crowd is recreated less ably through noticeably bad CGI).
And then we’re told via end credits that Freddie died — a move that seems so modeled on the ending of the satirical rock biopic Walk Hard that it seems comical. And, well, that’s the end. Roll credits, accompanied by footage of the real Freddie Mercury, presumably so we can all admire how similar Malek’s performance was to the real thing.
Bohemian Rhapsody is faintly insulting to its subject, who was much more interesting than the movie
There’s a strange sterility to the whole enterprise that, even to casual observers, seems totally out of sync with the character at the film’s center. Bohemian Rhapsody was made with the cooperation of Queen’s surviving members, but they reportedly were only willing to sign on if it wouldn’t be R-rated, and thus it’s scrubbed clean of much of the content that might round out a film more committed to accuracy regarding the lifestyle of its characters.
The result is that we’re always seeing the aftermath of certain events, never the events themselves. There’s no sex in this movie, and nothing that could really be considered “partying.” We see some aftereffects — postcoital conversations, rooms littered with bottles and refuse — and fill in the blanks because we’ve seen rock movies before. We know what happened here.
But that’s not only true of Bohemian Rhapsody’s racy content; everything in this movie feels like a quick sketch of what really happened, a sprint through perfunctory conversations and plot points that will connect the dots between moments in Mercury’s life and the band’s career to get him to Live Aid. Nothing is surprising, except how little is surprising.
When a scene does go on and on — as when a recording industry mogul snottily declares that not only can Queen not make “Bohemian Rhapsody” the first single off their 1975 album A Night at the Opera, but that if they don’t listen to him, they’ll never make it big — you can practically feel the camera winking at you. Will that same mogul later appear onscreen moodily sipping some brown liquid from a tumbler as he listens to the band play the gig of their lives on TV? Reader, you bet he will.
What exactly is the point of this? Bohemian Rhapsody feels like a movie made to prove you were paying attention in a very specific sort of history class, without any idea why the story matters except that it happened. It feels more like an adaption of a Wikipedia article — with dialogue written by an artificial intelligence that was trained by watching rock biopics — than like a tribute to its subject’s brilliance.
So if you want to know why Queen mattered to music, why a band so enamored of gleeful artifice caught the hearts of stadium-filling crowds, why this particular singer-songwriter was so different from dozens of others, you’ve come to exactly the wrong place.
Come on. This is a movie about the guy who wrote “Bohemian Rhapsody” — the long, weird, baroque song to which generations of young and happy partygoers have shouted along enthusiastically — and that’s just one of many reasons he’s important to so many people. Freddie Mercury was a legendary performer, a highly talented musician, and a figure of inspiration to people navigating the choppy sexual politics and heartbreak of his time. Watching Bohemian Rhapsody, you may find yourself wishing that its filmmakers had half the gumption of their subject. That they’d dared to rock the audience, dared to fight to the end, dared to make a movie that really matters to anyone.
Bohemian Rhapsody opens in theaters on November 2.