Swing voters can't seem to connect present events to the instigating events that happened months ago

If the economy is struggling, if gas prices are up, the party in power is punished.

click to enlarge You get the government you deserve. - screengrab via Fox News
screengrab via Fox News
You get the government you deserve.

On Oct. 13, a 15-year-old boy allegedly shot and killed five people, including his brother and an off-duty cop, in a neighborhood east of Raleigh. The suspect suffered a single gunshot wound — it’s not clear whether it was self-inflicted or whether he was shot by police — and is in “grave” condition. If and when he leaves the hospital, he’ll be charged as an adult, which in North Carolina means he’ll face up to 40 years behind bars. 

Raleigh’s mayor, like so many mayors before her, went before the cameras to offer her condolences and urge that this time should be different, knowing that it won’t be, knowing that while we might be momentarily horrified by the violence, we’ve become so inured to senseless killing that this senseless killing would be swept off the front pages just in time for the next one to arrive.  

But calls for gun reform were met with the usual rejoinders about how inappropriate it is to talk politics at a time like this. So we won’t mention that North Carolina lets any hormonal teenager own a rifle or shotgun; there are no age limits. And we won’t talk about how the state’s Republican-led General Assembly has rejected bills to remove guns from dangerous individuals and fund ad campaigns imploring parents to practice gun safety around their kids.

America is awash in guns. And yet we cannot fathom that being uniquely awash in guns is somehow related to being uniquely awash in gun violence. 

Meanwhile, last week, Republican-appointed federal judges blocked President Joe Biden’s student debt relief program from taking effect and effectively declared the entire Consumer Financial Protection Board unconstitutional, siding with Republican lawyers who believe predatory lenders should be immune from regulation. 

And Republican politicians, on the precipice of reclaiming congressional majorities, have declared their intention to take hostage and potentially default on the country’s debt, which would invite economic catastrophe. As best I can tell, their proposed remedy for inflation appears to be some combination of starving the poor, deporting immigrants and rooting for the Federal Reserve to overcorrect the economy into a recession — which seems almost certain to happen. 

And, of course, tax cuts, the cure for every possible ailment.

And yet. 

This weekend, ABC News released a poll showing that voters preferred Republicans by double digits on crime and the economy. 

To be clear, my eye-rolling here is not at voters who lack faith in Democrats, or even voters who don’t share Democrats’ policy goals. It’s at voters who have any faith whatsoever in the Republican Party to do, well, anything productive. 

Such an expectation grossly misunderstands what the GOP is. 

It is a post-policy party, a party in which advancing ideas matters less than picking fights. And so every policy is a blast from the past: tax cuts and deregulation, appeals to the false nostalgia of segregated suburban safety, and revanchist sexual and gender norms. Every “idea” is inherently atavistic, an own-the-libs manifestation of whatever grievance Fox News is stoking: attacks on woke corporations or Marxist professors or transgender athletes or drag queens or immigrants or librarians or social media companies. 

But I fear none of that will matter. American politics are reactive. If the economy is struggling, if gas prices are up, if violent crime can be successfully demogogued by race-baiting propagandists, the party in power is punished. 

It doesn’t matter that the Saudis cut oil production to damage an administration that tepidly called out human rights abuses. It doesn’t matter that inflation isn’t just an American story but rather a global aftershock of pent-up demand and supply-chain issues as well as governmental intervention. It doesn’t matter that the Trump administration ran record-setting deficits during an expansion while demanding that the Fed keep money cheap. It doesn’t matter that Biden has already added more jobs to the economy than the last three Republican administrations combined. It doesn’t matter that states that voted for Donald Trump are much more violent than states that voted for Biden

And it doesn’t seem to matter that one of the two major parties is openly disdainful of democratic norms. 

This is the aspect of American politics that I’ve found most infuriating — and depressing — over the last six years. 

A major party has committed itself not just to doing nothing about guns or climate change, but also to sabotaging the global economy, to gutting institutions designed to protect consumers, to attacking reproductive rights that women have relied on for generations, to undermining the very fundaments of American democracy, to abandoning any pretense of pursuing compromise or working toward the common good in favor of feverish extremism. If polls are right, voters are about to reward them for it.  

By double digits, Americans say they trust Republicans on the economy, inflation and crime. Again, not because Republicans have produced a plan to deal with these things; they haven’t. Not because they’ll offer any fresh insights into these conversations; they won’t. But because — like in 2010 — swing voters seem dismally unable to connect present events to causal events that happened more than six months ago. 

It’s been said that you get the government you deserve. Maybe a country that has accepted that it can do nothing to stop a deranged teenager from slaughtering passers-by deserves to be governed by a nihilistic party that takes Marjorie Taylor Greene seriously and sees Ron DeSantis’ authoritarianism as freedom. 

I hope we don’t find out. 

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