Naive Optimism for 2022

Here we are on New Year’s Eve. Or what you might think of as the Eve of Destruction.

If you’re a Democrat, or just somebody who happens to like democracy, things are not looking so good. On the world stage the trend is sobering. China has snuffed out democracy and a free press in Hong Kong and is now threatening Taiwan. Russia has jailed the main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, and Putin is massing troops for what seems like an inevitable invasion of Ukraine — and subversion of its democratically elected government. Hungarian fascist leader Victor Orban is giving clinics on how to dismantle a democracy — and he has fans in the United States. In Poland, the Law & Justice Party (which is for neither) has hard-wired the judiciary in its favor and now openly defies the European Union, daring it to cut ties. A freely elected government in Mayanmar was forced out in a coup and the military crackdown there is only becoming more brutal. Afghanistan’s elected government, such as it was, was forced into exile and a gang of brutal dictators (struggling to present themselves as slightly less brutal than they were before) is running the country into the ground.

I could go on, but do you really want me to?

And here at home, 2021 was the year when we lost the Republican Party altogether. The Insurrection was the tipping point. Would the party get shaken back to its senses, disown Trump, and recommit itself to our system of government? No, they did the opposite. The GOP (and, really folks, what’s so “grand” about it these days?) has spent the year undermining our electoral system at every level. The most dangerous thing they’re doing is trying to put election outcomes (not just processes, but actually declaring winners) at the state and local level into the hands of partisan Trump loyalists who they expect to deliver victories to Republicans, regardless of vote totals. I hesitate to write this because it seems so surreal, but if they succeed and try to deliver the presidency back to Trump in this way in 2024, a second U.S. civil war does not seem out of the question.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves or resort to catastrophizing (and yes, that’s a word). I’m not going to make predictions for next year. Only a fool would do that. (I know. You’re asking, so what’s stopping you?) Instead, let me suggest what I consider to be the very best possible outcomes next year. This isn’t what I hope will happen because I’ve tried to temper my optimism with realism. And, unfortunately, this isn’t what I think will happen because my realistic self is mocking my optimistic self even as I write.

Anyway, in my view here’s the best we can hope for next year.

The slaughter is only average. The Democrats lose the House (it will only take three seats to do that), but they only lose a couple dozen seats overall. That would hew to the average loss for the party in the White House in mid-term elections since 1946. Could be a lot worse. In 2010, they lost 63.

Democrats maintain their Senate majority. The consensus of expert opinion is that this is a dead heat. The projection right now is that when the Senate takes up its seats in 2023 there will be 47 Republicans and 47 Democrats (counting two independents who caucus with them) with the majority decided by six toss up races, including the one for Ron Johnson’s seat here. The best case scenario is that the Democrats hold on to their 50-50 “majority” provided by Vice President Kamala Harris. A wildly optimistic scenario would be for them to take a 51-49 or even a 52-48 lead.

Ron Johnson is defeated. If he finally decides to go for a third term, well. that’s probably the best chance for the Democrats to take back the seat. The latest Marquette Law School poll finds RoJo under water, with a majority of voters looking for someone else. And frankly, if he steps aside for, say, Congressman Mike Gallagher, I think Republicans hold the seat for sure. But Johnson’s unrelenting unhinged statements keep opening the door wider for the Democratic nominee, who is likely to be Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. If lightning should strike and the Democrats instead nominate Outagamie County Exec Tom Nelson their chances are even better.

Tony Evers is reelected. It seems likely that the Senate and Governor’s races will go hand-in-hand. It’s hard to imagine a split decision since there are now so few split ticket voters. Evers is also underwater in that same Marquette poll, but it looks like he’ll be blessed with former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch as his opponent. She is following the RoJo lead instead of getting the Glenn Youngkin memo about appealing to the base without looking bat-shit crazy. Especially if Johnson is the Senate nominee, it’s hard not to see Kleefish joining him in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Roe v. Wade is not overturned. It seems very likely that abortion rights will be curtailed when the Supreme Court announces its decision in the Dobbs case probably next June. The best case scenario for those of us who think that would be a mistake, is for Chief Justice John Roberts to prevail and for the court to find a way to uphold the Mississippi law without going all the way. But the silver lining here is that, no matter what the court does, it will almost certainly anger and excite the Democratic base and possibly some usually Republican suburban voters. This is one thing that gives me hope for defeating Johnson, reelecting Evers and keeping the Senate majority.

The maps are just bad. Options for redistricting now seem to have narrowed to bad and terrible. Basically, the state Supreme Court can rule in favor of the Republican maps, which currently deliver them a 61-38 majority in the Assembly, or Evers’ maps, which project a 55-44 edge for the Republicans. Evers has maneuvered to give his maps a chance. It all comes down to swing conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn.

Democrats gain seats in the Legislature. If Hagedorn rules for Evers and Evers and the Senate Democratic candidate win, then it’s not crazy to suggest that the Democrats could actually narrow the Republican majorities in the Assembly and Senate. But, in the long run, Democrats have to find a way to reconnect to voters outside of Dane County.

The pandemic eases. There’s some hope out there that Omicron is so bad that it’s good. That is, its catchiness forces us to a sort of herd immunity. After an awful January we follow South Africa into a rapid recovery. By, say, April the pandemic no longer leads the nightly news shows. More reason to think things might not turn out so bad for Biden and his Democrats after all.

Sanity picks up two seats on the Madison school board. There are two open seats on the board with elections in April. If two good candidates show up by next week (I’m getting nervous about this) we could see at least some common sense return to the board, which now is dominated by woke activists.

What will happen in 2022? It’s all a beautiful mystery.

Wisconsin is the champion of the world. The Packers win the Super Bowl, Aaron Rodgers resolves his beautiful mystery by signing a long-term contract (which includes a provision that in exchange for one billion dollars a year he just shuts the heck up and plays football), the Bucks win it all for the second year in a row, the Brewers’ pitching staff goes the entire month of August without giving up a run on the team’s way to the World Series, and the Badger women’s hockey and volleyball teams repeat as national champs, while the men’s basketball team sneaks its way into another March Madness bracket. Also, I shoot an honest 79 at Odana.

Okay. Okay. So that last one was pure fantasy, but the other stuff on my list is entirely possible. Is it all likely? Probably not. But it’s important to have (realistic) dreams and (achievable) goals. Without these things we’d just curl up on our couches and watch reruns of Curb Your Enthusiasm. And even there, I can look on the bright side. Season 11 is very strong.

Happy New Years, folks.

This last post for 2021 is the 316th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading this year!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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