The election of Gov. Glenn Youngkin wasn’t a triumph for Republicans; it was a victory for moderates of both parties.
The nature of our current, hyper-polarized media environment has skewed most national conversations about a variety of political issues.
Media outlets pander to their audiences of Republicans or Democrats respectively: Less and less the twain shall meet. As a result, there is an impression that the U.S. is comprised of half very far-right social conservatives and half militant progressives further left than Jane Fonda.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
When Americans map their actual views on social issues, most people are somewhere in the middle on most issues, while feeling perhaps a little more strongly about one or two.
The outliers, those with strong opinions about seemingly everything- who incidentally tend to be more likely to respond in polls- get all the attention, but the vast moderate majority is the iceberg beneath that merest tip.
Twitter and other social media platforms certainly don’t help. The medium, by its very nature, tends to filter the most polarizing, the most incendiary and irritating content to the surface while new baby pictures, updates about job searches and vacation snaps settle to the bottom like so much meaningless silt.
Unless media companies can get a bunch of ad clicks out of it, ideally provoking a viral response that will send ad revenues through the roof, all the remaining content is worthless- aside from its resell value to other advertisers, of course.
The most extreme views, the most shocking assertions and constant call-outs, cancelation attempts and pile-ons have turned social media platforms into places fewer and fewer people want to go. What isn’t negative, polarizing, or predicting the imminent doom of democracy, humankind and the planet, is advertisement after advertisement.
It certainly is all very interesting; it has made for a sort of daytime drama/reality television show/made for tv movie most of us would like to tune turn off but can’t. Whether all this is ultimately healthy for society- to know what the most extreme among us is thinking at all times- and also what bots, trolls, hostile foreign governments, content farmers, information warfare mongers, and angsty twelve-year olds think at all times- is a matter for debate.
What is no longer up for debate, and indeed social media and traditional media companies are hardly even bothering to deny it anymore, is that these modern obsessions have made it seem like none of us get along very well. Or at all.
Yet, outside; off social media and away from the pernicious influence of media soothsayers and doomsday prophets; everything seems pretty much ok and life goes on much as it has before. People still work together, attend religious services together, play golf together, socialize; Republicans, Democrats and Independents, much as they always have.
The election of Glenn Youngkin in Virginia represents a departure from the bitter, vicious gladiatorial game electoral politics has seemed to become in recent years.
Unlike Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida and other prominent Republicans and Democrats who need not be named, it has been very difficult for Democrats, from the Virginia statehouse to the newsroom of MSNBC, to paint Youngkin as a divisive, hateful caricature of the Evil Republican.
“We just gave the entire state of Virginia a giant bear-hug,” an exuberant Gov. Youngkin told horrified reporters not long after his inauguration. Anything similar to something Ned Flanders might say on The Simpsons just isn’t tabloid usable.
It’s more than just Youngkin’s air of unflappable, Mr. Rogers-like calm; it’s more than his unobtrusive sweater vests or the art of sounding as bland as a Bible salesman.
Youngkin is not an extremist; but even better, he has the potential for a rare but cherished quality in politics these days: Being boring. Refreshingly, uncompromisingly, unapologetically boring.
This is great news for the citizens of Virginia, whether they voted for Youngkin or not.
The best, most effective lawmakers and elected officials in history have been gloriously ordinary; just like the vast majority of the people they represent.
The vast moderate majority of the working class aren’t movie stars or rock stars; they work regular gigs in boring industries never mentioned in the gossip pages.
They vast majority of voters aren’t wealthy elites who travel to Davos or summer in Martha’s Vineyard; they are people of modest means who take a vacation a year somewhere nearby, in a good year. They aren’t radical activists or anarchists; they aren’t religious fanatics prepping for armageddon: They volunteer at their local church or civic organization, or help at their kid’s school.
They don’t write for the New York Times or LA Times, either. They aren’t union bosses or grassroots community organizers; they aren’t communists or globalists on a mission to transform society as we know it.
Most concerns of the voting and working classes are very boring indeed, the same boring old plebeian concerns they’ve always had: The economy, good paying jobs, taxes, safe neighborhoods, good schools, fair treatment under the law, affordable health care, social security.
These concerns aren’t glamourous. Talking about the insolubility of the social security system, or wage gains for the working class, for the millionth time is enough to put talking heads to sleep from CNN to Newsmax.
Addressing the mainline, everyday concerns of working class Americans isn’t going to land Youngkin or any other politician on the talk show circuit short list. It isn’t going to sell any books or launch any presidential campaigns.
Nevertheless, these boring, everyday, kitchen-table concerns are what keeps people up at night worrying about bills and rising prices. These concerns about keeping food on the table, keeping the lights on in your small business, keeping a roof over your family’s head: These are the concerns of millions of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck.
The progressive left’s laundry list of new and exciting social justice causes and sweeping social change movements; new ideas about everything from energy production to identity may make the Twittersphere more lively. As engaging as these more esoteric ideas are to the left, for the vast middle majority- comprised of Republicans and Democrats- they can’t replace foundational issues politicians from both parties have failed to fix: The high cost of education, health care, the wealth gap, high taxes and the skyrocketing cost of living.
The right’s laundry list of social outrages and campaign hyperbole drums don’t amount to nearly as much either. Issues important to far-right conservatives fall flat with the vast majority of the middle ground.
While the media does its best to drag Youngkin’s new administration into interesting and juicy controversy, hoping mask mandates in public schools will be a viral media flashpoint worth a few million eyeballs, it isn’t likely to get far.
Youngkin is, whatever the Washington Post may think, doing what he promised the vast majority of the middle ground voters he would do if elected. Elections, as those in the media are so fond of pointing out, have consequences.
There are certainly plenty of public schools throughout the country with mask mandates; plenty without. Virginia, it would seem, will be without. The difference between Youngkin and other more incendiary politicians, is that Gov. Glenn Youngkin will govern with the mildest of manners, killing his critics with an unassailable aw-shucks kindness that is difficult to turn into a punchline or the end of democracy as we know it.
With any luck, Gov. Youngkin will continue to bore media pundits to frustrated tears by being impervious to the modern weapons of hype and hyperbole.
He promised to deliver for the working class voters of Virginia the kinds of sensible, moderate policies to make their unremarkable, everyday dreams come true.
With any luck, Youngkin will usher in an era better than the Era of Good Feelings: The Era of Blissful Boredom- during which elected leaders and officials govern effectively with the minimum amount of drama, infighting, and grandstanding.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)