Nov. 6, 2020 by David Silverberg
President Barack Obama used to find “teachable moments” in his setbacks and disappointments. It’s a good way to approach the world. Avoiding or dismissing a defeat is unproductive and unhelpful. But making it a teachable moment, staring it in the face, objectively studying all its warts and ugliness, provides critical knowledge and ultimately, wisdom.
It’s always more pleasant to analyze the results of a victory rather than a defeat—but in some ways, it’s more important to examine a defeat because it holds more lessons for the future.
Although the presidential race, which is unresolved as of this writing, seems headed toward a victory for former Vice President Joe Biden, in Florida the race was pretty much a complete defeat for Democrats.
Donald Trump took the state, Republicans took the legislature, and incumbent Democratic stalwarts like Reps. Donna Shalala (D-27-Fla.) and Debby Murcarsel-Powell (D-26-Fla.) lost their seats. Republicans are crowing that Florida is no longer a purple state that can swing either way and is now “Trump country.” At the moment, they’re right.
In Southwest Florida, every Democratic candidate was defeated and by large margins.
So what are some of the lessons of this experience for the region’s Democrats, liberals and progressives?
Demographics are destiny
For the time being, SWFL is overwhelmingly Republican and will stay that way for a long time.
For years Republicans have outnumbered Democrats in Southwest Florida, whether those Republicans were long-residing Floridians or more recent Midwestern migrants who drove down once I-75 opened up in the 1970s.
The dominant population of Southwest Florida is politically conservative by habit as reflected in its party registration. This is also a function of age: 29 percent of the Lee County population is 65 and older as is 33 percent of Collier County. These are not people thirsting for revolutionary change.
The area’s dominant party affiliation may have altered from southern Democrat to Republican in the 1960s and from traditional Republican to Trumpist starting in 2016, but it is clear that the overwhelming sensibility is conservative—however “conservative” is defined.
That rightist allegiance—and infatuation with Donald Trump—was clearly not shaken despite the COVID pandemic, Trump’s threats to seniors’ Social Security and healthcare, his personal repulsiveness, his general incompetence and his catastrophic governance. Despite some Republican dissenters and the votes of independents, Southwest Florida voters overwhelmingly voted their registrations and so his hold continues.
With its critical victories, Republican dominance in Florida and Tallahassee seems set to continue for at least the next decade. This is the legislature that will redraw the maps after the Census. Florida is already gerrymandered to benefit Republicans. That will probably be intensified as the boundaries are refined to Republicans’ advantage with the aid of new digital tools. If those maps are too blatantly biased, Democrats will challenge them in court; however, they will be bringing those challenges to a politicized, ideologically conservative state judiciary, so not much relief can be expected there.
Certainly, Republican dominance for years to come can be expected in Southwest Florida, if not in the state as a whole.
This too shall pass
But like all things, this too shall pass—and demographics work both ways. Donald Trump won’t be president forever (or possibly not past Jan. 20) and the current Republican Boomer generation will leave the scene—sooner rather than later if they continue to refuse to wear masks. (And by the way, it’s worth noting that two prominent anti-maskers, Donald Trump and Byron Donalds, both contracted COVID-19 during this campaign.)
As Democrats pick themselves up, they have to adjust to the realization that the pursuit of democratic ideals and values in Southwest Florida is a marathon, not a sprint. Democrats, liberals and progressives need to start playing a long game, laying the groundwork for the future; organizing, thinking and cultivating the next generation of leaders.
In this there was some good news for Southwest Florida Democrats, not in the results but in their slate, which featured young, dynamic candidates like Anselm Weber, 24, who ran for Florida House District 76; Rachel Brown 25, who ran for Florida Senate District 27; and Maureen Porras, 31, who ran for House District 105. In Cape Coral, Jessica Cosden, 36, kept her seat on the Cape Coral City Council.
Congressional candidate Cindy Banyai is 40 years old—a veritable baby in Southwest Florida terms. She came from virtually nothing in terms of name recognition and is now on the local political map. She has many years of organizing, coalition-building and campaigning ahead of her—which will no doubt ultimately lead to electoral success.
To the north, in the 17th Congressional District, Democrat Allen Ellison, 40, also has many years ahead of him.
On the presidential level, the Democratic primary campaign revealed a whole echelon of talent and young, dynamic leaders. (See “The hidden story of the Democratic presidential primary–and the party’s future.”)
The Lee and Collier county Democratic parties will be examining their roles and activities and out of that examination will no doubt come new reforms and changes. It won’t be easy or bloodless but it will be essential. As it was, they went into the contest with better organization and dynamism than had been seen in previous contests.
On a more granular level, there is a tremendous need for better data collection about the Southwest Florida population. There is little to no systematic polling on any issue. This is a need not just in the political realm but for a great deal of decisionmaking and awareness of public attitudes on issues such as climate change, land development and conservation. Polls that were done during this election were done privately by individual candidates and only selective data was released to the public. Better data would help formulate better strategies, messaging and campaigning—and better governing in general.
The power of persistence
The great heroes and dissidents of history all have something in common—their persistence in their commitment to their ideals, values and goals no matter what the odds and setbacks.
From George Washington facing starvation and defeat at Valley Forge, to Nelson Mandela suffering 27 years in prison, to Andrei Sakharov, who labored against a seemingly insurmountable Soviet system, to Martin Luther King who fought entrenched segregation, all remained true to their ideals and values. There is the example of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), whose determination to speak on the floor of the US Senate won her what was both a rebuke and a plaudit from Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.): “Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Most recently, we have the example of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who lost many battles on the Supreme Court. When she lost, she reflected, “I’m dejected, but only momentarily, when I can’t get the fifth vote for something I think is very important. But then you go on to the next challenge and you give it your all. You know that these important issues are not going to go away. They are going to come back again and again. There’ll be another time, another day.”
And as Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) said in his 1980 concession speech: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”
Liberty lives in light
© 2020 by David Silverberg