The most important election result for Seattleites tonight wasn’t passage of a pilot program for universal preschool. It wasn’t the end of Elizabeth Campbell’s monorail fantasy, or Socialist Alternative discovering that you can’t run the same campaign indefinitely and get the same results, or even the merciful passage of a statewide firearms background check law that will save lives each year in our city.
Those results – especially the preschool program – are important, and will touch the lives of many of us. But what dominates Seattle’s future isn’t the message that early childhood education is important. It’s the opposite message, from voters in Iowa, and Georgia, and Colorado, and a dozen other states that elected certifiable lunatics to the US Senate today – the message that education and facts and stuff are elitist and dangerous, that government services like preschool are by definition a bad thing, and that wealthy liberal cities like Seattle are The Enemy.
I don’t much miss the years when I wrote about national politics for a living. The amount of sheer stupidity that dominates most national political discourse and virtually all of its media coverage has a way of eating at your mental health, and it’s gotten worse with every passing year since. In the last week of this year’s campaign, for example, voters weren’t hearing that they were poised to hand control of the US Senate over to the same band of zealots that only two years ago shut down the federal government for a month and nearly destroyed the country’s credit rating and, with it, the global economy – and that were promising if elected to do it all over again. Instead, we got 24/7 bloviating about a woman in Maine who went for a bike ride with her boyfriend. It’s little wonder people tune out.
But national elections do matter locally – this one more than most. Seattle is now two cities: one of extreme wealth, and one in which everyone who doesn’t share in that wealth scrambles to make ends meet. But the US has become two nations as well, divided between wealthy, liberal, mostly coastal urban enclaves like Seattle, and the more socially conservative, more rural, poorer areas farther inland. That “other” nation is now overwhelmingly electing as its representatives people who don’t believe public policies should be used to promote the common good – and also don’t “believe” in things like climate change, evolution, health care, birth control, or facts. Those representatives now control the entire legislative branch of the federal government, meaning among many other things that every federal budget written for the next two years will reflect their priorities.
For years, the largely invisible bane of state and local government has been the steady erosion of federal funds (except for military weapons for law enforcement). From transportation to education, public health, emergency preparedness, and much more, local governments have lost big chunks of funding; Washington state’s limited revenue options, all regressive, have made this loss that much harder to replace. But with Republican control of Congress, it’s about to get much worse.
Expect, in the next two years, government shutdowns. Expect an economic downturn, one that will hit bubble economies like Seattle’s especially hard. Expect no relief for the afflicted from the federal government, especially in parts of the country, like Seattle, that aren’t part of Sarah Palin’s “Real America.”
Seattle is likely to be hit especially hard because, as with so many past booms, its current gold rush is heavily tied to one industry: hi tech. Our regional economic engines are now Microsoft – which, while still enormous and profitable, hasn’t been anyone’s idea of a hi tech innovator in over a decade – and Amazon, which the city is in the process of rebuilding an entire downtown neighborhood on behalf of. And Amazon is all about retail sales, the first sector of a general economy to suffer when people have less money to spend. The lavish wealth now reshaping Seattle is going to take a hit in the next two years – and the people caught in the margins, the non-wealthy majority arleady struggling to stay afloat, will be hurt the worst.
In national politics, the next two years will be ugly but likely transitory. Just as Republicans were heavily favored by the Senate seats up for election in 2014, Democrats have an even bigger structural advantage in 2016. Electoral College math and the field of probable candidates also favor the Democrats in two years (unless you think “President Ted Cruz” has a nice ring to it). But it’s a whole lot easier to wreck something than it is to build it. And while Seattle voters, again this year, continue to tax ourselves for all manner of good and worthy ideas, local elected officials would be wise to build up our reserve funds as fast as possible. We’ll need them.