There is a new state of being that some people are experiencing, especially in Washington DC – or The Swamp – as some Republicans would call it. It’s called “MAGAfreude”.
If you have to explain what MAGAfreude is, you can’t really feel the depth of it, the reach. It’s the feeling you get when they take a vote for speaker of the House of Representatives, and the leader of the Democratic Party – which lost in the recent midterm elections – gets more votes in several ballots than the guy who is supposed to be becoming the majority Republican party leader.
It’s the weird satisfaction of watching former speaker Nancy Pelosi sitting back and reading a New Yorker profile of now speaker Kevin McCarthy, while the Republicans go for one another’s throats – once literally.
MAGAfreude is the sight of extremist Marjorie Taylor Greene, now part of the Republican establishment on Capitol Hill, waving around her mobile phone, indicating to her allies that a call has just come in. The caller’s name had the initials “DT”.
The Democrats were bringing in blankets and popcorn as the vote to elect a Speaker of the House extended over days and days. Little kids who had come with a parent to watch the swearing in were numb from exhaustion. The funerals of mothers were missed and cancer operations were pushed back, as the Republican Party, with a minuscule 219 seats to the Democrats’ 212, showed what they were made of.
That one of the GOP’s first acts on assuming control was to take down the metal detectors from the entrance to the chamber, a means to ensure that no weapons are brought on the floor, is an indication of how these people mean to go on.
MAGAfreude is happening partly because of the ascent of social media and cable TV, allowing the wild-eyed likes of Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz to gather a following, raise money, and become individual stars in their own right. They and their cohorts managed to get a concession out of McCarthy called “motion to vacate”, in which it only takes one person to have the Speaker removed. They are part of the far-right Freedom Caucus, and in their minds the House is being remade for the American People.
But outside of the redistricting and gerrymandering which helped produce the Republican result, what did the American people say at the 2022 midterm elections? The important thing to keep in mind is that the midterms mean the midterm of the presidential cycle. It’s a referendum, so to speak, and usually the party in the White House loses.
Thanks partly to the Tea Party movement which mobilised the sort of people who never wanted to see the likes of Barack Obama in the White House in the first place, he lost something like 60 seats in the House during the 2010 midterms. Obama himself called it a “shellacking”.
There was no shellacking for Joe Biden in the 2022 midterms despite his personal unpopularity, and the failure of the Republicans to win a majority at the midterms suggests that a healthy percentage of GOP voters either voted for independent candidates or the Democrats.
As predicted, the Supreme Court decision to set aside Roe v Wade also caused a lot of voters to come out for the Dems. The Republicans performed well in the House of Representatives’ popular vote – but almost all of the wins were in the south. This largely explains some of the antipathy towards McCarthy by various Republican right-wingers in the House: he’s from California and, therefore by definition, not to be trusted.
The Democrats won the Upper Midwest; the Northwest; New England and the West and the interior, including Arizona.
What many of the American people said in November 2022 is that they do not want “crazy”. Yet what C-SPAN, the cable network created by the industry to televise proceedings of the federal government, showed us during the votes to decide who would be speaker was just that.
While the president was handing out medals to those who survived the assault on the Capitol two years ago, on that very anniversary, one Republican had to grab the McCarthy ally Mike Rogers by the throat to keep him from lunging at Gaetz in the chamber of the United States House of Representatives, as they fought over the umpteenth ballot for a speaker, a vote that is usually settled on the first round. This was MAGAfreude writ large.
What does this all mean for the presidential election in November 2024? Things are not great for the Democrats: Biden’s approval ratings continue to be abysmal. Vice-president Kamala Harris, the first woman, and first woman of African descent to hold that office, is said by her husband, “second gentleman” Doug Emhoff, to be constantly engaged with work. But we never see her; never see the fiery and articulate senator she once was.
Yet on the Republican side, their party establishment is desperate to stop MAGAfreude from turning into a full-scale GOP apocalypse.
The trouble is, as awful as this may sound, that the overall cluelessness of Donald Trump about the world, his general crookedness, the aura of the man that New Yorkers call “Don the Con”, endears him to some of his base. They actually like the fact that he knows nothing about foreign affairs, or the office of the presidency itself for that matter. They like the fact that he pays no tax and that he makes memes of himself as a superhero.
There are people who just like to see it all burn, and Trump in the US and Boris Johnson here are the gleeful match-throwers for a great many people who want to bask in the glow of the fire, the fire that burns down what they consider to be “the Establishment”.
Yet, if the Republicans are so deluded by their MAGA base that they try to pass a nationwide ban on abortion, thereby stepping in between a woman and her medical adviser, if they try to end social security and Medicare, if they try to cut back on voting rights, if they run Trump in 2024, then Joe will beat him again.
And this is the coalition that will give Democrats the win: Women of African descent; Generation Z; independents; the regions that voted for Dems in this past midterms, particularly those with a large urban population; and probably some registered Republicans, too