What a relief I’ve been denied my favourite election day hobby – hating fellow Americans | Emma Brockes

When things going less badly than planned is a small win, the lack of a revival of Trump-backed candidates is cheeringIn the playground on Tuesday, we stood in a huddle and indulged in the primary joy of election day: loathing one’s fellow Americans. In New Y…

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In the playground on Tuesday, we stood in a huddle and indulged in the primary joy of election day: loathing one’s fellow Americans. In New York, where I live, the only close race was the race for governor, where the choice between Kathy Hochul, the Democrat incumbent, and Lee Zeldin – a pro-Trump, anti-abortion Republican – threatened to mess with the very idea of the city.

“You know who I really hate?” said a friend who had taken the train in from Long Island to vote.

I did know. Democrats take more pleasure in hating other Democrats than in hating Republicans. “Andrew Cuomo,” I said.

“Yup. If he’d kept his dick in his pants we wouldn’t be here.” A line that could, sadly, be applied to any number of men in American politics. “Now we’re going to end up with a Republican governor because people won’t vote for a woman.”

That was midday on Tuesday, when it still seemed probable, per polling and received wisdom about the midterms, that the dominant party in government would suffer the most losses. Anxiety about the economy and inflation; the impression that President Biden is too old; the ugly face of Trumpism apparently not yet vanquished; plus the usual superstitions and defeatist instincts of the left: all led to a mood among Democrats on Tuesday that fell somewhere between panic and gloom.

So we did what people in denial do: we told ourselves that, when the results came in overnight, the worst eventuality might actually – sound the counter-intuitition klaxon! – be for the best. A friend had a friend who was a political analyst at Brown (this was how the conversations on Tuesday played out), and she said that it would be no bad thing if the Democrats lost control of Congress because in two years’ time that would mean Republicans would have to carry the can when people voted in the presidential election.

This kind of worked. But then there were the races that were so starkly depressing that no amount of fancy footwork could neutralise them. Chief among these was the Pennsylvania Senate race between Dr Oz, the rightwing TV host who said in a recent debate that abortion was a matter between “women, doctors and local political leaders”, and the Democratic candidate, John Fetterman.

The importance of this race was underscored when both Biden and Barack Obama turned up to stump for Fetterman on Saturday, undoing all the detachment I’d managed to achieve about the midterms. Watching Obama do his thing in front of a stadium of people in Pittsburgh was intensely moving. It was also a hard reminder of how far we had fallen since 2008. Accustomed as most Americans are these days to seeing the apparent lunatic in any race win, Obama’s appearance seemed to guarantee Oz would ascend to the Senate.

Fetterman won with 50.4% of the vote. Kathy Hochul won with 52.5% of the vote. That the size of the relief was so huge, on Wednesday morning, was an indication both of how slim the margins were, and how little we needed to feel some hope. By midday, while it was still unclear whether Congress would remain in the hands of the Democrats, it was apparent there would be no red wave. There was no big revival in support for Trump-backed candidates. And there were some hugely cheering results from the centre of the country, where for example in Kentucky voters defeated the anti-abortion constitutional amendment. For the first time in ages, it was possible to think warmly of people one was used to dismissing as nutters.

There were some let-downs among the reliefs. JD Vance, the bearded memoirist turned ultra-right Republican, won the Senate seat in Ohio. Beto O’Rourke lost out once again to Greg Abbott in Texas, and Stacey Abrams was defeated in Georgia. The satisfaction of seeing Trump’s candidates underperform on Wednesday was, meanwhile, eclipsed in part by Ron DeSantis winning decisively in the gubernatorial race in Florida. DeSantis, a more credible version of Trump, remains the most dangerous indication that the movement is alive and well.

Still, slight gains, or at least losses on a smaller scale than anticipated, made for a whiplash effect midweek. In the playground on Tuesday, as the kids ran around, we returned to the subject of all the people who were ruining the country. On Wednesday, it was time to feel something else: relief, joy and the disorienting novelty of things going better than planned.

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