In this most pivotal election of our lifetime voters will come to their senses, our adversaries will be cast forever into the outer darkness, democracy will be saved, and we shall experience existential personal vindication. Oh. Never mind. Next time for sure.

In fact, the 2022 US midterm elections seem to have been a non-event. The party that occupies the White House lost seats, as usual. Republicans gained control of the House and possibly the Senate, pending extended vote-counting. And the apparatus of government will lumber on — while the tone and content of American politics will continue to deteriorate, along with freedom at home and abroad.

I confess to being slightly surprised the GOP didn’t do better given how badly Democrats are governing and how out of touch they are about the concerns of what passes nowadays for normal people.

But folks I know who were icing champagne for the final settling of all accounts on the night of November 8 did not seem to me to have a very clear idea of what Republicans, if they achieved a working majority, would even attempt, let alone accomplish. Or care much.

This obsession with salvation through elections strikes me as a weird variant of identity politics involving a mighty act of virtue-signalling voting. And it costs me friends, never mind social media followers, that just because I dislike the ideas and to some extent characters of the incumbents doesn’t mean I assume the challengers are any smarter or nicer than they appear.

Still, I claim vindication on outcomes. As with apocalyptic expectations in my Canadian home province of Ontario when we finally replaced those no-good profligate Liberals with someone claiming to be “Conservative”, or rather “Progressive Conservative” — then very little changed beyond the colour of the ties. And would Republicans, if they’d secured 60 Senate and 300 House seats, have staunched the flow of red ink from the Treasury into social programs? Or even done something about poisonous polarization?

Let me not seem unduly negative about US politics. In the first place, Americans vote early and often whereas in other functioning systems of self-government we sit and watch our masters cavort for years on end. Remember: Any Congressperson elected in a great and final defeat of evil will face voters again in just two years.

Here in Canada we get whiny press releases from the socialist NDP that “Liberals continue to prop up big oil and gas CEOs instead of fighting the climate crisis and creating good jobs in our communities” while the NDP continues to … prop up the Liberal minority in Parliament so we can’t vote these wretches out until 2026 by which point the US will have had two more Congressional votes and a presidential election. Plus, local results matter more there than in most jurisdictions.

In the second place, as Adam Smith said, there’s a lot of ruin in a nation, and there may yet be a genuine rebirth of freedom where stars and stripes are flown. Not anarchy or libertinism but genuine, morally grounded republican liberty under law. And the rest of us better hope so.

But wishes are not horses, and if you want to understand the lukewarm result on November 8, 2022, you need to see clearly (a) that Americans are being asked to choose between a party that idolizes Donald Trump and one that idolizes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and (b) why they are reluctant to do so.

Both parties are struggling with the latter. Nancy Pelosi recently told the New York Times with respect to Republicans that “I cannot believe anybody would vote for these people”. A sentiment the Times presumably shared, not having endorsed the GOP in a presidential contest since 1952 (at which point all the major contenders were born in the 19th century — it was that long ago). As she explained, her stinking adversaries’ strategy was “endless lying and endless money.”

A dispassionate observer might point out that the Democrats weren’t exactly campaigning on a buck forty-seven and that President Biden has a history of bizarre fibs stretching back decades. And that Democrats raged about stolen elections in 2000, 2016 and 2018 before claiming Republicans invented the charge. But such a person would be no more welcome in her inner circle than in the counsels of Republicans if they said in the Pennsylvania Senate race that voters seem to have chosen a man medically unfit for the job over one morally unfit for it, just as they did Presidentially in 2020.

For my part, I subscribe to a number of outlets see what others are thinking and why. These include right-wing ones that fulminate that this or that bombshell just finished Pelosi, the Democrats or whoever… again. Or, in this case, “Midterms Just Got ‘A Sign from God’ – This Omen Could Mean Total Disaster for One Party”. Seems God forgot to tell the voters.

I also read left-wing sources, aka the mainstream media, equally lost in wish fulfilment or worse. One columnist for the British Guardian wrote approvingly “On Thursday, Sunny Hostin, a co-host of ABC’s The View likened suburban women voting Republican to ‘roaches voting for Raid.’” For some reason it doesn’t bring them to your side to berate “white women” for “voting against their own (reproductive) interests for a very long time” because “Some women will also vote in ways that threaten their bodily autonomy if it helps bolster their status overall. Patriarchy requires its handmaidens.”

Understanding why people might vote for a candidate in no way concedes that they are right to do so. In the famous aphorism attributed to Lincoln, a frontierswoman watching her husband fighting a bear doesn’t have to shout: “Go husband” and “Go bear” alternately to see who’s winning or how. But in a world where everyone points to massive polarization caused by their stinking adversaries, failure to grasp why they might vote against you makes it more likely they will.

The liberal press keeps insisting the rise in crime is a mirage exploited by yahoos, like voting fraud, and most liberal politicians believe it. The conservative press keeps insisting voters have finally decided Democrats are traitors and most conservative politicians believe it.

Actually, American voters trust Democrats more on free money and Republicans more on security. They are divided on identity politics though more are against than for, and on limited government though more are against than for, and on many other issues, in complex patterns that include shockingly low levels of information and curiosity on both sides. They also hate one another and politicians.

I wish it were otherwise. But it’s not. Hence this election result.

John Robson is a documentary film-maker, columnist with the National Post, Executive Director of the Climate Discussion Nexus and a professor at Augustine College. He holds a PhD in American history from...