Buddhist mythology depicts an elaborate network of colorful realms where beings may go in their next life, as the result of the intentional actions they took in this one. Some are celestial paradises of beauty and bliss, like Amida Buddha’s Pure Land, a joyful, glowing world of music and birds and wish-granting trees adorned with bright jewels. Others are notorious hell-realms, like Avīci, where the unfortunate dwellers roast in immense flames for a few quintillion years at a time. Of course, where one goes is never arbitrary, and not easily negotiated by simply answering a few questions correctly at a crossroads or bridge to heaven. Rather, it is one’s own responsibility, one’s own karma, that dictates one’s fate, and so the choices we make in life really do have significant consequences. At least, it seems like it should be that way. A universe governed by order seems infinitely more hospitable than one governed by chaos.
That said, it’s hard not to think of the events of the past two days – from the stunning democratic senate victories in Georgia, to the terrifying manifestations of Trumpism run amok – in terms of cosmic justice.
And so, Georgia first.
There is something indescribably wonderful about these two races being the ones that tipped the senate for the democrats. After the November election, republicans were prematurely congratulating themselves for holding the chamber against such crummy odds, and that clearly emboldened them to start plotting their crusade of obstruction, where the enabling of Trump’s misinformation campaign about voter fraud was merely the opening salvo in what promised to be two years of political terrorism. But of course, those plans just blew up in their faces, and we have Georgia (and especially its Black voters) to thank. It’s also quite cool that the much maligned pollsters, who were at best hit-or-miss in November just about everywhere except Georgia, again came within a point on both of the senate races. The FiveThirtyEight average had Warnock up by 2.1% (he’s currently ahead by 1.8%, and Nate Cohn’s Needle anticipates him hitting 2.0%), and Ossoff by 1.8% (he’s currently up by 0.9%, with the Needle anticipating 1.1%). But there are also at least three ways in which we can understand this as profound karmic retribution.
1. The legacies of racism and anti-Semitism. The full history of systematic racism and Black disenfranchisement in Georgia is a subject for volumes, not blog-style sound-bites, but nothing symbolizes the state’s lasting ignominy than the lynching of more than 450 Black men and women during the five decades after the Civil War, a total surpassed only by its Neanderthal neighbors in Mississippi. And nothing so captures the state’s stain of anti-Semitism than the case of Leo Frank, a story often retold in Georgia but less familiar to those outside the state. In 1913, Frank was a pencil factory superintendent who, in a highly publicized trial, was framed for the rape and murder of a teenage girl, and lynched two years later when the governor commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment. Frank was portrayed at the time as “a rich, punctilious, northern Jew lording it over vulnerable and impoverished working women.” And so here we are a century later, an African-American and a Jew, campaigning side by side, flipping the senate, together making history, with Raphael Warnock as the first Black senator from the Deep South, and Jon Ossoff the youngest senator since . . . . Joe Biden. Perhaps the spirits of those lynching victims, and of all those who historically bore the burden of Southern racism and anti-Semitism, can rest just a little easier tonight.
2. The legacy of election runoffs. The Toteboard has already traced the sleazy history of runoff elections in Georgia, how they were developed “to prevent the Negro bloc vote from controlling the elections.” The state began instituting them for primaries in 1964 and, after a republican hit a narrow plurality in the 1966 gubernatorial election (the yellow-dog legislature nevertheless handed the victory to the segregationist Lester Maddox), they expanded that to include statewide elections shortly thereafter. And this has historically worked to the benefit of plenty of bad actors . . . until now. David Perdue actually beat Jon Ossoff in the November election, and republican candidates outscored democratic candidates in the special jungle primary, but this time around it benefited the progressives. How sweet a payback is that?
3. The legacy of the 2018 gubernatorial race. One of the most interesting, but least noticed, aspects of the special election is that it was actually a proxy rematch of the still-suspect gubernatorial contest between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams. When ailing senator Johnny Isakson vacated his seat, Kemp made a not-so-subtle attempt to lure women and suburban voters back to the GOP by appointing Kelley Loeffler, a rich and white but inept political novice, expecting that she’d breeze through the special election. But Stacey Abrams, who deflected pleas that she herself run, had an ace up her sleeve by recruiting Raphael Warnock, recognizing his ability to capture and build upon the coalition that she had been growing for the last decade. So Warnock does indeed get to go Washington, but Stacey must be savoring the taste of proxy victory, and licking her chops for a 2022 rematch with an embattled Kemp.
And as long as we’re celebrating some unexpected but entirely fitting results, this seems like it might be a good time to review when the Toteboard first put these races on its radar, back when all the maps and professional pundits showed Georgia tinted red for the presidential race and both senate seats. Back in December 2018, yes that’s right, almost two years before November’s election, the Toteboard identified the Georgia regular election as one of six contestable 2020 senate races (after CO, AZ, NC, ME, and IA): “Freshman David Perdue has that kind of arrogant redneck quality that fits in so well down here. But he’s not the most likeable jerk in the world, evidenced by some public fracases caught on cellphone video.” And then a month before the actual election, the Toteboard was still touting the possibilities: “The young documentary filmmaker . . . Jon Ossoff has surprisingly held his own in the current polls. This has gotten the attention of the nasty Trumpian incumbent David Perdue, who has set into motion his own vile attack apparatus, including ads with doctored photos of Ossoff to make the Jewish Atlanta native’s nose look bigger. Yes, really! The Toteboard suspects that Georgia isn’t quite ready to pull the lever for the young and somewhat wooden policy wonk of Hebraic ancestry, but it would certainly love to see both of the Georgia seats turn blue.” And speaking of the second Georgia seat, it caught the Toteboard’s eye back in June: “There is much to put this race on the national radar, including the anointed successor Kelly Loeffler’s appearances of impropriety and a tendency to shoot herself in the foot every time she shoots off her mouth, Trump surrogate Doug Collins’ challenge from the republican populist front (they’re really no different ideologically), and democrats hoping Ebenezer Baptist Church’s oratorical pastor Raphael Warnock will inspire huge African-American turnout and enough educated whites from the Atlanta suburbs.” And then in October: “Most of the analysts are not especially bullish on Ebenezer Baptist Church pastor Raphael Warnock’s chances, but the Toteboard thinks this race is actually the more competitive one in the Peach State. Anointed republican incumbent and proto-fascist ignoramus Kelly Loeffler and credentialed republican fascist Doug Collins have been blood-letting each other in the jungle primary as only Georgia rednecks can, presumably in lieu of attending a cockfight, leaving an opportunity for Warnock to rise above the fray and take advantage of a hobbled opponent.” And it was, in fact, this race that the democrats won a smidge more decisively. Aren’t you glad you read the Toteboard?
But unfortunately, some of the Toteboard’s darker and more unsettling predictions also turn out to be right. As early as Labor Day weekend, the Toteboard warned that “if and when Trump loses, the real question is not whether he will relinquish power peacefully (he won’t), but whether he will incite his followers to violence.” A few weeks later, it took note of Trump “cozying up to white supremacists and inciting his supporters to commit voter intimidation and violence.” And then in October, it cast Trump as “a person who has wrought (and continues to wreak) so much chaos and division, who has been responsible for so much suffering, and who has promised in the coming weeks and months to facilitate a constitutional crisis and possibly incite violence.” So yes, the Toteboard saw this coming, but to be fair, who didn’t? Trump and his maniacal echo-chamber have been laying the groundwork for months, and republican leadership has been complicit and worse. So the events of Wednesday were unprecedented and dumbfounding, but they were anything but unexpected. Which is what makes it all the more infuriating to have to listen to Pence and republican senators and representatives as they sanctimoniously posture against the violent assault on democracy, while sidestepping any acknowledgement of the fresh blood that is still dripping from their hands. One doesn’t have to subscribe to any Buddhist notions of karma to recognize the mayhem as something the republicans have themselves sown, and those motherfuckers will have to look at themselves in the mirror every day from here on out, and will perhaps someday suffer the consequences of their moral failings.
Coda: It will take a long time to process all of this, and scholars will be interpreting and reinterpreting the significance for years. But here’s an early, darkly cynical, quasi-prediction of what could be the aftermath. Humiliated by the riots they enabled, full of self-loathing over their two years of sycophancy, and (mainly) fearful of public opinion turning against them, the republicans may decide to offer to “make nice” for a couple of years and stop (or at least attenuate) their obstructionism and appealing to their base’s worst instincts, but at a price. In return, the democrats will have to let them off the hook, i.e., resist throwing their prior fuck-ups in the faces, and erase any vestiges of their destructive flirtation with fascism. Now, any other country might consider a truth and reconciliation commission, but don’t get your hopes up for that, as republicans aren’t terribly big on either truth or reconciliation. Instead, the only way they can rewrite this history is to make Trump, the war-criminal-in-chief, disappear, which means simultaneously curtailing criminal investigations against him and depriving him of oxygen in the media. How does that happen? The same way it does in banana republics and unstable post-colonial dictatorships, by forcing (allowing?) the deposed despot into exile, if any other country would have him. Idi Amin went into exile in Libya, Iraq, and then finally Saudi Arabia. Jean-Claude Duvalier found safe harbor in France, and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (i.e., the last Shah of Iran) made the rounds in Egypt, Morocco, the Bahamas, Mexico, the US, Panama, and then Egypt again. And sometimes, as was the case with Charles Taylor, the villain is eventually extradited back to stand trial for his crimes. As Trump has been the first president to bring our country to the edge of despotism and fascism, it would make a certain historical sense for him to be chased out of the country in disgrace, like any other tinhorn fascist despot. But regardless of how things turn out for Trump in the near-term, the Toteboard wonders which of those Buddhist hell realms ultimately awaits him.
PS: The Toteboard would STILL like to hear from you, but time is running out! Who do YOU think will be the democratic and republican nominees for president in 2024? Of course, the Toteboard has its own ideas, but it might be fun to hear what everyone else is thinking. Send your predictions to the Toteboard sometime between now and Biden’s inauguration, and we’ll announce the results shortly thereafter. And by the way, whoever gets it correct will win the prize of Lifetime Gratification.