Midterms are over. Stop liking the winners so much, and start holding them accountable | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Midterms are over. Stop liking the winners so much, and start holding them accountable

A vote is all-or-nothing; support is a spectrum

CP illustration: David Pohl

In the months leading up to the 2016 election, I heard this dude saying that he "didn't agree with everything Barack Obama did as president 100 percent." 

We were talking about imperfect candidates, Bernie Sanders supporters begrudgingly voting for Hillary Clinton, Trump supporters who didn't like his behavior but dug his personality enough to vote for him. 

"Listen, I didn't support everything Obama did 100 percent..." 

I had definitely heard that before, but for some reason it hit me pretty hard this time. In what world would a voter agree with everything a two-term president does 100 percent? One-hundred percent? Why in the world would that be the bar? Why is that number even on the table? 

I thought about it — it didn't take long — it's because a vote is 100 percent or nothing. If you support a candidate 50.000000000001 percent, that rounds up to a full vote. You can't kinda vote for someone, even if you only kinda support them. 

That idea has a neat little TED-talky ring to it, but it's grosser than that. 

Over the past two years, we've seen how problematic it can be when that all-or-nothing mentality goes beyond supporting a candidate and continues with blindly supporting an elected official. It's easy to blame the current president for that — he is big on superlatives and light on nuance (a profoundly kind way to put it) — but there are instances of this across parties, and it dates back before 45. 

I first remember it happening back in 2008, my first presidential election. I was at Mad Mex in Oakland when it was announced that Barack Obama won the presidency. The place erupted like a Steelers Super Bowl win (which I had seen first-hand three years earlier at the same bar, so I’m not being poetic). While I was thrilled to have been a part of Obama’s historic election and couldn't hold back my excitement, part of me felt weird. It was a milestone, but it felt more like rooting for a team than I had expected it to. A pep rally. Blind, tribal loyalty. 

Over the next eight years, I tried to keep my support in check and recognize instances where I disagreed with the president, or didn't agree 100 percent. But over that time, I learned something that's become even more clear with the past two administrations: people like to like the president. People like to like politicians. The people who like Trump don't just like him, they like liking him. The people who like Beto O'Rourke like liking him. It feels good to communicate political support through something as simple as "liking," rather than doing the pain-in-the-ass work of wading through the issues. 

This isn't super new. Michael Dukakis’ drop after his tank photo op or George W. Bush being “the sort of guy you'd want to drink with” both live in the same pop-culture-over-policy world we're in now. 

But it's gotten worse. 

So as we're staring down the barrel of what is sure to be a harrowing, exhausting, ugly two years of presidential campaigning, maybe we should try to hold back on "liking" those winners we voted for. They got 100 percent of your vote, but that shouldn't buy 100 percent of your support. And it doesn't have to. Once inaugurated, the honeymoon should end. 

They won, now they work for us, so let's put them to work.

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