The midterms may have avoided a red wave, but there’s still blood — and some anti-science conspiracy theorists — in the water.
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This story by John R. Platt originally appeared in The Revelator and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
Let’s start with the good news. Several prominent proponents of former President Trump’s Big Lie of election fraud failed in their bids for elected office in the midterms, allowing Democrats to keep control of the Senate and flip several key statehouse roles. We won’t need to worry about the likes of Kari Lake, Tudor Dixon, Doug Mastriano, or Mark Finchem anytime soon.
But here’s the bad news: We will still need to worry about them — and many others like them — in the long term.
Lake and her ilk may have failed at the ballot box, but zealots like her and Mastriano are unlikely to disappear for long. Fueled by conspiracy theories, right-wing misinformation and propaganda, Christian nationalism, and anti-government extremism, they have too much invested in their aggressive identities to give up and go home.
And they still have plenty of support.
One of the most disturbing results of the midterm is the sheer number of election deniers who did get elected. By last count, at least 220 people won federal races this year after directly supporting Trump’s Big Lie of election fraud or otherwise expressing skepticism about the proven validity of elections. The candidates who will soon take office included at least eight governors and 10 senators, according to The New York Times and CNN. Hundreds more appear to have taken or kept office in local elections around the country. An additional crop of QAnon believers and other extremists lost their elections by painfully narrow margins, meaning they (and their voters) still have a lot of power in the broader political spectrum.
This is an environmental issue.
Election deniers also embrace a wide range of antidemocratic, anti-science beliefs and conspiracy theories — including casting doubt on the very existence of climate change and its threats, as shown in dozens of public statements compiled by Emily Atkin at Heated. All too often they use their comments to not only spread misinformation about climate change but to attack government institutions, left-leaning politicians, renewable energy, progressive causes, or the media.
Perhaps that’s one reason election-denying candidates received millions of dollars from energy and transportation companies leading up to the midterms, according to analysis by ProPublica and The Hill. It’s corporate support that gives these people a big chunk of their power. Now that the midterms are over and Republicans have taken control of the House, we can expect these newly elected representatives to pay back their corporate benefactors and support pro-business, pro-pollution, anti-voting policies, regulations, and legislation.
Speaking of which, election deniers also overwhelmingly support restrictive new voting legislation that would disenfranchise young and poor voters, as well as voters of color — the same groups most likely to be put at risk from climate change and pollution. This threat will continue on both federal and state levels, most notably from four incoming secretaries of state who will now have power over elections in Alabama, Indiana, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
Let’s not forget about the people who voted for them, either. The MAGA wing remains strong throughout the country and far too many folks still carry the Trump flag and bemoan the results of the 2020 election while finding new ways to threaten election officials, volunteers, and voters — or government institutions in general.
And then, of course, there’s Trump himself, who just threw his red MAGA cap back into the ring and declared his intent to run for president again in 2024. The Insurrectionist in Chief continues to spread election lies and misinformation about both the 2020 and 2022 elections, and we’re still recovering from his four years of anti-environmental policies. If he ever ascends to office again, it will be more of the same and likely worse, fueled by delusion and his scorched-earth modus operandi.
Heck, we don’t even need to wait for 2024 to see what will happen. Even with their twice-impeached leader out of office, his acolytes have continued their assaults against the EPA, reproductive rights, voting rights, energy policy, and other safeguards and freedoms.
They’re just warming up.
John R. Platt is the editor of The Revelator. An award-winning environmental journalist, his work has appeared in Scientific American, Audubon, Motherboard, and numerous other magazines and publications. His “Extinction Countdown” column has run continuously since 2004 and has covered news and science related to more than 1,000 endangered species. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the National Association of Science Writers. John lives on the outskirts of Portland, OR, surrounded by animals and cartoonists.