A week ago we were nervously watching election returns, worried that people had given up on democracy. How different things seem this week.
In his election analysis this week, Paul Benson explains one reason why we should feel good here. The four towns of the Outer Cape are the smallest of the 15 towns in Barnstable County. Collectively, we cast less than 8 percent of the votes that were tallied countywide in last week’s balloting. But with voter turnouts of about 70 percent — remarkably high for an off-year election — we made a real difference.
It was most clear in the race for sheriff — a job that few voters paid much attention to before this year. James Cummings has held it for 24 years, returned to office automatically term after term with the reliable support of up-Cape Republicans in spite of anti-immigrant policies like his collaboration with ICE, his pretense of working to rehabilitate inmates, and his inhumane attitude toward the possibility of redemption. With Cummings’s retirement this year, most observers assumed that Republican Tim Whelan — who was endorsed by Cummings — would win easily.
And Whelan might well have won if not for the Outer Cape. He defeated Democrat Donna Buckley in the 11 towns on the other side of the Orleans rotary. But Buckley’s 4,284-vote margin here gave her a solid if surprising win.
Could it be that there is a growing awareness of the relationships among drug addiction, mental illness, and approaches to law enforcement and that people are ready to make changes to address them? I like to imagine, at the same time, that the growing success of this newspaper is a reflection of increased interest in civic engagement.
“People are really paying attention now,” former state Sen. Dan Wolf told Benson. “People realize that democracy has been very tenuous, and I think it’s going to get more people engaged.”
Social media was supposed to be the engine of democratic renewal and increased participation in political life, but examples of that faded away long ago. It’s clear now that social media has done enormous damage to civil society by amplifying the trolls and the loudmouths to the point where thoughtful, rational people have abandoned Facebook, Twitter, and the rest — at least as a reliable source of political news and opinion rather than cat videos.
Acknowledging the havoc it has wreaked on serious journalism by undermining its business model, Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook) promised to pour $300 million into supporting local news. You can forget about that now: many of the 11,000 positions eliminated by the company last week as its stock plummeted were related to its ballyhooed support of the news business. “The layoffs are another step in Meta’s journey to get the heck away from news,” wrote Sarah Scire of the NiemanLab this week.
I don’t think the news business needs social media to survive and rebuild. It needs what Outer Cape voters showed in last week’s election: engagement, critical thought, and action.