The elections of 2018 are the most important in our lives. At least, that’s what former Vice President Joe Biden thinks (so it must be true, right?): “This is the most important election any of us have voted in so far,” he said last week.
He’s not alone. Last week, Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen said the November midterm elections “might be the most important in our lifetime.” And Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough have each declared 2018 “the most important election of our lifetime.”
This worn-out phrase makes an appearance every two years, and though some attempt to nuance it by throwing in a variation, such as “in our lifetimes” or “in this generation,” it’s rarely, if ever, true.
Young voters might be tempted to take this claim seriously if 2016 hadn’t also been the most important election of our lifetimes, and 2012 before that.
It seems the 2014 midterms were only of vital importance to Dennis Prager, the radio talk show host, who also declared the 2012 presidential election the most important, “possibly since America’s founding.” Of course, there was at least one person who disagreed with this assessment: Dennis Prager, from two years before. The 2010 midterm elections were “not simply the most important of my lifetime,” Prager said, but “the most important since the Civil War.”
Isn’t this fun?
Let’s go back even further. In the 1990s, Republican strategist Ralph Reed argued that the need to stop Bill Clinton in 1996 put America “on the brink of the most important election of our lifetime.” In 1984, Ronald Reagan said Americans were facing “the most important election in this nation in 50 years.”
Wouldn’t it be nice, one of these cycles, to have an unimportant election?
Of course, elections have consequences. Each election leaves a mark on the American political landscape, preparing the country for its next “most important election.”
The upcoming 2018 midterms certainly matter. Republicans could lose the majority in one or both congressional chambers and Democrats could make big gains in state capitals.
But is an election — any election — able to unhinge the American republic as we know it? Michael Anton thought so in 2016, arguing the country was doomed if Republicans didn’t vote against Hillary Clinton. “We are headed off a cliff,” Anton wrote in his essay “The Flight 93 Election,” in which he compared Republicans voting for Trump in 2016 to the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives to storm the cockpit of a hijacked plane during 9/11.
Again, Anton’s rhetoric isn’t original. The U.S. has driven itself off several cliffs depending on whom you ask. And though the very fate of the country apparently rests on each and every election, the U.S. continues to march on, regardless of who wins and who loses.
This “most important” rhetoric isn’t just tiresome; it’s deceitful. Too often, pundits exaggerate the import of an election to boost voter turnout for the candidate they favor. And sure enough, it’s working. A new poll conducted by Fortune magazine found that more than 60 percent of Americans believe the 2018 midterm elections are more important than any other in their lifetime. And of those polled, 67 percent said they are “absolutely certain to vote.”
We’ll probably be stuck voting in the most important election of our lifetimes for, well, the rest of our lives. (Alas, re-occurring crises are boring.) This begs the question: What qualifies an election as “the most important?” And who gets to make the final call? The voters? God? Dennis Prager?
But who knows? Perhaps the 2018 midterms really will be the most important election ever. That is, until 2020.
Kaylee McGhee is a senior studying politics.