Political Optimism Is Necessary For A Healthy Democracy — But Gaslighting Tests My Resolve

Robyne Stevenson
4 min readJan 3, 2024


newspaper with headline Pro-Trump Mobs Storm US Capitol
Photo by little plant on Unsplash

I worry that my political optimism is about to have the rug pulled out from underneath it. I’ve been Charlie Brown in a political world where Lucy pulls away the football at the last second. It has taken nearly 4 years to bring to justice insurrectionists including TFG (the former guy, aka Trump). That is too long. Remember the insurrection in Brazil? They jailed those people immediately. Why has our system of justice barely rolled?

I am cautiously optimistic about the news coming from Colorado and Maine. Getting TFG off the ballot in keeping with Section 3 of the 14th Amendment makes sense to me from a structural, legal standpoint. I also am in favor of holding insurrectionists accountable.

My heart sank when I read that Michigan and California rejected the request to take TFG off their primary ballot. I follow a lot of legal scholars on social media. Their overall opinion is that the Michigan decision is better than it seems. Today, Wisconsin’s Secretary of Elections or State or whoever is in charge of the ballot rejected a request to keep TFG off their ballot. That decision will now head to the courts for review.

I am optimistic that Georgia convicted some of the minions of the TFG who tried to steal the election there. But what about the newly acquired phone tapes of TFG and the head of the Republican party trying to get Wayne County, Michigan (Detroit) to decertify their 2020 ballot results? Seems like an unlawful action to me.

Then there is the entire Jack Smith trial in waiting. CNN has reported this week that TFG and White House henchmen sought to fly fake elector ballots to D.C. so that on 1/6, Mike Pence would count them instead of the certified elector results. That also seems like an unlawful action.

I was a professional political scientist in my day. I retired my card in November 2016 because I never thought TFG would win (and he didn’t win the popular vote). I regained a sense of professional composure when Biden won overwhelmingly (in Political Science measurement) in 2020. I was heartened by the 2022 midterms, sort of. How did Democrats lose the House, if by only a few seats? Political Science rule of thumb is that the party in power will lose seats in their first midterm. But the old rules have been thrown out the window. Maybe we hadn’t fully learned that lesson in 2022.

When Dobb’s replaced Roe I took a seat and retired my card again. The rule of settled case law flew out the window on that one. But positive referendums in Kansas, Kentucky, and Ohio gave me the courage to step up to the football tee again.

pile of matchsticks with burnt one on top

We endured four years of gaslighting by TFG from his bully pulpit. The current Republican leaders try to continue his approach. Clown Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the tool Congressman from NY who got expelled, the new Leader of the House who monitors his porn consumption, and Gym Jordan and Comer who desperately search for a crime with which they can impeach President Biden; all pale in comparison to TFG. They try very hard to employ the strategy of doubling and tripling down on their accusations but these are typically nothing more than projections of their behavior and crimes. Sigh.

The whiplash of gaslighting takes its toll by sucking the optimism out of me. I try to keep my focus on the big picture — the long arc of history bends toward justice. I try to keep in perspective that Plessy v. Ferguson was a legal blight AFTER we fought a civil war to end slavery. Sometimes it takes a very long time for the arc to bend. Are we near justice or do we have a long way to go? That’s a question that worries me and yet I believe in the Constitution, the system of justice, and our institutions. The strength of that belief changes daily.

Things may get worse before they get better. I will retain my optimism because it is necessary for a healthy and resilient democracy.



Robyne Stevenson

I travel the country in my Airstream meeting people and enjoying life. I’m a writer. I was a Professor of Politics. Things change.