Midterm Toxins & Tonic: Trump could end up being the unwitting vehicle of a very American revolution
Whether the blue (Democratic) electoral wave was stopped by a red (Republican) wall, or if there was a wave at all, remains a matter of contention in the United States. President Donald Trump responded as though he had won a re-election, took the opportunity to fire his attorney general and, in a lengthy, angry press conference, attacked the media.
To go by the metrics, Democrats captured the House of Representatives and made portentous gains in state legislatures and with other elected officials like state governors and attorneys general. Republicans, though, not only kept the upper house, the Senate, but they also picked up three seats there. With a divided legislature, Trump will now take credit for success and blame Democrats for his failures.
But with Democrats in charge of the House, Trump will, for the first time, face real Congressional oversight. Unlike in India, American parliamentary committees have real teeth which they often use in exercise of their investigation and oversight powers. But with Trump threatening counterattack, nothing will be straightforward.
In essence, the election was about America’s dangerously divided polity and the outcome only underscores that the immediate future will remain toxic. Differences between the two parties have now reached epic proportions. These relate to social issues like abortion and same sex marriage, immigration and race, healthcare and environmental policy. Democrats have the support of larger numbers of women, minorities and the young, while the Republican core support comes from men, mainly white, and rural folk.
An electoral map shows the periphery of the country as blue, while the vast hinterland remains red. The US is increasingly becoming suburban and urban and less rural, and the polls show that Democratic strength derives from suburban women, younger voters, and non-Europeans. Time is running out for today’s Republican Party and in many instances they are clinging on to power through gerrymandering constituencies, preventing the minorities and the poor from voting, and toxic politics.
For Trump, the ideal American economy lies in the 1970s with workers in assembly lines churning out cars, trucks and locomotives. In the social sphere he goes back one more decade to an America where blacks were kept in their place and non-European immigrants didn’t exist. The old elite wants to turn the clock back to recreate an American economy that is no longer viable, or a society where white patriarchal dominance is unquestioned.
In all this, foreign affairs are furthest away from the minds of Americans. Those in China who had hoped that the outcome would help moderate Trump will be disappointed. Trump has helped change American attitudes towards them and the process has been bipartisan. Russians probably did not expect much. As for India, it doesn’t really count in America’s global calculus. For that we need a much larger economy, or a capacity to do mischief to the detriment of the US. As of now we have neither.
Trump’s narrow definition of American nationalism, attitudes towards race and immigration, international treaties, law and even basic decency and norms go against the grain, and, indeed, the real interests of his own country. Despite its obvious flaws and acts of commission, the US has been “the city on the hill” – a country that set global standards, whether in academia, fashion, lifestyle or entertainment, and one which welcomed immigrants who, in turn, enriched it.
Even so, Trump could end up being the unwitting vehicle of a very American revolution. One significant outcome has been the election of an unprecedented number of women legislators, triggered by the Trump misogyny and non-white voter turnout has soared to historic levels. By trampling on his allies and trashing norms, Trump could also end up changing global politics, in a manner that he never intended. But the struggle for the soul of the US is not likely to end soon. Indeed, things could well get worse before they get any better.