Global reflections on the US midterm elections

Published 09.11.2018 21:21

As the era of unified rule ends for Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress, the Democrats will now have more room to scrutinize the administration

The outcomes of the critical U.S. midterm elections were eagerly anticipated not only in North America, but across the whole world. The reason for intense international attention on a seemingly routine electoral process had a lot to do with the systemic importance and dominating position of the U.S. in international politics and the world economy. But more importantly, it was also related with the controversial foreign policy line recently followed by the Trump administration, which exerted a destabilizing global impact by promoting currency and trade wars; raising tensions in critical conflict zones such as Palestine; stirring xenophobia and discriminatory attitudes against migrants; and undermining rule-based regimes and international institutions.

Observers across the globe were curious to see whether President Trump would be able to maintain his support in domestic politics and get a green light to pursue some of his controversial policy objectives, or the American electorate would force him to follow a more moderate, bipartisan and compromising path. Looking at the sophisticated evidence, we can safely argue that the outcome of the election stood closer to the latter.

Not surprisingly, Trump has very much downplayed the Republican Party's positive messages based on robust economic growth, historically low levels of unemployment and rising prosperity; and instead preferred to unleash a very aggressive and negative political campaign across the country. His campaign was marked by clear messages of hatred, discrimination and division; demonizing the political opponents as "evil," and dispatching thousands of American troops to the Mexican border to stop the so-called "invasion" by a caravan of potential asylum seekers by armed intervention if necessary. This campaign strategy which was designed to play into prevalent fears in American society toward economic competition from China, toward migrants, toward Muslims, toward African-Americans and toward Latin-Americans was in perfect conformity with the president's controversial and provocative record so far. But the fact that Trump has lost control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats while empowering his hold in the Senate might just indicate that substantially different domestic political dynamics will face him in the coming months.

For the first two years of his presidency, Trump largely benefited from the advantages provided by a friendly Congress which was generally supportive of his policy objectives and did not force much regulatory oversight upon him. In two months, when a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives arrives in Washington D.C. all these dynamics are likely to go through a radical change. The liberals in the Democratic Party finally have a political platform to showcase what they could really accomplish with the full control of the Congress and press for the presidential campaign in 2020. Although their proposals are likely to be rejected by the Republican-dominated Senate, this shall make U.S. congressional politics far more competitive and interesting.

Several U.S. presidents in recent years experienced midterm election setbacks and the majority responded by acknowledging defeat and promising to work in a more bipartisan and conciliatory fashion. But it would be overly optimistic to expect such an attitude from Donald Trump who swiftly ignored the Democratic takeover of the House and threatened to pursue a war if the House proceeded with investigations about his personal links and actions, as well as his administration's decisions.

It is apparent that tensions in domestic politics will significantly rise in the U.S. as the inflammatory populism of Trump will increasingly clash with the more European style of liberalism of the Democrats. Even the selection of the candidates for the midterm elections demonstrated the growing rift in U.S. politics whereby male and white dominated profile of Republican candidates raced against the more colorful Democrats giving voice to women, as well as ethnic and religious minorities. Demonstrating the survival of social integration despite the "Trump effect," it was a welcome development to see the election of Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib as the first Muslim women congresswomen in American political history.

As the era of unified rule is over for Donald Trump and Republicans in the Congress, the Democrats will have more leeway to scrutinize the administration. There are sensitive political issues such as the president's tax returns and foreign financial dealings, claims about Russian election meddling and a potential impeachment process which could be initiated by simple majority in the House of Representatives. An increasing number of Democrats are reported to believe that the only way to stop Trump's destructive influence on American domestic and foreign policy is to impeach him and initiate the process of removing him from office. Although such a radical move is bound to be blocked by the Senate, it will nevertheless exert significant political pressure on Trump and his entourage.

In a nutshell, Washington seems to be braced for harder partisan competition and political wrangling. The global repercussions of the new political framework remain to be seen with reference to the space of maneuver that Trump retains to advance his destabilizing policies across a range of issue areas.

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