Amer­ica has stepped away from the brink. But there is more work to do

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion / Finance - Jill Abram­son

It was a good night for the Democrats. It wasn’t the lib­eral “blue wave” some hoped for, but it might be the be­gin­ning of one. It wasn’t a de­ci­sive ref­er­en­dum on Pres­i­dent Trump, but it cre­ated a check on his au­thor­i­tar­ian power.

Seiz­ing con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives was a huge vic­tory, even if ex­pected. There were strong Demo­cratic show­ings in rust belt states Don­ald Trump car­ried and big wins in gu­ber­na­to­rial races, es­pe­cially in Kansas where the odi­ous Trump clone Kris Kobach was de­feated by a sur­pris­ingly big mar­gin by Demo­crat Laura Kelly.

It was a dream de­ferred for Stacey Abrams in Ge­or­gia and An­drew Gil­lum in Florida, two African Amer­i­can ris­ing stars. Beto O’Rourke will cer­tainly be a Demo­cratic force for years to come, hav­ing come so tan­ta­liz­ingly close to un­seat­ing Se­na­tor Ted Cruz. No Demo­crat has done as well as Beto did in Texas in decades. He’s al­ready be­ing talked about as a po­ten­tial pres­i­den­tial con­tender.

The re­sults made it clear there is trou­ble ahead for the pres­i­dent. There is the Mueller re­port still to come and House com­mit­tee chair­men who will use their over­sight power to in­ves­ti­gate the am­ple trail of cor­rup­tion al­ready ev­i­dent. The Democrats who will con­trol the pow­er­ful House ways and means com­mit­tee, promptly an­nounced on Tues­day night that they in­tend to de­mand the pres­i­dent’s tax records, set­ting up an­other le­gal clash with the White House.

But Democrats have to be smart and not play on the pres­i­dent’s turf. It was heart­en­ing to see Democrats have a co­her­ent mes­sage on the cam­paign trail and, with un­char­ac­ter­is­tic dis­ci­pline, fo­cus on health­care and the im­por­tance of cov­er­age for pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions. They need to keep it up.

Democrats must also look for­ward and face a cru­cial test, whether to lean to the left, re­spond­ing to the suc­cess of can­di­dates like New York’s Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez or whether to stay closer to the mid­dle, in hopes of cementing their 2018 suc­cess with sub­ur­ban Repub­li­can vot­ers, es­pe­cially women, who de­plore the racist, re­lent­lessly neg­a­tive tone their party has adopted in slav­ish de­vo­tion to Don­ald Trump. Democrats are still badly split, just as they were in 2016 with Bernie v Hil­lary. While for­mer pres­i­dent Obama emerged late in the cam­paign and fired up the party troops, there is no clear fu­ture party leader.

Nancy Pelosi, the al­most cer­tain next House speaker, promised late on Tues­day night in her vic­tory speech: “To­mor­row will be a new day in Amer­ica.” But as she spoke, she was sur­rounded by the age­ing mem­bers of her lead­er­ship, demon­strat­ing the dif­fi­culty of mak­ing good on her pledge. Her im­me­di­ate chal­lenge is to usher in a new gen­er­a­tion of Demo­cratic lead­ers. (Age­ing pres­i­den­tial dream­ers like Joe Bi­den and even Hil­lary Clin­ton are said to be con­tem­plat­ing runs once again). Democrats would be silly to dis­pose of the ef­fec­tive Pelosi, who is a great vote-counter. Oba­macare wouldn’t have passed with­out her.

Trump has been run­ning for re­elec­tion since the day he was in­au­gu­rated and he’s been run­ning as if Pelosi were his op­po­nent. But the chal­lenges he faces in the fu­ture are even more daunt­ing. House de­feats, par­tic­u­larly Vir­ginia, where rightwing Barbara Com­stock lost, in Penn­syl­va­nia and other once very red states, in­clud­ing Texas, were part of a sting­ing re­buke of the pres­i­dent. An­other Trump clone, Steve King of Iowa, was fight­ing for sur­vival in a district that Trump car­ried by more than 20 points. King was so out of con­trol that he was de­nounced by the chair­man of the House Repub­li­can Cam­paign Com­mit­tee. He ended his re­pul­sive can­di­dacy at an elec­tion-eve rally where this bigot ac­tu­ally said that he hoped US supreme court jus­tices Elena Ka­gan and So­nia So­tomayor “will elope to Cuba”.

There was so much big­otry in the Repub­li­can grand fi­nale to the midterms, but the tone of Trump­ism is still of­fen­sive to many vot­ers, even if the base eats it up. It will take a long time to wash off the stain of Trump’s cas­cade of lies at his clos­ing ral­lies, ac­com­pa­nied by Rush Lim­baugh and Sean Han­nity. In­vok­ing the “car­a­van of in­vaders” at ev­ery stop, he in­sisted small­pox, crime and worse were mass­ing on the south­west­ern border, where he has so reck­lessly or­dered up thou­sands of troops to face an en­tirely fake dan­ger.

Af­ter the syn­a­gogue shoot­ings in Pitts­burgh, it seemed al­most im­pos­si­ble that Repub­li­cans would toss out the most of­fen­sive an­ti­semitic car­i­ca­tures. But in cam­paign fly­ers sent out to get out the vote in many states, Jewish can­di­dates were pic­tured hold­ing fist­fuls of cash.

In one of the most closely con­tested House races, the Wash­ing­ton Post found a Repub­li­can flyer show­ing Kim Schrier, a Demo­cratic can­di­date for Con­gress who is Jewish, bran­dish­ing a wad of $20 bills fanned out in her hands. In an­other race, the Repub­li­cans went even fur­ther, show­ing a Jewish can­di­date for state assem­bly tinted green and hold­ing $100 bills.

It’s been shock­ing to see al­most no Repub­li­cans of con­science speak­ing out against these slurs or the pres­i­dent’s words. Will this hold for the next two years? Mitt Rom­ney, com­ing to the Sen­ate from Utah, force­fully de­nounced Trump in 2016. Could he emerge as a voice of con­science?

One of the most hope­ful out­comes of the midterms was the elec­tion of a far more di­verse Con­gress. Many more women were elected, though in the Sen­ate Heidi Heitkamp and Claire Mccaskill were de­feated. Still, a record 272 women ran for Con­gress, in­clud­ing 84 women of color, ac­cord­ing to the New York Times. Colorado vot­ers elected Jared Po­lis, the na­tion’s first openly gay gov­er­nor.

In the New York Re­view of Books re­cently, Christo­pher Browning wrote a bril­liant and dis­turb­ing ar­ti­cle en­ti­tled Dis­man­tling Democ­racy 1933 v 2018. Whether demo­cratic val­ues will be de­stroyed by the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis Pres­i­dent Trump has cre­ated is still a haunt­ing ques­tion. But on Tues­day, an an­swer be­gan to emerge: it won’t hap­pen here.

Jill Abram­son is a Guardian US colum­nist

Pho­to­graph: Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Im­ages

‘The re­sults made it clear there is trou­ble ahead for the pres­i­dent.’

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