Just desserts

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS - Danielle McLaugh­lin

Danielle McLaugh­lin on Amer­i­can midterms

In the US, our midterm elec­tions will be held this com­ing Tues­day, Novem­ber 6. His­tor­i­cally, these ‘‘off year’’ elec­tions (the Win­ter Olympics of US pol­i­tics, you might say) are a ref­er­en­dum on the pres­i­dent. And his­tor­i­cally, with a few no­table ex­cep­tions, the party of the pres­i­dent takes a beat­ing. The leadup to the vote has in­cluded a heart­break­ing mas­sacre in a Pitts­burg syn­a­gogue, a night­mar­ish pipe bomb plot against per­ceived en­e­mies of the pres­i­dent, a new law­suit ac­cus­ing the Trump fam­ily of ped­dling fraud­u­lent get-rich schemes, and es­ca­lat­ing rhetoric, fear­mon­ger­ing, and lies from the Oval Of­fice. The pres­i­dent has threat­ened to send thou­sands of troops to the south­ern border to de­fend against a scrappy car­a­van of would-be asy­lum seek­ers who are still 1600km and weeks away from the US. He urged the in­com­ing sol­diers to shoot any mi­grant who dared throw a stone at them in protest (a vi­o­la­tion of US rules of en­gage­ment), later walk­ing it back af­ter the il­le­gal or­der was pil­lo­ried by ex­perts and ser­vice­men alike. Bar­bra Streisand threat­ened to move to Canada if Democrats don’t take back Con­gress. And Will Fer­rell and Oprah Win­frey knocked on doors in Ge­or­gia to get out the vote for Stacey Abrams, who is gun­ning to be the state’s first African-Amer­i­can fe­male gov­er­nor. A strong jobs re­port re­leased on Fri­day could have been the Re­pub­li­cans’ clos­ing mes­sage. In­stead, it’s like the sto­ry­lines of Veep and House of Cards con­verged in real life. The gen­eral con­sen­sus on the likely out­come next week is that Democrats will take con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and Re­pub­li­cans will main­tain their con­trol of the Sen­ate. This out­come would gum up the leg­isla­tive process, be­cause both cham­bers have to vote on a bill be­com­ing law. But Democrats’ con­trol of the House will not halt the pres­i­dent’s stack­ing of fed­eral courts with con­ser­va­tive judges; it will not stop an­other con­ser­va­tive ap­point­ment to the Supreme Court should an open­ing arise; and it will not stop the pres­i­dent’s stream of ex­ec­u­tive or­ders, which have brought Amer­i­cans such hits as the Mus­lim ban and the ban on trans­gen­der peo­ple serv­ing in the mil­i­tary. Also, be­cause it is ul­ti­mately a po­lit­i­cal act, Repub­li­can con­trol of the Sen­ate means that even if the House votes to im­peach the pres­i­dent on strong ev­i­dence un­cov­ered by Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller, the Sen­ate is un­likely to con­vict him. Be­cause of the con­fig­u­ra­tion of seats up for elec­tion, the midterms – par­tic­u­larly in Sen­ate races – are a much big­ger lift for Democrats than Re­pub­li­cans. Of the 35 seats up for elec­tion, Democrats are de­fend­ing 26 of them. Democrats (and two in­de­pen­dents that cau­cus with them) have to win every seat they cur­rently hold, and take two from Re­pub­li­cans, in or­der to take a slim ma­jor­ity in the up­per cham­ber. John Lewis, the civil rights hero, has cast the midterms as a fight for the soul of Amer­ica. Cer­tainly, they are enor­mously im­por­tant. But Amer­ica’s soul has been fought over many times. A rev­o­lu­tion. A civil war. Slav­ery’s end. McCarthy­ism. Viet­nam. If Re­pub­li­cans man­age a his­toric re­sult, and don’t take a beat­ing, it will be be­cause of Democrats’ dif­fi­cult road to re­take the Sen­ate; be­cause peo­ple – es­pe­cially young peo­ple – didn’t bother to vote; or be­cause Amer­i­cans are suf­fi­ciently sat­is­fied with the econ­omy and the prom­ises the pres­i­dent has kept that they can ig­nore his di­vi­sive­ness and his out­right lies. They say you get the gov­ern­ment you de­serve. On Tues­day, Amer­i­cans are go­ing to find out what that looks like.

His­tor­i­cally, with a few no­table ex­cep­tions, the party of the pres­i­dent takes a beat­ing.


The US midterm elec­tions are ef­fec­tively a ref­er­en­dum on how the coun­try thinks Don­ald Trump is per­form­ing as pres­i­dent.

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