A po­lit­i­cal night­mare is com­ing

The Press - - In Depth - Stephen Stromberg

The United States’ midterm elec­tions were much more than a na­tional re­pu­di­a­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, a re­minder that he is still strong in red states, or a re­turn to the di­vided govern­ment that Amer­i­cans so of­ten favour. They were a sign of the po­lit­i­cal night­mare that will de­fine a gen­er­a­tion of mil­len­nial pol­i­tics.

The Democrats took the House thanks to an anti-Trump surge not just among tra­di­tional Demo­cratic groups such as mi­nor­ity vot­ers, but also among col­lege-ed­u­cated peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly women, in Amer­ica’s sprawl­ing sub­urbs.

Repub­li­cans ex­panded their Se­nate ma­jor­ity as they ran up the score in red states such as In­di­ana, Mis­souri and North Dakota.

The im­me­di­ate con­clu­sion is that Trump has ef­fec­tively di­vided and in­flamed the coun­try, push­ing more ur­bane sub­ur­ban types away from ‘‘the stupid party’’, to quote the Repub­li­can for­mer Louisiana gover­nor Bobby Jin­dal, yet driv­ing ru­ral and less-ed­u­cated vot­ers to the polls by ap­peal­ing to fear and prej­u­dice.

But there is a trend at work big­ger than the pres­i­dent. The na­tion is di­ver­si­fy­ing. Its cities are grow­ing. Its coasts are in­creas­ingly vi­brant and di­verse. These val­ues bet­ter fit ed­u­cated sub­ur­ban­ites than Trump’s xeno­pho­bia.

These facts sug­gest the Demo­cratic coali­tion is likely to win more votes na­tion­wide, as it has in ev­ery pres­i­den­tial elec­tion but one since 1992.

Vir­ginia, whose north­ern sub­ur­ban dis­tricts turned the state from red to pur­ple to blue over just a decade, is a har­bin­ger. Given time, as elec­toral votes and con­gres­sional seats shift to these ar­eas, the House and pres­i­den­tial elec­tions are likely to be the Democrats’ to lose. This week’s re­sults are an early in­di­ca­tion of this shift.

But the Se­nate is dif­fer­ent. The cham­ber was never meant to re­flect the will of the Amer­i­can ma­jor­ity, and it in­creas­ingly will not. In the past, Democrats and Repub­li­cans reg­u­larly won Se­nate seats in states usu­ally associated with the other party, cre­at­ing a cen­trist power bloc that could bridge par­ti­san di­vides and pro­mote leg­isla­tive com­pro­mise. This era is end­ing.

Democrats will even­tu­ally pick off Se­nate seats that Repub­li­cans still hold in bluer ter­ri­to­ries, such as Su­san Collins’ seat in Maine. But for elec­toral pur­poses, Repub­li­can vot­ers are much more ef­fi­ciently dis­trib­uted across the coun­try. No mat­ter how many peo­ple vote in Cal­i­for­nia, they still get only two sen­a­tors, the same as tiny Idaho, South Dakota and Wy­oming.

The Found­ing Fa­thers imag­ined that the Se­nate would check and cool the im­pulses of the ma­jor­ity. But the body is poised to serve as a re­ac­tionary ru­ral veto on a cen­tre-Left coun­try, rou­tinely thwart­ing ef­forts to ad­dress ma­jor is­sues such as im­mi­gra­tion, cli­mate change, the na­tional debt, health­care, in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion and wealth in­equal­ity.

Staffing the govern­ment and the courts could be­come im­pos­si­ble, as Repub­li­can sen­a­tors refuse to ap­prove Demo­cratic ap­pointees. The ju­di­ciary could be­come more politi­cised and even more con­ser­va­tive.

The US could fail to com­pete in pro­vid­ing the sort of mod­ern, com­pe­tent and re­spon­sive govern­ment that fos­ters eco­nomic pros­per­ity and at­tracts for­eign ta­lent and in­vest­ment, un­less Repub­li­cans start elect­ing mod­er­ates who will com­pro­mise with Democrats. But it is more likely that Repub­li­can vot­ers will pre­fer can­di­dates who will prom­ise to take noth­ing over a com­pro­mise.

My ele­men­tary school teach­ers taught me and my fel­low chil­dren, grow­ing up in Los An­ge­les, that we ben­e­fited from a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship with the ru­ral Amer­i­cans who grew our food, and watched over our na­tion’s vast open spa­ces.

We, by con­trast, pro­vided a mar­ket for their prod­ucts, con­nected them to the rest of the world and pro­vided the eco­nomic in­no­va­tion that un­der­pinned na­tional progress. Nei­ther could ex­ist with­out the other, and both de­served re­spect.

In­creas­ingly, the re­la­tion­ship will not be de­fined by re­spect, but by re­sent­ment. The re­sult will be a

toxic stale­mate.

AP

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has di­vided and in­flamed the United States, and set the scene for a po­lit­i­cal night­mare that could last for years to come.

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