Global re­flec­tions on the US midterm elec­tions

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Columns - Sadık Ünay

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 Lat­inAmer­i­cans 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 Repub­li­can­dom­i­nated 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.

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

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