Wounded but un­van­quished, Trump could go on and on

The Guardian - Journal - - Front page - Gary Younge

In the end there was no blue wave. A wave washes all be­fore it. When Repub­li­cans ex­pand their ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate, and win gov­er­nors’ races in Florida, Ohio, Iowa and New Hamp­shire, Democrats can­not claim a broad and de­ci­sive shift in elec­toral opin­ion to­wards them. But there is now a dam. Democrats won the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. For the first time since his elec­tion there is the po­ten­tial for some kind of leg­isla­tive check on Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency. The House has sub­poena power. Democrats can set their own agenda and block the pres­i­dent’s. For the first time since

Trump’s elec­tion there is the po­ten­tial for re­sis­tance to move from the streets to Congress.

So it was not a vic­tory for Trump. Democrats won the pop­u­lar vote and il­lus­trated how he could be a li­a­bil­ity for Repub­li­cans. Young peo­ple and Lati­nos turned out in huge num­bers to vote against him and his agenda, while women and sub­ur­ban­ites threw their lot in with the Democrats. To­gether, they de­liv­ered a Ne­vada Se­nate seat and cre­ated the clos­est race in Texas for a gen­er­a­tion.

But it was not the de­feat that many wished for, or that Trump de­served. When he won in 2016, some peo­ple truly be­lieved he might gov­ern in a dif­fer­ent man­ner to how he had cam­paigned. They ar­gued that he should be given the ben­e­fit of the doubt. Now there can be no doubt. He is a bigot. This cam­paign took place dur­ing an in­tense pe­riod of white-na­tion­al­ist ter­ror, for which his rhetoric pro­vided, if not the cause, then at least the con­text. First came an un­sta­ble mail bomber who ap­pears to have been rad­i­calised by Trump. Then an armed man in Jef­fer­son­town, Ken­tucky, shot two el­derly black peo­ple dead af­ter try­ing to break into a black church. When con­fronted by an armed white passerby he said: “Whites don’t kill whites.” And then an an­tisemitic gun­man, full of bile over the car­a­van of Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants com­ing through Mex­ico, en­tered a syn­a­gogue shout­ing: “All Jews must die.” He killed 11 peo­ple.

That af­ter­noon, af­ter a morn­ing of car­nage and a week of ter­ror, Trump ad­dressed a crowd in Mur­phys­boro, Illi­nois. “This,” he said, “will be the elec­tion of the car­a­vans, the Ka­vanaughs, law and or­der, tax cuts, and you know what else? It’s go­ing to be the elec­tion of com­mon sense, be­cause most of it’s com­mon sense.”

His re­sponse was not to tone down the xeno­pho­bia, misog­yny and per­son­alised at­tacks but to ramp them up. On the first day the mail bomb­ing came to light he made an ef­fort at be­ing pres­i­den­tial.

“Those en­gaged in the po­lit­i­cal arena must

stop treat­ing po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents as be­ing morally de­fec­tive,” he said. In the fol­low­ing week he pro­ceeded to in­sult many who had re­ceived a bomb threat. He branded Tom Steyer “wacky” and a “crazy, stum­bling lu­natic”; re­peated the claim that Max­ine Wa­ters was “prob­a­bly the most cor­rupt mem­ber of Congress”; and claimed “it would be the be­gin­ning of the end” if the Democrats won.

Af­ter the syn­a­gogue shoot­ing he con­tin­ued to le­git­imise the myth, spread in part by se­nior Repub­li­can con­gress­men, that Ge­orge Soros funded the car­a­van, while the Repub­li­can House ma­jor­ity leader Kevin McCarthy made the fol­low­ing his mar­quee tweet, which he later deleted: “We can­not al­low Soros, Steyer, and [Michael] Bloomberg to BUY this elec­tion!” (All three are Jewish.)

Through­out the cam­paign Trump lied con­stantly and about ev­ery­thing. He has claimed there are peo­ple from the Mid­dle East in the car­a­van (there aren’t); he jus­ti­fied con­tin­u­ing to cam­paign on the day of the shoot­ing by in­sist­ing the New York Stock Ex­change opened the day af­ter 9/11 (it didn’t open for six days); he claimed there would be tax cuts be­fore the midterms (there couldn’t be – Congress is not in ses­sion); he promised to use an ex­ec­u­tive or­der to end the au­to­matic right to cit­i­zen­ship for those born here (he doesn’t have that power); he claimed that no other coun­try al­lows cit­i­zen­ship on that ba­sis (30 coun­tries do). One ad he pro­duced was so racist and full of lies that NBC, Face­book and even Fox pulled it.

Since there can now be no doubt about who Trump is, there should also be no de­nial. For the most part, enough of the Amer­i­can elec­torate ap­pears com­fort­able over­look­ing that. Many em­braced the big­otry and misog­yny – one crowd in Ge­or­gia chanted, “Lock her up”, re­fer­ring not to Hil­lary Clin­ton, but the woman who ac­cused supreme court jus­tice Brett Ka­vanaugh of sex­ual harass­ment. But many who did not ap­prove of it had no trou­ble vot­ing for it. This time around no one can blame the FBI or Wik­iLeaks.

To that ex­tent, this been not so much a case of

Trump tak­ing over the party as a re­align­ment be­tween the lead­er­ship and the mem­ber­ship. It re­calls the mo­ment in 2008 when Repub­li­can voter Gayle Quin­nell told a Min­nesota crowd and Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial hope­ful John McCain: “I can’t trust Obama. I’ve read about him and … he’s an Arab.”

McCain shook his head and said, “No, ma’am” sev­eral times, be­fore re­liev­ing her of the mi­cro­phone. “No ma’am. He’s a de­cent fam­ily man, [a] cit­i­zen that I just hap­pen to have dis­agree­ments with on fun­da­men­tal is­sues.” Liv­ing in the age of Trump, it’s as though Quin­nell grabbed the mic back and is now in the White House.

So while the coun­try has not en­dorsed the Trump agenda, it has not fully re­jected it ei­ther. To be fair, it has not been for­mally asked to. Trump was not on the bal­lot and, for the most part, Democrats did not di­rect their at­tacks to­wards his poli­cies or pro­nounce­ments. They did not men­tion im­peach­ment. Chil­dren sep­a­rated from par­ents at the bor­der barely came up. With a few ex­cep­tions, they did not present a pos­i­tive, more hope­ful al­ter­na­tive to his dystopian world­view ei­ther. In that re­spect they con­tinue to be a poor con­duit for all the en­ergy that has emerged from the huge demon­stra­tions and gen­eral anx­i­ety sparked by his as­cent. Elec­torally, that en­ergy has nowhere else to go; po­lit­i­cally, the Democrats are do­ing pre­cious lit­tle with it.

As such, this elec­tion saw the nor­mal­i­sa­tion of white na­tion­al­ism, as an open, main­stream ide­ol­ogy. Pres­i­dents gen­er­ally do poorly in midterm elec­tions. Both Barack Obama and Bill Clin­ton saw their par­ties fare worse dur­ing their first midterms. Trump is no dif­fer­ent; apart from all the ways in which he is com­pletely dif­fer­ent. So his ten­ure has turned into a fairly or­di­nary pres­i­dency dur­ing which the pres­i­dent says com­pletely ex­tra­or­di­nary things. Both Obama and Clin­ton then went on to win sec­ond terms. It is no longer un­think­able that Trump could too.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

Don­ald Trump ad­dresses the press at the White House yes­ter­day

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