Get ready for even more di­vi­sive pol­i­tics

Tampa Bay Times - - Opinion - ALAN GREEN Alan Green is as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of economics and chair of the economics depart­ment at Stet­son Univer­sity.

Donald Trump is a pres­i­dent with no re­gard for norms or con­straints on his power. Elect­ing a Demo­cratic House puts a cru­cial check on what he will be able to do, and Democrats and “The Re­sis­tance” should feel good about the results. How­ever, hav­ing one part of the govern­ment to rein in Trump is only the first step; our toxic pol­i­tics are go­ing to get worse be­fore they get bet­ter.

The Repub­li­can Party is now fully Trump’s. Those in the party who had qualms about his many faults have mostly re­tired or lost their seats. The party also has a solid mouth­piece in Fox News and re­lated right-wing me­dia out­lets. Trump’s party fol­lows his lead, which is to ap­peal only to the base, but ap­peal in in­tense and apoc­a­lyp­tic terms. The rightwing me­dia am­plify his in­flam­ma­tory rhetoric, help­ing to cre­ate a Repub­li­can bub­ble that is dan­ger­ously out of touch with re­al­ity. The good news is that this bub­ble ap­peals to only a mi­nor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion; as long as turnout re­mains high and elec­tions re­main fair the strat­egy of ril­ing up the right-wing base is likely to lead to con­tin­ued losses na­tion­wide (even if Florida some­times goes the other way).

The elec­toral ter­rain for 2020 is not friendly for Trump’s Repub­li­can Party, in part, be­cause they have failed to gov­ern re­spon­si­bly, pur­su­ing short­term pol­icy gains that will look worse over the next two years. The tax cut is even less fa­vor­able to the mid­dle class in later years, for in­stance, and the mas­sive deficit will be even harder to ig­nore if we hit a re­ces­sion be­fore the next elec­tion, which is likely. In ad­di­tion, Repub­li­cans have a more dif­fi­cult Se­nate map to de­fend next time around with around twice as many Repub­li­cans fac­ing re-elec­tion as Democrats. The party still has no real­is­tic pol­icy on health care or the so­cial safety net that doesn’t in­volve ma­jor re­duc­tions in pop­u­lar ben­e­fits peo­ple rely on, and their tra­di­tional po­si­tions — free trade and fiscal re­spon­si­bil­ity — have been sac­ri­ficed to Trump.

Democrats, on the other hand, will spend the next two years with the in­ves­tiga­tive power of the House but none of the re­spon­si­bil­ity of gov­ern­ing. With the Repub­li­can Party hew­ing hard to the right, Democrats can con­tin­u­ally pro­pose cen­trist leg­is­la­tion and force Trump and the Repub­li­cans to stop it. On top of in­ves­ti­ga­tions by the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, the spe­cial coun­sel is likely to is­sue fur­ther in­dict­ments of peo­ple close to the pres­i­dent and per­haps is­sue a fi­nal re­port that is un­likely to look good for Pres­i­dent Donald Trump him­self. Trump and the Repub­li­cans will thus be un­der con­tin­ual pressure from the spe­cial coun­sel, from House in­ves­ti­ga­tions into emol­u­ments, Trump’s tax re­turns and who knows what else, and from Democrats who will sim­ply pass pop­u­lar pol­icy and make the Repub­li­cans kill it.

And our pol­i­tics will stay ugly. Why? Be­cause the rage and de­ceit comes from the top, and Trump, when cor­nered, will only dou­ble down. The pres­i­dent who or­dered U.S. troops to the south­ern bor­der be­cause of un­armed mi­grants 700 miles away (a huge and in­ap­pro­pri­ate waste of tax­payer re­sources) will man­u­fac­ture more crises and con­flicts to de­flect at­ten­tion from his myr­iad scan­dals. To suc­ceed, he’ll have to up the stakes, which means he may or­der our troops to war, or come up with some­thing else that clearly vi­o­lates the Con­sti­tu­tion like jail­ing po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents or sti­fling their speech. But the right-wing bub­ble will likely am­plify his ac­tions, and many who see them­selves as rea­son­able peo­ple will be tempted to re­main pas­sive and ra­tio­nal­ize any­thing he does.

Democrats just won the peo­ple’s House with a greater than 7 per­cent mar­gin in the na­tional pop­u­lar vote. Trump can’t win in 2020 against that sort of mar­gin with­out ap­peal­ing broadly to the cen­ter. But Trump does not do what nor­mal politi­cians do; his in­stincts are those of an au­to­crat. Ex­pect him to hew more to the right in­stead, into more con­spir­acy the­o­ries and false threats. And he’ll take real ac­tions on them, with costs to the coun­try and the world.

We have a dis­hon­est pres­i­dent who has con­sol­i­dated his grip on the Repub­li­can Party. The best case for democ­racy is that he leads his party to a com­plete de­feat in 2020, show­ing ev­ery­one that in­cen­di­ary rhetoric and bad poli­cies lead to fail­ure. But there are dan­gers along the way, and he will chal­lenge the fun­da­men­tals of de­cency and democ­racy be­fore ad­mit­ting de­feat. Pre­pare for even more di­vi­sive­ness.

As­so­ci­ated Press

The Capi­tol on the morn­ing af­ter Elec­tion Day as Democrats took back the House with an out­pour­ing of voter en­thu­si­asm end­ing eight years of Repub­li­can con­trol of the lower house.

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