Understanding the US midterm results

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Md Sharif Hasan
Published : 18:16, Nov 20, 2018 | Updated : 18:17, Nov 20, 2018

Md. Sharif HasanMidterm elections have resulted in mixed outcome in the US. The Democrats were hoping the country would give a decisive verdict to President Donald Trump and the Republicans. But that did not happen. The World saw the Democrats flicking about 30 GOP seats and capture the House of Representatives while the Republicans tightened their grip on the Senate. The midterm elections were also notable for the number of people who voted and the number of women that were elected. The new House would come into being next January.
As it stands now, what the Democrats expected and what was widely talked about as a Blue wave that would see the Democrats winning the elections to the House of Representatives did not really happen. But the fact remains that the House now has a Democrat majority and its size does not matter, because politics in the US is now very rigidly divisive. There are very few instances except in the case of health care where the member of a Party votes with the other side. Broadly, there’s little evidence of bipartisanship even on minor issues. So, on any issue in which there’s a question of majority the Democratic view in the House will prevail. There will also be a Democrat in charge of the Congressional Committees on security and various other matters which affect the future of President Trump himself so that is to their satisfaction.
The Republican Party has a slightly greater majority now in the Senate. And, the Senate is important to the presidency and the Republican Party because it is in the Senate that various senior positions e.g- Judge, Ambassadors etc sent for endorsements by Congress to the Supreme court as has happened just now with Justice Kavanaugh. Undoubtedly, the President will find it easier to get his nominees in key positions wherever it is legally endorsed. The most significant fact is: the founding fathers of the US in the Constitution did a great job as far as creating checks and balances are concerned. They gave Congress all the freedom to endorse the budget and to the President, the Veto power. And, the budget is an all important part of governance so there the Democrats will have the advantage. Conversely, the President can counter that advantage with his Veto; the Veto can only be overruled by a two-third majority in the House of Representatives which is obviously impossible to get in the present set-up.
So, in the domestic context, the Americans will go through policy paralysis on issues that matter most — for example, affordable health care.
In a broader, critical sense, this election for the first time has been widely seen as a referendum on President Trump naturally. There has never been a President with such a huge positive and negative impact on society, with such broadly divisive polarizing impact on society.
But there’s also the law of unintended consequences. President Trump has given aspirations to a section of the electorate that represents White supremacy. Patriarchy, misogyny — all that is anathema to the liberal mind not just in America but worldwide. And, that forms his hardcore support no matter what he does or what mistakes he makes, or what he does to provoke liberal opinion. It’s like some commentators have said, red meat to his supporters. So, red has become redder in some places.
There are some bright spots as far as the US midterm is concerned. Women in unprecedented numbers stood for election and came out to vote. Admittedly, many women won in the elections. There was an unprecedented representation of women of colour, Native Americans, Muslim women. So, this is a trend that observers would find not as one-off. This is going to give a new impulse to American policies with a long term impact.
If one looks closely at the gains for Democrats, they won contests in historically Republican suburban areas like Richmond, Chicago, Denver; whereas Republicans gained ground in Senate defeating Democratic incumbents in Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota.
The bottom line? Trump has been all about America first, does one see him now after these midterm elections actually focusing more on foreign policy?
Yes, that’s a traditional thing for President to do when they lose control of the Congress. The one thing that they have most control over then is foreign policy. When he says 'America first' he says the same even when he talks about Russia. It’s not really about America or Russia; it’s about 'me first'. It’s about showing what a dominant, great guy he is. And, he’s got a lot of opportunities to bully people around in the foreign policy theatre and he’ll do that. And, if he lost the Senate and kept the House; he wouldn’t be able to appoint judges and that’s going to be a big thing in the next two years in appointing every conceivable judge he can choose at all levels.

Md Sharif Hasan teaches international relations at the University of Rajshahi.

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