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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 10-11-2018 12:01

Trump survives the midterms

Seeing the Republican Party lose ground in the House did nothing to stop Trump from proclaiming himself the winner. He has a point.

Analysts the world over are sifting through the results of the US midterm elections in the hope not just of picking up grist for their own particular mills but also of getting an idea of where the world’s most powerful country is heading. Most came up with something they liked, but even so found plenty to worry about. The many who loathe US President Donald Trump and everything he stands for were encouraged by the Democrats’ winning back control of the House of Representatives, from where they will be able to continue tormenting him, while the relatively few who support him – mostly because they loathe his progressive foes even more and fear that the leftward lurch of the Democrat leadership could have some nasty consequences – were able to point out that, given the circumstances, the Republicans did fairly well.

Had the old Bill Clinton-era rule summed up by “it’s the economy, stupid” remained valid, the Republicans would have had it easy. The boom Trump engineered may prove short-lived and be followed by an almighty bust, but for all but a handful of experts who worry about “overheating”, it seems solid enough. If, as some gloomy prognosticators predict, everything falls apart before late 2020, Trump will blame the Democrats; while campaigning, he repeatedly accused them of planning to take a “giant wrecking ball” to the economy.

All North American presidents fear the midterm elections. They know it is more than likely that their party will lose a number of seats, especially in the House of Representatvies, as indeed happened on Tuesday when, as expected, the Democrats retrieved part of the big majority they had lost when Barack Obama was in office. They did so thanks mainly to worries aroused by Trump’s frequently expressed desire to repeal the healthcare legislation that was passed by the former president, but it was hardly the “blue wave” the more enthusiastic had been predicting, and it is worth remembering that for much of the 20th century the House was a seemingly impregnable Democrat stronghold.

Seeing the Republican Party that nominally backs him lose ground in the House did nothing to stop Trump from proclaiming himself the winner and boasting to the world that he had chalked up yet another “tremendous success.” He has a point. The setbacks he suffered in the House were par for the course and, by slightly increasing their majority in the Senate, the Republicans may let him seat even more conservatives on the Supreme Court bench if, as could well happen, noted “liberals” such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg – who will soon be pushing 90, is said to be prone to nod off when others are speaking, and on Wednesday went to hospital after fracturing three ribs – and Sonia Sotomayor, who has diabetes, find it impossible to soldier on.

As in Argentina, in the United States the Senate is dominated by people from the hinterland who need fewer votes to get elected than their fellows from big metropolitan centres. It is conservative by nature. This tends to put it at odds with those who want to push through fashionable social reforms.

For left-leaning Democrats, of which there are now far more than was the case a couple of years ago, a Supreme Court that for decades could be dominated by men and women who make much of their religious convictions and are against abortion, affirmative action that favours blacks and “Hispanics” at the expense of East Asians and whites and much else is a nightmarish prospect. Getting into a position to make life that much harder for Trump, a man who likes nothing better than a nice political brawl that allows him to hog the limelight and persuade the world that everything that happens is about him, is not much consolation.

As Trump’s current approval rating, at about 44 per cent, is much the same as was Obama’s at a similar stage in his spell in the White House, many think he will probably get re-elected in 2020. His chances of keeping power would be much slimmer if the Democrats managed to win back the support of the largely white working-class and lower middle-class citizens they used to rely on for votes, but their leaders evidently have little interest in reaching out to such uncouth individuals.

Instead of trying to reconcile themselves with the people Hillary Clinton dismissed as belonging in “a basket of deplorables”, Democrat leaders want to continue stitching together their “rainbow coalition” of smart women who feel they are victims of macho highhandedness, ethnic minorities led by activists with a grudge, Muslims, immigrants who are in a legal limbo, homosexuals, transsexuals and the like which puts them in collision with the many who live in rundown crime-infested neighbourhoods that have been hit hard by economic change and – even though they may dislike his loudmouthed and often comically broad-brush braggadocio – think Trump is at least willing to do something to help them.

Unlike his enemies, Trump is beginning to reach out. He already has some high-profile black and Hispanic supporters and thinks he could soon have many more because the problems their communities face are much the same as those of his white base. There are signs that his endlessly reiterated message, that for far too long Democrats have taken blacks for granted without doing much to help them, is hitting home. Recent poll results show that most Hispanics are social conservatives who, among other things, would like immigration laws to be respected and that by no means all blacks believe Trump is the “white supremacist” racist many Democrats accuse him of being or that criminals should be treated as victims of prejudice if their skin is dark.

US Democrats, like their counterparts in Europe and elsewhere, no longer care that much for the lower orders their predecessors once championed. They stopped doing so when it became plain to them that, far from being natural progressives who could be relied upon to vote for leftwing candidates who wanted to subject society to some drastic structural reforms, many, perhaps most, people who find it hard to make ends meet have little interest in the issues that obsess members of the new elites and are reluctant to resign themselves to seeing the countries they grew up in radically changed as a result of large-scale immigration from violent places where the customs are very different.

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James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).


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