Even midterms will be eventful in deeply divided US

Even midterms will be eventful in deeply divided US

Tens of millions of United States citizens will, on Nov. 6, travel to local polling stations in their hometowns or mail in ballots from around the world. They will be casting their votes in what are known as the midterm elections. Typically, these midterms — so called because they fall midway into a president’s term in office — are not especially exciting. Often the majority of the country ignores them. This year looks different, as the American electorate is enthused and the political climate is tense. This year, the midterm elections will have important implications for the US and even for allies and foes across the globe.

Only 36.4 percent of eligible voters participated in the last midterm elections in 2014. That was the lowest turnout since 1942, when the US was in the midst of World War II. Four years ago, Americans were more complacent than they are today. For the previous six years, Democrats had controlled the presidency and the Senate, and for four years Republicans had controlled the House of Representatives. As a result, the government was split in 2014 — no one was content, but neither was anyone too dissatisfied.

The situation is very different now. For two years the Republican Party has controlled the presidency through Donald Trump, the Senate (currently 51 out of 100 Senators are Republicans, plus the vice president, who breaks tied votes), and the House of Representatives (241 of 435 representatives are Republicans). Trump has also appointed many more conservative Republican judges to the federal judiciary and continues to do so. On the crucial Supreme Court, which is the final arbiter interpreting laws, five of the nine justices will be conservatives after Trump’s newest nomination, Brett Kavanaugh, is confirmed in the next couple of months.

Since Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016, Democrats have been irate. Some continue to deny his fair election and claim that the Trump campaign cheated. Some claim that Trump is “unsuited” to the presidency. Some claim that he has committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” worthy of impeachment. No serious evidence of any of these claims has been offered, so the Democrats must win elections to change the policies they do not like.

US midterms are typically fairly boring, but this year is shaping up very differently. Get ready for an eventful few months.

Ellen R. Wald

Even though Trump is not running in November, the election will revolve around him. Some Democrats want to win control of the House of Representatives so they can impeach him. If they also win a supermajority (two-thirds of the seats) in the Senate, they could convict him and banish him from office. More likely, though, Democrats would seek to gain a majority in either the House or Senate, or both, to limit the president’s ability to enact the laws he wants. If Democrats gain a majority in the Senate, they can keep him from appointing any more judges and even any new employees to manage and run the federal government.

From the start of the Trump presidency, some vocal Americans have resorted to threatening and vitriolic rhetoric not previously extant in US civic society. Right after Trump was inaugurated, pop singer Madonna told a crowd of protesters that she has “thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.” The rapper Snoop Dogg made a music video in 2017 that depicted him shooting a man wearing a clown-like mask of the president. Just this week, a Democrat Congressional representative from Tennessee appeared to call for a military coup because he disapproved of the president’s handling of a press conference with Vladimir Putin. He tweeted: “Where are our military folks? The Commander in Chief is in the hands of our enemy!”

This type of rhetoric is new in the US. Even before the American Civil War — a four-year struggle over slavery in the 1860s that left 620,000 American soldiers dead — the disagreements were rarely this crass. These words point to the deep divide in American politics today. People are losing friends, family members are quarreling, and some Americans are losing their jobs because of their political speech.

In some instances, the hatred has gone beyond speech. Recently, one of the president’s Cabinet members, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, was forced out of a restaurant when she was heckled by protesters. The President’s Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and her family were also asked to leave a restaurant in Virginia recently. The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and his family now require security after death threats were made against them because he took a particular stance on internet regulation. Last year, a pro-Democrat man from Illinois traveled to Virginia with a rifle and shot at a group of Republican Congressmen practicing for a charity baseball game, wounding two police officers, an aide and Representative Steve Scalise. 

Typically, presidential elections in the US engender emotion, but midterm elections are fairly boring. This year is shaping up very differently. Democrats want to win so they can obstruct Trump’s policies and potentially remove him from office. On the other side, the president’s supporters want to keep Republican majorities in Congress to continue his policies and to protect him from what they think is a vindictive Democratic Party. The next three-and-a-half months will be eventful, and unlike any midterm elections before.

  • Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D. is a historian and author of “Saudi, Inc.” She is the president of Transversal Consulting and also teaches Middle East history and policy at Jacksonville University. Twitter: @EnergzdEconomy

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