By Adam McConnel
- The writer teaches Turkish history at Sabanci University in Istanbul. He holds an MA and PhD in history from the same university.
Two years after Donald Trump’s election to the United States Presidency, the signs have increasingly turned negative. America’s new house sales are falling despite near-to-full employment. Wage growth is anemic. The FED continues to raise interest rates despite low inflation. Trump’s tax cut has slashed federal revenue, so Congressional Republicans are threatening to cut funding for social aid programs. The U.S. trade deficit is widening because of the strong dollar. The major U.S. market indices -- the Dow, S&P, and the NASDAQ -- have lost significant value over the past two months. To top it all off, in the last two weeks before the all-important midterm elections, pipe bombs were mailed to a series of prominent U.S. public figures, including former President Obama, while gun violence, directed at minority groups and clearly inspired by President Trump’s aggressive rhetoric, peaked.
Normally, I am an optimist. By nature, for whatever reason, I tend to see the cup as half full rather than half empty.
But with the 2018 U.S. midterm elections only days away, I do not discern much light in the tunnel. Gloom and turmoil is the order of the day, and no relief appears on the horizon.
Can the Democrats Win Back the House?
The fundamental question in the U.S. midterm elections (Americans refer to these elections as “midterms” because they take place in the middle of the current Presidential term) will be whether the Democratic Party can achieve majorities in either Congressional body. At the moment, opinion polls indicate that the Democrats will likely do exactly that in the House of Representatives (the U.S. House of Representatives has 435 total members, distributed proportionally according to population among the 50 states).
The same polls, however, show that the Democrats have almost no chance of winning a majority in the Senate (Senate seats -- 100 in total -- are distributed equally, two to each state). Thus, after Nov. 6, the U.S. will most likely see a political landscape in which one party controls the Presidency and one Congressional assembly, while the other major party controls the other Congressional assembly.
Since the early 1990s, such situations have meant political deadlock, with important legislation nearly impossible to drive through both Congressional houses because of political enmity. The reason is that U.S. politics became intractably partisan during the Republican Party’s strident attacks on the Clinton Administrations, and has never regained stable or lasting bipartisan cooperation. But before describing what the likely consequences will be in the coming two years, let’s look quickly at the two possible, but much less likely post-election scenarios.
Two unlikely scenarios
The first is continued Republican Party control over both houses of Congress. This will simply mean that President Trump and his Congressional accomplices have at least two more years to persist on their chosen path, brick-by-brick dismantling the edifices that have underpinned the U.S. political system and foreign policy for the past 200 years. That is, at least two more years of what we have experienced since January 2017 (and, more broadly, since the Reagan Administrations). Short-term Republican goals will be to undermine President Obama’s health care system as much as possible, and to roll back other social help programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
U.S. foreign policy, now completely under National Security Advisor John Bolton’s malign influence, would also remain on its current tack, aggressively promoting U.S. advantage at the expense of international political and economic unrest. Observers must understand that Bolton is a prime reason why the gruesome and horrific murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi could be carried out so boldly in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul Consulate. However, even if the Democrats were to obtain control over both Congressional houses, as long as Trump is the President, no major changes in U.S. foreign policy should be expected.
That brings us to the second unlikely result. Democratic majorities in both Congressional assemblies would mean the Democrats could forward their desired legislation to Trump for the necessary Presidential approval. But Trump would likely veto the vast majority, and since the Democrats will not have the votes to override vetoes, their legislative agenda will be a vain effort. Ultimately, this result would probably mean two years of largely fruitless Congressional activity.
The most likely result: A split Congress
So what might happen with Congressional control divided between the two parties? The Republican Party’s Congressional leadership intends to aggressively pursue its ideological goals whether they have control over both Congressional bodies or not. The only positive scenario would be a new era of bipartisanship, but bipartisanship is extremely difficult to imagine because the Republican Party is now so committed to culture wars and racist dog whistles.
This means that the Democrat Party has two choices. On the one hand, they might identify issues vital enough to make the compromises sufficient to sate the Republican Senate leadership (namely Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader), and which could then be plausibly advertised as real policy achievements to voters. That seems to be the only scenario under which positive Congressional accomplishments -- on, for example, finally allocating badly needed funds for repairing America’s crumbling infrastructure -- might emerge.
On the other hand, the Democrats may recognize the situation’s essence for what it is and settle for simply stymieing the Republican agenda as much as possible. Their focus would then be on preserving President Obama’s health care achievements while gearing up to retake both the White House and the Senate in 2020. Obviously, neither option is ideal, but without control over both houses of Congress in addition to the Presidency, the Democratic Party cannot rationally expect to generate results when their interlocutors are a collection of ideological zealots, not pragmatic deal makers.
As one can easily recognize, all of the above means that, even with the House of Representatives going back to Democratic Party control, the U.S. political outlook for the next two years remains grim. The ideological morass that America’s Republican Party has fallen into usually is analyzed in terms of domestic U.S. politics, but in reality it is a disaster for global politics, too. The extremist views that now dominate the Republican Party’s weltanschauung have rendered it unable to interact constructively with the real world. But because it has a media machine behind it strong enough to mobilize more than 60 million voters, it maintains the ability to paralyze U.S. legislative processes when deemed necessary, and to enact radical policies when the opportunity arises. Most likely, that means we will have to look to 2020 for relief.* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.