It was with a sigh of relief that I woke up on Wednesday morning to the news that the Democrats had taken the House of Representatives in the US midterm elections. But it wasn’t good enough. The Democrats should have wiped the floor with this most divisive of presidents. The fact they didn’t just confirms deep frustrations with the quality of opposition to Trump.
My recent trip to the US brought home to me the dominance of the Trump agenda. It is about Him, economic nationalism and external threats such as immigration and unfair trade practices. He is everywhere and the Democrats are nowhere. Protest politics from the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are not enough when the economy is booming, there is a sense of injustice amongst many sections of the electorate, and race and immigration issues are demonised.
So, what happens now? Dangers lurk just as much for the Democrats as for the Republicans. Legislative gridlock beckons now the Democrats have seized the House of Representatives but this provides an easy target for Trump and could provide a launch pad for a 2020 victory. Plenty of other presidential incumbents using this tactic come to mind… Clinton and Obama to name just two…Meanwhile Trump can continue his controversial appointments including a slew of conservative judicial ones through the Senate unheeded.
The future of this divided nation is more uncertain than ever and the vicious level of debate takes place in the most benign of economic circumstances. The economy has been the centrepiece of Trump’s grandiose claims to success thus far (though he retreated to his staple messages on immigration for the elections) and a setback could finally damage his credibility among all but his most loyal supporters. There have been straws in the wind with recent stock market sell-offs. Just imagine when the economy turns as it surely will under a burden of debt, rising interest rates and lack of much need legislative reform?
The US stock market was up immediately following the midterms. Quite why I don’t know. It hardly seems an accurate predictor of the political turmoil that lies ahead. Perhaps it is because the Democrats have failed to seize any advantage so far by rallying behind a single candidate as an alternative to Trump and this dilutes his vulnerability to economic headwinds and greater market risk over the next two years.