US Mid-term elections: Waiting to Impale

US Mid-term elections: Waiting to Impale
US President Donald J. Trump holds up a candy bar as he and First Lady Melania Trump welcome trick-or-treaters to the White House for Halloween festivities, in Washington, DC, USA, 28 October 2018. EPA-EFE/MIKE THEILER / POOL

Like Chinese water torture, one hundred and two Tuesdays have passed since the curtains collapsed on Barack Obama’s fleeting turn at “hope” and “change” and the world awoke to America’s long, fetid hangover of greatness.

On Tuesday 6 November a tide of American voters will return to the polls to participate in midterm elections billed as a referendum on Donald J Trump’s presidency. But like South Africans waking up to another Minister of Finance, the political breeze smells familiarly rank.

President Donald J Trump has proven to be everything the bluest of nightmares demanded: he is brazenly incompetent and unread, a nihilist narcissist indulged by a coterie of right-wing ideologues and corrupt industry cutouts; Trump peddles in untruths, innuendo and slander as his primary political currencies, and buttresses America’s eroded foundations of white supremacy, xenophobia and patriarchy by lobbing grenades into festering culture wars.

Election season 2018 has been particularly poisonous. Trump’s stump routine has devolved into a litany of lies and racist code, culminating in a noxious shtick about how the Democratic Party, ensnared in the puppet strings of financier George Soros, is nurturing a lunatic, traitorous plan to destroy the American way of life, or – at least – the vestiges of a white, entitled, 1950’s version of it.

Any semblance of rhetorical deference to a loyal political opposition was buried with John McCain and partisans from both parties perceive the coming electoral contests as final battles in an all-consuming war for America’s future.

A storm of hate, fanned by cable news surrogates and conspiracy theorists, and fed by more than a nod and a wink by Trump, was unleashed this week from the echo-chambers of the internet. White supremacist killers stalked minority Americans at their places of worship in Louisville and Pittsburgh, murdering 13, and an avowed Trump supporter attempted to bomb two former presidents and 12 other perceived foes of the president.

Despite the body count, Trump has not suspended his campaign – and even joked at a rally in Illinois on Saturday night that he had considered cancelling the event due to a bad hair day – regardless of shooting victims continuing to struggle for their lives in Pittsburg. Holding his middle finger to the notion that in times of pain the president should assume the role of “consoler in chief”, Trump has instead blamed the “fake news” media for the political divisions he has sought to crowbar open and the White House has distastefully cast Trump as a co-victim of the tragedies.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller failed to deliver an October surprise, but the events of the past week will serve to frame Tuesday’s election as payback for everyone.

For Americans who commenced 2017 shutting down airports in pussy hats, and who believe that bullies lose, love wins, and that the arc of the moral universe is long but bends towards justice, Tuesday is their lifeline. Notwithstanding the poisoned political wells, the pathetically compromised state of Congress, and the diminishing of America’s moral standing abroad, at Trump’s tiny hands, progressives have likely lost the trajectory of the Supreme Court for a generation (and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 33 years Brett Kavanaugh’s senior).

The most likely election outcome is deadlock and Wednesday’s child may well be full of woe: A blue tide is likely to significantly diminish Republican representation in the House of Representatives and bolster the number of Democratic Governors in politically critical states and across the sun- and rust-belts (Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin). Yet it is also likely that the GOP will increase the size of their caucus in the Senate, granting more power to the professional political cynic that is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

A Democratic House, and more importantly, Democratic Committee Chairpersons, will let a thousand investigations bloom (let me count the ways: Russia, emoluments, executive travel…), demand made-for-TV hearings, and write reams of legislation for Trump and McConnell to veto. There will be a lot of political theatre (some of it very important), but Democratic efforts to stymie the Trumpian agenda will gift the president and his base another blue whipping boy as 2020 rears its apocalyptic head.

Moreover, there remains a not entirely delusional possibility that the GOP retains the House, makes significant strides in Senate, and that racist and classist voter suppression is decisive in critical races for governor in Georgia (where Stacey Abrams (D) could be the first black governor elected to office) and Kansas (where Kris Kobach (R), who essentially invented the shadow of Trump’s army of illegal voters, is on the ballot).

The successful elevation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on the back of a cataclysmic interpretation of values and political expediency, and the progress a caravan of thousands of asylum seekers and economic migrants through Mexico towards the US’ southern border have infused Trump with new energy and the heraldry he needs to summon the four horsemen of racism, xenophobia, sexism and patriarchy to his cause.

In an era of untruth, holding the bullhorn to the dog-whistle and Trump’s unreconstructed fury have proven political pedigree. What American shibboleths will remain self-evident we wait to see.

Sigh… DM


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Feeling powerless in politics?

Equip yourself with the tools you need for an informed decision this election. Get the Elections Toolbox with shareable party manifesto guide.