POINT OF VIEW - Rediscovering America
The major turnout for the midterms and the new faces and forces now in Congress prove that the US system still works
- Monday, 21 January 2019
Donald Trump's triumph in the American presidential elections, now a couple of years old, has to some extent been America's ultimate defeat, or at least it has been for the America we have all known and loved; exceptionally open, generous, altruistic and loyal to all those wonderful values we also shared.
The United States we now find ourselves having to deal with during this first term of Mr. President's mandate has instead shown its closed, egoistic guise and a tendency to deny its progressive values in favour of more aggressive and unpredictable stances. In his anxiousness to impose his "America first" mantra, Trump hasn't hesitated to hit out at those who are believed to be his country's allies, by taking exception even with the European Union, guilty in his eyes of having a potential for development that could one day enable it to compete with the United States for world supremacy.
In so doing he hasn't just undermined much of what his predecessors had built up since the First World War, he has also dilapidated a large amount of goodwill that his successors will have a hard time rebuilding. And there's no certainty they’ll manage!
Luckily even across the ocean defeats have been followed by victories, and in many ways these recently completed midterm elections have stood out as on the one hand a form of resistance that has successfully stemmed any chance of the country being swamped by the Republican tide while it has also provided indications that could signal a new lease of life for the democrats. Assuming, of course, that they are capable of exploiting them appropriately by continuing down the path towards renovation. They have headed down it with great resolve but still have a long way to go before their out of the woods.
In any case the elections have shown the strength and resilience of the institutional checks and balances system that the founding fathers have left America as their legacy.
The fact that the opposition has managed to secure of a majority in Congress has established a strong buttress against what up to know was President Trump's unchecked power. From now on Donald Trump will be forced to come up with proposals and solutions that must be acceptable to the other side. This being the case his political approach should rain back some of its aggressiveness and vehemence, or at least so we hope!
Another development of this last round of elections is the shift in electoral turnout, which has been astonishing for a country like the United States where the percentages of those who headed out to the polling station rarely topped the 40% mark of those entitled.
This is a clear indication of how the American people came to realise the importance of these elections, the importance of the moment and how crucial the choices they faced were. Equally it is also an indication of greater concern, which translated into voter turnout, regarding the current political struggle. A pointer that adds an element of hope regarding the true health of American democracy, which in many ways s had seemed to be declining in recent year.
In our victorious battle to secure the Piave River in WWI the "lads of '99" were called up to the front for the first time and brought with them a breath of fresh air that helped to change the mentality, methods and plans that had proven to be too outdated to face up to a new reality. Equally in the recent midterm US elections new forces have come to the fore, or at least elements of society have shown their hand that up to now had rarely been given adequate scope for action. The vanguard of this movement were primarily women, with minorities of all kinds also making headway and plenty of young people making their voices heard. Many of them have now been elected and it's easy to foresee how their presence cannot fail to trigger many and substantial changes in the foreseeable future.
As previously mentioned the Democrats are in any case a long way from a final victory. The Senate for one is still strongly Republican, and, although this may be positive for the country's checks and balances, it is also likely to stifle any marked tendency of American actions to shift towards a more liberal agenda.
The elections have also pointed out how Trump's electoral base, the white lower middle class that is so frightened by change of any kind and by immigration, loss of jobs and recession in particular, is still essentially of one mind.
The Democrats will therefore have to do plenty to reassure them if they are to secure their votes and want to stand with a good chance of success in what, if things go well, could end up being the equivalent of their battle of Vittorio Veneto, meaning the next American presidential elections.
They might find some solace in the possibly negative outcomes of two difficult challenges Trump will have to face in the upcoming future.
The first is how the President, as he has promised to do, will repeal the caravan of Latino migrants that has reached Mexico and is now headed for the United States' southern border. If his action is too harsh, and could lead to casualties, it might have a devastating effect on national and international public opinion. Then again, at this point Trump can hardly hold back. A promise is a promise. If he changes his mind he'll lose face before his own electorate.
A more long-term issue involves his current economic challenges. Up to now the accounts are in favour of the President and America has seen its quality of life, wages and employment improve thanks to his decisions. However, the US economy has serious issues that could at some point slow or even reverse this virtuous process. So? «It's the economy, stupid» as President Clinton told a rival candidate in what is still a famous television debate. Finally one mustn't forget the many aspects of foreign policy in which Trump's America is perhaps flying too close to the wind.
We are then faced with an overall picture in which the European Union could make its voice heard if it were capable of moving with a unity of intent. Otherwise, as the former US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld once had the gall to say in my presence: «Either way you remain completely uninfluential».
You will find this article in the eastwest paper magazine at newwstand.