Observations of an ex pat: Mobilising anger

Anger is a powerful mobiliser. It is also dangerous to control when turned loose on the body politic.

At the moment this raw rage is being drawn out of the American spleen by both the left and right, by Democrats and Republicans.

It is the mid-term elections.  It is the first opportunity US voters have had for passing their  verdict on the Trump Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress. It is a chance to elect national legislators who will block the president and more.

If, as expected, the Democrats, gain control of the House of Representatives, Donald Trump’s hopes for new legislation to further his right-wing, anti-immigrant, unilateralist agenda will be dashed against a Congressional brick wall.

Furthermore, the president can expect a flurry of fresh investigations to be initiated by the lower house.  They will demand to see his tax returns; investigate the conflicts of interest between the White House and his business interests; probe the president’s  environmental and immigration policies; demand inquiries into the multiple sexual harassment claims that he has successfully stalled and breathe new life into the Mueller Inquiry.

It is little wonder that Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence have been criss-crossing the country to attend rallies in support of right-wing Republican candidates.  It is no surprise that the presidential rhetoric has become shriller and more extreme as the first Tuesday in November approaches.

Five thousand American troops are needed to protect US citizens from the Central American immigrant “invasion force” infected with “Middle East terrorists”.  The President promises to override the constitution and decree the end of citizenship for those born in the US of foreign parents. The pipe bombs sent to Democrats was a plot by Democrats.  And the divisive atmosphere of vitriolic hate that led to the death of 11 Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh had nothing to do with Trump. It was the fault of the Democrats and their allies in the fake news media.

All of the above are designed to encourage and frighten the president’s core supporters into turning out in large numbers to vote for his Republican candidates.  Conversely, the same rhetoric and policies are driving the Democrats to the polls to return anti-Trump legislators to Washington.

In that respect both sides—and democracy– are winning. At seven days before official polling day, 2.4 million Texans have cast their ballots in early voting. That is more than the total number of early and absentee ballots cast in the 2014 mid-terms.  The early voter turn-out in Georgia is treble the figure for 2014 and in Florida a record 2.7 million have already cast their votes

So far more Republicans have voted than Democrats. But that is not the whole story. Voting records only show a person’s party affiliation. It does not show how they voted. And the great unknown is the political direction of those registered as independents.  Trump is wildly popular with Republicans. Eighty percent-plus support him. For them “The Donald” is the standard bearer of threatened conservatism and the fading American dream.  But registered Republicans make up only 24 percent of the voting public.

Trump is wildly unpopular with Democrats and they comprise 31 percent of voters. In their eyes the president and the Republican Party are the twin dangers to every hard-fought reform since 1960.  This leaves a big chunk—42 percent—in the Independent camp. Will the Independents be lured to the Republican camp by impressive economic growth and the promise of tougher immigration policies? Or will the majority of them be turned off by a president who claims every success is a result of his personal intervention and every failure is the nefarious work of his enemies.

Opinion polls indicate victory for the Republicans in the Senate and a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. But  many individual races are deemed “too close to call” which means that the final outcome will remain in the balance until well into the night of November 6 and possibly for days after.

One thing, however, is certain; the emotions that have been stirred by this election will continue along with the division and hate that has been the hallmark of the Trump Administration.

 

* Tom Arms is the American-born membership secretary for Tooting Lib Dems. His Observations of an Expat appears regularly on Lib Dem Voice and in a number of US newspapers. Tom also lectures on foreign affairs, presents a weekly broadcast on world affairs for American radio and is working on a book about Anglo-American relations.

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6 Comments

  • John Marriott 2nd Nov '18 - 12:15pm

    I’ve been watching the goings on in the ‘Land of the Free’ with a mixture increasing incongruity and despair for some time now. This has become more pertinent for me on a personal level as I am hoping to visit distant relatives in New Jersey and Washington DC in April (assuming that I stay healthy, get my visa and that the planes are still flying!).

    My ‘relations’ are descendants of a couple of my grandfather’s cousins, who emigrated as children with their grandmother, mother and aunts from Mansfield, Notts in December 1869. I’ve found them via a genealogy web site and this will be our first face to face meeting. Thank goodness it appears that they are all apparently Democrat sympathisers!

    I wonder what the chances of the Marriott women would have been had Donald Trump been President some 150 years ago. Come to think of it, I wonder how many former occupants of the White House over the years are spinning in their graves with the antics on Pennsylvania Avenue. The problem is that, unless there is a major electoral earthquake next Tuesday – and this is by no means certain given the way Districts are gerrymandered, how each State returns two Senators regardless of its population and the state of the Democrats – it is by no means out of the question that Trump could win again in two years’ time. Any money on a victorious Trump trying to persuade the Republican Party to try to amend the US Constitution to allow a US President to run for a third term?

  • Mick Taylor 2nd Nov '18 - 5:59pm

    @John Marriott: Trump might like to amend the constitution, but this requires a 2/3 majority in both the House and the Senate AND the agreement of 3/4 of the individual states. Even at the big watermark of the Republican Party they had nowhere near the votes necessary to achieve controversial changes of the sort you mentioned.
    As the whether Trump can get a second term? This will depend on a number of factors. The Democrat candidate, the registration of citizens from Hispanic and African American backgrounds, as well as young voters and people actually turning out to vote. You have to remember that US elections barely get a 50% turnout. It will also depend on the decisions by would-be third party candidates to stand or not. Hilary would almost certainly have won had the Green candidate stood down, because she got the crucial votes that denied Hilary victory in a number of crucial states. There’s all to play for if the Democratic Partry get their act together.

  • Trump seems to be making zero attempt to broaden his appeal and reach out to floating voters. He is doubling down on the anti-immigrant, isolationist rhetoric, presumably because he thinks the Republicans can win by getting their core vote out. It’s horrible and divisive to watch.

  • John Marriott 3rd Nov '18 - 8:44am

    @Nick Baird
    And given, I am lead to believe, that barely 50% of those eligible to vote do so, rather frightening as well. The US, like the U.K. for that matter, needs a political system fit for the 21st century, not the 18th. Fat chance of that happening, though.

  • It is sobering to think of the sense of excitement in the USA at the prospect for real change that followed the result of the presidential election ten years ago this week.

    The financial crisis was the culmination of decades of deep structural changes in the American economy. Despite the largest fiscal stimulus in US history and a more than doubling of debt from 10 trillion to 22 trillion over the past decade, great swathes of the population remain mired in low income jobs and have seen declining living standards with no increase in real wages for decades.

    Trump has used big corporate tax cut to give the economy a short-term boost but where does the long-term growth in wages come from – a trade war with China?

  • Peter Hirst 5th Nov '18 - 6:45pm

    It is travesty of our political system when anger is the predominant motivator for voting. People should be voting for what will make their country a better place to live in and bring up their children. So more equality, more freedoms and opportunity as well as a realistic safety net.

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