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Why the US Midterm Elections Solved Nothing

A polarized society and a rigged system create a broken democracy.

By Crawford Kilian 7 Nov 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

The U.S. midterm elections were more fun to anticipate than to experience. As long as they loomed in the future, Canadians could look forward to a check on the chaotic Donald Trump regime. We could hope that the Democrats would push Trump into a corner for the next two years, maybe find grounds for impeachment, and restore decorum in the 2020 election.

We were, of course, kidding ourselves, as last night’s results showed.

Trump was right when he said in 2016 that the election would be rigged. It would have been rigged even if the Russians hadn’t crashed the party. U.S. elections are rigged by a Senate that gives excessive power to rural, low population states over the urban states that actually power the American economy.

Worse yet, every election is another battle in the endless U.S. Civil War. The slave states theoretically lost the war, but they decisively won the peace when Reconstruction ended in 1877. They have continued to dominate American politics for 140 years, largely by flat-out vote suppression through gerrymandering, absurd voter-ID requirements, and (this time) simply failing to supply power cords for electronic voting machines in black areas of Georgia.

It’s not just a clash between the slave states and the rest, however. This election showed a gap, all over the country, between crowded cities and empty rural regions. The cities, even in the South, have grown big and prosperous through new industries that attract educated people from all over the world. Cities built on old industries are now the Rust Belt, populated largely by people too uneducated to offer much to the new industries.

The Democrats lost touch with those folks as early as the 1960s, when then-president Lyndon Johnson brought in the Civil Rights Act and the Dixiecrats deserted to Richard Nixon’s Republicans. Free trade was a boon to the new industries, but it finished off many rural towns. Companies that had migrated to the South to escape labour unions now migrated again, first to Mexico and then to China and Southeast Asia — wherever labour was cheaper and more obedient.

A con man’s revelation

Trump saw an opportunity and took it. In the process, he showed how unstable the world’s greatest superpower really was. If a con man could end a 70-year American hegemony, perhaps the hegemony itself had been a con.

Still, that hegemony had marketed itself very well. Most educated and minority Americans might roll their eyes at its pretences to equality and progress, but it looked pretty good compared to Trumpism’s open misogyny, racism, and ignorance. A return to the safe, secure old world that ended in 2016 seemed possible, if only more minorities and more young people would vote in yesterday’s mid-term elections.

Well, many did. But so did many Trumpists, whether because they liked Trump or just liked to piss off the “libtards.”

At the end of the night the Democrats won control of the House, but the Senate remains dominated by Republicans from empty, backward rural states. States like Florida and Ohio have Republican governors who will help Trump or his successor in 2020. The Democrats can sympathize with the Greek king Pyrrhus, who once beat the Romans but said: “Another such victory and I am undone.”

Obama as nostalgia item

Yes, the new House will make life unpleasant for Donald Trump, but Trump’s supporters will wage a ceaseless online war against the Democrats, while Trump himself escalates his lies and insults. Two more years of this, and Obama’s promises of hope and change will seem quaint.

What about the Mueller investigation? Perhaps it will dump bunker-busting charges on Trump and his associates, but a Republican Senate will ignore them. So will their voters, who have made it clear that Trump’s failings are either irrelevant or actually attractive. American institutions, whether Congress, the Supreme Court or the Department of Justice, have been crippled or tainted. New threats will be drummed up: more immigrants, evil trade partners, crazy scientists warning of climate breakdown.

Canada will have to walk a fine line for the next couple of years: welcoming immigrants without seeming to criticize Trump; trading with Trump’s enemies without quite deserting him; reducing carbon emissions while ignoring environmental disasters next door.

We will also have to deal with our own Trump wannabes, who are already trying out his anti-media, anti-immigration positions. And some of us may polarize on one side or the other, taking more extreme positions as Canadian “moderation” seems to fail.

If the 2018 American midterms demonstrate anything, it’s that elections in polarized countries don’t resolve much. The challenge for Canadians, for the foreseeable future, will be to forestall polarization in the first place.  [Tyee]

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