Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

Midterm results are the first steps to curtailing Trump's power

As the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, a rocky road lies ahead of the president

Democrat Rashida Tlaib celebrates her election to the House of Representatives with her mother. Reuters 
Democrat Rashida Tlaib celebrates her election to the House of Representatives with her mother. Reuters 

Almost two years into his divisive tenure, US President Donald Trump’s power is unhindered no longer. In the most consequential midterm elections in a generation, Democratic gains in the House of Representatives on Tuesday concluded eight years of one-party Republican rule in Congress. Since Mr Trump took office in January 2017, the party’s legislative grip has thwarted any meaningful oversight of his administration, but in what quickly became a referendum on his leadership, the US electorate has dealt Mr Trump a significant blow. Ultimately, this is a litmus test ahead of the more decisive battle for the White House in 2020, but what will likely follow is a volley of investigations into Mr Trump, his campaign and his administration, scrutiny of his agenda, and a tranche of Democratic legislative initiatives.

As the Republican midterm campaign intensified, Mr Trump resorted to dog whistle politics, whipping up a frenzy about a so-called caravan of Central American migrants fleeing war and poverty on foot, which is expected to arrive at the US border two months into the future, if ever. Among these beleaguered and vulnerable people, Vice President Mike Pence stated, were “unknown Middle Easterners”. So exaggerated was the administration’s fearmongering that even an anchor on Fox News – Mr Trump’s main champion – was forced to acknowledge: “We’re America, we’ll be fine.”

American voters responded to that racism by electing the country’s first Muslim congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Abby Finkenauer, both in their twenties, became the youngest women to serve in Congress. And Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids will head to Washington as the first Native American women elected to Congress. Across the country, women voters stood up to nativism and populism. In Illinois’ 14th disctrict – suburban and dependably Republican – incumbent Randy Hultgren lost to the Democrat Lauren Underwood, a 31-year-old African-American nurse. With a record number of women elected to Congress, this is a momentous victory for female voters and candidates. And for a president prone to sexism in both word and deed, it will serve as a wake-up call.

Countries in this region will be anxiously anticipating the impact these events on Mr Trump’s Middle East agenda. This was not quite the “blue wave” some predicted, with the Democrats losing seats in the Senate, spelling congressional deadlock. But in a period of peace and prosperity, with wages rising and unemployment falling, the Republican victory should perhaps have been sweeping. “Thanks to you, tomorrow will be a new day in America,” said Democrat Nancy Pelosi, now House majority leader. Whatever happens between now and 2020, this is a moment to savour for all those concerned about America’s direction under an untrammelled Mr Trump.