Sunday 16 December 2018

John Walshe: 'Democrats need fresh, young leaders if they're to reunite a deeply divided America'

Message: US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reacts to the results of the midterm elections at a Democratic election night rally. Photo: REUTERS
Message: US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reacts to the results of the midterm elections at a Democratic election night rally. Photo: REUTERS

John Walshe in Virginia

'No firearms allowed on premises" read the sign at the school which was used as a polling station. The Republicans hadn't bothered to send anyone to catch voters on their way into this particular station in the city of Roanoke in Virginia, so the Democrats had it all to themselves.

Canvasser Peter Volosin was trying to convince them to vote for his party despite the fact that he was still recovering from an attack by a pit bull terrier who bit him when he was knocking on doors the previous afternoon.

He was initially buoyed up by the brisk voting in the state which returned former vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine to the Senate, defeating the right-wing Republican Corey Stewart. But the margin of victory was much less than expected.

The party also failed to get its local candidate Jennifer Lewis into the House of Representatives, losing to Ben Cline, another strong Trumper.

Cline gave a rousing victory speech to an almost exclusively white audience at the Holiday Inn. Shakespeare's dictum about recognising people by the way they dress - "for the apparel often proclaims the man" - was never more evident than at the separate election night events organised by the two parties. One wealthy looking woman at the white-linen-table-cloth Republican get-together wore a studded broach inscribed with the immortal slogan "MAGA" - Make America Great Again - while a fair number of the conservatively dressed men sported jackets and ties. At two Democratic events I attended the melting pot that made America great was much more in evidence with Hispanics, blacks, Asians and whites casually dressed, mixing together, drinking beer and watching the TV updates.

Virginia's varied results matched what was happening elsewhere. Nationally, the hoped-for blue wave of Democrats crashed up against the red wall of Republicans and the wall is still standing.

The Dims, as Trump has scathingly called them, regained one of the two Congress chambers - the House of Representatives - but the Senate remains in Republican hands. The Republican Senate winners included a number of strong anti-abortion candidates.

Everyone knew this was a crucial 'hinge' election. After the most toxic two years imaginable in US politics, voters were left with a single question - will they allow the Trump style of free-wheeling, insulting, racist, polarising, misogynistic and lying politics to become the new normal? The mid-term elections were billed as a referendum on Trump but the voters' verdict was not clear-cut, with both sides claiming comfort from the results. The House defeat and the loss of key governorships were clearly a rebuke, but Trump has a consolation prize with the slight increase in the Senate.

Several records were smashed in these mid-term elections. More money was raised and spent - more than $3bn (€2.6bn) - on them than previously. One Washington insider who had worked with a number of administrations told me this was partly because some wealthy business people who had 'buyers' regret' over plumping for Trump in the presidential election had switched to the Democrats.

A record number of women candidates stood, and won office, mainly for the Democrats. Two Muslim women, both Democrats, were elected to Congress. The first openly gay governor was elected in Colorado for the Democrats.

More insults were traded between the parties and more lies uttered than ever before. The 'attack' ads on TV by both sides were much tougher than previously and up 51pc on the last election. One of the Republican ads was so awful the TV networks refused to show it.

Many people are already distrustful of the media and the president's tactic of dismissing reports he doesn't like as 'fake news' has had a corrosive effect. Just 11pc of strong Trump supporters believe the mainstream media, while 91pc of them believe him instead, according to a CBS News poll during the summer. The 'New York Times' has a regular column correcting his numerous misstatements, or lies if you will. The 'Washington Post' claims he has told more than 5,000 whoppers since his inauguration and the latest issue of the 'Economist' says he "lies with abandon". But who cares anymore? Certainly not his legion of supporters.

The post-mortems began immediately for both parties. The Democrats, who are slowly recovering from the shock of the 2016 presidential election defeat, have to find a way back to appeal to the middle ground, or else turn left along the lines suggested by Bernie Sanders, who ran a radical campaign for the soul of the party against Hillary Clinton in 2016. A possible warning sign of the dangers of going too far left was the unsuccessful challenge in Virginia by Jennifer Lewis, who is regarded as a 'Berniecrat'. Elsewhere other candidates from the so-called progressive wing of the party also fell short of victory.

Now they have the House back the Democrats will be tempted to start impeachment proceedings against Trump. But that's a long, drawn-out process which did not work well for the Republicans when they tried to impeach Bill Clinton. The more sage advice will be to concentrate on healthcare costs, infrastructural development, decent jobs, equality in the workplace, electoral and other reforms, but most importantly raise a new set of leaders to replace the current ageing top tier.

Irish Independent

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