America goes to the polls in the midterm elections today after a nightmare week in which the President has unleashed, even by his own standards, a visceral assault on the qualities of respect, tolerance and justice that are necessary to support a reasonable level of civility and informed political discourse in any modern country. This has been an ugly week for America.
Disappointed by his loss of momentum, angered by other serious issues hogging the limelight and dominating the news to his exclusion – such as the worst massacre of Jews ever in the US – and panicked by the prospect of his base not having enough raw red meat, Trump has drawn upon all of his worst traits of nationalism, authoritarianism and nativism.
Trump’s campaign is racially charged and anti-immigration, deliberately raising the fear of a non-White America. Maybe, for the first time since 2016, Trump’s narcissism and his own deep insecurity and fear are defining his closing argument. As a result, he has imprinted his own uniquely toxic brand of anger, hate and racism on the final days of the campaign. This may be a step too far for much of America. But do Democrats continue to underestimate Trump’s political strategy and the cultural wars that are tearing the US apart?
The President is unapologetic. He believes the US is at war with migrants and he seems keen to deploy the full military might of the US on the Mexican border: and even after the synagogue massacre he gave credence to claims by the far-right that Jews are organising and financing the migrant caravans by suggesting liberal billionaire George Soros was behind the current one!
These are seriously deranged utterances. There are few words to explain this political stunt and the lies on which it is based. Sadly, both the Republican party and the presidency are increasingly defined by lies.
Trump’s laser-like focus on immigration is unnerving some Republicans in Congress and reluctant supporters who feel he may be taking them and their party over the edge. For Democrats, his behaviour only serves to confirm their worst fears that he is risking unrest and violence by his incendiary remarks and his failure to denounce white nationalism.
For Trump’s base, this is the America they want. For them, he is a modern American hero!
But, for many, he has simply failed to transition from being a stump candidate to a President.
Mood and momentum are crucial in the run-up to polling day. Trump has held about ten rant-fueled rallies in the last week. These are worrying reminders of a fanatical base lapping up every morsel of his “them-and-us politics”.
The big question is whether the Trump base remains strong enough and – bearing in mind the usual low turnout in midterm elections – whether there is any haemorrhaging of the less extreme but still apparently loyal Republican vote. Polls suggest a significant shift away from Trump in suburban areas and amongst educated white women. Buyer’s remorse is growing.
After focusing his wrath on the so-called caravan of migrants heading towards the US from Latin America, Trump in the last few days has raised the stakes by ordering more than 5,000 troops to the Mexican border and promising to increase this figure to 15,000, more than the deployment of US troops to Afghanistan! This announcement was accompanied by lurid headlines, on Fox News – the mouthpiece of the Trump White House – and other right-wing social media outlets of “invaders” threatening the US, representing an “infestation” bringing small pox and other diseases.
For most Americans, this is a new low in the demonisation of men, women and children seeking a better life free from the crime, poverty and corrupt regimes. Putting America on a war-footing is not a rational response but it was never intended to be.
Trump’s ego and much of his base are still remarkably in tune. Stopping short of “fight them on the beaches”, his rhetoric is making a mockery of his office and taking the American people for fools.
Causing even more disquiet, Trump claimed he could defy the Constitution and end birthright citizenship via an executive order. The consensus among legal scholars and the view of Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House, is that the President cannot do this. To end this right, Trump would have to find a way around the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in a naked attempt to hijack the midterms as a vehicle for un-American racist ideals.
Shortly before polling day, the Trump/Republican campaign released a multi-million dollar political ad that, in the words of Stephen Collinson of CNN, accused the Democrats of “plotting to help people they depict as central American invaders” overrunning the nation with “cop killers”.
This in a country desperately in need of both a political and spiritual uplift, a softening of its hard, abrasive and intolerant obsessions and a more measured discourse about the real issues facing the US and the wider world. America needs a healer, not a hater; a commander-in-chief, not a scaremonger-in-chief; and a President, not a rabble-rouser.
Trump’s first electoral setback since November 2016 may be on the cards, but he is already positioning himself to wash his hands of any losses. Despite appealing to his base to vote as if his name was on the ballot paper in every House, Senate and Gubernatorial race, Trump has said he will not take any responsibility for any Republican failure.
It remains to be seen whether or not a sufficient drubbing for mainstream Republican candidates – if that happens – will end their complicity and loyalty to someone whose demons and paranoia are destroying respect for the US abroad and reinforcing a bitter divide at home.
One thing stands out amidst this election despair. In a White House where one lie is trumped by another, there is one hugely significant issue which mustn’t be air-brushed out of the wider picture. The deaths of Americans and the spread of terror – in Kentucky, Washington and Pittsburgh – in the last two weeks was the result of home-grown white nationalism, not migrants, Muslims or Mexicans. This is the biggest threat to the stability and security of the US.
Trump was unwittingly honest when asked about the lies he tells, saying, “I always like to tell the truth, when I can”!
But, after the polls close later tonight, will fake news be the winner? Fear is a powerful and highly destructive emotion.
US President Franklin Roosevelt said at his first inauguration: “So first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Ronald Reagan famously said: “America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.”
Today, US citizens have the chance to advance or retreat further into a dark political place where the very ideals of US democracy are at risk and where the moral and political decline of America continues apace. As the current President always says: “We’ll see what happens!”