Christine Jardine: US midterms are crucial for Trump and the world

The midterm elections in the US will be the first major test of Donald Trump's record as President since he was elected two years ago, writes Christine Jardine.

A Halloween-version of Donald Trump carries an axe and Libertys head on a spike during a parade in New York (Picture: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
A Halloween-version of Donald Trump carries an axe and Libertys head on a spike during a parade in New York (Picture: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Two years ago, I sat up late into the night. I was hoping that everything I admire about US politics would repeat the phenomenon that grabbed the world’s attention in 2008.

That once again we would have a presidential election result that would change the lexicon of politics and usher in a fresh era of change.

I got precisely that. Maybe not the change I expected and certainly not the one I wanted.

Instead of the first female President, a woman who had been Secretary of State and whose policies would bolster the international system we knew and understood, we got Donald Trump.

To describe the last two years as a roller coaster ride doesn’t do them justice; and that is not to underestimate the fear generated in a theme park ride.

So tomorrow night I’ll be sitting up again, watching the US midterm results for some indication that there may be change ahead and perhaps the world will breathe a little more easily in two years’ time.

I’ve no doubt some of you are saying: “Oh come on, it hasn’t been that bad!” And when I visited the US recently, even my Republican friends were keen to reassure me that the checks and balances in the US Constitution were acting effectively to offset the Donald.

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At least in the US itself some who are less convinced by Trump’s rhetoric believe his policies are working domestically. It’s in foreign Affairs that those I spoke to admitted to some apprehension. They are not alone.

Just recently I have had the priviledge of acting as my party’s spokesperson on foreign affairs. It’s a role that has allowed me even more of a front-row seat than usual. And what I’ve seen has not always been good. Of course, the United States’ immediate support following the nerve agent attacks in Salisbury has been welcome and reassuring. But elsewhere? Not so much.

Pulling out of the Paris climate deal has created international concern that the world’s global warming targets could be placed in jeopardy. Withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement has provoked fears that years of hard work by the Obama administration are being undone and immediately raised tensions in the region.

Terminating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty has raised fears in many quarters of a potential Cold War-style arms race.

And his bizarre pronouncements on Saudi Arabia and the Khashoggi case, where he criticised the cover-up when the rest of the world was focussed on the horror of the actual murder itself.

And that is without touching on domestic controversies over gun control, the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court or the horrific attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pennsylvania.

Two years ago so many people told me “it won’t be that bad”. But like Brexit, it’s been worse.

As part of a delegation to China, I heard fears about what a trade war could mean for our economy. On a visit to Israel, I had a stark reminder of how the change in US policy in the region could undermine hopes of a two-state peace settlement to both ensure Israeli security and Palestinian self-determination.

There are those of course who will point, as our now former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson did, to the completely unpredicted shift in the relationship between the US and North Korea as evidence of the current President’s diplomatic prowess.

But I remain to be convinced. Stability is what we need in the international system, not unpredictability.

So tomorrow night is important, and not just for the United States. All of the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate is up for re-election. Depending on the outcome, the temperature of US politics could change completely.

It will be the first opportunity that US voters will have to voice their verdict on the Trump Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress. It’s their chance to elect national legislators who will be able to block the President’s legislative programme and curtail his power.

And curtailing his power is important for all of us.

US voters now have the chance to reject the bully-boy politics and choose an open, progressive and tolerant alternative that represents the true spirit of America.

If small victories can be won now, they will provide the hope and motivation America needs to pave the way to a truly brighter future in 2020.

Then perhaps we can all begin to breathe a little easier.