The Disunited States of America

The Disunited States of America
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Democrats win the House but the politics of polarisation rages

THE RESULTS OF elections to the US House of Representatives and the Senate went along expected lines. After almost a decade, America’s Democratic Party has regained control of the lower house with a resounding margin of 223 seats against 197 for the Republican Party. Of 435 seats, 420 have been declared. In the Senate, the Republicans have retained their hold: 51 seats to 44 of the Democrats, with information on 97 out of 100 available so far.

Given the level of polarisation and bitterness that characterises US politics today, this can only mean one thing: a divided government again. In practical terms, this will put a brake on President Donald Trump’s legislative programme. A Democratic majority also means that in case matters turn even more partisan, Congressional use of subpoena powers and bitter investigations cannot be ruled out. The country has already seen plenty of controversy over the ongoing probe by special counsel Robert Mueller on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

These were not the only dramatic moments since last night. Soon after results began pouring in, Trump fired his Attorney General Jeff Sessions with whom he’d had a testy relationship for a while over the Russia investigation. The maelstrom in the Department of Justice is just one aspect of all the bitterness prevalent in US politics.

Less obvious are the foreign policy effects of the change in the legislature. The US president has considerable leeway in crafting foreign policy, including the authority to declare war. On the broad direction of the Trump administration with respect to foreign trade, dealing with friendly nations like India and threats like China—on the challenge posed by which there is some consensus in America—one could expect more continuity than change.

The impact of the US mid-term polls are likely to be more pronounced on its domestic politics. The year 2020 is not far now and a race for the White House will commence soon. The win for Democrats comes as a shot in the arm for a beleaguered and embittered liberal elite on the east and west coasts. But their victory is unlikely to reduce political polarisation. The demographic base that is riven by this divide is too vast to be papered over by political nostrums that are the stuff of moderate politics in democracies. If that were not enough, there is virtually no meeting point between America’s two warring political parties either.