A huge sigh of relief in American midterm elections


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

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The results of the US midterm elections are now in, with the recounts of the governor's and Senate race now underway. Those who lost are licking their wounds or are filing lawsuits to contest results. The winners, of course, are rejoicing on the top of Mount Everest.

A number of heartening developments have occurred in these elections. The most important is that the Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives of the Congress. The “blue wave” occurred at least for the House.

Many characterised these elections as the most important and consequential, perhaps in the last 50 years. This characterisation arose largely because of the words and actions of the present occupant of the White House. So far in President Donald Trump's term the Republicans, who controlled the Congress, have dismally failed to exercise the oversight of the executive branch which is required of them by the constitution.

Leadership in the Congress has bent its knees to his most capricious behaviour. Political amoeba like Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, and Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader of the Senate, have supinely allowed the president to say and do things without redress. Many in the country were fearful of the evisceration of their democratic way of life if the status quo in the Congress was maintained. Then the president would become more emboldened and the trampling of the democratic traditions of the country and irreparable loss of global respectability would pick up pace as on steroids.

So the loss of the House to the Democrats gave the country an opportunity to heave a great sigh of relief that now the checks and balances envisaged by the constitution could be resurrected.

Since Trump became president the country has been given a front-row seat to a dress rehearsal for what happened in Germany when Hitler became supreme dictator. Hitlerian dictatorship over Germany did not arrive overnight. It happened incrementally and precipitously as important institutions of German society were undermined and denigrated. Press freedom was proscribed and replaced by hateful propaganda under the astute Joseph Goebbels. Many, in one of the most educated and advanced countries in the world, swallowed the 'Kool-aid' until Hitler was able to gain absolute power by fear, propaganda and intimidation.

It is not hard to see what could happen in America if a president who calls himself a nationalist shows tendencies to do things his own way, calls the press the enemy of the people, is friendly with dictators and strongmen in the world (Vladimir Putin in Russia and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, to name two) and uses fear and intimidation against weak groups — poor immigrants fleeing oppression and even death in their own countries — should have his way. But that unprecedented proclivity for absolute power by a sitting US president was cauterised on November 6.Another heartening development was the number of women and young people who were elected to the Congress, state houses, and in local elections throughout the country. It is good to see the new assertiveness of women in politics. The Congress is becoming more diverse and is slowly taking the complexion of the changing society. There are those, such as the supremacists and so-called nationalists, who want to preserve the status quo. The Eurocentric or Caucasian character for them is under threat. The browning of America gives them sleepless nights and they want to do everything in their power to preserve it. They want to preserve it because they are fearful of what a politically dominant brown majority may do to them.But it is now too late, and no deportation of immigrants or stopping of caravans will prevent it. I would humbly suggest to them that they embrace the emerging reality, instead of trying to “kick against the pricks”. Accommodation and assimilation must be the new watchwords. This calls for respect of the dignity of every human being, whatever the colour of their skins or their status in society.

In seeking to govern, the Democrats must be careful in understanding the power that has been given to them. The people voted for real checks and balances on the excesses of an unaccountable and aggressive president, but they did not vote for them to carry out a vendetta of obstruction against him. The worst thing that they could do is to get on a vendetta bandwagon. When the Mueller investigation report is in, unless there are compelling reasons — such as high crimes of which he is guilty — to impeach him, they should not waste the people's time by going down a road that would have them colliding with Trump at every turn.

The people expect them to be civil in their dealings and to legislate on their behalf. While they may agree with gridlock as a necessary tool in a divided government, there should not be unnecessary obstruction out of spite because they behaved similarly with Barack Obama. They must rise above the fray and end recrimination. The people are sick and tired of it. They want their business to be done and for incivility to end. They must not overplay their hands.

If there is any good thing to be said for Trump in this election it is that he not only energised his base, but caused a lot of people to become engaged in the political process who might have preferred to sit on the fence; young people came out in droves to assert their own right to the future leadership of the country. We may detest the president's self-absorption, narcissism, “bullyism”, and shameless promotion of self, but by his own bombast and irascibility he got people to exercise one of the most important rights of the citizen to speak their minds through the ballot process.The results of the elections have once again demonstrated the strength and resilience of the country's democratic process. They once again reaffirmed the wisdom of the founding fathers that put the constitution together. It demonstrated that the system works when there is openness and fairness. There is work to be done to make the process fairer and transparent and to ensure that voting is made easier for the citizens and that when they vote their votes are counted.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

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