Editorial : The US Midterm Election

【明報專訊】THE Democratic Party has regained control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections of the US. It is inevitable that US President Donald Trump will face more constraints on domestic policy. However, the "blue wave" that the Democratic Party anticipated has not happened. Not only has the Republican Party retained its majority in the Senate, it has won more seats. Both parties seem to have made gains as well as losses as anticipated, but populism is the biggest winner in reality. The recent election has seen the Republican Party embracing rightwing populism as though it has become the "Trumpian Party". As for the Democratic Party, it is also turning towards economic populism. The political ecology of the US is undergoing a fundamental change. It is not easy for it to turn back from populism and protectionism, and there is little hope that the China-US trade dispute will be alleviated.

In the Presidential Election in 2016, Trump won the support of conservative white males and blue-collar workers by hoisting the banner of "America First" and playing the cards of trade protectionism and anti-immigration. His election into the White House symbolised the rise of American populism. The result of the midterm election shows that the wide tides of populism have not receded. Instead they have spread and taken root in US politics, and there is no sign that they will recede in the foreseeable future. The election result shows that Trump's base is more stable than ever. Since a number of moderate Republican candidates have lost in the House election, the Republican Party has in fact become more like the "Trumpian Party".

In the case of the Democratic Party, the agendas of many of its candidates smack of leftwing populism, such as supporting universal health insurance plans, vast expansion of the social safety net, significant increase in the federal minimum wage, college fee cuts and free tuition, etc. In the midterm election, the Democratic Party has achieved success in the "rust belt" in Midwestern states, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. There are a large number of white blue-collar workers in these three states which were the crucial states that helped Trump win the election two years ago. The Democratic Party has rebuilt the "blue wall" by winning governorships as well as senate seats in the three states. Many Democratic Party candidates who have been elected in the "rust belt" emphasise that they are progressives and some have run directly under the banner of economic populism. All this shows that American populism is flourishing unabated.

What is most dangerous about populism is that it tends to oversimplify problems and believes that there is a way out once "the enemy of the people" is knocked out. As a result, all sorts of remedies are doled out escalating internal discord. The US has always resisted socialist politics. It is therefore more difficult for leftwing populism than rightwing populism to make a breakthrough. In the next two years, the struggles between different political lines within the Democratic Party will intensify. However, beating Trump will still be the most important task of the Democratic Party. Apart from opposing Trump on his domestic policies, such as tax deduction and immigrant issues, in foreign policies, the Democratic Party may also demand the White House take a firmer stand with regard to Russia and North Korea. As for the trade issue, in particular the trade disputes between China and the US, the two parties are similar in their stances and there will not be any major changes in the White House's China policies.

明報社評2018.11.08:中期選舉互有勝負 民粹主義最大贏家






recede : to become gradually weaker or smaller

smack of sth : to seem to contain or involve a particular unpleasant quality

unabated : without becoming any less strong

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