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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

美國中期選舉,民主黨重奪眾議院控制權,總統特朗普在內政方面難免受到較多掣肘,然而民主黨期盼的「藍色浪潮」並未出現,共和黨保住參議院,議席還見進帳。表面看,這次選舉結果一如預期,兩黨各有得失,然而實際上民粹主義才是最大贏家。今次選舉見證共和黨擁抱右翼民粹路線,儼然變成「特朗普黨」,至於民主黨也有倒向經濟民粹主義之勢,美國政治生態出現根本變化,民粹主義、保護主義不易回頭,中美貿易摩擦難望緩解。

2016年美國大選,特朗普高舉「美國優先」旗幟,大打貿易保護主義和反移民牌,贏得保守白人男性和藍領支持,得以入主白宮,標誌美國民粹主義抬頭。中期選舉結果顯示,這股民粹狂潮不僅未有減退,反而進一步蔓延,於美國政治落地生根,在可見將來都沒有消退之勢。選舉結果反映特朗普基本盤更見穩固,隨着共和黨多名溫和派眾議院候選人落敗,共和黨實際已變得愈來愈似「特朗普黨」。

民主黨方面,不少候選人政綱都有左翼民粹色彩,諸如支持全民醫保、大幅擴大社會安全網、顯著上調聯邦最低工資,以及減免大學學費等。今次選舉,民主黨在密歇根、賓夕法尼亞和威斯康辛等中西部「鐵鏽帶」均取得佳績。上述3州有大量白人藍領選民,是兩年前特朗普勝選的關鍵州份,惟今回民主黨成功在3州連奪州長和參議院議席,重建「藍色城牆」。多名在「鐵鏽帶」勝出的民主黨候選人,都強調自己是進步派候選人,部分直接高舉經濟民粹主義旗幟。凡此種種,均反映美國民粹主義方興未艾。

民粹主義最危險之處是過度簡化問題,以為鬥倒「人民公敵」就有出路,結果藥石亂投,加劇社會內耗。美國素來抗拒社會主義路線,左翼民粹要突圍,一定比右翼民粹困難。未來兩年民主黨內部路線鬥爭勢將更為激烈,不過打擊特朗普始終是民主黨首務。民主黨除了就減稅、移民等內政議題跟特朗普對着幹,外交方面也可能要求白宮對俄羅斯、朝鮮等國家更為強硬,至於貿易問題,特別是中美貿易糾紛方面,兩黨立場接近,白宮對華政策不會有大變化。

■Glossary

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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