It was clear long before the ballots were cast on Tuesday that this year’s enormously consequential congressional elections would be a referendum on the disruptive and often disgraceful presidency of Donald Trump. The president himself on Monday admitted that “even though I’m not on the ballot, in a certain way I am on the ballot.” The press, he noted, considers the election “a referendum on me.”
That it was, and the results in the House of Representatives are a dramatic and deserved rebuke for the president.
Granted, Republicans will add a few seats to their narrow majority in the Senate, so the “blue wave” didn’t reach that chamber. But the shift in the House clearly constitutes a repudiation of Trump’s reckless policies, his violation of political and ethical norms and his repeated falsehoods. It is also an unmistakable rejection of the contemptible rhetoric of fear and prejudice that he has resorted to in recent weeks to rile up his base, especially his claim that a caravan of dangerous asylum-seekers from Central America was heading north to the border to “invade” the United States.
Tuesday’s results demonstrate that citizens can offer resistance to a president by mobilising voters and supporting exceptional candidates.
To their everlasting discredit, the Republicans who controlled the House during the first two years of Trump’s term never seriously challenged the president, placing their own careers above the importance of holding a president accountable. Instead of using their oversight authority to scrutinise the administration, House Republicans repeatedly sought to discredit the investigation into possible contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. Instead of speaking out, Republicans stood by while Trump degraded American democracy and undermined the institutions that support it.
Democrats have made it clear that when they regain control of the House they will conduct the sort of aggressive oversight of the administration Republicans refused to provide.
Democrats should be prepared to scrutinise not only the conduct of the administration and its officials but also the legislation it proposes. And they should work to defeat regressive proposals by the administration while also pushing forward a responsible legislative agenda of their own, to the extent possible.
Although it might seem unlikely in the current political climate, Democrats should also be open to the possibility that, faced with a Democratic House, Trump might be willing to negotiate across party lines on matters such as immigration reform, expenditures on infrastructure or even healthcare policy. Democrats made healthcare a key campaign issue, so they should fight to preserve protections for people with preexisting conditions while also working to address some of the law’s shortcomings.
In the past, the president has expressed interest in fruitful co-operation with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Charles E Schumer. Maybe those are empty promises, but Democrats should be willing to explore the possibility, even as they strongly object to proposals from the administration that are regressive or mean-spirited.
Democratic control of the House will make it harder for Trump to push through legislative proposals Democrats oppose; that’s good news, to be sure. But it is only a limited check on the president.
Still, Tuesday’s election results are a powerful reminder that large numbers of Americans are disenchanted, and in some cases disgusted, by the way Trump is behaving as president. He should take that message to heart. - Tribune News Service
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