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HORIZONS

Trump, Duterte and the midterm elections

/ 05:06 AM November 13, 2018

I’m not on the ticket, but I am on the ticket, because this is also a referendum about me,” US President Donald Trump declared last month ahead of the crucial midterm elections. “I want you to vote. Pretend I’m on the ballot.”

Midterm elections are crucial, precisely because they represent a referendum on the incumbent leadership. And the results from last week’s elections show that the dark magic of right-wing populism seems to fade away as quickly as it rears its head.

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In a major rejection of Trumpism, the American people have elected many firsts from the opposition into the country’s highest offices, literally changing the complexion of the political establishment.

For the first time in history, two Muslim women — Ilhan Omar (Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (Michigan) — as well as Native American women—Sharice Davids (Kansas), who also happens to be openly lesbian and an LGBT activist, and Debra Haaland (New Mexico) — won seats in the US Congress. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, who has become the new face of “democratic socialism,” became the youngest woman elected to that body.

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Beating a 10-term incumbent, Ayanna Pressley became the first African-American woman to represent Massachusetts, vowing an “activist leadership” that will shake up and inspire the country’s Democratic base. In Republican Texas, Democratic candidates Veronica Escobar (El Paso) and Sylvia Garcia (Houston) became the state’s first Latinas to serve in the House of Representatives. Jared Polis (Colorado) became the first openly gay man elected as governor in American history. The list goes on.

It was not so much a “blue wave” of Democratic victory as it was a “rainbow wave” of leaders from minority backgrounds making it to the highest offices of the country. Trump will likely finish his first term in office, and could even successfully run for reelection in 2020. But the midterm elections were a major coup against Trumpism as an ideology.

As Adam Serwer of The Atlantic writes, Trumpism is a “coalition based on ethnic and religious lines,” which has “committed itself to a political strategy that relies on stoking hatred and fear of the other,” meaning minority groups, who don’t fit the narrative of mainstream “white, heterosexual Christians” and are rejected as “dangerous usurpers.” In Max Boot’s more vociferous language, Trumpism is the “modern conservative” movement, which “is permeated with racism, extremism, conspiracy-mongering, isolationism and know-nothingism.”

To be fair, Trump’s party retained the Senate. But what many forget is that he became the first Republican president since 1930 to see his party losing Congress after dominating the executive and the two houses of the legislature. In this sense, Trump joins the infamous company of William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover, who paved the way for a long period of Democratic electoral hegemony.

Yes, Democrats lost several Senate seats, but 26 of theirs were up for grabs (many in solid Trump-voting states) while Republicans only had nine. In an anti-incumbency zeitgeist, the Democrats didn’t lose too many seats, while in “Solid Red” Texas, Ted Cruz, a former Tea Party superstar, almost lost to his counterpart and rising star, Beto O’Rourke, who became the first Democrat to lose a Senate race by a razor-thin margin. He will likely emerge as a presidential candidate in the near future. And in Georgia, Stacey Abrams still has a claim to becoming the first African-American woman governor in the country’s history.

The Democrats didn’t get all they wanted, but they head into 2020 with strong momentum and moral resolve. This is a dramatic turnabout for a party that had suffered humiliating defeats in the 2016 elections at the hands of Trumpism.

Well, soon the Philippines will have its midterm elections, where, so far, the Senate race is dominated by independents like Grace Poe. Local elections have entirely their own local dynamics irrespective of incumbents.

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President Duterte’s allies, meanwhile, are still struggling, while Mar Roxas is in a strong position to regain a Senate seat as the incoming leader of the opposition. Mr. Duterte is still popular, but does Dutertismo — the simplistic ideology of strongman response to complex societal problems — retain any
traction ahead of next year’s elections?

rheydarian@inquirer.com.ph

See the bigger picture with the Inquirer's live in-depth coverage of the election here https://inq.ph/Election2019

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TAGS: 2019 elections, Donald Trump, Horizons, Richard Heydarian, Rodrigo Duterte, US midterm elections 2018
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