How U.S. politics are about to change—for the better, and worse

Irawan Ronodipuro

IO – Now that the Democrats control the House of Representatives and the Republicans retain their majority in the Senate after the 2018 midterm elections, one would hope for less of a gridlock in American politics.  After all, Trump and the Republican Party could seek compromise with the Democrats in working together, for example, on policy issues such as infrastructure development, drug abuse and relations with China.  These, and many more issues that are less contentious than, say, the Mueller investigation on Russia, could serve as the basis for greater bipartisan cooperation, not to mention to start healing the wounds of the bitter divide that has defined America’s politics over the past two years.

Under normal circumstances, such might be the case.   But given the temperament of the president, his combative personality that often turns into rage against his political opponents and critics in the media, one should refrain from hoping for a change in how Trump conducts his business from the Oval Office.  After all, this is the same president who, in a recent rally in Montana, praised Republican incumbent congressman Greg Gianforte for his body-slamming a reporter.

Just one day after the midterms, Trump has already revealed his belief that the results of the midterm elections, which has been viewed primarily as a referendum on his presidency, is now cause for a doubling-down on his belligerence—by ousting Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who will be replaced by Sessions’ chief of staff Matthew Whitaker pending a confirmation by the Republican-controlled Senate, Trump is now looking to undermine, if not terminate, the Mueller investigations.

If Whitaker is confirmed—who already called the investigation a “witch hunt”—even more vitriol will enter America’s body politic as the Democrats use their investigatory powers in the House of Representatives to fight back against what is seen an attack one of the pillars of democracy, namely an independent judiciary, in which a criminal subject president has, essentially, appointed his own prosecutor.

Other fights are looming over the horizon, as well.  Democratic house leaders and their point man, Adam Schiff, who will be presiding over the House intelligence committee, are already plotting to launch probes into allegations of money-laundering and business ties in the Middle East by the Trump Organization.  These, and other investigations, will surely create a toxic atmosphere that will not only deepen hostilities between the Democrats and Republicans but also, more ominously, could easily provoke Trump to react with even more malice, conspiracy-mongering and anger against his enemies, both real and imagined.

In terms of foreign affairs and national security policy, the Democrats can also be expected to exercise greater control and oversight.   Representative Joaquin Castro, a Democrat House member of the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committee, has been quoted in the American media saying “there will be definitely be a reevaluation of America’s engagement in the world”.

Representative Adam Smith, who is poised to become the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said he will focus on auditing the Pentagon and push back on Trump’s plan to increase and modernize America’s nuclear arsenal.   Another Democratic Party member of the same committee, Representative Ro Khanna, went even further in saying “we need restraint on our military use, a new focus on diplomacy and statesmanship, to develop human capital, and engagement with others when it comes to tackling foreign problems.”   In terms of policy specifics, Congressional aides have revealed to the Washington press that Democrats will be looking to toughen the U.S. stance toward Russia, end America’s support for the war in Yemen and update authorizations for the use of military force abroad.

By using its powers of oversight and budgeting, House of Representatives’ Democrats will be able to constrain and provide a check on the worse instincts of the president and hawks inside the White House, such as National Security Advisor John Bolton.  Far-right Republicans in the Senate will certainly push against such a more liberal foreign policy stance, but centrists, who are in the majority, could eventually come around and align with the Democrats, especially if they see the president is weakening in the national polls over the coming months and year.