Yes, that’s right everybody, we’re only just at the halfway point of Trump’s first (and hopefully only) term in office. And that means it’s midterm election time, when all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and one third of the Senate seats are up for grabs. Alongside this, 36 state Governors were on the ballot as well as many positions in local government. Although these votes might not be as headline grabbing as the presidential election, they’re still highly significant, as a CBS poll suggested that 65% of voters said Trump’s performance so far was a significant influence on the way they voted.
The President, supposedly the most powerful Wotsit in the world (Commander in Cheese, if you will), is meant to be kept in check by Congress, given its members are the ones who debate and vote on any legislation he proposes. Up until now “the Donald” has had it pretty easy, as both chambers of Congress were held by the Republicans who offered little resistance to any of their President’s policies. This week that changed as the Democrats managed to gain enough seats in the House of Representatives for a comfortable majority – something they’ve not had since 2010. Over in the other wing of the Capitol Building, however, the Republican party managed to hold (and potentially increase) their Senate majority. This means the US now has a divided Congress with opposing parties holding each chamber – something the Founding Fathers expressly wanted to avoid.
Illustration by Rhiannon Powell
This blue wave in the House results means the Democrats have for the first time a real way of holding this ballooning geriatric of a President to account. They now have the ability to delay, amend, or even entirely throw out legislation that he tries to put through the House. Importantly, it is now in their power to begin looking into impeachment – but don’t get too excited just yet, as any articles of impeachment would have to also go through the Senate, and the Republicans now have an even tighter grip on that than before. The continued Republican majority in the Senate gives Trump a safety cushion from full on Democrat attack, but a divided Congress, with both parties as diametrically opposed to each other as they are currently, can only mean confusion and delay for the average American, who is now in for at least two more years of partisan squabbling in the marble halls of DC.
But it’s not all about Washington in the midterms, as over half the states had the post of Governor to be filled. Pundits tend to watch the gubernatorial races closely as it is often a good indicator of how a state will vote in the next presidential election. Surprisingly, the mid-western “rust belt” states of Michigan, Illinois, and Pensylvania, a Trump heartland in 2016, turned blue this time round – possibly spelling trouble for Trump (although whether he can spell ‘trouble’ is a different matter). Meanwhile the count in the competition for Florida Governorship was so close (less than half a percentage point) that a recount has been called. Florida was a vital factor in Trump’s victory two years ago, so this is one the Republicans really want to keep red. To the west, Colorado elected the first openly gay Governor, Democrat Jared Polis, who will now take charge of a state in which earlier this year a baker was backed by the Supreme Court when he refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple – I wonder which way he voted this week… Yet the progress doesn’t stop there: the number of women in both chambers is at a record high, and more records were broken by two 29 year-old Democrats – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Abby Finkenauer – who will be the youngest women ever to sit in the House. With Democrats Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib being the first Muslim women and more Democrats, Sharice Davids and Debra Haaland, the first Native American women to be elected to Congress, it is shaping up to be one of the most diverse results yet – with the only notable exception being the Republican party.
This being America, however, the country of life, liberty, and the pursuit of crappiness, some rather unusual statistics emerged from this election. For example, statistically based on this week’s results, if you have been accused of a crime in the US and you run for Congress you have a 100% chance of being elected! More astonishingly, you also have a 100% chance of winning your election if you are a dead brothel owner – yes you read that right, Nevada elected Dennis Hof to its state assembly, a local brothel owner who died in mid-October. At the same time Alabama overwhelmingly decided by referendum to change its constitution to allow public displays of the 10 Commandments – perhaps the next step will be to enshrine carrying a bible at all times as a constitutional requirement.
We’ll have to wait until next week to see the true political fallout of all these changes.