Canadians and others around the world watched closely as the United States held its midterm elections Tuesday to see what the American public was thinking given the chance at a referendum on the Trump administration.
With the counts mostly settled, it’s safe to say that country still remains divided. The so-called blue wave of Democratic support from those opposed to the bombastic President really didn’t reflect their voiced dissatisfaction. Sure, the Democrats made enough gains to gain the House of Representatives back, however even there Donald Trump’s losses were not staggering. Only one first-term President, George W. Bush, has gained House seats in his midterm election since 1934. Several in recent memory, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, lost more seats and few had the gains in the Senate Trump did.
The wash of results producing a divided Congress gives both parties some power to pursue their own legislative agenda and if offers a system of checks and balances that, in theory, produces better governance. Instead of the culture of the past four years where the Republicans had the hammer of control, there will be a need for a bipartisan effort to get things done in Washington, D.C.
On paper, that should come as a relief for a nation that’s as divided as the United States did. In practice, it may set the stage for increased division and distraction. Within hours of the result, both sides have been flexing their muscles about using their investigative powers to bring justice for perceived wrongdoings on the other side of the aisle. That may produce some stunning television, but it’s hard to imagine the efforts not being costly and, ultimately, counterproductive to running a country. There’s also little doubt that the more fractious the next two years are, the more divisive the 2020 campaign will become. There needs to be some real leadership on the part of Trump and Congressional leaders on both sides rise above partisanship and make effective compromises.
Canadians can reflect on this result and on the media coverage leading up to the midterm elections with an eye toward their own political system. It, too, has experienced similar all-or-none rhetoric of the left-right divide and judging by past popular votes and current opinion polls, few Canadians really intend to give absolute power to any majority government. Systemically, the best hope for checks and balances is electing a minority government, but that’s not easily attained. Philosophically, the question that must be answered is whether the polarizing nature of the party system is helpful. While political parties will likely never go away — and it is valuable to voters to know a party will be consistent in its approach to fundamental policy issues like economics or social stimuli — ultimately, the parties that seem to have longevity are ones that can satisfy the greatest number of people. They’re willing to meet in the middle and consider all ideas. That type of government is less likely to require voters to throw the yo-yo in another direction and start over every number of years.
Instead of rejecting politics outright due to the vitriol involved now, or conversely, getting wrapped up in one of the extremes being touted, it’s a good time for Canadians to get involved in the process. Comment on policy options. Consider systemic reforms. Demand inclusive, respectful governance and a realization of a sophisticated electorate. A united public demanding results is a great force for change.