On November 8, the United States is called for legislative elections in which, in the words of President Joe Biden, democracy itself is at stake. The Democrats have very narrow majorities in Congress, with just 10 seats out of 435 in the House of Representatives and a tie in the Senate that Vice President Kamala Harris breaks with her casting vote. In the elections, a third of the Senate and the entire House are renewed. The loss of either of the two narrow majorities held by the Democrats would spell the de facto end of Joe Biden’s presidency, at least in terms of his ability to carry out the progressive agenda with which he entered the polls. The current program of the Republican Party is none, beyond the obstruction and impeachment of the White House, if not of democracy itself in the case of some disturbing candidates.
The mid-term elections are the first opportunity for voters to have a say in the president they elected two years earlier. Presidents don’t usually do well. In this case, moreover, rampant inflation and mistakes like the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan are likely to punish Biden. His low approval rating (between 30% and 40% in key states) indicates a lack of desire to give him a majority. However, the radicalism of the Republican discourse and the presence of a figure like Donald Trump may again stimulate the Democratic vote, as on the two previous occasions. To this is added the irruption in the political scene of the Supreme Court. The elimination of abortion protection this year, plus rulings on the fight for the environment or gun control, have put the importance of compensating for its power at the center of the political debate. More than nine million Americans have already voted, as of this week, both in person and by mail, indicating that the final turnout will be high.
What is at stake goes beyond Washington. That the president’s party suffers a mid-term punishment is within the expected. The system anticipates and favors cohabitation. But the extreme polarization of US politics, since the appearance of Donald Trump, turns the natural distribution of power in Washington into a constant institutional clash. This endangers the reliability of the United States on issues of global importance, such as the climate emergency or the position on the war in Ukraine, if the most extreme version of current republicanism ends up prevailing.
Still, when Biden correctly warns of the danger to the country’s future, he is referring to more local issues. For the first time, the US is going to experience elections in which the outgoing president, Donald Trump, refuses to withdraw from the political scene. On the contrary, he maintains a suffocating control over the Republican Party, where he uses his financial capacity and his predicament over the most fanatical bases to decide in the primaries who has access to a position. The only political message from him is basically the denial of the 2020 electoral result and the questioning of the democratic system. Thus, in this cycle, hundreds of Trumpist candidates for local legislative positions, prosecutors or even electoral authority positions are presented throughout the country, ready to blow up the system from within. The significance of these elections is that they will measure whether Trumpism is sufficiently contained to begin to turn the page. Trump’s ability to run again in 2024 also depends on that. Given that he is the man who led a self-coup attempt to stay in power, democracy is literally at stake.