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Midterm Disruption in US Politics

The United States : Improbable Decline, Impossible Resurgence is the latest work by HEC Professor Jeremy Ghez. Its publication by V.A. Editions coincides with the November 2018 midterm elections which see the Democrats regain Congress and President Donald Trump’s Republicans consolidate their grip on the Senate. In his book, the co-director of the school’s Center for Geopolitics provides a trenchant analysis of an unprecedented era where populism, economic growth, alt-right convictions and a polarized population are redrawing the contours of US politics.

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“What we find hard to grasp here in Europe is that the United States is beginning to discover its history and building an identity around it.” Speaking in front of an audience of HEC academics and students, gathered in S building a day after the US midterm vote, Jeremy Ghez underlined a key tendency: outside observers continue to misunderstand what the election to the Oval office of Donald Trump reflects about American society. “Trump has a solid base, he’s brought droves of Americans into politics, people who have felt excluded by the system. For this alone, they will back his fundamentally anti-establishment positions to the end, whatever economic results his tenure brings by 2020. And no matter what he says.”

This includes his statements denying any possible collusion with Russian authorities in the 2016 Presidential elections. In his book, Jeremy Ghez equates the complexity of the affair to a Tom Clancy or John Le Carré novel. “Even if these authors had thought up such a plot,” he writes, “a bemused and curious reader would have been forgiven in thinking that this could only happen in a fictional world.”

Confrontation or Cohabitation?

Nevertheless, in the real world, these latest elections could turn the pressure up on Trump. “If there is one thing which these midterms could change, it is the House Democrats’ new-found capacity to organize investigations into the true nature of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 elections,” Ghez said on the day of the midterm vote. This time, the academic was speaking to journalists at a morning exchange in central Paris, co-organized by ViaVoice. He continued: “There could be a series of investigations should the Democratic majority in Congress seek to impeach Trump.” 

But Ghez also insisted that this is only one of two possible scenarios: “The newly-elected Democrats could go for a confrontational approach which would see government shutdowns, blockages and inquiries into issues like Russia-gate or Trump’s tax evasion. But there could also be a more conciliatory approach. The two parties could agree to pursue the reforms and further galvanize a positive economic juncture. In this way, they would be honoring the culture of compromise that the country’s Founding Fathers instigated.”  Such a cohabitation would avert the possibility that a slide in the US economy is attributed by the millionaire president to the Democrats’ bellicose tactics in Congress.

© VA Press

Trump versus Macron

The press conference was part of a marathon of media exchanges by the Affiliate Professor of International Affairs and Economics which followed the elections. “Trump’s presidency can be seen as opportunism to the highest degree,” he told the France 24 anchorman, François Picard, in a roundtable debate on November 13. This exchange focused on a comparison between the US and French presidents and their respective visions of patriotism and nationalism. “There are two schools of thought: populism and, well, something I can’t find the right term for, but centering on an alternative to populism,” said Ghez. “What’s most striking is that Trump and (French President Emmanuel) Macron are born out of the same discontent, the same frustrations: a disillusionment with politics. Only, in France, there is an offering in the political center… France has become an incubator for something alternative to populism.”

In all his interventions, Jeremy Ghez underlined that Donald Trump is “no accident of American History.” The specialist in new models of governance pursued: “He’s the consequence and not the start of the problem. Paradoxically, with Donald Trump you have an America which is starting to think about its identity down the centuries. It’s in this light that you have to understand the ‘Make America great again’ slogan.”

Trump’s personal engagement on the midterm campaign trail (40 days of meetings, compared to President Obama’s 22 in the equivalent votes of 2014) turned these elections into something of a referendum on his two years in office. The polarization of American society over the New Yorker’s tenure has spurred the highest turnout percentage for these elections in 104 years, with at least 49% of eligible voters taking part. In November, over 60 million votes went to Democratic candidates for Congress (the G.O.P. bagged 45 million votes in their huge 2010 win). That's just 3 million votes less than the number Trump received two years ago in the Presidentials. In other words, if these figures are confirmed, House Democrats will have around 96% of Trump’s vote share of 2016, an all-time record. As of writing, the Democrats lead by over 8.6 million votes, 8% more than the GOP, handing the Democrats a net gain of nearly 40 seats. their biggest win since Watergate.

“But there is no certainty that the Democratic Party can capitalize on these numbers,” insisted Jeremy Ghez. “Don’t forget: they are partly responsible for this political chaos.” In his book, he ends with this warning: “Historically, the United States has always been capable of finding an antidote for the poison of (its) own making. The institutional checks and balances have always fulfilled their roles in America – sometimes late, often with difficulty, but never failing to deliver… (These) American institutions need to resist. This is what is truly at stake for Donald Trump, it is through this looking glass that history will judge him.”