Mid-term elections: beyond the divide
Division seems to be the word of the day for modern democracies. No longer does the soft mewing of those calling for 'consensus' and 'bipartisanship' seem to reach above the noise of political contest. Today one cannot seek political commentary without being told the obvious: that we are divided. The extreme right and the radical left are the only two positions worth noting in any news story, and consequently the truly interesting is left to perish in the chasm between. The mid-term elections in the US are no exception.
On Wednesday this week, the United States went through one of its scheduled convulsions and, having survived the ordeal, has a new legislative composition. The Democrats won the House of Representatives while the Republicans strengthened their numbers in the Senate: now the battle lines can be drawn within the legislature. While most commentary focuses on viewing the mid-terms as an official poll on the approval level of the President, a more interesting, less obvious phenomena has revealed itself.
During the mid-terms, states were also able to put state-wide referendums up for vote simultaneously to the vote on representatives. Some extremely peculiar questions were put to the American people, including Alabama's bizarre amendment to allow the publishing of the Ten Commandments on public property. As H.L Mencken said about the Scopes Trial in Tennessee moments like these makes us realise that ‘enlightenment, among mankind, is very narrowly dispersed.’ Meanwhile in California, an amendment was passed to allow the use of Millionaires Tax Revenue to help homelessness and mental health issues within the state. Massachusetts saw a largely symbolic bill passed to set up a commission to work at repealing the unlimited campaign contribution rights corporations have held since 2010.
While these anomalies stand out as either anachronisms or hopeful examples, there is some uniformity in the ballots measures across various states. The major issues across the state ballots were election policies, with proposals to change redistricting systems, voter-ID requirements, and campaign contributions commonplace. Another area of continuity among a supposedly divided nation was healthcare. Multiple states saw healthcare raised on ballot measures, with the republican leaning Utah, Idaho, and Nebraska all voting for the expansion of Medicaid. Such similarities begin to beg with question whether the disagreement is not necessarily between the right and the left, but rather between the people and the government.
Given that the current administration has attempted to weaken and repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act (AHCA), they seem slightly disconnected from a republican base that voted for healthcare expansion in three separate states. This disconnect is also present on the Democrat side. When the Senate decided to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of Israel's illegal expansion into the West Bank and capture of Jerusalem, they unanimously voted to affirm that "Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel". In spite of this being against international law and international opinion on the subject, the United States legislature managed to find a bipartisan consensus to pre-empt the ultimate decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. Seventy-one percent of citizens identifying as Democrats polled disagreed with the moving of the embassy, and yet one-hundred percent of democratic senators decided support the 'undivided' nature of Jerusalem. The Supreme Court functions no better. The people of the United States have regularly opposed unlimited campaign contributions, and yet the Court has upheld this right.
So the Supreme Court does not listen to the people. The Republican Party disputes Medicaid, in spite of its base’s support for the policy. The Democrats support Israel, despite their supporters distaste for the country’s actions. Therefore, it is clear that the real division is not between parties and the people, but rather between people and government. The mid-terms have only highlighted this fact.