Polarization in US Society Keeps Growing as Midterm Elections Approach

On November 6, midterm elections to the US Congress will be held. Mikhail Troitskiy, Dean of the School of Government and International Affairs at MGIMO University in Moscow, told valdaiclub.com about the country’s political atmosphere and relations between Donald Trump and the Congress in the field of US foreign policy after the 2018 elections.

On the eve of November 6, political atmosphere in the US is surely heated, and polarization increases as the campaign goes. That happens before any important election; however, polarization has been gradually increasing in the US over the last few decades—at least since the mid-1990s. The victory of Donald Trump, who lost the popular vote to his rival, in the presidential race, and his further actions and projects like restricting immigration, attempts to cancel Obamaсare, tax cuts, his approaches to communication with America’s allies – all of that caused contradictions and fierce resistance to Trump and his agenda. In particular, political opponents blame Trump for trying to mobilize his electorate by creating controversy, and sometimes even loath between various social groups – immigrants and American-born citizens, white and colored, right and left, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor, and so on.

Trump is threatened by the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Perhaps, he feels being in a besieged fortress and tries to counterattack, adding fuel to the fire of internal political struggle. However, we should not overestimate the risks of the current polarization in the American political system, since it has never prevented expression of any positions, even those that could be considered “extremist” in other countries. Nobody is afraid of open discussion; in fact, the system was designed to enable it. In addition, in the US, rapid economic growth is now being recorded; it has always softened the social contradictions, as the “common pie” is growing. Americans are mostly ready to put up with increased  economic inequality, because they believe that if they work on it and have some luck, everyone can become a millionaire.

As Nikki Haley Resigns, US Foreign Policy Becomes More ‘Trumpist’
The upcoming departure of Nikki Haley from the position of the US Ambassador to the UN is an unexpected but logical event. Although the main political imperative is domestic (to prevent a split in the Republican Party on the eve of the next presidential election in 2020), it will have a noticeable impact on the US foreign policy. It will become even more “Trumpist”, and will be determined in its formation by serious strengthening of the Mike Pompeo-John Bolton tandem, who are both loyal to Trump and do not argue with his foreign policy leadership.
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Donald Trump’s approval rating is now close to the average his predecessors used to have at that particular stage of their presidency.

Nevertheless, if the Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives in the midterms and win gubernatorial elections in several key states, it will be harder for President Trump to carry out his projects and achieve his goals. The Democrats could initiate numerous parliamentary investigations and subpoena numerous administration officials and persons related to Trump’s 2016 election campaign. A democratic majority in the House of Representatives could also block Trump’s initiatives and create problems in approving the federal budget. In this case, the polarization in the American political arena will increase, since Trump and his Republican allies will charge the Democrats for the “paralysis” of government.

Polarization will manifest itself even further, if the Democrats have a majority or equality with the Republicans in the Senate. Then, the Democrats in the House of Representatives will have a strong temptation to consider Donald Trump’s impeachment. If the majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate votes for impeachment, it will hit Donald Trump and his allies and mobilize their opponents, even if he is not removed from office (that requires the decision by the Supreme Court and 2/3 of votes in the Senate).

We should not rule out the scenario when the Democrats, after gaining control over Senate or the House, will show a tendency to compromise. And if, as a result of the election, his Republican allies will begin distancing themselves from Trump, having decided that he is more a liability than an asset, Trump will have to make compromises as well.

As for the US foreign policy after the 2018 elections, no serious changes are expected. There is consensus about Russia and China in the American political community. These countries are regarded as irreconcilable rivals of the US.

Donald Trump is the only one who shapes a separate policy concerning Russia. He probably does not want to “burn bridges” in US-Russia relations, and looks for possibilities to keep communication channels open to overcome difficult challenges by reaching out directly to the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump refuses to vocally condemn Putin and Russia despite all the pressure put on Trump. For Trump, this approach comes at a significant cost: he is under suspicion of maintaining clandestine ties with Moscow during his election and beyond.

Trade War Is Only Part of the US Deterrence Strategy
China, even as it caused growing dissatisfaction in Washington with its rapid growth, was important for America as a source of cheap and high-quality products that helped maintain the well-being of its population (in 2015 every American family saved $750 because of inexpensive Chinese products) and soften the global financial crisis. The $1.2 trillion, which China has amassed in the US treasury, keeps the dollar empire afloat and stabilizes the world financial system.
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© 2018 Mark Schiefelbein/AP


After the November mid-terms, US pressure on Russia (and especially China) is unlikely to subside. Moreover, it is possible that those investigations and hearings that Democrats could pursue, having taken over the House of Representatives, will further poison the atmosphere in US-Russia relations and elicit new harsh statements from high-ranking administration officials. Trump will have less space for political maneuver.

Nevertheless, the US President has a foreign policy agenda of his own. He has not deviated from it much since his election and he is likely to stick to it in the future. Keeping his options open in relations with Russia is an important aspect of this agenda.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.