Democrats, read the fine print on the midterm results: There's a red sea under the blue wave

Despite the Democrats gains, the United States is structurally a remarkably conservative country

Published November 9, 2018 11:18AM (EST)

 (AP/Jim Mone)
(AP/Jim Mone)

This piece originally appeared on The Globalist.

Yes, the Democrats took back control of the U.S. House of Representatives. That gives them some power in Washington, although it is mostly spoiler power.

And yes, there were other encouraging signs, especially in the races for governor across the country. However, most of the breakthroughs the Democrats had hoped for did not come to fruition. There was a string of near-misses instead.

Encouraging, but. . .

Of course, it is encouraging for the Democrats that they have not only consolidated their electoral hold over the big cities but are also managing to extend that dominance ever more solidly into the surrounding suburban areas.

They can also feel encouraged by the gains made in terms of having more women and minorities representing their voters in the U.S. Congress. It does make the U.S. House of Representatives more . . . well, representative of U.S. society at large.

But Democrats must also feel disappointed. Despite the extreme shrillness of Donald Trump during the campaign and before, he managed to hold on to many voters who were completely immune to how he distorted reality and truths.

It also borders on the absurd, but explains Trump’s success, that Republicans are now the more successful the less educated voters are. That is not the natural expectation for a party that has traditionally made its hay by representing the interests of higher-income voters, while the Democrats’ terrain were blue-collar workers with less income and less education.

Republicans will cling to every ounce of power

Democrats — and the global public — are well-advised to remember a slogan first popularized by the National Rifle Association (NRA) on bumper stickers some decades ago, which the actor Charlton Heston, former NRA President, gave some special resonance: “I’ll give you my gun when you pry (or take) it from my cold, dead hands.”

What is true for gun owners will also prove the case for Republicans. For all the much talked-about changes in the composition of the U.S. electorate, they will make sure that they will cling to any shred of power given to them till their own “dying breath.”

They will utilize the U.S. Supreme Court as their key tool for this purpose. It is now firmly, and for decades, ensconced in the hands of conservative Republicans.

The other key tool is the U.S. Senate. As the Republican gains in that body make evident, the urban-rural divide has become ever more acute.

It is precisely on this front that the Republicans – for all the talk about being a party whose voters are literally dying out (eventually), and about their party not having any viable strategy to be attractive to minorities – do feel remarkably confident.

Here is why: In a country that is bound to be a “majority minority country” – meaning that minorities will soon account for the majority of voters — they can take great and long-lasting comfort from the provisions of the U.S. constitution.

Rural minority protection provisions protect white(!) minority

The provision that each U.S. state — no matter how low its population — can elect two U.S. Senators means that Republicans can use that body for a long time to block Democratic efforts to have more control over U.S. politics. On this basis, Republicans can hold half the Senate seats with under 20% of the U.S. population.

The United States’s Founding Fathers established strong minority provisions across the land, to ensure that there was no political steamrolling of the country’s vast and often increasingly less populated rural areas.

On a de facto basis, these (rural) minority protection provisions will end up providing maximum protection to the country’s white(!) minority.

If the Trump years to date have demonstrated one thing, then it is that the Republicans have demonstrated no hesitation whatsoever to let any morals or principles stand in the way of their holding on to maximum political influence.

To them, it’s simply “whatever it takes.” In that sense, the current comments arguing that Trump is bound to become even shriller are off the target. The same will in all likelihood be true for all Republicans.

The more their structural minority status becomes inescapable, the more they will use the tolls of the Supreme Court and the Senate to hold on to whatever shred of power they can.

That is why, for the next couple of decades at least, one should not overrate the importance of demographic changes and the like, as much as they provide encouragement to Democrats.

By Stephan Richter

Stephan Richter is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist, the daily online magazine, and a columnist in newspapers around the world. He is also the presenter of the Marketplace Globalist Quiz, which is aired on public radio stations all across the United States. In addition, Mr. Richter is a keynote speaker at international conferences -- and the author of the 1992 book, “Clinton: What Europe and the United States Can Expect.” Follow him on Twitter @theglobalist.

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