Why don't people like Michael Avenatti

And the president doesn't care

The US Mid-Term Elections: Where Is Trump's America Going?

The predictions ahead of the US mid-term elections were clear: the Democrats win the House of Representatives, the Republicans defend the - more important - Senate. This would make government more difficult and blockade each other, as well as new advances by the opposition on critical issues such as health care reform, more likely. But the reins remained firmly in the hands of Donald Trump.

These predictions, which largely corresponded across all camps, were astonishing, as the mid-term elections are practically always lost by the incumbent president - including the more or less successful Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The US voters usually want to set an incentive for the second half of the term of office and also to emphasize the principle of "checks and balances", ie a balanced distribution of power between institutions and parties, in which they recognize the essence of self-critical democracy.

That it turned out exactly like that was a great victory for Trump. Because with the Senate he continues to control US politics. Because practically every president loses the House of Representatives in mid-term elections, this was normal. Trump rightly spoke of a "confirmation" of his policies by the majority of the "two Americas" that were on a collision course in the elections.

Three developments just before the election date favored Republicans and Trump. First, the Stormy Daniels case; second, the migrant caravan from Central America; and third, the Elisabeth Warren case. With the porn actress Stormy Daniels, her lawyer Michael Avenatti, a democratic hope, lost a publicly discussed defamation lawsuit against Trump and was discredited. The president's great victory was also evident from the fact that Trump was subsequently able to call Daniels a "horse face" without any significant uproar.

The 7,000 people anarchic migrant caravan from Central America with the declared migration destination USA was not stopped by several states. It was moving north just before the elections, which gave Trump plenty of material for defense, anti-migration and anti-internationalization rhetoric. At the end of October he sent 5200 troops to the border to repel the caravan, although the necessity was not established.

Trump also skilfully and unscrupulously heated up the mood with conspiracy theories against the Democrats, which he accused of financing the caravan and thus promoting illegal immigration and anarchy in international relations. When a representative of the iconic soup company Campbell Soup on Trump's side put the rumor into circulation that the Soros Foundation was financing the caravan and wanted to move millions of people illegally and by force to the USA, the company was forced to reply - the grist of the media debated Trumps according to all the rules of the art: "What remains is doubt. The attacker is right". Trump also did not shy away from ads showing an illegal immigrant accused of murdering a police officer, including allegations that the Democrats wanted to "lift America's borders". On the other hand, however, the Democrats also relied on ethnic solidarity, especially with the help of Afro-American celebrities such as talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who reserved the right to stand up for black candidates.

And the highly respected Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, provoked by Trump, wanted to underline her anti-ethnic thesis that all Americans are "all at the same time" and that there are therefore no differences, to prove that, despite their outwardly white skin color, they are "Indian" "Has native blood. Warren was considered a possible candidate for Trump in the upcoming 2020 presidential elections, but despite heroic minority speeches, he was only able to prove that she has 1 / 1024th of Indian ancestors, whereupon indigenous people turned away from her. Trump made them permanently ridiculous after repeatedly calling them politically incorrectly named "Pocahontas" and thus - in the typical provocative manner according to the "constant dripping wears the stone" method - in many cases unduly lured them out of the reserve.

The latter case in particular made it clear, as the media wrote, that Trump seems invincible so far - and that no one knows how and with which arguments to win the 2020 presidential elections against Trump. And that, regardless of the mid-term elections, there is still no suitable personality in prospect, ready or even in the starting blocks. Compared to previous mid-term elections, despite expectations of anti-Trump mobilization of young voters (the so-called "millenials"), the increased but not fundamentally different voter turnout and sometimes bizarre candidates on both sides made it even easier for Trump.

The moderate ex-President Barack Obama, who accused the incumbent president with typical populism accusation, of "dividing us with a rhetoric that is intended to make us angry and fearful" also contributed to the high level of emotionalism on all sides ultimately helped mobilize Trump voters. Even in the face of such emotionalization, voter turnout rose from the minus record of 37% in the last mid-term elections in 2014 to the long-term average of around 40%, which, however, does not represent a revolution in the traditional political relationship of the US population.

The passivity of the voters is due to the "small government" mentality, combined with the growing disenchantment of US voters with politics and the neglect of marginalized groups through a mobilization campaign based on maximization advertising criteria, which has been a disadvantage for decades developed from plurality. In contrast, the highest number of female candidates of all time spoke against Trump. The fact that Lou Guerrero, for example, was the first woman to take over the governorship of the US suburb of Guam was a logical result of this development.

The election campaign showed again what everyone has long known: The political climate under Trump, fueled by his rhetoric, has become significantly harsher. The polarization of US society has deepened under him. The election was accompanied by an unusually large number of internal family disputes on both sides of the party, where family members publicly declared their relative candidates to be incapable, hypocritical or even corrupt, sometimes at great financial expense. This reflects the deep rifts and the ferment inside American society. Just as significant as historically borderline hard, even brutal to the limit of physical confrontation, was the fight for governor in the third largest US state, Florida. It reflected the increasing irreconcilability of the camps under Trump, under which George W. Bush Jr.'s motto: "Who is not for us, is against us" has been tightened.

The lesson: division without dialogue evidently creates its own stability, which consists in hardening. The fact that the self-proclaimed republican "Trump pit bull defender" Ron DeSantis was elected in the third largest US state of Florida can be seen as perhaps the clearest example of Trump's victory. In contrast, the victory of the Democrat Gavin Newsom in traditionally democratic California is not in the realm of the extraordinary, but rather of the regular.

And although his former chief adviser Steve Bannon - who, according to his own statements, starting with the European elections in 2019, wants to "focus on the rise of the right in Europe" in order to concretise his plans for a new political order in Europe - said in a reflex of revenge, Trump's style could discourage Republican voters from voting if the expected decline was hardly the case among Trump supporters, who stand by him regardless of what has happened. As commentators wrote, Trump's base may not like him, but they are by no means dropping him because they see no alternative in the system to his personalized "direct policies".

If the anti-Trump media immediately exaggerated Bannon's statement to the effect that the mid-term elections would only be elections on the "Trump factor", and even though Melania's programmatic absence from the election campaign was used by this media as an allegedly symbolic far-reaching signal of antipathy against The person Trump was cannibalized, the choice was not alone for or against Trump - whereby the voters showed a certain maturity and objectivity.

Although Trump had exposed himself significantly both in his role and as a person in the election campaign, not as a party member for the Republicans, but rather as President against the ideology of the Democrats, there was no political landslide against Trump. In view of the good poll numbers, however, hardly anyone on this side of those who wanted to talk about this landslide as a self-fulfilling prophecy like the ultimately embarrassed Michael Avenatti, hardly anyone seriously expected.

Despite the loss of the House of Representatives, Trump emerged from the elections as the clear winner. The result shows that Trump's losses were within the bounds of the usual and remained in line with the values ​​of incumbent presidents over the past few decades. And above all - traditionally more important - no opponent from your own party was able to gain a decisive profile against the president in order to question him in the second half and put him under pressure with regard to re-election.

The reasons for the lack of turnaround

Firstly, a majority of voters now agree that many of Trump's policies are correct, even if many do not want to say so openly. For example the trade war in China policy. But two big wrong decisions are also in everyone's eye: the exit from the Paris climate treaty and the announced exit from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty with Russia. Overall, however, more or less surprising approval of Trump's previous administration predominates among US voters.

A second reason for the stability qua stagnation and hardening of the camps is the constantly growing influence of negativity in political behavior, including media reporting, media reception and voting behavior, as scientific studies have established for years - a development in open media societies that began before Trump . Stuart Soroka of the University of Michigan rightly writes:

There can be little doubt that negativity has [meanwhile] become the regular, permanent feature of modern democratic politics. Of course, the importance of negativity in election campaigns and voter behavior had been clear for some time. But the normality, regularity and persistence with which negative political news seems to be overwhelmed seems to have continued to grow, especially over the past few years. What is the reason for the primacy of negativity in [contemporary] politics? Recent trends may be linked to growing party-political polarization between political elites; Changes in the topics of debate and the corresponding nature of political competition; Shifts in the macro-economic climate; and / or technological and economic change in traditional and emerging social media environments. The origins and causes of negativity are likely to be multidimensional and interwoven. Regardless, it seems to many that politics has become more negative than ever in the 2018 US election year. But even if that is the case, it is important that we remember that negativity is not new to politics.

Stuart Soroka

In principle, increasing negativity in political perception ranges from the success of stereotypes in pluralistic election campaigns, which, in view of the excess of information, are used by Trump like no one else, to the more "positive" influence of repeated scandals of a person in terms of perception and recognition value negative campaigns in social media to emotionalising the political, new ethnic, group and tribal politics (Tribal Politics and Political Tribes, Amy Chua), the change of political election campaign language into advertising language, changed risk behavior of voters with a growing tendency to "strong." "Risk candidates, the (unwanted) media dissemination of negative descriptive social norms (" the others don't act, you should act all the more for it ") and the generally decreasing trust and increasing anger of broad middle class voters he politics.

All of this plays into the hands of Trump and his ilk - something that the ubiquitous liberal media of open societies, which have long since risen from fourth to first political power, are apparently only now noticing with artificially exaggerated horror.

Third, according to independent analyzes, most Americans have been living in a media bubble tailored to their ideology groups for nearly three decades. While the middle of the attempt of "objective" reporting is getting smaller and smaller and since Trump also the liberal media have taken a side in which they take a clear position "against" the president (both ad rem and ad personam) and the middle actively and Deliberately abandoned, the development in the USA has been increasingly involved in reporting for ideological groups since the Reagan years (1981-1989): between MSNBC on the left and Fox News on the right, the middle became more and more airy and empty.

The strengthening of the edges was also the effect of the mentioned negativity in the middle: omnipresent negativity sooner or later in the biographical learning effect forces the average citizen to "turn to one side" - in order to belong somewhere where something like a clear and comprehensive one within the universal confusion Perspective exists. Trump lives off his share in the media bubble, Fox News and relatives, and he benefits from the militancy of the remaining center and left-liberal media, which have indirectly strengthened him for years by inadvertently inflating his persona through negative reporting. If the classic saying goes: if you want to harm the media, keep silent, it is the other way around with Trump: the more - usually almost exclusively negatively charged - media noise arouses his opponents, the more they strengthen the media bubble and play his game.

What does the election result mean?

Above all, one thing: the incumbent president ultimately - it just doesn't matter. This not only corresponds to his style, but also to three more specific factors: firstly, his positioning towards his own party, secondly towards democratic and thirdly towards media processes of public rationality.

First, Trump has enough distance from the Republican Party not to be seriously affected by any election results. Trump has - to his own advantage when it comes to elections - due to his mutually half-hearted ties to the party that nominated him, shaped the new style of a party-autonomous president who is unique in this form for decades (even if the Kennedys tried something similar to a certain extent, not least because of their Catholic "otherness"). Victories or defeats by parties are therefore less likely to harm him. Trump, who was a Democrat before he entered politics, simply identifies with the Republican Party as long as it triumphs.

In addition, one is - above all - already used to everything from Trump. That is one of the reasons why it seems inviolable through elections, whatever the outcome. Because Trump is his own program. Ultimately, it only stands for itself - true to the motto of the "three big P of populism": personalization, provocation, popularity-centered.

Regardless of the result, what is actually interesting - and largely new in recent US history - about the mid-term elections is that they neither benefit nor harm Trump - like all elections, it seems. With Trump, the figure rose above the democratic processes. If one wants to use the post-structuralist theory of bourgeois love for tautologies, he is simply who he is - choices or not. And that points to his re-election.

The three big P's of populism (Gergana Dimova): They seem to be immune to the new type of "great individual", whom US popular culture with its superhero myths has elevated to the core of America only since the Second World War, in the person of Trump before elections close. Europe has cultivated the fairy tale as a social narrative in which the terrible exists, but ultimately always ends well because there is community and trust, whereas China has stories of cunning in which the social remains in suspension and the trust of one's own family instead of the social is true, then the superhero-centering American storytelling turns, in which the individual who is misunderstood by the social always prevails against this social, today in the guise of Trump against US democracy.

America's culture of will has ensured that Trump, although he is in fact a caricature (and counteracting) of the American dream, personifies the basic narrative of American civil religion through the mere fact of his choice: the individual who heroically asserts himself against all others because he is inwardly is independent of them.

This applies above all to the relationship between the new "half-party president" and the media - and thus also to public rationality, which in the USA has admittedly been heavily influenced by party politics for decades, because in the fast-moving "forgetting culture" of the omnipresent (and much more so than in Europe spectrally fragmented) imagery America's objective reporting has largely given way to opinion and ideology reporting. Imaginal Politics, Chiara Bottici) have long since replaced party politics in terms of their deep impact on the voter.

Together with growing capital pressure on the outcome of elections, this has led to increasing possibilities for manipulating civil religion: in other words, to the appropriation of the primordial appeal of American ideals less for parties than for individuals. In retrospect, it was systemically an ingenious move that Trump "circumvented": Trump, with his total opposition and open campaigns against those he describes as "enemies of the American people", addressed the media early on by means of direct and unequivocal measures almost completely immunized from complete opposition and disdain - by demonstrating his complete independence from the opinion of others. And thus also from the social, in which democratic elections ultimately consist.

Exactly for this reason the classic post-war combination of election and media was and is with Trump, until now deadly in democracies for anyone who did not comply with it - and will probably remain so. This means that the previous media democracy is also suspended to a certain extent. The fourth power, which in its traditional (but in the meantime also largely lost by "medium-sized channels" like CNN) self-claims opposed individual interests and individual powers programmatically, has never been so weak as under Trump - while paradoxically, it is internally convinced of its social salvation mission as never before is.

"Democracy dies in darkness" is the new slogan of the Washington Post in direct opposition to Trump, inspired by a sentence by his favorite enemy Jeff Bezos, the newspaper owner. Under Trump, the US press is blossoming into a new youth that few but themselves notice. Even after the mid-term elections, it remains to be seen whether this will lead to an increase in the bubble of the illusory world within the media or whether, in addition to the obvious loss of democracy and plurality, it can also be a long-term progress towards a more self-critical media landscape.

In any case, the mid-term elections have shown that Trump has so far become more and more of the victor who is independent of votes and opinions than he is constantly declaring himself - and that self-fulfilling prophecies in open societies also work against the media power because they are the news and exceptional maneuvers turning today's real-time media against itself. This does not mean that elections are meaningless, but less important - and democracy is regressing into the republic that the US, with its "check and balance" and "small government" system and one of the traditionally lowest voter turnouts of open societies, has always understood itself to be .

The US was never a democracy strictu sensubut always a republic. And contrary to European assumptions (the exaggerated phrase of the "last nation-state"), they are still less a nation than an idea. Civil religion, i.e. the conglomerate of inflated secular ideals, plays a much larger role as a social and political kit than party or institutional politics - in which the USA differs most clearly from Europe. Trump, the great underrated, learns every day - and is increasingly proving to be a master at turning precisely this centering on civil religion against democracy.

The lesson from the mid-term elections is therefore: Trump is not only the only president who announced his candidacy for re-election on the day of his first inauguration on January 20, 2017. Together with his personal re-election war chest, which is already at a record level of more than 106 million US dollars in the midterm elections, which is unprecedented in US history, he is also the favorite in the upcoming 2020 presidential election as things stand If the trend continues like this and keeps its strategic positioning in a neutral zone between parties, institutions and the media, further scandals will not affect it any more than the countless ones so far.

Roland Benedikter is co-director of the Center for Advanced Studies at Eurac Research Bozen, research professor for multidisciplinary policy analysis at the Willy Brandt Center of the University of Wroclaw-Breslau and a full member of the Club of Rome. Contact: [email protected]

An adapted version of this article appears in the foreign policy journal "Welttrends", issue 12/2018 (December). (Roland Benedikter)

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