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US midterm elections 2018: Donald Trump’s idiom of fear mongering won’t stop even if Republicans suffer losses

New York: Fear, the reigning idiom of the Donald Trump presidency, isn’t about to roll over quietly, no matter what the results of the US midterm elections on 6 November. It’ll likely get uglier and fiercer.

US President Donald Trump makes his closing arguments ahead of a high stakes 6 November vote. AP

US President Donald Trump makes his closing arguments ahead of a high stakes 6 November vote. AP

Donald Trump likes to talk about immigration, caravans, gangs, repeal of birthright citizenship, crime and a "big, beautiful" wall that can stop all the bad stuff from seeping into what he calls America's porous borders - "a country without tough border security isn't a country at all!" His top agenda, immigration, is one where his footsoldiers in the bureaucracy can keep moving the needle to where Trump wants it to be via internal memos - even if Congress never agrees to legislate on anything.

"It's all fragile. Everything I told you about, it can be undone and changed…” he warned his base Monday. Trump doesn’t use that word often - “fragile” - but as he draws closer to his own 2020 reelection campaign, the contours of the cultural war he has ignited are coming into sharper focus.

“Real power is - I don’t even want to use the word - fear”, Trump told Bob Woodward before he won the 2016 elections. Political messages that deviate from stoking fear hold no charm for Trump.

Officials in that leaky vessel called the White House are saying Trump was raging about an election ad harping on the economy and decided the only thing he wanted to do is beat the drum on immigration. The plan to include a citizenship question in the census, which has drawn widespread ire, has Trump’s blessings. Top science and tech researchers are complaining that the best and brightest in their field are so put off by Trump’s hard immigration policy that they’re not coming to America at all. More foreign workers are reporting outright visa rejections. For a tight knit clique of senior staffers in the Trump White House, this mayhem is what put Trump in the White House; everything else is weak tea.

So, even if Republicans suffer House losses on Tuesday, the midterm election campaign would have stress-tested a fresh set of immigration tinder boxes far ahead of Trump’s 2020 run. For the immigration hard-liners inside the Trump administration, it’s all good.

If moderates are aghast at Trump’s constant appeal to the fringe, his loyalists believe that Trump’s success speaks to the more mundane, structural causes of inequity and racial polarisation. What his opponents call election season stunts or distractions are central not just to Trump's strategy but to a feeling of racial anxiety that is more palpable today in ordinary American neighborhoods just as much as it is in the country's boondocks.

Although the visuals Trump uses to push his agenda are all about illegal immigrants, the skewering is equally for all manner of immigrants. Limits to legal immigration are central to the White House crack team's thinking. The Department of Homeland Security is planning to significantly limit legal immigration and naturalisation by changing the rules on immigration and welfare that have been cast in stone for more than 400 years. The new interpretation will govern how the US government considers migrants' use of almost any government benefit as criteria for determining who may enter or remain in the United States.

Trump, probably for the first time, officially lined up the ducks this week in a packed stadium bursting with red MAGA hats. “It’s not good for us”, he said about (illegal) immigrants. “They draw on our resources, our schools, our public spaces, our hospitals and we are paying for all that!”, he said, cementing the connections between immigration and welfare payments. But don't mistake this for economic justification - because it isn't.

For all the outpouring about economic anxiety as a possible reason for Trump's rise, new research suggests that the "left behind" theory pales against a more powerful feeling: a threat to group dominance and the resulting group-led anxiety among whites.

"When the people have spoken, the post- election narrative decides what it is they have said. Based on these results, it would be a mistake for people to understand the 2016 election as resulting from the frustration of those left behind economically. Instead, both experimental evidence and panel survey evidence document significant political consequences from a rising sense of status threat among dominant groups in the United States", writes Diana Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania in her paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences in the US.

This insecure white tribe is Donald Trump's base; there's no confusion in his mind about his message or his target audience. The midterms won't change anything about how Trump persuades and who he persuades.


Updated Date: Nov 06, 2018 06:44 AM

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