After last week’s midterms, United States is a more deeply divided nation

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Washington’s mid-course correction will make politics uglier. It’s hard to believe it could get any worse.

By Sheila Copps

First published in The Hill Times on November 12, 2018.

OTTAWA—Last week’s midterm elections reinforced the reality of the United States as a deeply divided nation.

The voting population appears to be split down the middle. Divisions are even more stark when it comes to race and the urban-rural divide.

With only two Senators elected per state, predominantly Republican rural areas become disproportionately important in that Chamber.

With the same number of Senators representing Rhode Island and California, it is much easier to get a majority of seats via a minority of voters.

And the unfettered spending in the American political system begs the question of what really constitutes a democracy.

But significant Democratic Congressional gains will definitively change the flavour of the second half of President Donald Trump’s first term in office.

The comfortable Democratic majority will position the president to blame his own failures on political gridlock, with enemies poised to poison his tenure.

If anyone thought midterm challenges would moderate the president’s vitriol, it took only a single day to abandon that notion.

With the sacking of attorney general Jeff Sessions, and the revocation of press credentials for CNN White House reporter Jim Acosta, the White House was quick to let the world know that it would be nasty business as usual.

And Trump has every reason to repeat his divisive tactics. Notwithstanding all the negativity of the past two years, he is still scoring big with his base and bringing other recalcitrant supporters on side.

One woman interviewed during a voting day exit poll specified that she was voting for the policies, not the person. Her belief was that the president’s character was irrelevant as long as he supported positions favourable to her views.

Others are simply happy with the economy and believe the president can take some credit for that.

A positive economic benchmark may not last forever, as all indicators are pointing to a slowdown amidst international uncertainty and some potential for inflation.

Trump’s bitter trade disputes with China, Canada, and even Europe, will also effect the stability of the international economy, which could spell trouble.

The post-election Sessions’ firing is probably the clearest sign that the Russian investigation carried out by Robert Mueller looms as the largest threat to Trump’s hope for reelection.

With the Democrats regaining control of the House of Representatives, they will have a number of opportunities to dig deeper into the financial labyrinth of the Trump family fortune and its potential relationship to foreign powers.

The Democrats have secured a comfortable majority in the House, with new, younger female and minority faces poised to lead the charge.

One of Trump’s most effective slogans has been “Clean the swamp.” Those three little words imply that getting the dirt out of Washington will be his first priority. Instead, it may be his dirt that is about to be excavated.

The noose is tightening around the president’s neck. That is the only explanation for the firing of his attorney general. His next move could be to work with an increased Republican Senate majority to put an end to the Mueller investigation.

But the Democrats have already laid down a marker. As soon as the Sessions axe was dropped, key Democrat leader Chuck Schumer warned that any move to derail Mueller would throw the country into a constitutional crisis that could result in Trump’s impeachment.

The majority control now enjoyed by the Democrats in Congress will give them all the tools they need to dig deeper. They have already asked for the production of all documents related to Sessions as they intend to investigate his firing.

Sessions’ former chief of staff has been named as his replacement. He is a bellicose anti-Mueller opponent, who has already been warned to recuse himself from interference in the Russian special investigation.

The defiant tone that Trump exhibited in the presidential press conference signals that his war with the media will not end any time soon.

The decision to revoke CNN credentials will also prompt a backlash from other media outlets. At the same press conference, Trump verbally dressed down two black female reporters, including a PBS journalist who has become one of his favourite targets.

Trump is also facing renewed calls to produce his tax returns. He now says they are too complicated and that people simply will not be able to understand them.

But the major Congressional shakeup last week guarantees that these issues will now take centre stage.

Washington’s mid-course correction will make politics uglier. It’s hard to believe it could get any worse.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.