American democracy makes a comeback

Updated on Nov 11, 2022 08:32 PM IST

The rejection of extremism is good for the US and the world. Bipartisan support for partnership with India will continue

US President Joe Biden speaks during a press conference a day after the US midterm elections, from the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, November 9, 2022 (AFP) PREMIUM
US President Joe Biden speaks during a press conference a day after the US midterm elections, from the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, November 9, 2022 (AFP)
ByHT Editorial

The recent midterm elections may arguably go down as one of the most significant set of Congressional, gubernatorial and local races in recent American history. Beyond the party-based outcome, voters have displayed both a deeper attachment to democratic norms than assumed, and a commitment to individual liberty and the right of women over their bodies. Such a conclusion must, of course, be laced with caution. After all, the Republicans are set to win control of the House of Representatives, the Senate outcome is still uncertain, states have thrown up mixed results, and all Democrats have managed is a better than expected performance. But the context is important.

This was America’s first election after the very idea of a peaceful transfer of power was subverted. But the US succeeded in holding peaceful elections, with results universally accepted. While 200 “election-deniers” still won, voters resoundingly rejected the Donald Trump cohort for the positions of governors, secretaries of state, and Senators. This shows the wider public disapproval of January 6 and reduces incentives for leaders to challenge democratic verdicts. It was also America’s first election after a dramatic summer verdict that saw an unprecedented judicial attack on abortion rights. While anti-abortion Republicans have won, and the road to protection of abortion rights nationally will be long and hard, there was a wider public rejection of abortion-related restrictions across states. Women and younger citizens voted with their feet to show they won’t accept attacks on personal freedom.

In terms of the international impact, the return to a more normal and stable American political order that shuns extremism, unpredictability and undemocratic behaviour — all of which Donald Trump represents — is good for the world order. There will be continuity on the China policy. A Democratic administration has categorically recognised China as its principal challenge and competitor in both the national security and national defence strategy; a Republican-dominated House will only push the agenda further. On Ukraine, the balance of power on the ground is key and how both Moscow and Kiev approach the winter will shape decisions in Washington DC. But while the administration will have a harder job convincing the Congress to provide the kind of assistance to Ukraine that has been on offer over the past year, the Republicans, with only a slim majority, will hesitate to take steps that can be seen as supportive of Russia. The real challenge will be if and when a door opens for Russia-Ukraine talks; competitive politics in the US can then potentially play into the resolution of the war.

For the Government of India, the evolving American political dynamic works just fine. There is bipartisan consensus at the highest levels is deepening the strategic and technology partnership with India. Indian diplomats have engaged in the past with the presumptive House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, while maintaining excellent ties with Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate. The tough line on Beijing will suit New Delhi. Given the somewhat weakened Democratic presence in the House, progressive constituencies may have less space to exert pressure on India on perceived concerns related to human rights and democracy. A discussion on the US exit from Afghanistan, which House Republicans may push for, will bring the focus back on Pakistan’s duplicity. And the ever-increasing political might of Indian-Americans, will continue to give India a friendly place in the political calculus of American leaders. But beyond tactical calculations, the world’s largest democracy can cheer, as an observer from the sidelines, the return of a degree of political moderation in the world’s oldest democracy.

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