Atlanta, Georgia (CNN)If the Democrats make gains in the midterm elections next week, their lawmakers could assert themselves more aggressively on the foreign policy issues that have defined much of Donald Trump’s presidency — trade, climate change and the Iran deal, to name a few.
Many Democrats I spoke to here in Georgia said they were concerned and even embarrassed by Trump and the image this White House was portraying abroad, while many Republicans view Trump as having restored America’s standing in the world, echoing the President’s talking points that he has been tough on China, NATO and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
But when asked what this election is all about, Republican voters talk about immigration, Supreme Court nominations and the economy. For Democrats, it’s healthcare, gun control and education reform.
The impact of the Trump presidency on the world is only a small part of the conversation ahead of the midterms. International issues that really hit home are the ones cutting through — trade policies that affect American farmers and a group of migrants slowly making their way toward the US border.
The President is now focused on immigration and the narrative that the US is about to be “invaded” by Central American migrants. He’s deployed more troops to the Southern border than there currently are in Iraq. And he’s released an inflammatory ad conflating a convicted Mexican cop killer with the migrants.
Trump continues to warn of dangers from abroad — migrants, the Chinese, Muslims — and then offers hot-button solutions: troops at the border, tariffs, travel bans. It’s an interesting loop to observe.
The President is using the politics of fear. His rise to the Oval Office has in many ways been founded on fear, often of outsiders or “the other,” used to distract and deflect from other issues that threaten his position.
The use of fear to jolt people to voting booths is a well-worn strategy that I’ve seen in elections around the world, often in countries far less stable and democratic that the United States.
Young Republicans eager to back Trump
Incredibly, America is also experiencing pre-election violence, the targeting of opposition figures and the media, allegations of electoral fraud and propaganda.
For those watching these midterm convulsions from overseas, there’s a fascination that America (yes, America!) is experiencing some of the same political maelstroms that have played out in other parts of the world.
Trump’s misinformation campaign continues. Fox News and the White House appear to have coordinated false narratives about the migrants heading toward the country. Trump has said he could change the Constitution to stop babies born in the US to non-citizen parents from getting citizenship, a claim once again repeated by Fox News.
These scenes of division, anger and fear, however, are not exclusive to Trump and his America. The election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and the rise of the right in Europe all point to social and geopolitical convulsions that are motivated and manipulated by fear of the other.
America is unlikely to settle down after the midterms. When all the ballots are counted and the results announced, the rhetoric will not stop and voters will have little chance to catch their breath. The fear-mongering and discord will only start up again, with renewed vigor, as President Trump prepares to campaign as the 2020 presidential election approaches.
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