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Opinion: Midterm vote is decisive moment for US democracy

04.2012 Moderatorin Journal Michaela Küfner
Michaela Küfner
November 7, 2022

Donald Trump is back and all over the US midterm ballot — and there's nothing even his own party can do about it, says DW's Michaela Küfner.

Donald Trump on a stage next to three US flags
The specter of Donald Trump possibly running again for the presidency looms large over the US midtermsImage: Stephen Maturen/AFP/Getty Images

Like it or not, US voters have a say in our lives, wherever you live. The United States being a world power gives Americans' personal decisions at the ballot box global leverage, especially when there's a war going on in Europe.

This Tuesday, some 154 million American voters decide on a new Congress and other races. Most of all, they will decide whether to take away President Joe Biden's ability to get things done in the remaining two years of his first term.

If you need any proof of American voters' global power, just look into the fearful eyes of, say, NATO leaders at the prospect that Donald Trump might run again in 2024. His latest hint last week that this is "very, very, very probably" going to happen spread faster and wider than any of the campaign messages that candidates spent an estimated $16 billion on (€16 billion), making these the most expensive midterms in US history.

Many races are tight, but generally a "red wave" handing back power to the Republicans in both houses is widely predicted, pointing to the kind of midterm setback for a sitting president perceived to be part of the "normal" cycle of US politics.

However, nothing is normal about these elections. Most of all, because Americans are voting on whether they want to stick with their current course of democracy, or whether the hate and distrust between Trump's MAGA (Make America Great Again) Republicans and pretty much everyone else already runs so deep that they will no longer accept defeat, no matter what the vote count says. 

'Trump won' stickers continue to appear at Trump rallies

DW's US correspondent Michaela Küfner
DW's US correspondent Michaela KüfnerImage: DW

To this day, Trump insists that he should still be in the White House, and not Biden, notwithstanding the fact that a group of the Republicans' own election attorneys concluded that the vote was "lost, not stolen." Their warnings that undermining faith in elections threatens US democracy itself have gone unheeded. The damage is done. While overall confidence in elections is still high, almost a quarter of Republicans no longer trust the election system. And a new generation of MAGA Republican leaders are fanning those flames.

Some 300 election deniers are on the Republican ticket. Trump personally backs high-profile candidates who share his "Big Steal" lie. Like the former Fox TV host Kari Lake, Arizona's Republican candidate for governor, who says Biden "should not be in the White House." Lake is convinced she is "chosen by God" and has left no doubt that she will only accept election victory as a legitimate outcome of the elections. Her seamless appearance and brazen attacks on her former media colleagues already see her tipped as a potential Trump running mate in 2024. 

In 2020 Trump failed to get election officials to "find him" the votes he needed. With the real possibility that election deniers could get voted into election-relevant public offices across 27 States, they could soon be responsible for organizing, certifying or challenging the 2024 presidential elections. As a result, "finding votes" through certification could soon become subject to negotiation, instead of counting the actual ballots

Sowing the seeds of distrust and hatred

And there is an overarching divide that threatens Americans' trust in each other. Americans are increasingly living in two parallel realities according to their political camp. While they share concerns like rising prices and a surge in crime, the very issues that could unite them divide them further. Democrats' attempts to soften the economic blow to the poor translate as "socialism" to Republicans. Their response to crime is more guns, while Democrats see crime as a reason to clamp down on gun ownership. Talk to senators or house members behind closed doors and they will bemoan the erosion of any common ground for debate. Where being seen to seek a compromise means political suicide, the only thing that grows is more distrust and hatred.

Unless the barely visible silent majority starts standing up for their America at the ballot box, they may soon find their country in the hands of people who are only willing to defend their own freedom when they speak of "We, the people" but not the freedom of others. That would extend to US allies in Ukraine as well as elsewhere in Europe and beyond.

Ultimately, every cross on a US paper or electronic ballot will add up to how America reshapes its sphere of interest and influence in a changing global order.

Young voters in US motivated by policies