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America’s cruellest month

Anything could happen in the upcoming US midterm elections. All bets are off

A supporter attends a primary election night event for Republican candidate JD Vance in Cincinnati, May 2022. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty

Anything could happen in this US midterm election. Anything could blow the whole thing sky-high before November 8.

This midterm cycle is totally Black Swan-prone, whether the Swan be some blockbuster revelation that sinks a star candidate, the latest from the one-man act of sedition that is Donald Trump, or something else that causes a repeat of the “shellacking” that Barack Obama called the 2010 midterms when the Republicans gained 63 seats in the House thanks to the Tea Party movement. That quaint name tells its own truth about today: that infamous anti-Obama voter revolt of 12 years ago actually was like a tea party compared to what the right is doing now.

We humans need narrative. It is how we make sense of our lives.

Yet the old political narratives we have grown up with – like “everybody comes together in the national interest in the end” – now sound like a Taylor Swift remake of a Joni Mitchell song based on something Mitchell heard her grandmother sing.

Now the times are TS Eliot’s mighty The Waste Land, 100 years young this year, still alive and kicking:

“What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in
the violet air
Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London

Substitute some of Eliot’s cities for Washington DC, Detroit and the like, and that is where the US is right now.

As crazy as America has been, for all of my lifetime anyway, there have been givens.

For example: that the Senate was a place of “elders”, not necessarily elderly in years, but serious people who are clear that it is their duty to give good advice to the most powerful person on earth, the president of the United States.

When Joe Biden was first elected to the Senate in the 1970s, he had elders like Barry Goldwater – the senator the Republicans chose to run for president in 1964 against the incumbent, Lyndon B Johnson. So virulent an anti-communist, “Reds Under The Bed” guy was Goldwater that his slogan was: “In your heart you know he’s right”. We teens back then replied: “But in your guts you know he’s nuts”.

Yet even Goldwater had enough senatorial gravitas to tell Richard Nixon a few years later that if he did not resign because of Watergate, he would be impeached. In short, Nixon’s own party, nicknamed “The Grand Old Party” – the GOP – made him go.

That Republican Party, in the main, no longer exists.

In its place is a Trumpian Ascendancy, the “crazy caucus”, filled with the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia. A one-time QAnon believer and election denier who refused to submit herself to a search for weapons before she entered the Congressional chamber.

These Republicans cannot even bear to address the issue of violence and threats against lawmakers after the attack on the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Long a hate figure of the right, the vitriol against Pelosi accelerated since the January 6 attack on the Capitol, when rioters looted her office and chanted about what they would do if they found her.

Last week, an intruder broke into her home and called her name as he went searching through her house. Then he seriously assaulted her husband.

This is the state of the US today.

In yet another sign that this midterm election cycle is strange, Donald Trump is said to be planning to hold rallies in the final days of the contest in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Iowa.

Trump won Ohio and Iowa relatively easily in 2020, with over 53% of the vote in both. He won Florida by over 3%. In a midterm, when voters traditionally send the incumbent president a warning, these should be comfortable states for the Republicans.

There is Pennsylvania, where Joe Biden squeaked in with just under 2%, but won the big counties where middle class women are, the kind of women who may take revenge on the Trump Republicans over the Supreme Court decision on abortion that threatens the constitutional right to bodily autonomy.

Yet “Roe, Roe, Roe the vote,” that call to wreak electoral revenge, may be making way for fears about the economy, and Biden – who has been laying low partly because of his dismal approval ratings; underwater at around 42% – has been forced into action.

He made a rare joint appearance with his largely invisible vice-president, Kamala Harris, in Philadelphia as they tried to shore up the Pennsylvania Democratic candidate for the Senate, John Fetterman, who is still recovering from a near-fatal stroke. His opponent is TV star and professor emeritus Mehmet Oz MD, a Trump-endorsed candidate – mainly because, as The Don pointed out, Oz was a TV star and that is a good omen for the Senate.

Pennsylvania Republicans are not thrilled about Oz because a) he is a Muslim – he would be the first Muslim sent to the Senate, and b) he seems to know very little about Pennsylvania. In April, he released a video of himself in a well-known grocery store, whose name he got wrong. Then he made matters worse by saying he has been out shopping for “crudité” – essentially, a plate of vegetables for dipping. This is known in Pennsylvania as a “veggie tray”, and Fetterman immediately started selling stickers with the slogan “Let Them Eat Crudité”. Yet Oz has come from behind to lead in the last three polls.

These are the kinds of things that make these midterms so hard to call. But this is known: If the Democrats lose the House, the crazy caucus takes over.

The majority of Republicans who are running for election or re-election are 2020 election deniers. These are people who believe that voting booths were rigged by the government of Venezuela. That the defence department was in on changing the votes.

The GOP only needs about five or six seats to flip the House, making way for the Trump diehards. Who knows what madness might result?

In the hands of the crazy caucus, Gödel’s Loophole might come into play. This was supposedly posited by one of my heroes, the great logician, mathematician and philosopher Kurt Gödel.

Gödel, who had fled Nazi Germany, is said to have pointed out to a friend – who then told another friend, who happened to be Albert Einstein – that the US Constitution has a fatal flaw.

We don’t have a record of what Gödel actually said, but we assume that the flaw is in Article V, which seems to allow that the Constitution can be amended under the 15th amendment so anyone who becomes president is able to declare themselves president for as long as he or she may want.

It is one possibility out of many, that gives this election cycle arguably the importance of the one in 1860. That was the one that sent Abraham Lincoln to the White House, and a year later America was fighting a civil war.

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