A polar vortex is an upper-level, low-pressure area near Earth's poles. There are two polar vortices in Earth's atmosphere, overlying the North and South poles. Beneath that lies a large mass of cold, dense arctic air.
It may be incongruous to be discussing polar vortices in August, but what we are experiencing is a political polar vortex, not a weather vortex. What we have is polarization politics. We can expect to see evidence of this on a constant basis in the coming three months, leading up to the mid-term congressional elections.
Rather than Republicans vs. Democrats, what we are witnessing in this era can more accurately be described as Trump vs. the anti-Trump, because that's what amounts to party identification and purpose these days.
It is safe to assume President Trump will be a major factor in the upcoming elections and the broader political environment. It is apparent the president is energized by campaign rallies and feels most comfortable in those settings. It appears he will spend much of his time on either the golf course or in front of large crowds drawn from his polarized base.
Trump believes keeping that polarized base charged up is the key to his success. In his rallies and some of his tweets and his persistent media bashing, the president doesn't seem bound by civil restraints or regard for accuracy. For the most part, that doesn't trouble the polarized base and some in that faction are venturing into conspiracy theories. Demagoguery spills over into just about every aspect of public affairs.
Congress has accomplished very little during the Trump presidential tenure. And here's where the mid-term elections could make a difference ... or not. The impact could be significant if the anti-Trump base should win control of either of the legislative chambers. As it now stands, the Trump base has a thin margin in the Senate, and a somewhat wider hold on the House, leaving the anti-Trump forces with limited ability to undertake initiatives or block Trump-backed actions. Trump proposals have been blocked -- in some cases because they so patently defy reality -- such as Trump's continued claims that "We are going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it."
The stakes could be high. There is Trump's Putin fixation; complex and confusing relations with Russia, China, Korea, and Iran; tariffs and trade issues; court nominees; and more. Then there's the Trump tax plan, which did not have broad public support despite Trump insistence that it did. The measure narrowly passed in the Senate (51-48), a strictly party-line vote. A dozen Republicans voted against the bill in the House.
For all the polarized boasting about the tax bill, what we don't hear much about in today's polarized atmosphere is the fact the tax plan has contributed significantly to the ballooning federal budget deficit, soon to hit $1 trillion. Where are the deficit hawks of the recent past?
These are issues on which a slight shift in the alignment and a crack in polarization might make a difference.
Can we hope there will be cracks in polarization in the November election and the non-stop campaigning? Could we see some movement toward the political temperate zone? Thus far, Trump hasn't shown he even knows where the temperate zone is or has any interest in going there.
There's no doubt the next 90 days will bring us intensive and expensive campaigning and, likely, more divisiveness and incivility.
Is there a chance for major change in Washington? Some polls indicate and some politicos believe there could be a "blue wave," with Democrats (or the anti-Trumps) making a strong showing, enough to alter the balance in Congress. And in today's frantic political climate, there can be big surprises (Mueller, etc.), even in these polarized times. Trump clearly continues to be strong among his core constituencies and polarized supporters.
Arkansas, for example, appears to remain solidly in the Trump camp with the best anti-Trump hope in the central Arkansas congressional district, and that looks like a long-shot at best.
Major national polls show a different and somewhat difficult picture for the Trump side, with some analysts confidently predicting a loss of the House majority and a bare advantage, if that, in the Senate. That might lead to more responsibility and institutional assertiveness on Capitol Hill. Or it may lead to more stalemates and logjams.
The political polar vortex may be with us for a while.
Commentary on 08/08/2018
Print Headline: Politics in a polar vortex