As of Thursday, 23 million votes had already been cast in the US midterm elections (including votes by mail and those cast in person in the states that allow early voting in the weeks before the election). In Texas and Florida alone, six million people have already voted, signaling a record turnout for these congressional elections, the first major electoral test of the Trump era.
Also on Thursday, in a courtroom in Pittsburgh, Robert Bowers, the author of the massacre of Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue, pleaded not guilty. Meanwhile, during one of his rallies, Donald Trump doubled down on his sinister hints of a conspiracy theory, claiming that George Soros funded the migrant caravan that is now in Mexico—which is basically the same as the motive that the shooter invoked for the massacre of Jews, who, according to him, were abetting an “invasion” of the country.
The disturbing agreement between the domestic terrorist and the president of the United States when it comes to conspiracy theories also recalls the neo-Nazi slogans that were chanted in Charlottesville (“Jews will not replace us”), and is a direct expression of the white paranoia that Trump has been expertly manipulating. Furthermore, the demonization of supposed elitist “do-gooders”—similar from Pittsburgh to Riace—is a universally effective tool for the manufacturing of a national populist consensus.
The supposed “invasion” by immigrants is therefore the prevalent narrative being pushed by Trump’s side with increasing frenzy in these final battles of the campaign, most recently with his proposal to abolish birthright citizenship, the American version of the ius soli. In America, this would imply nullifying the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, something that would almost certainly be unconstitutional absent another amendment, and certainly not possible by mere executive order, as Trump claimed. As usual, however, it was enough for him to plant the seed of doubt to seize the news cycle and hijack the social-journalistic apparatus, directing it towards the distraction of the new scandal.
The same goes for Trump’s mobilization of 5,000 soldiers (with the option to add an additional 10,000) to the Mexican border, a regiment setting off for a war which will only ever exist in the frenzied imaginations of identitarian extremists. Indeed, the soldiers cannot be employed for any tasks that would go beyond logistical support (driving, maintenance, cleaning, possibly legal advice). The reality is that if the incoming group of refugees, now still over 600 miles away from the US, were to actually reach the Tijuana border, this would lead at most to a few hundred asylum applications presented at the border authorities, and just as many people placed in detention (with the “kidnapping” of their minor children by the US government and their separation from their families), as happened with the last “caravan,” which arrived at the end of April.
This is all a cynical theater of cruelty, given that the political usefulness of these migrants to Trump will completely vanish by Tuesday, after having used them to whip up nativist panic in favor of the candidates loyal to him.
The polls published this week seem to confirm that the Democrats are the favorites for taking over the House of Representatives, while the Republicans are likely to keep control of the Senate. Given all this, Trump doesn’t seem to care as much about persuading moderate voters as he does about consolidating his extremist hardcore followers. His plan, as a president for whom conflict serves as his political lifeblood, seems to be to exacerbate the head-on political clashes over the next two years, and get to the presidential elections with his base whipped up to the most egregious level of fanaticism, without being bothered too much by the unpleasant side effects that are beginning to show, such as mass murders or mail bombs.
In a non-homogeneous and multicultural society such as that of the US, Trump is playing a dangerous game of social pyromania that could easily ratchet up the volatile tensions brewing underground to dangerous levels and beyond. Throughout this political campaign, one could feel the sensation of being close to the limit of endurance and of basic functionality for a democracy hijacked by an unscrupulous demagogue who recast everything as a fight to the bitter end. And it is a legitimate question how the nation could possibly survive Trumpism and step back from the current level of conflict.
The vote on Tuesday will be an indicator of the enduring vitality of the “healthy parts” of the US democracy after two years of nationalist populism, which featured a massive doubling down on retrograde and anti-modern ideas. Two years of nationalism against migration, tariffs against global trade, and coal against technological delocalization and fighting climate change—thus, two years of a wholesale abdication from the global issues facing us, one which now finds echoes from Brasilia to Moscow, and which constitutes an existential threat for us all, as the time to find real political solutions is about to run out.