Barack Obama was elected US president in 2008. With approximately fifty-three percent of the popular vote and a 365-173 electoral college margin over his rival, John McCain. His party, the Democrats, commanded a 235-278 majority in the US House of Representatives, and a 57-41 majority in the US Senate. Despite this electoral and popular mandate, an obstructionist opposition, the Republican Party, aided by the results of the 2010 elections, soon made it the case that sixty votes in the Senate–a majority immune to the filibuster–became the new standard for passing legislation. From that determined standard for throwing sand in the legislative wheels to the current declaration that no Senate vote will be forthcoming on Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee is a long and sometimes winding, but consistently traveled on, road. (The many actual and threatened shutdowns of the Federal government were particularly well frequented destinations on this Republican-Tea Party activist route.) That journey conveys an ominous warning for what lies ahead, even if a Democratic president were to be elected in the fall of 2016.
First, even if Donald Trump is defeated–in the most optimistic of scenarios, by a landslide of overwhelming proportions–the forces he has unleashed, that particular febrile nativism and populism, which animated by a smoldering resentment over its systematic economic disenfranchisement, targets immigrants (or non-English speakers or Jews or blacks, take your pick), are not going away any time soon. That genie is out of the bottle; it has skipped smartly several steps down the road. The next president has to deal with it; as does the nation. The most charitable view of ‘Trump supporters’ is that they are a group looking for scapegoats, turned out to pasture by policies that have sent jobs overseas and by income inequality that has shrunk their wages. Even under that presumption, whoever becomes president has to address the populist instincts that make Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump formidable opponents to Hilary Clinton. Failing that, that same discontent will continue to roil the American political landscape, to find the ugly–and increasingly violent–forums for expression that it has during the Trump presidential campaign.
Second, were Hilary Clinton to become president, the opposition she will face will be as fierce as any that Barack Obama had to face in his term. At least in one domain, and for all the wrong reasons–sexism and misogyny being prominent ones–Hilary Clinton is a unifier, not a divider. An electoral loss to Hilary will provoke unprecedented gnashing of teeth, much wailing and rending of garments. The same reaction to her that will animate Republican vitriol during the general election season–we have most certainly not seen the worst of it–will return during a Hilary Clinton administration. It will dog her steps too, just like another version of it did Obama’s–racism in that case, sexism in hers. Without an altered political environment (including a non-gerrymandered House of Representatives), there will be little prospect of substantive legislation during Clinton’s term(s).
This election season is going to have to answer for a great deal.