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Five things you only know about the US midterms if you’re a Brit living in New York

Jane Mulkerrins
Midterm results

1. Nobody really cared about the midterms until now

I honestly couldn’t tell you where I was for the 2014 midterm elections if my life depended on it. And not just because I’m a disenfranchised British expat with no voting rights here in America. I’d wager that barely any of my home-grown American friends could tell you where they were either. Because, until this year, nobody really paid that much attention.

But America has never before had a president as divisive as Donald Trump, a fact reflected in the polls this week. In 2014, just 36.4 per cent of the population voted in the midterms – the lowest figure since 1942 (and which allowed the Republicans to take control of both the House and the Senate, henceforth blocking President Obama’s every effort). Yesterday, an estimated 49 per cent voted – the highest figure for a midterm election since 1964. Though final figures are yet to be collated, analysts also believe there was a surge in young voters heading to the polls – those ‘snowflakes’ are having their say.

2. America is finally getting Representatives who are actually representative

While the much-anticipated ‘blue wave’ of Democrat wins was, in the event, rather more of a trickle, the demographics of many of those elected is significant. Powered by a female-fronted resistance to Trump’s presidency – and his supremely white male cabinet – women won in record numbers, along with ethnic minority and LGBT candidates, many of them first-time contenders.

At 29, Bronx native Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, while in Kansas, Sharice Davids, a 38 year-old lesbian and former mixed martial arts fighter, became one of two Native American women elected to Congress for the first time in history. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan became the first elected Muslim congresswomen. Rising star of the Democratic party Mikie Sherill stole her traditionally Republican New Jersey seat in one of the most high profile races, and in Colorado, Jared Polis became the first openly gay man elected Governor of any state.

America needs a Swingometer to make sense of it all

3. America needs a Swingometer

Still a bit confused by it all? You’re not alone. Well over 500 Senate, Congress and Gubernatorial seats were up for grabs on Tuesday. I sat through the entire night’s unfolding events, and frequently had to seek clarification from those around me, as the television coverage only further boggled my mind.

At a viewing party at a friend’s apartment in Brooklyn, we flicked between MSNBC (a barrage of flashing, twitching graphics and statistics), CNN (marginally less lurid, but only marginally) and, when we needed to take our adrenaline levels right down, PBS – America’s sedate public service broadcaster, which appeared not to be able to afford any graphics at all.

Where, I wailed (to blank looks from the room of Americans) was the Swingometer? Where the clear, analytical pith of David Dimbleby? Sometimes, I still get really homesick.

4. There’s a long way to go on gun control

No matter how long I live here, there’s a handful of things I know I will never truly get my head around: grits, the appeal of baseball, wearing one’s cap backwards, and the American attachment to the Second Amendment.

The students of Marjorie Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a mass shooting in February left 17 people dead, have run a tireless campaign this year to vote out politicians blocking stricter gun laws, and harnessed public support with the March for our Lives rallies in cities across the US and beyond.

In their home state on Tuesday, however, voters elected pro-gun candidates in the two major races, for governor (the NRA-backed DeSantis) and for the Senate (Republican Rick Scott, whose win, at the time of writing, was the subject of a recount, so close was the result). After the Parkland shooting, Florida passed a modest set of gun control compromises; DeSantis has stated publicly that, had he been governor, he would have vetoed the legislation.

5. We’ll all have a stomach ulcer by 2020

From January, the newly-Democratic Congress will able to hold the hitherto untrammelled President Trump accountable – with the power to block bills, including his plans for a border wall with Mexico, to investigate his taxes and financial affairs, and even the potential for impeachment, depending on the findings of Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. But anyone expecting a nice, calm couple of years until the 2020 election is sorely mistaken.

Defiant and combative at a press conference on Wednesday morning, Trump declared the midterm results a ‘tremendous success’, that ‘defied history’. And, in some perverse respects, he might be right: now he has someone else to pin the blame on, loudly, if the economy takes a nose-dive (as many experts expect it to) and he fails to get anything done in the second half of his term.

Pass the Pepto Bismol, it’s going to be a(nother) rocky ride.