eyes on the U.S.

U.S. Midterms: A First Umbrella After The Trump Tsunami

America's midterm elections saw Democrats recapture the House, but lose ground in the Senate. A nation as divided as ever, though with new checks on Trump.

Pools and polls
Pools and polls
Dana Milbank

-Analysis-

WASHINGTON — On Tuesday night, America stepped back from the abyss.

It was not, perhaps, the overwhelming repudiation of President Trump's vulgar, divisive, race-baiting and sometimes lawless tenure that Democrats had hoped for. But it was, at least, a correction, and a rebuke of the Trump presidency.

Democrats recaptured the House, a monumental achievement in itself, given that they typically need to win the popular vote by about 7 percentage points to overcome the disadvantages of gerrymandering and the like. Republicans were routed in Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York and elsewhere, while prominent GOP figures such as House members Pete Sessions of Texas, Pete Roskam of Illinois and Dave Brat of Virginia went down. Republicans who held on generally won by less than Trump did two years ago.

The tide has turned.

Though Democrats fell short in the Florida and Georgia gubernatorial races, they were set to flip five others — Democrat Laura Kelly triumphed in deep-red Kansas — and came closer to parity with Republicans nationally. Democrats were poised to take state legislative bodies in New York, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Colorado and to gain seats in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina.

And though they didn't prevail in the Senate — it was always a long shot, given that they were defending seats in 10 states that Trump won — they breezed in places that Trump carried two years ago, such as Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

This was not a tsunami-size wave, but the tide has turned. Clearly, Trump has not realigned American politics. The laws of gravity have been restored. And there are abundant signs that the trends favoring Democrats are just beginning to be felt.

Exit polls, Election Day polls and actual returns showed significant gains for Democrats in suburbs and among independents. In The Washington Post-Schar School Election Day poll of battleground district voters, independents preferred Democrats by double digits, and independent women favored Democrats by more than 20 points. Democrats have captured the middle. The polling also shows that young voters and racial minorities — the future American electorate — turned out in healthy numbers for Democrats.

Looking at midterm results in Allentown, Pennsylvania — Photo: Carol Guzy/ZUMA

Also, the Democrats' success came despite significant economic headwinds. The average gain for the opposition party since the World War II has been 26 seats. Democrats were on course Tuesday night to pick up significantly more than that — even though the current unemployment rate is much lower, and economic growth much higher, than it was on average in the other post-war midterms.

Nearly 8 in 10 voters in battleground states thought the economy to be good or excellent, Post polling showed, yet a majority believed the country was headed in the wrong direction.

Why? They were registering their displeasure with Trump. More than 4 in 10 voters said Trump was one of the two most important factors in their votes — and three quarters of them supported Democrats. CNN's exit polling found that two-thirds of voters thought Trump a factor in their vote for House candidates, and a lopsided number said their vote was in opposition to Trump rather than a show of support.

Trump was the top issue they cited, along with health care, the issue Democrats had made the centerpiece of the campaign. The issue Trump labored hard to inject into the campaign — immigration — lagged in importance to voters, and back further still were the issues Trump had also hoped to make central to the campaign: the Supreme Court, his tax cut and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

There are, happily, not enough racists in America to make Trump's strategy work.

Certainly, there were disappointments for Democrats. Sen. Joe Donnelly (Indiana), Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota) and Claire McCaskill (Missouri) fell, and a Tennessee Senate seat slipped from their grasp.

But there was far more to reassure Trump's opponents.

In the closing weeks of the campaign, Trump launched a vulgar appeal to rally his base, fabricating an emergency about a migrant "caravan," releasing a racist ad, threatening to rewrite the Constitution by executive order and using the military as a political prop at the border. Republicans around the country echoed his nationalist appeals.

That did appear to bring his supporters to the polls; in exit surveys, those worried about immigration overwhelmingly supported Republicans. But the ugliness brought out more of Trump's opponents. This time, unlike in 2016, there was a backlash. There are, happily, not enough racists in America to make Trump's strategy work any longer.

Trump, as of last week, had uttered no fewer than 6,420 falsehoods during his presidency, by the count of The Post's Fact Checker. But there is one truth it will do him no good to deny: The people on this Election Day rejected him.

Trump and his sycophants will no doubt continue, in the coming two years, to attempt to fool and to frighten the people. But on Tuesday the voters began to push back.

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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