For the next two years, United States President Donald Trump will have to work with a new political reality, one that poses challenges for his re-election chances in 2020, and one that poses an existential threat to his legacy, should he be a one-term occupant of the Oval Office.

The midterm elections were considered to be a referendum on his presidency thus far, and some 114 million Americans cast ballots on Tuesday — a turnout that was largely seen as a reflection of the country’s divisive polity. Moving forward, President Trump now faces the prospect of a House of Representatives firmly in control of the Democrats, while his Republicans, as expected, managed to maintain their grip on the Senate.

One of the beauties of the US constitutional framework is that it builds in a system of checks and balances on all levels of government, and for the next two years, the Oval Office and the Republican party must either learn to temper their message and find a bipartisan path forward to enact legislation, moderated by the House of Representatives, or face the prospect of the next 24 months being one of gridlock and acrimony in Washington.

Clearly, the message from the majority of voters, particularly women, those living in urban areas and those of a multi-ethnic background, is that they have had enough of the fearmongering and language of the Right that paints the US as a nation under threat of being swamped by caravans of immigrants clamouring over the border and ready to unleash an orgy of crime on the streets of America.

No, the majority of Americans believe that they live in a nation that cherishes the values of caring, looking after communities, being respectful and optimistic. They believe, and have voted for, an America that is welcoming, not fearful.

While Republicans do maintain their hold on the Senate, the reality is that the majority of the 33 seats contested in the six-year cycle fell in areas that roundly supported Trump’s candidacy in 2016. To lose ground there would have been a very significant setback indeed for the White House.

As it stands now, with Congress divided between a blue lower chamber and a red upper chamber, political leaders from both sides will need to find common ground to get anything done in the coming two years. Failing to do so will give those on the populist Right further fuel that the swamp in Washington needs to be drained through a second term for President Trump, while those on the Left will gain impetus to rebuke Trumpism.

Trump now faces the prospect of intense scrutiny into his actions, ethics and, most alarming for him, that 2016 campaign.