The upcoming midterm election has been represented, hyperbolically, as determining the fate of the country and the world for the next generation. Progressives worry that the large spending programs enacted over the past couple of years will have funding restricted by a Republican Congress and die. Conservatives are worried that state power will continue to grow and overspending will fully cripple the economy.
There is the growing threat of direct confrontation with Russia or China, perhaps escalating to use of nuclear weapons. In many ways, America has never been closer to nuclear war.
There is the growing likelihood of inflation and overall economic weakness leading to American and global recession over the next year. The American economy is arguably the most fragile it has been in decades, perhaps ever. Our national debt compared to our gross domestic product is more than 125 percent, and the Congressional Budget Office projects it could rise to 140 percent by 2049. By contrast, following World War II, the previous debt/GDP peak, it was around 120 percent. That means we may be approaching economic insolvency, leading to an inability to secure more debt. Of course, as a sovereign country, America can print more money to pay its debt, but that would trigger additional inflation (perhaps hyper-inflation), which would further devastate middle-income and poor families across the country, as well as the developing world, for which progressives purport to speak. It would also destroy the American business engine.
Fueling the crisis is President Biden’s highly restrictive energy policy that is driving underlying energy costs to record levels, depleting diesel fuel which powers the economy, threatening national security by draining the strategic petroleum reserve, and continuing to drive inflation, while leading to likely blackouts and fuel oil shortages in the winter, causing many households (especially in the Northeast) to freeze.
Any combination of the possible/likely outcomes could represent a major catastrophe for all Americans.
And, of course, by far, the most important question is how the midterm elections will unfold and set up 2024.
Having said all that, this election seems to hinge on a completely different set of issues.
At the center, as always, is Donald Trump, who serves both parties as a litmus test and a proxy war. Within the Republican primaries, and even during the general election, candidates are judged, endorsed and supported based upon relative alignment to Trump, the Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement, and his America First policy. Those not swearing allegiance to Trump and the movement have been branded “bad guys,” “weak,” and “Republicans in Name Only” (RINOs), and many have been primaried.
At the same time, the principal election cudgels for the Democrats are “Trumpist” and “election denier” and January 6 (threat to democracy), which quickly morph into “racist.” So many Democrats’ campaigns are being run largely on those accusations.
The other major election hinge has been inflation versus abortion. Republicans point to the collapsing economy brought on by high spending, high — and rising — inflation, and Biden’s precipitous/destructive energy policy. The Democrats’ rejoinder has been Dobbs v. Jackson and the assertion that Republicans restrict women’s right to choose (abortions).
And what is confounding is that these issues, and associated public opinion polls, are in continuous flux. For example, as gas prices briefly declined and inflation slowed over the past month, Democrats’ hopes rose, but as fuel prices rose again and shortages loomed, the equation reversed. The Democrats’ bump following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling ebbed as women realized that states could still determine abortion laws. Even more important, American women vote for household issues and have become much more concerned about inflation and food bills. The Hispanic community also has been shifting Republican on economic issues.
Americans seem to trust the president (and his active promotion by corporate media) … and then they don’t.
Which brings up the most important question: 2024. With Republicans likely controlling the House and Senate by then, which party will win the political struggle for the White House?
For Joe Biden and the current administration, a pivot toward the center seems impossible. They are all in. They almost certainly will continue to push extremely high government spending and growing debt as a solution to what may become an economic catastrophe. They cannot reverse their precipitous abandonment of fossil fuels, and will face tighter energy markets and rising prices. The only “relief” may be a drop in those prices from lessened demand because of a coming economic collapse, or sharply rising demand that forces a change in policy, brought on by a global war — both of which represent disaster for Americans.
The Republicans are faced with the multifaceted problem of how to reduce government spending to promote private-sector investment; how to offset the impact of rising interest rates and continued mismanagement at the Fed; how to help the American energy industry rebalance supply to help the economy recover and regain energy independence and national security; how to stop what appears to be growing corruption and political performance theater at the FBI and Department of Justice; how to reduce homelessness and urban crime; how to secure our borders; and how to return military competence to our national defense.
Politically, as foreign crises intensify over the next two years and as the American economy drifts toward major catastrophe, the White House, supported by mainstream media, will focus exclusively on blaming the crises on the Republican House and Senate — a cynic’s delight. It will require remarkable political skill for the Republicans to weather that storm, and that is the central political question facing America in this election and the next.
Grady Means is a writer (GradyMeans.com) and former corporate strategy consultant. He served in the White House as a policy assistant to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Follow him on Twitter @gradymeans1.