A decisive year looms for US democracy

A decisive year looms for US democracy

A decisive year looms for US democracy
With midterm elections in November, the US electorate will have its first opportunity to deliver a verdict on the first half of the Joe Biden’s presidency. (AFP)
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On the first anniversary of the riots in Washington that sought to overturn the election of US President Joe Biden, there are plenty of political experts hypothesizing that 2022 will be a decisive year for American democracy.

With midterm elections in November, the US electorate will have its first opportunity to deliver a verdict on the first half of the Biden presidency. As things stand 10 months out, the auguries are not good for the 79-year-old incumbent of the White House.

Biden’s popularity has fallen in the opinion polls, with a significant majority of voters now disapproving of his performance so far. After positive sentiment during his first six months, voters began to turn against the US leader last summer, and have continued to give him the thumbs down into the new year.

The reasons for this are many and varied. Despite the administration’s promise to “beat” the COVID-19 virus by the summer, the vaccination program has lost momentum and the omicron variant has hit hard, with the recent daily count of more than 1 million cases a world record.

This has weighed on the economy. Although the forecast for economic growth this year is little changed, growth in jobs has slowed as employers think twice about hiring in the midst of the omicron wave and global supply chain problems hamper productivity.

In the US, if you are employed outside the booming financial sector, your standard of living prospects seem as uncertain as at any time since the pandemic began, with the prospect of soaring inflation — at its highest level for four decades — further clouding the future.

The Build Back Better initiative Biden launched to kick-start growth has also run into trouble, stymied by congressional chicanery and Republican opposition. The $1.7 trillion package is currently in limbo.

All this domestic uncertainty has been accompanied by a sense of drift in US foreign policy, with the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer leaving a shadow that has grown darker as other international situations have deteriorated.

Biden’s popularity has fallen in the opinion polls, with a significant majority of voters now disapproving of his performance so far

Frank Kane

There has been no reset to US-China relations as a result of several high-level conversations between Washington and Beijing. In fact, heightened tension over Taiwan has been the growing theme. Economic “decoupling” is all the talk again as trade between the two biggest economic powers in the world continues to shrink.

On perhaps the hottest issue — Iran’s growing nuclear capabilities — there has been a distinct lack of progress, as talks in Vienna get further bogged down by Iranian intransigence and American vacillation.

Against this backdrop, US political experts are forecasting big reversals for Biden and the Democrats in the November midterms. Control of Congress could easily fall to the Republicans, effectively making Biden a “lame duck” president for the remaining two years of his term of office.

But it is what comes next that has most alarmed some analysts. Ian Bremmer, founder of the Eurasia Group of political consultants, recently forecast a “historic tipping point” in US politics if the Republicans win the midterms amid accusations of electoral fraud and voter suppression, paving the way for a second run at the presidency by Donald Trump in 2024.

Whatever the result then, it would be accompanied by accusations that it was either “broken” or “stolen,” creating a “nationwide crisis of political legitimacy” that could even see some states (Bremmer singles out California) seeking to secede from the Union.

The world has to hope it does not reach that crisis point. The US political system has withstood multiple threats in its near 250-year history and there is no reason to think it cannot meet another serious challenge.

But to do so, Democrats and Republicans alike have to show a willingness to eschew the kind of polarized political attitudes that have become increasingly the norm since 2016. By the end of this year, we will have an idea how likely they are to achieve this.

• Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai

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