Midterm Challenge:

Prospects for US Politics and Society in 2022
Midterm Challenge:
February 15, 2022

Americans of all stripes are increasingly disgruntled, disappointed, and disillusioned with their government. Most Democrats think President Joe Biden is failing to advance his campaign promises, despite his party controlling both chambers of Congress. Meanwhile, Republicans unsurprisingly see the Biden administration as a misguided, mismanaged, and unmitigated disaster. Besides the usual political rancor and growing distrust of government, let’s take a look at the many important issues facing the US this year:

Biden Doctrine

Last year, President Biden made history by removing US troops from Afghanistan. While the withdrawal itself was riddled with embarrassing failures, the broader decision to pull out was generally supported by Americans. It’s clear that Biden views ground wars as both passé and futile, making it highly unlikely he will commit the country to another prolonged armed conflict.

But what will Biden’s foreign policy look like beyond an opposition to traditional military engagements? Given that sanctions are extremely limited in their efficacy, how will the president handle the brewing “great power” competition with Russia and China? To what extent will he involve the US in protecting Ukraine and its Eastern European neighbors from Russian aggression? How will he confront China’s budding boldness in the South China Sea and its approach toward Taiwan? The answers to these questions will undoubtedly have ramifications for decades to come.

Foreign Policy Dilemmas

Aside from existential power struggles, Biden faces countless issues on the world stage. Having pledged to combat climate change, it remains unclear how the president will steer his country, let alone the world, toward a carbon-neutral future at the expeditious pace many scientists say is necessary to fend off the impending climate catastrophe.

With Iran and the US still involved in tense nuclear negotiations, many questions about US Middle East policy remain. Despite Biden’s promise to rein-in the catastrophic war in Yemen, the conflict continues to escalate in new and dangerous ways. Meanwhile, the recent flurry of ISIS activity in Iraq and Syria shows that the threat of terrorism still needs to be addressed. However, Biden must navigate this issue in light of recent reports by the New York Times that divulged horrific civilian casualties in the region as a result of US counter-terrorism operations.

Closer to home, the president faces growing political pressure from the ongoing migration and refugee crisis on the US’ southern border. The administration has acknowledged that treating the root causes of the current predicament—poverty, crime, and corruption in Central and South America—is the only way to truly resolve the matter. However, the administration has shown itself incapable of successfully working with other governments in the region to redress these issues. As such, it appears the debate surrounding refugees and migrants will continue to be a political football for future administrations.

Upcoming Midterm Elections

It’s election season once again in America, and no one can say with any certainty which party will emerge victorious. The sitting president’s party typically loses seats in midterm elections, meaning there’s a good chance that Republicans will retake the Senate and/or the House of Representatives. Given that Biden struggles to legislate with his own party controlling Congress, losing even one of the two chambers would completely upend key components of his agenda, such as confronting climate change and expanding social programs. The elections also may deepen fissures within American society, further diminishing the likelihood that this election season will give way to a government more disposed toward bipartisan cooperation. While the outcome of this year’s election will have enormous consequences, it is undeniable that the US government has struggled to accomplish anything noteworthy in recent years, regardless of the party in charge.

Economic Challenges

The advent of the “gig economy” a decade ago challenged traditional views of work in the US. What started as a slow rethinking of the nature of work has been dramatically accelerated by the pandemic. Workers across the spectrum—from factory workers to Wall Street brokers—have gained immense leverage over their employers in the past two-plus years. Pandemic-induced labor shortages have empowered many lower-wage workers to successfully demand better pay and working conditions. Meanwhile, many white-collar workers have thoroughly embraced the remote work concept, and believe they have enough collective sway over management to make it a permanent reality.

The changing nature of work has effectively uprooted the basics of life, changing road traffic patterns, the viability of public transportation, the nature of business districts in major cities, and even where people live. As the pandemic becomes endemic and the torrent of stimulus spending (which gave Americans extra cash and financial flexibility) eases, it remains to be seen if workers will maintain leverage over their employers. If they do and the “old normal” never returns, it will have existential implications for the future of the US economy and society.

Social Changes

This year, the Supreme Court is poised to make a landmark ruling on abortion, one which will either solidify the legal right to abortion or allow states to once again legislate when human life begins. The heated debate surrounding the decision is representative of the ever-widening societal cracks at the country’s core. Many rural Americans feel looked down upon by their counterparts living in big cities, and fear that “traditional American values” are rapidly eroding and being replaced by “coastal elite values.” Meanwhile, many urban and suburban Americans have embraced the world of rapid social change and lack patience for the concerns of “middle America.” While this culture war has gone on for decades, most agree that it has intensified in recent years, especially with Donald Trump’s presidency. With no detente in sight, the culture wars will likely continue to corrode the cohesiveness of American society, and perhaps even its democratic system. In the leadup to the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln warned, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” What will then become of a US that, in 2022, stands so deeply divided?


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