With the world watching, democracy is faltering
If Russian President Vladimir Putin wants light relief from the deadly quagmire he has created in Ukraine, he only needs to switch on American or British television. The English language may not be colorful enough to reflect adequately the extraordinary state of politics in what was once considered the two greatest examples of democracy. Putin may agree with Lenin that, given enough rope, the West will hang itself. Today, that rope appears to be democracy.
Britain will soon have its third prime minister in just a few months. Despite his lies, law-breaking during COVID-19 and other disgraceful conduct, Boris Johnson could become a Lazarus or a Churchill rising from the political dead for a second premiership. That nation is in political chaos. And the Conservative Party is in complete disarray. One would be hard pressed to recall a time when “Great” was so far removed from Britain as it is today.
The same could be said with the words “United” and “States.” Conditions in the U.S. are at least as bad as, and possibly worse than, in Britain. The midterm elections are likely to confuse rather than clarify how this country is to be governed. Indeed, it is possible that should the Georgia Senate race require a run-off, it could be December until control of the Senate is determined. And in Utah, if independent Evan McMullin defeats Republican incumbent Mike Lee, and the Senate is 50-49 Republican, McMullin could become the second most powerful man in Washington.
It is also hard to recall a November when so many bizarre candidates were running, many with no apparent qualifications for office other than providing a vote for his or her party in Congress. Herschel Walker (R-Ga.) was a great football player. But he has given no proof that he would be even an adequate senator. Yet he may well win.
The Senate race in Pennsylvania resembles a “Saturday Night Live” parody of politics more than an election that could lead to control of that body. Democrat John Fetterman, the lieutenant governor, suffered a stroke and is still recovering. But his physical appearance is a bit startling.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is a well-known TV personality but only recently moved to Pennsylvania and has no obvious political skills or deep policy experience. And some of his campaigning has been bizarre — perhaps the best word to define the 2022 elections at all levels.
But no matter how the national elections turn out, and even if the Democrats hold the Senate and somehow win the House, 2023 and 2024 will not be improvements over 2022. If Republicans control the House, that may not be good news for the nation either. Consider these possible scenarios.
With former President Trump and Hunter Biden facing possible indictments, would a Republican House impeach President Biden simply out of revenge? The spectacle of a former and current president and a presidential son concurrently in the dock would completely overshadow the spectacle of Liz Truss’s 45 days in office and even Boris’s return to Number 10. One can imagine how that prospect would be viewed in Beijing, Brussels, Kyiv, Moscow, Riyadh and Tehran.
Democrats worry that a Republican House could threaten to shut down the government to force passage of legislation Democrats oppose.
Whether Republicans would continue to support more aid to Ukraine is also an open question. The Freedom Caucus argues that “America First” means prioritizing domestic affairs. And potential House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) seems to agree.
What else could go wrong? Winter brings the flu season. New and more contagious variants of COVID-19 have already been reported. RSV, a virus infecting the extremely young and old, appears to be spreading at record levels. Inflation may not be controlled. And the costs of gasoline and other energy are certain to rise.
While fighting may abate in Ukraine due to weather, the number of potentially explosive global hot spots is not declining. By denying China access to chips, the Biden administration has launched an undeclared economic war on Beijing. And Beijing will respond, possibly ratcheting up pressure on Taiwan, the largest source of semi-conductor production.
President Biden has said the great struggle of our time is between democracies and autocracies. But based on events in the UK and the U.S., he may be wrong. The more likely struggle is whether democracies are even capable of self-governing.
Harlan Ullman is senior adviser at the Atlantic Council and the prime author of “shock and awe.” His latest book is “The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large.” Follow him on Twitter @harlankullman.