What the midterm elections will signal to the world

As November 8 approaches and American voters prepare to go to the polls, some of us are worried about domestic issues like the economy, immigration and health care. Others worry about international affairs like the economy, immigration and, well, health care.

The truth is that most problems are interrelated. What happens in this country affects the whole world and vice versa.

Think about it: health issues like COVID-19 transcend national borders.

Climate change affects every citizen in every corner of the world, but the approach to it varies by national policy.

Immigration is not just an American problem because we share a border with Mexico and that immigrants from many countries are pouring into the United States.

Inflation isn’t just what the Federal Reserve does with interest rates; it has to do with everything from the shortage of chips to the price of a barrel of grain and oil.

The integrity of elections is not only about the correct counting of votes at home, but also about the interference of Russia and other foreign countries.

All this means that pundits and pollsters should stop referring to domestic and international affairs as if they were separate topics.

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Today we are dealing with “intermediate” issues. As the results of the upcoming midterm elections come in, certain things may change in America, and those changes will affect how America is perceived around the world and how it affects global affairs.

Take, for example, the war in Ukraine. We are already seeing partisan divides emerging in the US electorate over the Biden administration’s approach to Russia and Ukraine.

A letter that progressive Democrats wrote to President Biden criticizing our Ukraine policy was recently sent out and retracted after it was leaked to the press.

Some Republicans are also beginning to question US policy toward Ukraine. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Calif.) has suggested he could block further defense and humanitarian aid to Ukraine if he becomes Speaker of the House next year.

A strong midterm showing could revive the former president’s “America First” stance for Trump supporters.

Congress has a strong voice when it comes to war powers, meaning the composition of the House and Senate determines how much support is given in response to Russian actions, including the use of the so-called “dirty bomb” in Ukraine or the use of tactical nuclear weapons. How the US and NATO respond to any escalation of war will depend on how Congress and the executive branch interpret the meaning of “war.”

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Committee assignments may change on Capitol Hill, including the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will affect how quickly or slowly President Biden’s nominees stay in office.

China is another area where Congress has a voice. So far, some bipartisan agreement has been reached on US-China policy, leading to CHIPS and the Science and Infrastructure Act, both of which seek to strengthen US competition against China, such as in semiconductors.

But the new Congress could reveal partisan differences on issues such as Taiwan or America’s position in Asia.

Of course, the power of the wallet is the most important thing. Congress has budget authority over military spending that would reflect the new mood, depending on which members are elected. (In May, 57 House Republicans voted against a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. Eleven Republicans in the Senate voted against the measure.)

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Congressional spending on everything from COVID vaccinations in the developing world to sanctions against Russia could transform the American economy. A Republican midterm victory in both the Senate and the House would have a negative impact on Europe and NATO as the war intensifies.

Finally, there are moral questions in this election. In most of the world, the United States is seen as a beacon of democracy. But that perception has come under threat. The midterms will reveal what Americans value, sending a message about our national narrative and priorities — whether democracy is theory or practice, and whether America can still claim ownership of it.

Tara D. Sonenshine is the Edward R. Murrow Professor of the Practice of Public Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.


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