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 worry about domestic issues like the economy, immigration and health care. Others worry about international affairs like the economy, immigration and, well, healthcare.

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

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

Climate change affects all citizens in every corner of the world, but approaches to it differ according to national politics.

Immigration is not just an American issue since we share a border with Mexico and immigrants flow into the United States from many countries.

Inflation isn’t just what the Federal Reserve does with interest rates; it relates to everything from chip shortages to the price of grain and a barrel of oil.

Election integrity is not just about the fair counting of ballots at home, but about interference from Russia and other countries abroad.

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

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Today we are faced with issues that can be called “intermetic”. When the results of the upcoming midterm elections are clear, some things could change within the United States, and those changes will affect how the United States sees itself around the world and is affected by global affairs.

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

Recently, a letter that progressive Democrats wrote to President Biden criticizing our Ukraine policy was sent and then retracted after it was leaked to the press.

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

A strong midterm showing for Trump supporters could revitalize the “America First” approach the former president articulated.

Congress has a strong voice when it comes to war powers, meaning the makeup of the House and Senate determines how much support there is to respond to Russian moves, 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 include how Congress and the executive branch interpret the meaning of “war.”

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Committee assignments could change on Capitol Hill, including on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, affecting how quickly or slowly President Biden’s remaining nominees move through.

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

But a new Congress could reveal differences between the parties in areas such as Taiwan or America’s stance in Asia.

Of course, the power of the purse is key. Congress has budget authority over military spending, which would reflect new sentiments based on elected members. (In May, 57 House Republicans voted against a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. Eleven Republicans voted against the measure in the Senate.)

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Congressional spending on everything from COVID vaccinations in the developing world to sanctions on Russia can change the US economy. A Republican midterm victory in both the Senate and the House would have ripple effects for Europe and NATO just as the war intensifies.

Finally, there are moral issues at stake in this election. The US is judged in much of the world as a beacon of democracy. But this perception is under threat. The middle sessions will point to what Americans value, sending a message about our national narrative and priorities: whether democracy is a theory or a 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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