by Richard S., Nick B., Jia M. | Photo courtesy CNN, but f@*$ you CNN
We’re almost to the finish line. On November 9, we’ll know the president for the next four years–and right now, it’s looking like we won’t be electing Donald J. Trump to the presidency. You can sigh your relief, but the fact remains that 1) the populist movement will probably not recede and 2) we still have all the problems that we were dealing with previously. We’ve basically written off 2016 to pay attention to Trump rise higher and higher. Just replace “today” in this Onion headline with “this year”:
Here’s a thorough (though not exhaustive) list of problems confronting our country going into 2017, along with some previous posts of ours that address them in some aspect. Unsurprisingly, the list is long, and it shows why we need a president (and a Congress) with a clear vision and concrete solutions.
- The Supreme Court and federal judgeships. With the death of Antonin Scalia there’s an open seat on the Supreme Court bench that, despite Obama’s best efforts to put forward a moderate candidate, has remained so. Congressional Republicans have argued that the next president has the right to choose the new justice, so I guess they’re handing that privilege to Hillary. It remains to be seen whether gridlock will continue, however, over Hillary’s pick, and even if Democrats win the Senate, there are obstacles to appointing the Supreme Court Justice and the incredible number of federal judgeship vacancies.
- Police brutality and race relations. Racial tensions were already on the rise, but Donald Trump, the poster boy for the racist and narrow-minded, certainly didn’t help. He spoke his mind and brought to light what many people still feel. Even though some cops are wearing body cams, cops are still abusing their power and using excessive or lethal force on people. Policy brutality has created a larger awakening (Black Lives Matter) to the continued struggles of African-Americans and it’s not clear that the federal government is prepared to deal with this issue productively, if the ruling on the Voting Rights Act is any indication.
- Obamacare. A recent government report projected large increases in premiums next year as insurers face larger-than-expected losses (however, most consumers may not pay the higher prices). Meanwhile Republicans continue to threaten Obamacare’s repeal and challenge it in the court. However, at the same time, the Act has reduced America’s uninsured population by nearly a half. If it is to continue the program needs to be made more sustainable.
- The economy. The unemployment rate stands at 4.9%, very low by historical standards (the more inclusive measure, U6, is at 9.5%, is where it was at in 2008). Inflation has picked up but is modest. Meanwhile federal spending as a proportion of GDP dropped precipitously after the 2011 budget cuts, though it still remains above pre-crisis levels. There’s certainly some room for the government to increase spending; the question is on what projects, and whether the window for maximizing its effectiveness has passed.
- The debt. The debt, on the other hand, has ballooned through the last two presidents’ administrations, due to expensive wars, bank bailouts, economic stimulus, and rising social security checks. While I’ve argued previously that having a sizeable debt is not a bad thing and may even be necessary, the next president and Congress need to be sure the debt is sustainable, given the burden of an aging Boomer population. Normally I’d include interest payments as a risk, but over the last 8 years the government has been able to borrow cheaply, keeping interest payments somewhat stable. However, with higher rates in our future, the government should cautiously consider any new big expenditures.
- Financial regulation. The Dodd-Frank Act made an incredible amount of new regulations to reform the financial sector. Government officials have argued the regulations have made the system safer; some say the regulations don’t go far enough, while others claim the regulations are tough on small banks. Meanwhile, reform has yet to happen to the government-sponsored enterprises, or GSEs. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were put into government conservatorship in 2008 and have been left there without establishing their purpose, which means taxpayers are still on the hook for agencies that have not figured out what their role in the housing market should be.
- Infrastructure. Our bridges are dangerously deficient, our airports are backed up, our power lines in disrepair. Though most agree infrastructure spending needs to go way up, the left and right disagree on how to finance it on the one hand–borrowing vs. cutting other spending–and on the other, politicians want new projects (they look better politically) while economists think maintenance (far less sexy) is better for fixing the actual problem.
- Syria. Though U.S. coalition air forces have struck within Syria at ISIS, the Obama administration has restrained U.S. involvement in the country. Meanwhile, Russia has stepped up its involvement; the U.S.-sponsored rebel training program has more or less failed; and Syrian government forces have laid bloody siege to the city of Aleppo. Syria is one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent memory, and brokered ceasefires have failed to quell the conflict, and whether through more active military involvement or through peace negotiations, the U.S. will play a crucial role.
- ISIS and terror. ISIS appears to be in retreat, and it may be that the assault on Mosul by the Iraqi Security Forces is a success. Though the group’s peak appears to be last November’s Paris attacks, it continues to direct and inspire attacks, and even when ISIS is “degraded and destroyed” there needs to be a long-term strategy to bring stability to the region it sprang from. For starters, there ought to be a plan for Mosul after ISIS is removed.
- Russia. Relations with Russia have reached new lows since Obama and Romney argued about whether Russia was a problem back in 2012; the alleged interference in the election has added a new, disturbing flavor to the new conflict. Meanwhile, Ukraine is struggling with corruption and is losing the support of the West despite the desire to counter Russia. Then there is the Russian campaign of disinformation, exploiting Americans’ tendency to believe anything on the internet (everything in this article is false). U.S. foreign policy needs to well, figure out how to deal with all this.
- China. Relative to everything else on this list, China may seem to be in the rear-view mirror, but they’re still presenting much of the old and and some new problems. The ongoing crisis in the South China Sea will likely continue into the next administration and must be resolved. Russia may be hacking us a lot more, but in the past couple of weeks Chinese-based hackers hacked a US military aircraft carrier. The Chinese-based hackers may not be directly linked to the Chinese government, but a third party group with access to sensitive military information is never a good thing.
China is also still struggling to find a balance between economic growth and environment degradation. With a population of approximately 1.4 billion people and many other developed nations investing a huge amount of money in their factories, they’re generating a huge amount of pollution. With climate change the way it is, we have broken a stupid amount of climate records in 2016. China is also flooding the real estate market with about $93 billion. There are special conferences and symposiums in Vegas and Shanghai where the Chinese flock to and buy up homes in the States. And they pay in cash. As a result, housing in many areas has become unaffordable.
- Energy and the environment. The clean energy industry in the United States will receive a very clear answer in the next 2 days about what to expect for the next 4-8 years. The clean energy basket includes solar, wind, geothermal, water, vehicle technology, building technology, advanced manufacturing, weatherization technology, bioenergy, and hydrogen/fuel cell technology. Hillary winning the presidency would essentially continue federal funding started under Obama’s presidency through the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). In the event that Trump wins the election, and goes through with his promises, not only would the federal programs be discontinued, but state and local level programs would, in a way, lose direction from the federal government and then be required to alter their approach moving forward.In the event that the Department of Energy is taken out of the equation for clean energy research, it will be as good of a time as any for the Breakthrough Energy Coalition (BEC) to live up to the very reason for its existence–long story short, wealthy entrepreneurs, are trying to bridge the clean energy gap by investing: early, broadly, boldly, wisely, and jointly because they see climate change as a HUUUUGE ISSUE.
- Trade. There has been enormous backlash in trade this year, with even Hillary saying she supported TPP in theory but not based on what’s actually in the agreement. With the potent political force behind Trump’s rise, it’s hard to see free trade incorporated into either party’s platform going forward. At the same time, TPP was a cornerstone of Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” strategy, and now it looks like it’s dead in the water. America needs to figure out its trade strategy, especially when so many Pacific nations were willing to sign a deal, and how it’s going to continue building ties with the most populous and economically dynamic continent.
- Campaign finance. Since the Citizens United decision money has flooded electoral campaigns, and we now have some of the most expensive elections in history. Though money is apparently “free speech” it’s not entirely clear this development has been good for our democracy.
- Trust in the government, institutions, and the media. Americans’ trust in these pillars of society is at a historical low and it’s highly doubtful this year has helped.
Again, this isn’t an exhaustive list (it was exhausting), nor is each bullet as thorough as it could be. The more important point is that there’s a plethora of issues that our government has to address, and just “saving the world from Trump” or “putting Hillary in jail” does little to make progress on them. Sadly the media has focused almost entirely on the campaign (specifically Trump’s)–it’s what gets ratings, after all–and the treatment of the issues in the debates was superficial at best. The level of dialogue was frequently brought down to making light of sexual assault and e-mails.
One could argue this “distraction” is a natural part of the democratic process–and in response we could ask, Is an electoral campaign that stretches back two years–the first Republican declared candidacy in March 2015—natural? This distraction has real costs. The siege of Aleppo, for example, is due to escalate on election day.
This year has been exhausting and anxiety-inducing. But it’s even more exhausting when you think of the actual problems on the horizon and you remember we haven’t done the best job of vetting the plans of the person we elect, of setting our government up for success. This blog will continue to examine these issues, but this blog isn’t the one that makes the moves necessary to solve them.