How This Do-Nothing Election Did Not (and Will Not) Change the World
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How do we know that gridlock and a permanent state of war are the only two paths open to the people’s representatives, that Washington is quite so constrained? Because we’ve just voted in a near-rerun of the years 2009-2012, which means that the power to make domestic policy (except at the edges) will continue to slowly seep out of the White House, while the power of the president and the national security state to further abridge evaporating liberties at home and make war abroad will only be enhanced. The result is likely to be stasis for the globe’s last superpower at a moment when much of the world -- and the planet itself -- is in the process of tumultuous transformation.
Here are things not to expect: a major move to rebuild the country’s tattered infrastructure; the genuine downsizing of the American global military mission; any significant attempt to come to grips with a changing planet and global warming; and the mobilization of a younger generation that, as Hurricane Sandy showed, is ready to give much and do much to help others in need, but in the next four years will never be called to the colors.
In other words, this country is stuck in a hell of its own making that passes for everyday life at a moment when the world, for better and/or worse, is coming unstuck in all sorts of ways.
Fiddling While the Planet Burns
The United States remains a big, powerful, wealthy country that is slowly hollowing out, breaking down. Meanwhile, on planet Earth, the global economy is up for grabs. Another meltdown is possible, as the European, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian economies all continue to take hits. Power relations have been changing rapidly, from the rise of Brazil in what was once Washington's "backyard" to the Chinese miracle (and the military muscle that goes with it). A largely American system that long helped keep the Greater Middle East, the energy heartlands of the globe, under grim, autocratic control is unraveling with unknown consequences. Above all, from increasingly iceless Arctic waters to ever more extreme weather, rising sea levels, and the acidification of the oceans, this planet is undergoing a remarkably rapid transformation based largely on the release into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.
Other than a few curious Republican comparisons of an American economy under the Democrats to “ Greece,” a near obsessive focus on the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stephens and three other Americans in Libya, and various denunciations of China as a currency manipulator, not a single one of these matters came up in any meaningful way in the election campaign. In other words, election 2012 boiled down to little more than a massive case of Washington-style denial. And don’t for a second think that that’s just an artifact of election year artifice.
Take climate change, which like the Arab Spring blasted its way into our unprepared midst in 2011-2012. There was the wildfire season of all seasons in a parching Southwest and West, a devastating drought that still hasn’t fully lifted in the Midwestern breadbasket (or corncob) of the country, and a seemingly endless summer that may make this the hottest year on record for the continental United States. It was staggering and, if opinion polls are to be believed, noted by increasing numbers of concerned Americans who could literally feel the world changing around them.
And yet none of this made global warming an election issue. Month after month, it was The Great Unmentionable. The silence of emboldened Republicans plugging their drill-baby-drill and lay-those-pipelines policies and of cowed Democrats who convinced themselves that the issue was a no-win zone for the president proved deafening -- until the campaign's last days. It was then, of course, that Hurricane Sandy, the “ Frankenstorm,” swept through my town and devastated New Jersey. It provided the extreme weather coup de grâce of 2012. (And yes, there’s little doubt that climate-change-induced rising sea levels contributed to its fury.) Superstorm Sandy also revealed just how unprepared the U.S. infrastructure is for predicted climate-change events.