Is America in decline, or are our best days still to come? It’s a question that pundits, politicians and many of the rest of us often discuss. Are we pessimistic or optimistic about our future?
We all like to think that progress is inevitable. We want to see a bright future for our children and grandchildren. But we also know there are no guarantees.
While we can’t know the future, we can see some of the trends that will shape our world in 2020 and beyond, and what we, as citizens should do.
Here at home, the 2020 elections will dominate the political news. The House vote to impeach President Donald Trump and the Senate’s response will be at the center of the debate. For Congress, the President and the country, the stakes are huge, partisan rancor is high, and a bitter campaign and an ugly election lie ahead. Trump’s proponents believe America is prospering and will continue to thrive under his leadership. Trump’s opponents, of course, see his leadership producing disaster.
U.S. presidents typically win re-election, especially when the economy is relatively strong, as it is today. But Trump is unusual in many ways, and the conventional wisdom may not apply. Many voters do not give the president credit for the healthy economy, and are anxious to see him go. Trump has a large block of voters who loyally support him and are unlikely to abandon him.
Democrats, meanwhile, aren’t yet close to picking a presidential candidate. A Trump re-election alarms them. Democrats have their differences but are united in wanting a candidate who will beat Trump.
In the Congress, Democrats will probably keep control of the House while Republicans will retain control of the Senate. Divided government will continue.
The economy will likely avoid a recession in the near term. But the longest economic expansion in history – surpassing 10 years — is slowing and may be coming to an end. The world economy is on the brink of a downturn.
Policymakers are likely to conclude that stimulus is needed in the form of tax cuts, lower interest rates, and increased spending.
Trump will characterize his Democratic opponents as socialists and will accuse them of wanting to flood America with immigrants. If the economy sputters, he’ll blame the Fed or find other scapegoats. Regardless of economic conditions, he will favor more tax cuts.
The relationship between the United States and China with its mix of cooperation and confrontation will dominate foreign affairs.
The two countries will clash frequently. They will cooperate to promote trade, address climate change and try to avoid war. But U.S. politicians will bash China, a reliable tactic in an election year. They will criticize China for cheating on trade, abusing dissidents and suppressing human rights.
They will support existing arms control and other agreements and try to reach new ones. But the risk of confrontation between the United States and Russia, the two major nuclear powers, will remain high.
For most of us, our obligation is to try to understand the world, and figure out what politicians and policies to support to achieve our goals.
Beyond that, each of us will seek to find our way to make our lives count, live generously and promote liberty and justice for all. A challenging world is filled with conflict and suffering. Our response must be to make it better.
By Lee H. Hamilton