Free Press columnist Michael G. Roskin
Free Press columnist Michael G. Roskin
Doom talk is rising. We are not collapsing, but federal governing power is retreating. Weaker both domestically and internationally, we cannot lead as we used to. Not getting our way is leaving us deeply frustrated. Solution: get used to living with diminished power. It’s unpleasant but can be managed.

Several major problems fester with no cures visible. Most dangerous is the Republican attempt to have states send bogus slates of electors to the Electoral College to overturn the 2020 and possibly 2024 election. If Pence had obeyed, Trump would be president. The key battleground is state governments, where Republicans have engineered dominance.

Economic inequality is reaching dangerous levels, and our current tax code makes it worse. Middle-class Americans pay a bigger percent of their income than the super-rich. As Yale Law’s Amy Chua (of “Tiger Mother” fame) has argued, democratic elections amid big income inequality beg for demagoguery and instability, which we are now experiencing.

Investment managers’ “carried interest” pretends that fund executives risk their own money in order to get their gains taxed at a lower rate than ordinary income. Meantime, ordinary savers, heavily retirees, just saw their savings diminish by over 5% from a year earlier. We don’t get carried interest. In fact, we barely get any interest.

Some Democrats seek to end carried interest, but the very wealthy, preoccupied with tax-avoidance, steer both parties’ tax legislation. Tax lawyers and accountants chuckle at every “tax reform,” as it adds complexity and brings them more business.

Congress again plays chicken with both the budget and federal debt limit (two different but related barriers) that we’ll reach next month. Republicans say they don’t care about government shutdown or default, but oversold markets will. Congress starves the IRS of funds, letting trillions go untaxed every year. What’s so hard about taxing all income the same?

We can’t even get all Americans to take safe, effective and free COVID vaccinations. Invoking American hyper-individualism, some say it’s dangerous, and, besides, the whole thing is a hoax. Would you want to be a patient in a hospital where several percent of the staff refuse to get vaccinated?

The Supreme Court is likely to weaken federal rulings on abortion by letting the issue revert to the states. This could mark the beginning of a rollback of federal judicial primacy. Think the states will do a good job? Many don’t. The pandemic has cut state revenues, making states more dependent on federal handouts even as they defend their “states’ rights.” The more states’ rights, the weaker the nation as a whole.

Several states are passing “ballot security” measures targeting Black voters. A North Carolina court has just ruled against such a state law. But in Washington, Senate Republicans refuse voter protections. Unless the Senate abandons the 60-vote threshold to close filibusters, no such law will pass.

President Biden said he’d turn foreign policy around but has basically continued Trump’s policies. We neither won nor withdrew nicely from the 20-year war in Afghanistan. Granted, neither may have been possible. Our military belatedly realizes it fought the wrong war the wrong way in the wrong country. That does not get back any of our lost 2,500 soldiers and $2 trillion.

China proclaims its hegemony in the Indo-Pacific and turns furious at any resistance, now focused on Australia, where China is using heavy economic and political leverage. Beijing’s anger over the new U.S.-Australia submarine deal shows that it understands that someone is finally standing up to China, whose tottering domestic debts may force it to pause and rethink.

The Biden administration, like the previous, alienates our allies, many of whom resented the scant notification of our abrupt Afghan withdrawal. Secretary Blinken’s denials notwithstanding, we have trouble communicating with allies. France was so angry at the surprise cancelation of its 12-submarine contract with Australia that it recalled its ambassadors to the two countries for consultation and canceled a Washington gala.

The Republic’s big unknowns are in digital technology, which are already perverting rational dialog and stable governance. All manner of mis- and disinformation make it into social media, promoting everything from civil war to horse dewormer for COVID. One platform concealed studies of suicide by teenage girls who fear their body image does not measure up. Can no one control this juggernaut?

Even worse, what happens when cyber networks crash — or an adversary deliberately crashes them? We are way too dependent on cyber, but Washington and corporations take few steps to protect us. Too expensive.

No, the Republic will not disappear. It will just stay stuck in division and weakness for several years. Eventually, someone, in combination with some event, will break us free from this paralysis. Biden projected himself as the new FDR. He isn’t, and I can’t think of anyone who is.