December 31, 2022

Happy New Year!

by Hal Gershowitz

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A New Year Dealing with Old Conflicts

The six-to-three conservative-majority Supreme Court is sure to make news, and waves in the new year, with the Supremes, quite possibly, obliterating some major Biden Administration priorities. The court will have much to say about whether Biden can advance his more liberal immigration policies or his student loan forgiveness initiative. These Administration priorities will live or die depending on how the justices decide this year.

The new House of Representatives will convene with another razor-thin majority in two days. Only this time, the Republicans will wield the gavel. However, at this point, no one knows which Republican will do the wielding. Kevin McCarthy is the almost anointed next Speaker, but almost doesn’t quite get the ambitious McCarthy over the finish line.

With the House comprising 222 Republicans and 212 Democrats, McCarthy needs 218 votes to become Speaker. He appears to be at least one vote short, with five Republicans holding out against McCarthy. They are Andy Biggs (R-Az.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), and Bob Good (R-Va.). It is somewhat uncertain what Republican George “Pinocchio” Santos’s status will be. It would be ironic if Santos’s vote gets McCarthy over the top just before the pathologically prevaricating New York congressman is possibly ejected from the House. He has pledged his support to McCarthy to ensure that doesn’t happen.

The Senate will be controlled, again, by the Democrats with a little extra breathing room…very little. Nonetheless, the Democrats’ control of the Senate is ironic because control was handed to them by former president Donald Trump following his idiotic hand-picking of Republican Senatorial candidates. The Trump-picked candidates constituted the entirety of the “candidate-quality” issue about which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned. Three states Republicans lost (Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Georgia) were practically gimmie’s before Trump’s endorsements. Well, that’s not entirely true. According to the former President, Mehmet Oz was really picked by Melania. 

In the battle against inflation, a Fed-induced recession could spell major trouble for Democrats in 2024. Using one standard definition of recession (two consecutive quarters of economic contraction), the Democrats are already in hot water. However, the more complex and detailed definition of recession relied upon by the well-respected National Bureau of Economic Research says we’re not in recession…yet.

Typically, recession and high unemployment are common bedfellows. Today, however, unemployment remains at near historic low levels, at 3.7%. The economy seems remarkably resilient. Just before the outbreak of COVID, unemployment was at a historic low of 3.5%. It briefly skyrocketed to 14.7% in April 2020 and then rapidly recovered to the current near-historic low level.

Turning to international affairs, the war in Ukraine is now approaching a year-long slog, with the Ukrainians more than holding their own against what has turned out to be a highly overrated Russian military. It is doubtful whether the war will grind on for another full year, raising an alternative in which a beleaguered Putin and an emboldened Zelensky begin searching for an off-ramp to end the fighting. Both sides can be expected to probe for a negotiated settlement. The alternative to a negotiated settlement will most certainly be a dangerous escalation by the Russians that will provoke a robust NATO response. NATO now knows, as does Vladimir Putin, that Russia is no match for the NATO alliance on the field of battle.

One might expect that Putin has been informed, either directly or indirectly, what NATO’s response will be if, in desperation, he introduces nuclear warfare into his Ukrainian misadventure. No one should be surprised if peace talks are underway by the first anniversary of the Russian invasion.

The situation at our southern border remains both a severe humanitarian crisis and an untenable political albatross. The border has to be secured; Full Stop! At the same time, we must radically streamline and expedite how we process political asylum cases and return line jumpers to their home countries. The situation along the Rio Grande severely and unfairly burdens our border communities, fuels political demagoguery, and makes a mockery of political responsiveness and law enforcement. Vast improvement is more a matter of will than of means.

It seems probable that a meticulously prepared indictment of former President Trump may be underway in the months ahead. Some senior White House staff, others on the taxpayers’ payroll, and some non-governmental Trump acolytes may be subject to indictment related to various shenanigans designed to keep the former President in office following his loss in the 2020 presidential election. If so, it would stretch credulity to the point of absurdity to exclude the one person on whose behalf those individuals were all plotting.

Finally, we must start the process of national healing. The nation’s founders wouldn’t be surprised at the dissension so prevalent in America today, but they would be heartsick. They understood the tendencies of man toward conflict, if not chaos. Chronic civil war in England in the mid-seventeenth century brought George Washington’s family to America in the first place. Jefferson knew that the country would quickly evolve into at least two factions (parties). All of the founders were from families looking for new beginnings. The founders were men trying to construct a new governing paradigm, and they did. They were hopeful, but none were confident. All of the founders understood the fragility of the American experiment. They knew the success of the American experiment would depend on future generations recognizing the preciousness of what they gave us.

But America is today in danger of devolving toward what the founders most dreaded, rather than toward the better angels of our nature, as Lincoln pleaded 160 years ago at Gettysburg.

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