What the midterm elections will signal to the world

As November 8 approaches and American voters prepare to head to the polls, some of us are concerned about domestic issues such as the economy, immigration and health care. Others worry about international affairs like the economy, immigration and, well, health care.

The truth is that most issues are interrelated. What happens in this country affects the rest of the world and vice versa.

Think about it: health issues like COVID-19 cross national borders.

Climate change affects every citizen in every corner of the world, but approaches to it vary depending on national politics.

Given that we share a border with Mexico and immigrants from many countries immigrate to the United States, immigration is not just an American issue.

Inflation isn’t just about what the Fed does with interest rates. This applies to everything from chip shortages to the price of grain and a barrel of oil.

The integrity of the election is not only about the fair counting of votes at home, but also the interference of Russia and other countries abroad.

All this means that pundits and pollsters should avoid referring to domestic and international affairs as if they were separate issues.

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Today, we are facing issues that can be called “intermediate”. When the results of the upcoming midterm elections are known, some things may change inside America, and these changes will affect how America looks around the world and is influenced by world affairs.

Take, for example, the war in Ukraine. We are currently witnessing partisan divisions among US voters over the Biden administration’s approach to Russia and Ukraine.

Recently, a letter that progressive Democrats wrote to President Biden criticizing our policy in Ukraine was sent and retracted after it was leaked to the press.

Some Republicans have also begun to question US policy on Ukraine. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Calif.) has suggested that if he becomes Speaker next year, he might withhold further defense and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

A strong midterm showing for Trump supporters could reinvigorate the “America First” approach the former president espoused.

Congress has a strong voice over war powers, meaning the combination of the House and Senate determines how much support there is to respond to Russian actions, including the use of so-called “dirty bombs” in Ukraine or Russia. The use of tactical nuclear weapons will determine how the United States and NATO respond to any escalation of war, including how Congress and the executive branch interpret what “war” means.

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Committee assignments may change on Capitol Hill, including on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will affect how fast or slow President Biden’s remaining presidential nominees go.

China is another area where Congress has an opinion. There has been some bipartisan agreement on US-China policy to date, leading to the CHIPS and Science and Infrastructure Act – both of which seek to strengthen US competition against China in things like semiconductors.

But the new Congress could reveal intra-party divisions on issues such as Taiwan or America’s position in Asia.

Of course, wallet strength is key. Congress has budgetary authority over military spending, which reflects new sentiments depending on which members are elected. (In May, 57 House Republicans voted against a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. Eleven Republicans in the Senate voted against the measure.)

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Congressional spending on everything from covid vaccinations in developing countries to sanctions against Russia could change the US economy. Republican midterm wins in the Senate and House of Representatives will have ripple effects for Europe and NATO, just as the war escalates.

Finally, there are ethical questions in this election. The United States is considered a beacon of democracy in many parts of the world. But this perception is under threat. The midterms reflect what Americans value, and send a message about our national narrative and priorities — whether democracy is a theory or a practice, and whether America can still claim ownership of it.

Tara D. Sonnenschein Professor Edward R. Maro is in Public Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

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