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Eat Your Vegetables

Eat Your Vegetables

Report after report after report warns of the pending “rematch from hell” that “few Americans want to see” pitting an 80 year old incumbent against a man currently being charged with multiple felonies– in truth, the octogenarian is hardly innocent, and the criminal defendant is hardly an image of youth. 

The reality that two deeply unpopular politicians are the frontrunners for a democratic election feels like a contradiction in terms. Isn’t democracy’s whole “thing” that representatives are elected to office by the people? How, then, is it possible for such a  “nightmare” scenario to materialize in the real world? 

The answer is more obvious than you might expect- that “nightmare” becomes real only if we become content with, or worse resigned to, that obviously undesirable status quo. 

There is no denying that the United States has lost some of its competitive edge since the collapse of the Soviet Union. This absence of a genuine threat has resulted in political decadence- entertainment shows are masquerading as news media, and incidental issues are elevated into the mainstream.

This surface level interaction with politics has simultaneously facilitated increased partisanship and reduced room for serious conversations. In turn, a so-called social war has emerged through which politicians on both sides of the aisle can increase their stature by taking fringe positions on issues with more media bark than policy bite.

As a result, more Americans than ever before are voting against politicians that they despise instead of for politicians that they genuinely support. Voters on the left are horrified by the prospect of migrant children being separated from their families. Voters on the right, meanwhile, cannot stand the idea that their own children may encounter a drag queen at the public library. Policy matters put to the side, you would expect that everyone is disgusted by the alleged amount of criminal behavior on both sides of the aisle.

Looking beyond American shores- Putin’s lashing out into Ukraine could be interpreted as evidence that would-be rivals are willing to test the durability of the Post-WWII rules based order. Additionally, as people on both sides of the Pacific come to the realization that China appears on the verge of reaching the apex of its capacity relative to the United States, efforts to prevent conflict between the two superpowers needs to be taken more seriously.

Despite this grim state of affairs, there are a number of important policies that are both impactful and popular among Americans Left, Right and Center. These issues go beyond bare bone ideas like infrastructure modernization, moderate immigration reform, and apple pie being delicious. In fact, some of these consensus building policies would bring about systemic change.

Policies like implementing term limits, establishing ethics standards for Supreme Court justices, and removing dark money from elections are both popular and transformative. Other good governance policies, even if they are less commonly discussed, also receive the occasional mention on the House floor (in one version or another).

Despite these obvious ways to improve the health of our political eco-system, it does not follow that one of today’s prominent figures is the right person to lead the charge. Frankly, it seems very unlikely that the best person to lead the United States into a new series of challenges is either Joe Bieden or Donald Trump- it is equally unlikely to be one of either man’s closest disciples.

The situation at hand begs for the United States to seek out a more unifying, and better equipped leader. The Constitution, and America’s standing as a Republic gives us the power to bring about the needed change. 

In order to correct course American voters will need to overcome the temptations of performative hopelessness and partisan bickering. The work towards preventing a nightmare scenario in 2024 begins now and it is ours to do. 

Americans have spent the last 30 years eating political sweets, now it’s time to eat our vegetables. 

Peter Scaturro is the Director of Studies at the Foreign Policy Association. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Foreign Policy Association.