With the midterm elections over, the big question is will the new Congress legislate for the nation or litigate against the president? If it is the latter, the obsessive distractions over the daily “breaking news” of Donald Trump’s alleged Russian collusion versus the mysterious contents of Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 missing emails will only continue.
Whether either allegation is true or not, the net effect of these domestic distractions is playing into the hands of our Russian and Chinese adversaries by crippling our foreign policy at a particularly dangerous time.
While we in “Rome” fiddle, the continent of Europe is burning under the growing threat of menacing Russian behavior. Indeed, in his recent seizure of Ukrainian ships near Crimea, it is the provocations of Russian President Vladimir Putin that most recalls the dangers of Hitler in the 1930s. Further south, the Russians are solidifying their position in Syria, while working with Iran and Turkey to isolate the United States from the Middle East, leaving Israel dangerously exposed to the ill wishes of its neighbors.
An even more serious threat is rising from China in Asia. For all the attention given to trade and the Chinese naval buildup in the South China Sea, the real danger emanates from the Dreadnought Rule: If you don’t want war, then do not threaten an adversary at the core of its national power. Dreadnoughts were the prize of England’s battleships and its naval power in the 1890s. When Germany shifted its steel production from laying down railway tracks to building its own battleships, this directly challenged England’s naval supremacy, the core of its national power — and ultimately led to World War I.
During the Cold War (1946-1989), the Chinese built up a huge land army that did not challenge American air and naval supremacy. There was bluster, but no all-out war. Now the Chinese are focusing on their Air Force and Navy, and are mounting a challenge to the core of America’s national power — its technological prowess. Recently, Gen. Ben Hodges, the former commander of U.S. forces in Europe, has predicted that a general war between China and the U.S. is inevitable within 15 years. Making sure this does not happen must command the full attention of the American government.
The more fundamental, long-term threat is philosophical. Neither Russia nor China has any respect for our democratic system of government, and both see their authoritarian regimes as better models for the future than ours. To be blunt, our current domestic politics are only playing into their hands. To revalidate our system, we would do well to climb out of the gutter and get back on the track of legislation. Here are just a few suggestions.
For openers, both political parties should agree on the need for a massive rebuilding of our infrastructure. It would be good to pass such a bill.
A real boost to the country’s spirits, and claim to the future, could be a new space program. Such a program would serve as a feeder of innovation to our technological prowess.
A pivotal issue to seriously address is the complex matter of immigration. Establishing a bipartisan blue ribbon commission to conduct a year-long review of all the components that could fall under a comprehensive national plan would be a more sober approach than publicity-grabbing caravans. Included in this plan would be a pathway to citizenship for dreamers and undocumented residents, bringing more orderly procedures to the granting of asylum, sorting out a system of work permits, looking into the fairness of lotteries, and examining the basic principle of immigration quotas, whether awarded by nationality or profession.
And here’s a deal: the wall for a justice. If the Democrats can agree to fund a mere $5 billion for Donald Trump’s wall, let a congressional delegation approach 85-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and propose that she retire in favor of the nomination to the Supreme Court of Judge Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Judge Garland, one recalls, was President Obama’s blocked nomination of 2015. Lest Republicans recoil in horror, during the ordeal of the Judge Brett Kavanaugh hearings, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins observed that while Kavanaugh served on this same court, he and Garland agreed on 90 percent of the cases they considered. In truth then, neither side would be giving up much here.
If the new Congress moves in such a legislative direction, maybe we can turn back on the lights that illuminate the hill of our democracy — and let our hands regain control of America’s destiny.