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In the late 1980s, strategists at the US Army War College popularized the acronym “VUCA” as a lens for viewing a world in turmoil. It stands for “volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.” Or, as professors Nate Bennett and G. James Lemoine wrote years later, “Hey, it’s crazy out there!”
The Ukraine war is a classic VUCA moment. So is Tuesday’s midterm election in the US. The vote for all the seats in the House and more than a third in the Senate is volatile, uncertain, complex and potentially, ambiguous.
Will it be a verdict on the leadership of President Joe Biden and the Democrats who control Congress? Will it strengthen or weaken the election denialism many Republicans adopted after former President Donald Trump refused to accept his 2020 election loss? How would GOP control of one or both chambers of Congress shape America’s future and the final two years of Biden’s term?
It’s clear that the two parties differ even on the issues the election is being fought over. Republicans are stressing inflation, crime and immigration in their campaigns, while many Democrats see threats to democracy and the overturning of Roe v. Wade as key reasons to elect their candidates.
Republicans think they have the momentum in their effort to recapture control of the House and Senate, argued Alice Stewart, “because they have listened to voters, heard their concerns, and offered solutions. Democrats have been tone deaf when it comes to the real issues impacting Americans, choosing to focus on threats to democracy over everyday concerns about the cost of groceries and gas. This election is about the basic need to feed families, rather than fanning fears of a fallen democracy.”
Democrats think their warnings about the future of democracy are amply justified. “We all understand inflation is temporary but losing our democracy could be permanent,” wrote Dean Obeidallah. He cited the “Washington Post’s recent reporting that a majority of the GOP nominees on the ballot his year for the House, Senate and statewide office have denied or questioned the results of the 2020 election. We have never seen anything like this in our lifetimes – if ever in the history of the United States.”
The economy, always
The economy is top of mind for voters. “It’s nothing new,” wrote historian Meg Jacobs. She pointed out that the first televised political advertisement, for the winning Republican presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, focused on inflation. “In the ad, he talks to an ‘average’ housewife, who complains that ‘high prices are just driving me crazy,’ and Eisenhower promises to fight on her behalf. That was at a time when inflation was less than 2%!”
“Battles over inflation — what’s the cause, who is to blame, what is there to do — get to basic fights over who should have what. Should corporations earn bigger profits, should workers earn higher wages and should consumers shoulder the burden of both?”
Rising energy prices are “being felt particularly by lower-income households and workers,” wrote Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors Association.
“The message is clear: As energy companies continue to rake in massive profits, energy has become increasingly unaffordable for lower-income Americans. The federal government needs to take action now to help families maintain access to affordable energy throughout the winter.” He argued that the US should follow the European Union by taxing the excess profits of fuel companies, directing the money toward consumers struggling to pay their bills.
An “unnecessarily painful recession” is on the horizon, warned Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute. The reason: the “unusually rapid pace of monetary policy tightening” by the Federal Reserve Bank, which this week hiked interest rates by three quarters of a point for the fourth time in a row. Higher rates are rapidly slowing the housing market and putting pressure on companies to cut staffing, he argued. “The Fed’s hawkish policy stance is occurring in the context of a very troubled world economy that has also been plagued by high inflation.” The Fed’s leaders have signaled that they may start moderating the pace of interest rate hikes.
The Obama factor
Campaigning for Democrats, former President Barack Obama talked about inflation: “Republicans are having a field day running ads talking about it, but what is their actual solution to it?” But, in Dean Obeidallah’s view, Obama had a more effective message for turning out Democrats.
“Obama served up the perfect closing question for voters: ‘Who will fight for your freedom?’” Obeidallah observed, “The answer clearly is the Democratic Party, and the former President delivered that message, pointing to threats to reproductive rights and same-sex marriage by some Republicans.”
Having Obama make the closing argument “might not be such a great idea,” wrote Republican Marc A. Thiessen in the Washington Post. “Hindsight can be rosy, but Obama’s record of helping down-ballot Democrats is … less than stellar. In fact, Obama presided over the loss of more House, Senate, state legislative and governors’ seats than any president in U.S. history… It is not surprising that many Democrats don’t want Biden to join them on the campaign trail. But Obama may not be the savior they are hoping for. To the contrary, based on this disastrous record, he may be electoral kryptonite.”
A note to our readers: On Tuesday, pivotal races will decide who controls the House, Senate and dozens of governorships across the country. You can follow the contests that matter to you and build a custom dashboard with CNN’s My Election tool. Log in or create your free CNN account to get started.
Indifferent about insurrection?
Former Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police officer Michael Fanone, who was injured in the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol, wrote, “When I speak privately with fellow officers who defended the US Capitol on January 6, the conversation often turns to why so many Americans remain indifferent about the insurrection. In other words, most Americans just don’t seem to care. An overt attempt to end our democracy? Meh…”
“I’d like to believe that the violent attack on Paul Pelosi will be a turning point, but somehow I doubt it. … We are no longer talking about isolated incidents or seeing universal condemnation of violence by our leaders. The 82-year-old husband of the woman who is third in line to the US presidency was beaten in his own home for political reasons, and right-wing media and some Republicans reveled in the violence,” Fanone added.
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson: Domestic terrorism is a threat we can’t ignore
“Republicans expect to regain control of the House, and maybe even the Senate in next week’s midterm elections,” wrote Patrick T. Brown. “But a slate of ballot initiatives could prove to be a stark reminder of the limits of running against an unpopular president – and force conservatives to grapple with a new political reality in a post-Roe era.” Voters in several states will weigh in on propositions relating to abortion rights.
“The polling suggests that the side supporting abortion rights is favored in many of these debates, especially in deep-blue California and Vermont,” wrote Brown. “As Kansas’ resounding defeat of a state referendum that would have banned abortion showed, even red-leaning states can vote against pro-life initiatives.”
About three-quarters of the states have some initiative up for a vote this year. “Democracy itself is on the ballot in 2022,” wrote Joshua A. Douglas. “Not only do we have candidates who have questioned the 2020 election or refuse to say they will accept defeat this year, but numerous states and localities also will vote on measures to change how elections are run or who may vote in them.”
Friday brought word that former President Donald Trump could announce that he is launching another bid for the White House in the next few weeks. “Democrats should not underestimate the threat that Trump poses,” observed Julian Zelizer.
“The Republicans remain a strongly united party. Very little can shake that unity. … the ‘Never Trump’ contingent failed to emerge as a dominant force. Indeed, officials such as Congresswoman Liz Cheney were purged from the party.”
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“If Republicans do well next week, possibly retaking control of the House and Senate, members of the party will surely feel confident about amping up their culture wars and economic talking points going into 2024. And given the number of election-denying candidates in the midterms, a strong showing will likely create the tailwinds for the GOP to unite behind Trump.”
Trump himself will feel emboldened, Zelizer wrote. “Despite ongoing criminal investigations and the House select committee investigating January 6, Trump is still a viable political figure. … And once Trump is formally a candidate, it will make prosecuting him all the more difficult. Trump, a master of playing the victim, is sure to claim (as he has in the past) that any investigation is simply a politically motivated ‘witch hunt’ intended to take him out of the running.”
Justin Gest: Pandemic moves created a midterm wild card
Michael D’Antonio: Donald Trump Jr. is his father’s son
No tolerance for hate
There’s no excuse for tolerating hate. That was the essence of Bill Carter’s piece on the aftermath of Kanye West’s antisemitic rants on social media.
“The chorus of outrage about West’s disgusting attack on Jews was for many days muted – even factoring in the businesses that severed relationships with him,” Carter wrote. “Some underplayed the impact of someone as big and famous as Kanye West diving into the ugliness of bias, despite the fact that there already has been a sustained surge of antisemitic comments in alt-right online communities.”
“All this has made West’s almost casual slurring of Jews all the more appalling. There is a scary electrical charge of intolerance in the air, and a cultural icon has decided not only to touch the live wire, but to hang it around his neck, wave it around, and run it up the flagpole of his fame.”
Musk’s Twitter takeover
Elon Musk’s first few days of controlling Twitter have been tumultuous, with the Tesla CEO spreading misinformation, laying off a large share of the workforce and sharing the idea of charging users for blue-check verification status.
“Musk is making the remarkable power that US tech executives hold over our lives, from geopolitics to the health of democracy, painfully tangible to all,” wrote Marietje Schaake in the Financial Times.
“Immediately after the sale was confirmed, the number of neo-Nazi and racist tweets exploded on the site. Accounts marked as being linked to Russian and Chinese state media requested that the Twitter labels indicating as much be removed. Speculation about whether Musk would reverse the account ban for extremists, conspiracy theorists or Donald Trump himself was rife.”
Musk “has placed no limits on his own speech,” wrote former advertising executive Rob Norman in the New York Times, “and, under his ownership, seems likely to enable the inflammatory, provocative and sometimes verifiably untrue speech of others.”
“I know from having represented the world’s biggest buyer of advertising space that advertisers worry about these things a lot. In this case, advertisers’ worries could lead them to flee en masse, costing Twitter almost all its current revenue. Without that revenue, Twitter could be a calamitous acquisition for Mr. Musk, and the very future of the platform could be at risk.”
Martha Hickson, a high school librarian in New Jersey for more than a decade, called it the worst year of her working life. In 2021, protesters showed up at a school board meeting and “railed against ‘Gender Queer,’ a memoir in graphic novel form by Maia Kobabe, and ‘Lawn Boy,’ a coming-of-age novel by Jonathan Evison. They spewed selected sentences from the Evison book, while brandishing isolated images from Kobabe’s.”
“Next, they attacked Banned Books Week, an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. The protesters characterized it as a nefarious plot to lure kids to degradation,” wrote Hickson.
“But the real sucker punch came when one protester branded me a pedophile, pornographer and groomer of children. After a successful career, with retirement on the horizon, to be cast as a villain was heartbreaking.”
“Even worse was the response from my employer – crickets. The board sat in silence that night, and for the next five months refused to utter a word in my defense.”
Hickson’s piece was the concluding personal essay in CNN Opinion’s series on midterm issues, “America’s Future Starts Now.” Nine education experts also weighed in with thoughts on how to move America’s schools forward.
Elections in Latin America and the Middle East brought back familiar faces. In Brazil, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva “posted a stunning political comeback,” beating the incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, Arick Wierson wrote.
“Not since the end of the military dictatorship in the 1980s have Brazilians been faced with two more starkly contrasting candidates, each with diametrically opposing political outlooks for the country,” Wierson wrote. And “it’s clear that a sizable percentage of the voting population didn’t buy into either of their visions for the country.”
In Israel, last week’s election put former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the cusp of returning to power, likely in position to form a right-wing governing coalition.
“Even under indictment and on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Netanyahu is still the most consequential politician on the Israeli scene today,” wrote Aaron David Miller. “For Netanyahu this election was truly existential. Had he failed to secure a governing majority – one that is likely to pass legislation to postpone or even cancel his trial – he may well have had to face the consequences of a guilty verdict or a plea bargain that would have driven him away from politics.”
“Likud is the most stable and durable political party in Israel’s system. Netanyahu is its master and Israel is a nation now shaped more by the right wing – and perhaps its most extreme elements – than at any point in its history.”
Dr. Megan Ranney: How a missed period reported by the gym teacher could spell trouble for girls
Frida Ghitis: Why Putin can’t be allowed to win in Ukraine
Roger Bennett and Tommy Vietor: Let’s call out the Qatar World Cup for what it really is
Dr. Moira Szilagyi: It’s not just RSV that’s filling pediatric hospital beds
Amy Bass: Elite women athletes aren’t safe. What does that mean for us mere mortals?
John Sutter: The question rich countries keep avoiding
Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen: The ocean’s ‘blue carbon’ can be our secret weapon in fighting climate change
Sara Stewart: Rest is indeed resistance. For me and others, so is being child-free
Peggy Drexler: Climbing a mountain is hard. Child-centered parenting can be harder
NFL quarterback Tom Brady and supermodel Gisele Bündchen are divorcing, a development that is hardly unusual in the world of celebrity power couples. Yet there’s enormous public interest in the split, Jill Filipovic noted. The “fascination with the Brady-Bündchen divorce comes from the fact that this couple’s split hits a perfect celebrity sweet spot: These are two people who are absolutely nothing like us, but who nonetheless seem to be splitting up over a familiar gender dynamic that is imminently relatable.”
“Bündchen’s public comments indicate a worry about Brady’s health playing a dangerous sport and a desire – after years of sacrificing so that he could thrive professionally – for him to spend more time with their family.”
This is “a familiar and frustrating” dynamic: “The woman who steps back to care for children and make sure her husband succeeds – and the husband who doesn’t quite seem to appreciate that sacrifice and continues to push professionally far past when he needs to, at the expense of his family.”
This isn’t only about the couple, Filipovic made clear. “Celebrities wind up as avatars for our own desires, jealousies, ambitions, and insecurities. We don’t actually know why Bündchen and Brady are splitting,” but the story could “tell us a little bit about their marriage – and a whole lot about the still-unfinished business of equality in American marriages.”
An earlier version misspelled Marietje Schaake’s last name.