Alan Zendell, January 1, 2023
After we experienced a whole winter’s worth of weather in December, after Ukraine, with massive assistance from NATO, held off an invasion by what everyone thought was a hugely superior Russian military, and after two years of testimony linking Donald Trump to the January 6, 2021 insurrection, we ceremoniously said goodbye to 2022. We enter 2023 uncertain about what will follow, as well as by the triple threat of COVID, influenza, and a surge in RSV cases, and whether a viable Republican Party can emerge from its internecine struggle. Add a couple of other minor issues, like the survival of American democracy and the risk of a recession while the Parties rev up for the 2024 election, and we set the stage for an interesting year.
There were many surprises in 2022, and there are likely more in store this year. Despite more than a quarter of Americans inexplicably believing Donald Trump should still be president and rampant skepticism about whether our legal system can respond effectively to his criminal and unconstitutional behavior, 2023 will almost surely see the unprecedented spectacle of a former president indicted for multiple felonies. Today, outgoing representative Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans with the courage and integrity to serve on the January 6th Committee, said Trump must be charged and prosecuted. If not, Kinzinger fears for the future of our country. He said if what Trump did wasn’t criminal, he didn’t know what was, and if Trump isn’t held accountable, the bar for future presidents will be that it’s acceptable for a president to attempt to retain power by any means necessary.
In 2023, the world must learn to deal with a severely diminished Russia which is still led by a paranoid autocrat with a huge ego who has the capacity to wreak nuclear havoc. Vladimir Putin often threatens to use nuclear weapons when his back is to the wall. The world knows how ruthless he is, but is he crazy enough to unleash nuclear war? Are there enough checks and balances within Russia’s government or society to prevent him from doing so? These are serious questions, but they’re not things the average American can influence.
We would be well advised to focus on what we can control, chief among which is the future of our democracy that’s under assault from multiple directions. One thing we can control is the movement among Trumper-dominated state legislatures to rig elections in favor of Republicans. Both parties are guilty of gerrymandering, which has the affect of magnifying votes cast for one party, enabling it to maintain majority control without ever receiving fifty percent of the votes cast, but Republicans use it more abusively than Democrats. The same legislatures are intent on passing laws that undermine our constitutional right to elections determined by voters rather than partisan politicians, but the courts are beginning to take notice of these threats.
2023 will either see the foundations of our democracy strengthened or left vulnerable to politicians who are more interested in preserving their power than defending the Constitution. Congress took a giant step toward the former when it included language in the 2023 omnibus spending bill to assure that an incumbent president can never again attempt to overturn an election as Trump did in 2020. That should clarify any gray area in the Constitution, but if politics is allowed to derail criminal investigations of the actions by Trump and his supporters leading up to the January 6th assault on the Capitol, everyone who believes insurrection is an appropriate way to retain power will be vindicated and enabled.
Since it appears that both the U. S. Department of Justice and the state of Georgia are heading toward prosecuting Trump, we should turn our attention to the upcoming Congressional session. In a fascinating twist, fear among traditional institutionalist Republicans that Trump supporters will dominate and likely destroy their party is forging an unlikely political alliance between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Joe Biden. For all his obstructionist tactics, doing everything possible to thwart efforts of Presidents Biden and Obama to pass bipartisan legislation, McConnell appears to value the Constitution over the Trumpian notion of clinging to power at any cost.
With House leadership in question and Kevin McCarthy having to constantly bend to the will of the more rabid Trump supporters to gain their vote for Speaker, McConnell and McCarthy are on a collision course. As his cooperation on getting the 2023 spending bill passed showed, McConnell wants our government to function, and he’s signaling that he will not permit Trump supporters in the House to return Congress to its dysfunctional recent history.
Americans did their part in the midterm elections, telling our leaders that most of us want democracy and a fair, effective government, but the fight isn’t over. 2023 will likely be a pivotal time in our history, and it’s up to all of us to assure that it turns out well.
McConnell is dishonest and slippery, but he is rational, which cannot be said of many of his Republican colleagues in the House.