Urgent Priorities 2023
Last year I published a commentary (Urgent Priorities, December 30, 2021) on the urgent priorities that America had to confront in the year 2022. Since many of those priorities were addressed very ineffectively or were not addressed at all, I was tempted to simply republish that commentary again this year. But the world is dynamic, and conditions change so I felt that America’s urgent priorities had to be updated to reflect those changes (you can review the previous priorities by clicking the link provided or by going to my website).
2022 was a year of misdirected efforts and missed opportunities. President Biden continued his efforts to convert America into a European-style welfare state principally by creating a multitude of new programs and benefits that pumped trillions of dollars into an already frothy economy. Democratic plans to tax the rich and big corporations to fund at least some of these programs are likely to go awry as the Democrats do not seem to understand that the rich and big corporations change their behaviors in order to avoid confiscatory taxation resulting in diminished tax revenues instead of an increase (on the other hand, President Trump’s tax cuts that the Democrats assailed as give aways to the rich and big corporations have resulted in record fiscal year 2022 tax collections in real terms and as a percentage of GDP). President Biden then went out and spent all his illusory increases of tax revenues on other giveaways such as his plan to forgive student debt.
Much of the trillions of dollars of government spending is still sloshing around the US economy driving inflation to levels not seen in over forty years while depressing the motivation to work. When asked about what he intended to change in the next two years of his administration, President Biden responded by saying, “nothing.” More programs, more entitlements and more spending will not curb inflationary pressures any more than the insidiously misnamed Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. That leaves only the Federal Reserve to fight inflation which it is doing by rapidly raising interest rates which crashed the stock market and is now driving down the real estate market. Most economists not on the Biden economic team expect a recession in 2023.
Given the dismal economic record of the Biden Administration, Republicans expected to retake the House and Senate in the 2022 off-year elections. But Donald Trump’s obsessive refusal to accept that he lost the 2020 presidential election motivated him to only endorse Republicans that joined him in his obsession resulting in a bunch of nut-job candidates that focused on a supposedly stolen election instead of President Biden’s disastrous economy. That, in turn, resulted in Republicans losing the Senate and winning only a razor thin majority in the House. The next two years are likely to be fraught with legislative gridlock and executive order madness.
Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (who no longer holds public office) may have come up with a plan to address the urgent priorities of America (American Renewal published November 2022) but he is unlikely to get anyone actually in public office to read it, let alone try to enact it. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon can write op-eds about rallying America’s moral and economic strengths (The West Needs America’s Leadership, January 3, 2023) but it will fade from memory quickly. And Tom Cotton’s new book (Only the Strong, November 1, 2022) is more directed towards creating a base for his presumed presidential run than creating actual legislative progress.
As I said in my previous discussion of urgent priorities, our political leaders are so focused on promoting their party’s agenda and their own reelection that they have no idea of which direction the country is going, and worse (since they are supposed to be our leaders) where it should be going. We, as a people, are faced with a plethora of urgent priorities and we need to make sure our political leaders focus on those priorities. As I see it, the priorities fall into two broad categories: 1) national priorities, and 2) political priorities.
Urgent National Priorities in 2023
There are priorities that affect all Americans, rich and poor, black and white, young and old, whatever. We live in a complex and dangerous world. While our country is rich and powerful, it is not invulnerable. We cannot ignore the events happening around us and we need to be able to influence those events or be prepared to suffer the consequences. Each of these topics could probably fill an entire book, but I am throwing them out for your consideration in the hope that you will take action to stop this drift into oblivion.
The need for greater strengthening of the US military has become even more acute in 2023. Russian President Putin ‘s February invasion of Ukraine along with increased threats and aggressive maneuvers against Taiwan by Communist China have made it clear that the autocratic dictatorships of the world will not be content with their current borders. Putin invaded Georgia in 2008 and annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 achieving his objectives quickly and with relative ease. However, his invasion of Ukraine has not gone as well with fierce Ukrainian resistance backed US and NATO weapons and ammunition. The Biden Administration has done a relatively good job, providing billions of dollars of support and they have also rallied the European nations to join in. NATO has taken on new relevance with previously neutral Sweden and Finland applying for membership while pacifist Germany now realizes it needs to beef up its own military, as well.
But more needs to be done. Russia and China have formed a new alliance that, along with Iran, wants to extend their zone of influence by creating a buffer of client states on their borders, partly as protection from the West, but mostly because they see it as part of their destiny as great powers. Georgia, Crimea, Moldova, the South China Sea, Taiwan, Lebanon, these countries are only the beginning.
During President Zelenskyy’s speech to the US Congress, several Republican isolationists refused to join the chamber’s standing ovation. These people are foolish. Ukraine is fighting our battle for us. The United States, as powerful as it is, cannot stand alone against the world. We need our allies as well as reliable trading partners. The multipolar plan of the new Axis of Evil intends to chip away at our allies and partners. They hope to weaken the international bonds that have already been undermined by the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations until we are weak and alone. The Biden Administration, to its credit, was able to increase the defense budget and also increase aid to Ukraine in the recent omnibus bill, but more needs to be done. The threats to us and our allies are global, and NATO needs to go global as well. Germany and Japan have already started to increase defense spending. Pacific defense alliances including Australia, South Korea, Japan, India and others need to be incorporated into a global strategy. The progressives will wail and gnash their teeth but some of their cherished entitlement programs must be sacrificed to protect America.
The American economy is strong, despite the Biden Administration’s efforts to the contrary. But it could be stronger, and it will need to be stronger to meet the challenges that will confront us in the years to come. The public sector and the private sector should not be adversaries. For us to succeed they need to be partners. The purpose of a government’s regulatory power is not to punish businesses and corporations for making a profit. The purpose is to build the public’s trust in the products and services produced by the private sector. If the people have trust in the products and services of America’s industries, the entire country will flourish, and the people will be better off for it.
America must not only strengthen its industrial power, but also its financial power. Excessive spending and its complement, excessive debt, threatens to weaken America’s financial strength and jeopardizes the dollar’s distinction as the world’s reserve currency. This reserve currency status is our greatest asset. It affects more people around the world on a daily basis than all our military power. It is the glue that holds together the Western Alliance. Unproductive entitlement spending weakens the US and confiscatory taxes on US industry, the most productive in the world, further weakens us. The world is an unsafe place and a United States weakened from wasteful spending makes it even less safe. The Greatest Generation made great sacrifices to propel America to the pinnacle of global power. It is time for our current generations to sacrifice some of their cherished entitlements for the good of all Americans, especially those yet to come (our Posterity as the Founders put it).
The previous policy of both Democratic and Republican administrations of encouraging China’s development was based on the hope that China would integrate into the American post-war world order. But, while China took advantage of that world order to rapidly develop and grow its economy, it was a predation on the system and not an integration into the system. The realization that this policy has failed, combined with supply disruptions due to the Covid pandemic, highlights the need for the United States and other Western countries to realign their supply chains that have become overly dependent on China and Russia for critical supplies. The Biden Administration can, therefore, be forgiven for attempting to realign these supply chains through an industrial policy that favor certain US companies. The Chips for America Act was intended to benefit chip fabricators who had transferred most of America’s chip factories overseas, especially to Asia. But the Biden Administration cannot be forgiven for putting one hundred and seventy-four billion dollars of additional spending into the bill for a plethora of projects unrelated to chip production.
Industrial policy must be used wisely and sparingly. The power behind the Trump economy was not his tax cut, but his reduction in the heavy regulatory burden the Obama administration had placed on American industry. Freed of the heavy hand of excessive regulation US companies were able to invest and innovate more freely. This is the power behind the US economy. Power that is being strangled by the Biden’s Administration reimposition of excessive regulation on US industries, especially where it affects the Green New Deal.
Energy and the Environment
The American economy can no longer be held hostage to the progressive pipedream of the Green New Deal. Even if our country could achieve net-zero carbon emissions within the given timeframe, the impact on the amount of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere would be negligible and its impact on climate infinitesimal. The cost of achieving this Pyrrhic victory would be enormous.
The Biden Administration is spending many hundreds of billions of dollars on this effort. So many I have lost count. Every piece of legislation he gets passed has hundreds of billions of dollars to achieve net-zero carbon; the Chips for America Act, the ludicrously named Inflation Reduction Act, et cetera. The flaw in the Green New Deal is that it relies on new technology yet to be developed in order to achieve its goals. Wind and solar can only provide a portion of our energy needs and comes up short when our needs are greatest. Nuclear fusion is decades away at best. We need an all of the above energy strategy. Natural gas is much cleaner than coal and has helped the US lower it carbon footprint substantially. Fission based nuclear power is a reliable alternative as well. Already available technology has made nuclear much safer and able to greatly reduce radioactive waste.
America’s ability to be energy independent is a great strategic asset for the US and the Western Alliance. Russia is using Europe’s energy dependence on Russian gas as a weapon in its war on Ukraine. Europe had foolishly reduced its ability to produce natural gas and closed down nuclear as well as coal power plants in its effort to go green. This has made them vulnerable to Russian energy blackmail. Only a relatively mild winter has saved them from dire hardship. Even so they are paying through the nose to keep their citizens from freezing (as Bjorn Lomberg as repeatedly asserted more people around the globe die from cold than from heat).
We need to learn how to mitigate the impact of climate change. Even if America and Europe were to achieve net zero carbon in the coming decades, the rest of the world won’t. China and India won’t slow their development to meet net zero carbon. They are burning fossil fuels as part of their development plan. Wind, solar and renewables will only be a complement to meeting their energy needs for many decades. And the rest of the world (Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia) can’t afford the switch to wind and solar (which hasn’t stopped them from asking for us to pay for it). Mitigation, as Stephen Koonin pointed out in his book, Unsettled, can preserve our civilization at much lower cost than the Green New Deal while also not increasing our vulnerability to noncompliant countries like China. Ultimately, the Green New Deal and much of the environmental movement is about control. People cannot be both free and green. So they will make sure that you are green.
People were shocked when Zaila Avant-garde won the 2021 National Spelling Bee, not because she was African American but because she was not of Asian descent. Asians (particularly those from the sub-continent) have dominated spelling bees recently. Are Asians genetically pre-determined to be great spellers? Maybe, but I doubt it. Asians are great spellers because they work their butts off learning to spell words in the English language. Asians in America believe in meritocracy, but they also know that success in a meritocracy comes from preparation and hard work. Their ability to succeed in a meritocracy has caused Harvard University and other elite institutions of higher learning to limit the number of Asians they accept into their programs (a case which is now being considered in the US Supreme Court). And Yale Law School (joined by other elite law schools) is dropping the use of LSATs as a consideration of admission because score results don’t give them the social justice quotas they seek.
This is madness. Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at the rate of literacy in 1830-America, especially compared to the widespread ignorance in his home country of France. Ray Dalio pointed out in his book, The Changing World Order, that increased literacy of the public preceded the rise of the Dutch and British empires as well as the rise to prominence of the United States. Mr. Dalio also noted that the Chinese are laser focused on the education the next Chinese generation, the generation of leaders that they expect to lead China to surpass America as the dominant world power.
The Chinese get it, and the Americans don’t (at least the teachers’ unions don’t). Education is the path to prosperity, wealth and power. All the things a great nation seeks to achieve. As taxpayers, you and I support the education of the next generation of Americans. We are not paying to baby-sit them. We are not paying to enhance their self-esteem (if self-esteem was a success factor America would be in great shape because Americans excel in self-esteem. Unfortunately their self-esteem is not matched by their ability as they rank low in international PISA tests – China ranks number one in mathematics, science and reading). And finally, I am not paying for schools to achieve ideologically based social justice goals. I am paying to educate our children to be the leaders America needs in the future to face the great challenges ahead. And you should be too.
These are the great national priorities that need to be addressed. You may be able to think of other priorities that are relevant to all Americans. But these great national priorities have been pushed aside by our so-called leaders who focus on narrow political priorities.
We are also faced with other priorities. But these are political priorities, established by people with an agenda. None of these priorities address existential threats to the United States or its people. Some may be popular, but in today’s hyper-partisan environment, there is little likelihood of reaching a consensus or even a compromise on any of these issues. These issues will consume much of the political dialogue in the months leading up to the 2024 presidential election. Some of these political priorities are actually opposed to achieving our urgent national priorities. None of these issues should be allowed to detract from the importance of addressing the urgent national issues.
Urgent Political Priorities in 2023
In the first two years of the Biden Administration, the Democrats technically controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. Thanks, however, to the obstreperousness of two moderate Democrats (Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema) much of President Biden’s ambitious progressive agenda was blocked or had to be modified, although he was able to do a significant damage by the bills that did get through and from executive actions.
Rising inflation at least partly due to President Biden’s spending policies gave rise to the notion that the Republicans would dominate the mid-year elections taking both the House and Senate. However, President Trump’s insertion of his electoral obsessions into the mix resulted in poor candidates for office, turning the Giant Red Tsunami into a little Red Ripple (see, Toxic Magic, November 11, 2022). The Republicans lost the Senate outright and gained only a very narrow majority in the House of Representatives.
These election results will give Republicans some leverage to block Mr. Biden’s progressive agenda, but they will lack the ability to put forth much of their agenda, similar to the previous House under Nancy Pelosi that passed all sorts of crazy progressive stuff that never saw the light of day in the Senate.
Results from elections in 2018, 2020 and 2022 give clear indication that Mr. Trump has lost much of his mojo and that his endorsement of a candidate no longer has any value beyond the Republican primaries. In straw polls his base seems solid, but many Republicans are distancing themselves from Mr. Trump. At this moment he appears to have a pretty good chance of winning the Republican nomination, especially if a host of challengers divide the opposition. But it is also becoming clear, that he has little chance of winning a presidential election.
Another sign of Mr. Trump’s declining clout was the opposition of the Freedom Caucus to the nomination of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House of Representatives, even though McCarthy was endorsed by former President Trump. The Freedom Caucus represents some of Mr. Trump’s most fervent supporters. But the Freedom Caucus’ opposition to the McCarthy Speakership was based mostly on principle, attempting to reduce to power of the Speaker and the party leadership to be more representative of the people as the Constitution intended (as more fully explained in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, There’s a Precedent for Kevin McCarthy’s Conundrum, January 6, 2023).
But Mr. Trump will not go gentle into that good night. Republicans need to accept that the Trump era is over but the sturm und drang is not. Candidates for office (especially the aspiring presidential candidates) will have to face this situation with courage and persistence.
The Mess on the Border
Both Republicans and Democrats feel that the mess on the border is helpful to their political parties, so they have not done anything to resolve the situation or to relieve the suffering of the poor immigrants. These people are among the most courageous and hardest-working people in their countries, and most will make good Americans if they get a chance. They are willing to do the hardest work for the poorest pay. America is indeed a nation of immigrants, and previous waves of immigrants were also resisted by the current residents.
But the rule of law only works when it is enforced. A new immigrant’s first act in America should not be breaking the law. We need a process, but the process should not just be an open border. Last fiscal year, the were 2.76 million illegal border crossings, according to NBC News. That is greater than the population of 90 countries according to Worldometers.
Republicans and Democrats need to come together to solve this problem understanding that any viable solution will make their base unhappy. But nothing can equal the unhappiness of the American people with the current situation.
In 2022, many American awoke to “wokeness.” Woke ideology is a sort of catch-all phrase used to describe the many varied ideologies and beliefs of the progressive left. These varied ideological beliefs are based on the idea that they will help some oppressed minority suffering from discrimination and hate from the general population (they call it systemic, but they mean you and me). But the imposition of these beliefs in actual policies not only attack the rights and freedoms of the general populace, they are also destructive of the very people there are supposed to help.
Black Lives Matter advocates defunding of police and the breakup of the traditional family structure, two policies that are incredibly destructive to the lives of the people living in the black community guaranteeing increased crime, violence and poverty. Transgender activists not only require that girls accept biological males in their sports and locker room showers but also push “gender affirming care” which includes puberty blockers, mastectomies and castrations so that young people suffering from gender dysphoria are scarred for life. Suicide rates for both untransitioned and transitioned as well as detransitioning patients is extremely high emphasizing the ineffectiveness of these treatments.
Americans are awakening to the fact that these dangerous beliefs are unscientific and harmful. The advocates’ contention that the science on these issues is settled, is in fact itself unscientific. These environmental and gender policies, anti-racist training sessions and equity demands (such as affirmative action) are in fact harmful for the very people they are supposed to help. Parents wants these changes removed from their schools. Professionals want their professional organizations to go back to being professional. We want our military to be combat ready, not woke. Change is coming but it will not be easy.
So, we need to focus on our national priorities and overlook some of our political differences. When politicians try to sidetrack us into their political priorities, we must constantly remind them of their obligation to address our national priorities. You need to contact your elected representatives and tell them to focus on these great national interests and not their narrow political interests. You can send them a copy of this commentary. I have sent copies to mine. You need to be politically active and to vote in primary elections as well as general elections. You need to make your voice heard.