2023: A year of continued questions and some possible answers

The new year begins with the feeling that little was resolved last year.  The topics that dominated the conversation from political polarization to the war in Ukraine continue apace without resolution.  2023 should finally begin to provide some answers domestically, internationally, and politically.

Future historians might look back on 2022 and identify it as a year that generated far more questions than answers.  Contrary to popular opinion, it wasn’t a bad year in the United States in the grand scheme of things.  Critics would be quick to point out continually high inflation and gas prices, a broken border and increased crime, and the ongoing war in Ukraine as dark spots, but these were accompanied by surprisingly low unemployment, modest wage gains, and the ongoing return to normalcy after the pandemic.  All in all, it seems a fairly middling year compared to what we experienced as recently as 2020, much less 1941 after Pearl Harbor. Politically speaking, we can say the same:  Republicans claimed victory in the House of Representatives while Democrats congratulated themselves for defying historical trends, keeping losses low, and slightly increasing their power in the Senate.  At the same time, we enter 2023 with the uneasy feeling that nothing was truly resolved last year.  Questions, from the future of Ukraine to the future of American politics, from the fear of a brutal recession to when the current crime wave will end, even what will become of Twitter, all seem unanswered.  2023 isn’t an election year.  The ongoing stalemate in Washington and around the country makes it extremely unlikely that any truly major decisions will be made or future course of history set, but this does not mean every issue we face will be left unsettled.  2023 has the potential at least to provide some important answers on the most critical questions facing the country and the world.

Domestically, the biggest question is undoubtedly what becomes of the economy.  Last year saw two quarters of economic contraction, which would normally be classified as a recession, but somehow the economy kept grinding along at minimal growth in the second half of the year.  Inflation also ravaged consumer wallets through most of the year, rising to a 40 year high, but some believe it has peaked as a result of the Federal Reserve’s painful program of aggressive interest rate hikes.  There is no doubt that income has taken a huge hit as a result and high interest rates are crushing key sectors like housing, not to mention the stock market, but so far this has not spilled over in the job market.  We should learn definitively whether the much-hoped for soft landing is possible in 2023 or if real economic pain is ahead.  At this point, the experts are unclear:  The International Monetary Fund claims one third of the world will be in recession over the next twelve months, but no one knows for sure.  For better or worse, we should find out soon enough.  Elsewhere on the domestic front, the border crisis appeared sporadically in the news throughout last year, frequently in a ridiculous attempt to smear conservatives, but by December, it seemed something had changed.  A countrywide cold spell caused frigid temperatures all the way down to the border and a renewed focus on the human toll of record border crossings, over 2,200,000 last year alone.  Images of the El Paso airport turned into a shelter for immigrants were shocking and heartbreaking.  Likewise, the Supreme Court’s extension of Title 42 pandemic protections placed an emphasis on border policies and their impact.  Whether this focus continues into 2023 and ultimately results in a more secure border is anyone’s guess, but it seems clear record numbers of migrants are unsustainable and the pendulum must swing one way or another.  The crime wave strikes me as similar:  Republicans came within striking distance of winning the New York governorship largely as a result of the impression that Democrats were either responsible for the crime wave at worst or denying reality at best.  The question now:  Will progressives continue to insist on criminal friendly policies like bail reform or will they start protecting the populace first and foremost?

Internationally, the outcome of Russia’s illegal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine remains undoubtedly the biggest question.  Most clearly believed the first major land war in Europe since World War II would be resolved by now, either through a swift Russian victory as predicted by the experts or a combination of crushing sanctions and aid to Ukraine resulting in a Russian expulsion from the country, also as predicted by the experts.  Neither came to pass last year, and it’s an open question what happens next.  The situation on the ground appears to have devolved into something of a brutal stalemate.  Russia is unable to advance, but Ukraine is equally unable to defeat the invaders.  The result is heavy loss of life on both sides, not to mention untold sums of money around the world and increases in already stressed commodity prices.  At some point, a settlement will need to be reached, but even what is acceptable in that regard remains murky.  Ukraine itself is pushing for regime change in Russia, or at least claiming to, and the United States along with our allies have not clearly stated what resolution they hope for.  If the war doesn’t have a conclusive outcome this year, we can hope for clarity on the policy at least.  Otherwise around the world, China’s designs on Taiwan remain a big question mark as we start the year.  Many believed they would attempt to seize the island nation in 2022.  Some still think they will try in 2023.  We should all hope that Russia’s inability to quickly realize their objectives in Ukraine have given China pause while considering a similar strategy in Taiwan, but unfortunately, no one knows for sure and needless to say, a China invasion of Taiwan would instantly mint a whole lot of new questions for the world to ponder.

Of course, domestic and international issues both lead to no shortage of political questions, especially in an era of high polarization.  Many on both sides were hoping the 2022 midterm elections would move the country in one direction or the other, but a close, divided outcome largely preserved the status quo and refused to deliver an interim verdict on Joe Biden’s Presidency.  The Republicans now control the House of Representatives and with it the ability to both influence legislation and mount investigations.  The investigations are, in my mind at least, the most interesting question.  President Biden has been shielded by Democrat control of both chambers of Congress for two years, resulting in more investigations into Donald Trump than the sitting President of the United States.  This era is now over and Republicans are promising investigations into just about everything, from the disgraceful defeat in Afghanistan to the President’s possible involvement in his son’s business dealings with the government’s intrusions in social media usage in between.  Of course, no one knows if these investigations will produce anything meaningful or if the media will deign to cover them in the first place.  So far, the mainstream media has seemed either blissfully unaware or intentionally obtuse when it comes to questions concerning the administrations competence and potential corruption, and close to half the country has followed suit.  In their view, our economic and other challenges are unfortunate occurrences that just happened on Joe Biden’s watch, not something he is personally responsible for.  At some point, however, a President normally receives either the full praise or blame for events under his watch.  This President defied that fate in 2022, but a renewed focus and new revelations in 2023 could dramatically change that dynamic.  Any legal accountability is likely too much to hope for, but political accountability would be welcome.

2023 will also begin to answer key questions about the 2024 Presidential Election and the state of politics in general.  I believe Donald Trump’s demise in the Republican Party has been grossly overstated largely by people who never wanted him in the party to begin with, but this year should start generating actual data in advance of the primaries next year.  While we will not know the nominee until 2024 itself, we will get a sense of the relative strength of the candidates and the state of the race.  This could, however, lead to more questions than answers especially if popular Florida governor and emerging alternative to President Trump, Ron DeSantis, formally enters the race late in the year.  Of course, whether or not Donald Trump will be indicted by the Biden Justice Department remains a wildcard, but one that might well be answered as it seems impossible to believe the threat of a prosecution could continue into the general election campaign, especially when the allegations against the former President are all in the past tense.  President Biden faces his own questions in 2023 as well, namely whether he will run again or whether or not the party wants him to run again.  A formal decision on his part should be made soon, but there is evidence the party is looking at other options and he cannot control whether another candidate attempts to run against him in a primary.  Last month, CNBC’s All-America Economic Survey found that 57% of Democrats do not want Biden to run again, along with 70% of Americans.  Those are not the numbers you want to see the year before an election, nor do they look any better for former President Trump.  61% of respondents do not want to see him on the ballot either, including 37% of Republicans.  This suggests that both men might have a real race on their hands, opening up many questions about who might run against them in their respective parties and on what platform. 2023 will at least let us know the who and why, even if we will not know the outcome until well into 2024.

The state of politics in general is also influx, especially after the Supreme Court’s momentous decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last year.  Abortion was generally considered a factor in the Democrat’s strong midterm performance, but the long term implications remain unclear.  Donald Trump, for one, is insisting that the problem isn’t with the Supreme Court decision, but rather with Republican failures afterwards around messaging and exceptions for health and safety.  There might well be some truth to this given maverick Republican Senator Lindsey Graham introduced a national abortion bill in the middle of the campaign.  It will likely take years to truly sort out the abortion question, but states are each adopting their own policies as we speak and the information we can glean as a result will become more and more definitive.  Critical race theory and parental rights in education were also big political topics last year, but results were a “mixed bag” to cite an expert quoted by USA Today.  2023 is not likely to produce an answer, but as the 2024 race shapes up, we should get some insight into what platforms the respective parties will run and how much emphasis will be placed on it.  The same is likely true of the emerging battle of transgender treatments and surgeries for those under 18.  The issue began receiving some attention late in the year, but not enough to provide a satisfactory answer though one is desperately needed.

In summary, I wouldn’t hold my breath in expectation of 2023 producing definitive answers to most of these questions.  2024, as a pivotal election year, is likely to be far more definitive in that regard, but we can hope to glean some insight on key issues facing the country when any at all would be more than welcome at this point. One thing we might know for sure: Can Elon Musk run Twitter better than his predecessors?

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