Our choice: Fear vs. doubt

By Fred Benson

In just a few days, the sordid political affair known as our 2016 presidential election will end. Hopefully, the nation’s attention will turn away from X-rated bluster to plans for dealing with the many serious international and domestic challenges facing the United States.

While there are no indications of imminent conflict with major global powers, there are many warning signs that a miscalculation could lead to military engagement. Russia possesses the largest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world, a protective umbrella under which it is rapidly modernizing its conventional forces. The Russians have no interest in competing on equal terms with us. It’s all about keeping us at bay as they expand their influence internationally.

Simultaneously, China is methodically building up military installations on several formerly uninhabited islands within the South China Sea, the waterway through which roughly half of global trade passes. The U.S. military remains unbeatable on a head-to-head basis, and China is keenly aware of that. Therefore, the Chinese military strategy serves a more narrow purpose – pushing the United States out of their backyard, the Pacific – while diminishing our military reach and reputation. Of particular concern is that Russia and China just completed a joint military exercise designed to “seize control of the South China Sea.”

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter recently claimed that “North Korea stands no chance of defeating us in South Korea, but it remains the single place in the world where war could erupt at the snap of our fingers.”

North Korea is a police state on steroids run by the Kim family for 68 years. They now have an estimated 20 nuclear weapons in inventory and will produce 7 per year from now on. Pyongyang has publically stated that they would “carry out an ultra-harsh war of reaction targeting the entire U.S. mainland, including the White House and the Pentagon.”

Further, a North Korean attack on South Korea or Japan would surely draw the U.S. into war.

The recent spate of cyber attacks is clear evidence that increasingly sophisticated and effective damage to internet services across the United States will continue. Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are fully engaged in computer network exploitation and disruption efforts that would affect essential government, business and private systems.

In addition to these challenging international situations, there is much to be done at home. The extant racial tension in our cities surrounding police shootings continues to grow. Federally mandated incident reporting and enhanced officer training are needed.

It is clear that the deleterious effects of climate change are being seen in floods, droughts, fires and storms. A more aggressive timetable for reduction of carbon emissions is critical.

Sixty-one thousand U.S. bridges and 50 percent of our roads need replacement or repair. Congress needs to pass an all-encompassing 10-year infrastructure enhancement program.

The Affordable Care Act implementation is not producing the revenue necessary to sustain the program and must be modified to provide incentives for healthier citizens to sign up for coverage so that overall costs to policy holders can be reduced.

Including supporting documents, our federal tax code is now 74,600 pages long and continues to grow at an average rate of 1,500 pages per year. It is a confusing array of arcane special interest provisions ridden with opportunities for tax avoidance. Complete tax overhaul is essential.

There are 11 million undocumented immigrants living in limbo in the United States. Given their contributions to our labor force, any thought of deporting them all is absurd. The only reasonable approach is to establish a tightly vetted path to citizenship for those who qualify.

For these major international and domestic challenges to be addressed successfully, our new president must bring to that office an extremely skillful balance of intellect, vision, strength and transparency, all delivered within a leadership style that gains the confidence and trust of the American public.

For many voters, the Nov. 8 decision comes down to choosing the lesser of two evils, fear or doubt. Donald Trump is totally unqualified and unworthy to serve as commander-in-chief of our armed forces. Our military personnel deserve a leader who will command respect both at home and abroad. He is not that person, and many fear for the nation should he be elected.

The doubt about Hillary Clinton is that she will have neither the verve nor skill to lead elected officials into a mode of cooperative respect essential to managing the extremely complex array of challenges. The issues described above can be dealt with only by concerted efforts on the parts of both parties.

If on day one of her presidency, Clinton pledges to meet with leaders of both the House and Senate to establish a sense of national purpose behind a plan to deal with these issues, she will be starting on the right track. Short of that, it will be more of the same destructive partisanship, and that’s what feeds doubt: lots of talk, but no action. Nothing would be more satisfying than to see her succeed in pulling this country together, including those citizens she so caustically dismissed as “deplorables.” But if she does not, we can expect a one-term presidency and the U.S. electoral map turning more red in 2020.

Fred Benson is a resident of Mount Desert and publishes Capitol Commentary, an independent political newsletter. [email protected]

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