More than control of the White House and Congress is at stake this year. A lot of Americans consider this election the most consequential of their lifetimes. The US faces unprecedented challenges all at once: widespread natural catastrophes, fueled by climate change; a pandemic whose course remains uncertain; a reeling economy that even before the pandemic had produced widening inequality of both income and opportunity; a reckoning with centuries of entrenched racial inequality and resistance to demographic change; and a real sense not only that US standing in the world has slipped precipitously over the last four years—and especially since the start of the pandemic—but that it’s being outplayed by a rising China and a meddlesome Russia. Beyond that, the recent passing of Justice Ginsburg has moved appointments to the Supreme Court to the top of the agenda.

President Trump has not really laid out a detailed plan for a second term, so in many ways, voters in federal elections will be deciding whether to re-up for another four years of his governing style, with its disapproval of government institutions and norms. Biden has spelled out his plans for the economy, his interest in following the recommendations of the scientific community in the pandemic, and both his sympathy for racial-justice demonstrators and respect for local police when it comes to dealing with crime and looting.

The mix of environmental, economic, health, social, and global strategic issues we face means that the next president, Congress, and array of governors and state legislatures will confront a bewildering and rapid-fire set of problems to be tackled, with a demanding citizenry watching closely. That’s why the stakes are so high: the people we put in office this election will shape the future of the US for decades.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar at the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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