With the Iowa Caucuses under our belts, the 2016 presidential election is finally underway, and it will likely prove to be the most important election of our lifetimes.
You’ve probably heard that before. Every four years someone makes the claim, often to hector people into voting for or against a given candidate in the primaries. But this election is different. Last December, 196 nations agreed to the first global compact to fight climate change, and because of the way that deal was structured, it won’t only be this country’s future on the line come November.
There was already a lot riding on this election when the climate agreement was signed. Most of Obama’s second-term accomplishments were achieved through executive actions, which can be killed with a stroke of the pen by a President Cruz or Trump. It’s unlikely that a Republican president would actually withdraw from the Iran deal, but we could probably kiss normalization of relations with Cuba goodbye. The same goes for deferred action for Dreamers and the undocumented parents of US citizens—Republican governors are already fighting the latter all the way to the Supreme Court. Obama’s recent package of gun-safety measures would surely vanish. His orders requiring companies that do business with the federal government to pay a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour and barring them from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity—which impacts an estimated 20 percent of the American workforce—would at least be in peril.
The fact that Democrats lost over 900 state legislative seats during Obama’s presidency, and Republicans now exercise unified control of 25 state governments—the most since 1952—also raises the stakes. With Congress unlikely to switch hands in 2016, the executive branch will either empower right-wing lawmakers at the state level or serve as a bulwark against their extremism.
And of course there’s the Supreme Court. Next year, a president will be sworn in with three octogenarian justices (Ginsburg, Scalia, and Kennedy), and a fourth in his late 70s (Breyer). That means the winner of the 2016 election will likely get the first opportunity to shift the Court’s balance of power since George H. Bush replaced Thurgood Marshall with Clarence Thomas 25 years ago.