It’s a time of unprecedented crisis in the United States: a four-part health, economic, racial justice and climate crisis is battering the nation, and Americans have been plunged into uncertainty about their futures that harkens back to the Great Depression.
But in its devastation, the COVID-19 crisis has painfully demonstrated that foreign policy is not a high-minded consideration: America’s health, economy and security are linked to the world’s, and decisions about foreign affairs will determine whether and how we defeat dangers before they reach our shores.
This November, women voters will choose the U.S. president, and by extension, will determine what the United States’ global role means for the American people.
Most other highly-developed nations have far lower mortality rates than the United States—due in part to express decisions made by Washington to pull back from the world at a time of global crisis, rather than work with it.
Well before the crisis, the Trump administration disbanded the government unit designed to detect and respond to international pandemics.
The U.S. has since defunded and withdrawn from the World Health Organization, the only body designed to respond to global health emergencies. And America also refused to join an international alliance for global vaccine distribution that could make us safer, sooner.
But November fast approaches. American women turn out to vote at higher rates than their male counterparts, and make up a slightly larger portion of the population, giving them an edge in deciding who will become president—the person who will determine how and when to use military force, steward a nuclear arsenal that could end humanity, and protect the health, prosperity and security of all Americans.
On the centennial of the 19th Amendment, women are already reshaping American politics. Increasingly, female voters are coalescing behind the Democratic party—a dynamic scholars have identified as the biggest shift in American politics since the South turned from blue to red.
Women are also directly participating in the political process in record numbers. The 2018 midterm elections vividly illustrated this momentous change: Female voters outnumbered their male counterparts in nearly every age group, they favored Democratic candidates by 19 points and they helped elect an unprecedented number of women to Congress.
Women’s energy is not just remaking the American political landscape—it could reshape the nation’s global role as well. Women’s support for Democrats will advance the party’s foreign policy platform—itself a marked departure from Washington’s recent approach.
Women may also push the United States in a less militaristic direction, as academic studies consistently show that women are less likely to support the use of military force than their male counterparts. As a result, democracies with women’s suffrage are less likely to go to war than other states.
On the ballot this November is something a bit subtler, if just as consequential. In their selection of a president, voters, led by women, will make a stark choice between visions for the role the United States should play in the world—and, by extension, how it confronts and responds to threats of all kinds.
America’s global role was in flux before COVID stole all the headlines. Our country had enjoyed unprecedented economic, military and political power since the fall of the Soviet Union, but the Global Financial Crisis and endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan signal the twilight of unbounded American might, while China is rising at breakneck speed.
In the pre-COVID world, international cooperation was ever-more difficult, competition fiercer, and the U.S.’s leading position heavily contested. This makes it increasingly difficult to respond to international threats like climate change and, yes, global pandemics.
By pulling back from international organizations and alliances, the U.S. has not only hamstrung its own COVID response, but has weakened the very structures that have long helped to protect American lives and prosperity through international cooperation.
But this outcome isn’t foreordained. With its leading university system, diverse population (fueled by immigration), and strong network of international partners, America still remains powerful. If it returns to the global stage and helps to lead a new era of international cooperation, it can secure prosperity and safety for the American people while helping other countries do the same.
On November 3, women voters will decide what happens next. Suffrage is always a solemn responsibility, and never more so than this year, in this election.