By William S. Becker

If you don’t read the Washington Post, you may have missed an important warning this week from 44 former United States Senators. They published a letter to the 100 Senators who will be seated in the 116th Congress next month. They pointed out that “we are entering dangerous period” in which several sensitive events will converge.

They could have addressed the letter to the rest of us, too, because we will all be challenged by that “dangerous period”. As the former Senators write, the rule of law, the principles of democracy, the functions of our institutions, and even our national security are at stake.

The converging events are the pending results of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s wide-ranging investigation of President Trump and his campaign, a similar investigation likely to be undertaken by the Democrat-controlled House, and “simmering regional conflicts and global power confrontations”.

The 44 Formers referred to this as an “inflection point” and a potential constitutional crisis when today’s Senators must ensure that “partisanship and self-interest do not replace national interest.”

The media and pollsters continuously characterize the American electorate as deeply divided, which can become a self-reinforcing descriptor. What’s certain, however, is that what transpires in Congress over the next two years will strongly influence the tone and content of the presidential and congressional elections in 2020.

It would be ideal if Congress demonstrated the best qualities of democratic government rather than more rancor. It is an admittedly wishful thought with one party controlling the House and the other the Senate.  But maybe the newly elected members of Congress – more military veterans, more women, and more racially diverse people who are less weighed down by ugly institutional memories — can make that happen.

One of the 44 former Senators who signed the letter is a friend. When we get together for coffee from time to time, we talk about how different the institution is today from what it was decades ago when there was dignity, decorum, bipartisanship and an expectation that Senators would put country above party.

Those of us who remember when America seemed purer and simpler are prone to wonder if the country can ever get back to those qualities. Probably not. It’s a different world now. But we can certainly do much better than we’ve been doing. Perhaps the new Congress will accept the mission to show us how.