Tonight we end a year, and tomorrow we begin a new one.
In so many ways, large and small, the human family finds itself at a turning point. We are experiencing profound and accelerating changes to the cultural, economic and technological environments we inhabit, and those changes are both challenging and disorienting. (And dangerous. If unaddressed, climate change could make the planet uninhabitable.)
This would seem to be a particularly unfortunate time to have a witless buffoon in the Oval Office being protected by a feckless and delusional Republican Party.
On the other hand, as I suggested a couple of days ago, Trump’s election may turn out to be a fortuitous wake-up call, a warning that our country’s moral and legal infrastructure is in even greater disrepair than our roads and bridges, and that we need to fix what’s broken sooner rather than later.
For sure, Trump is testing his infamous January 2016 claim– “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters” – to destruction.
True, there has been no new war, no major terrorist attack, no economic crash – at least not yet – such is the soft bigotry of low expectations. There is also a school of thought that this presidency was necessary, that the rise of a narcissistic authoritarian has brought about a moment of reckoning, forcing white Americans to confront a racism many had dismissed as ambient noise and forcing everyone to confront a broken politics.
A number of the political observers quoted in the article made an important point: even if Trump fails to serve out the rest of his term, or is soundly defeated in 2020, we will be unable to simply pick up from where we were before 2016. We will have to deal with the systemic failures and erosion of democratic and ethical norms that gave rise not just to Trump, but to the contemporary GOP.
And yet there is a striking paradox. Over the past two years, Trump has also caused a democratic renaissance. The first Women’s March on Washington the day after his inauguration was probably the biggest single-day demonstration in recorded US history, with an estimated 725,000 people. In November 2018, 49% of the voter-eligible population showed up at the polls, the highest midterm turnout seen since 1914. Activists, authors, journalists and satirists have thrivedin an age when politics suddenly matters again. The complacent myth of a post-racial country, which some espoused after Obama’s election, has been exploded, forcing some long-overdue conversations.
The over-riding question, as we head into 2019, is whether We The People will sustain this activism in a productive and positive way; whether American citizens will work together to repair the damage and reclaim our national ideals, or whether we will retreat into our various tribes and direct our hostilities to those who should be our comrades-in-arms.
We have a lot of work to do. Here’s hoping 2019 finds us living up to the challenges.
Happy New Year….