The turn of a year is always a good time for reflection. Here is my shot:
First, I would like to say thanks to 2019 for what on a personal level was a very good year for me and Embry. Embry and I did a lot of travel, which if you have been following the blog, you know all about. We continue to be in good health for people our age and are still squeezing drops out of the lemon. Theoretically retired from the Urban Institute–Embry still goes in to work occasionally– she has reinvented herself as an international consultant, specializing in evaluating US AID programs in developing nations. Mali was her first engagement in this new line of work, and she spent a week there in 2019 training villagers on how to do focus groups. No telling what will be next.
My volunteer work in 2019 on several nonprofit housing boards was especially rewarding, and I feel valued and appreciated. Our two children and four grandchildren are doing fine. I value and cherish my relationships with close friends. We are enjoying apartment living in DC and are secure financially. I am still racing our sailboat, Second Wind, along with a great crew, and we even won a trophy in one of the series. And Embry and I were also able to get in some long cruises on the Chesapeake Bay with friends. At my Davidson 55th reunion in the spring I received a “Distinguished Alumni Award,” for which I am especially grateful and—I will admit it—proud. Life was good for us in 2019. I feel blessed.
I also understand that for others this was not the case. My best friend lost his wife, and we lost several other friends as well. Funerals are a lot more frequent nowadays than weddings. At our age this is what you expect. Other friends are struggling with health issues, some with memory issues. Anyone my age (soon to be 78) understands that we are running our last lap. That is the way life is on the planet Earth for us homo sapiens, in fact for all life.
But while I can say that for me 2019 life was a good year, when I look at the bigger picture, well, I am not so sure.
Actually, the year was not all bad. In an op ed essay in the Sunday, December 29, New York Times, Nicholas Kristof points out that 2019 was the best year ever in terms of reduced, world-wide poverty, improved health, reduced infant mortality, empowerment for women, and better educational opportunities. We are making progress on many fronts. The U.S. economy has been strong, and we have averted any major, new wars or huge catastrophes. (For now anyway. Note the developments with Iran and North Korea.) Good news too rarely finds its way into newspapers or newscasts.
The year 2019 saw continued gun violence, the opioid crisis, an increase in hate crimes, increasing income disparities, attacks on Obamacare and the social safety net, widening divisions in our country, and more fires, devastating storms, and flooding due to climate change. And, of course, there was Trump.
For anyone paying attention, it is hard to miss the storm clouds gathering on the horizon. The major question that will be answered in 2020 will be, do we get another four years of Trump. If he is reelected, this would assure at least one more right wing, Supreme Court justice and probably the end of Roe v. Wade, continued denial of climate change, widening social divisions in the U.S. population, a diminished role for the U.S. in world leadership, less trust in government, more hostility to immigrants, cutbacks to help for the poor, an increase in hate crimes and vigilante groups, increased attacks on the free press, and God only knows what else. I am not sure that our institutions could survive another four years of Trump. I am not sure the country as we know it could.
Now as much as I detest Trump for the kind of person he is, for what he stands for, and for what he is doing, I also have to admit that he is as much a symptom as a cause. The major culprit, I believe, is globalism. The world is changing very fast due to the ease of travel, technology, and world trade. Much of this is good. It is a major factor in improving the standard of living for people all over the world as documented in the Kristof essay. But it has created major upheavals and produced winners and losers. In the U.S. the losers include many in the white working class, mainly men, who have seen their jobs shipped overseas, their incomes reduced, and lifestyles and values threatened. They see more people of color or who speak English with an accent taking jobs they believe rightfully belong to themselves, not to immigrants. They are fighting back. They see Trump as “their guy,” who will stand up against the “coastal elites” and others on whose watch globalism accelerated. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is their mantra. They constitute a large share of Trump’s intractable “base,” and have gone all in. Many are also Evangelicals, who I believe have crossed over to what I call “the Dark Side” for many of the same reasons.
All the blame, however, should not be placed on the uprooted, white working class. You can understand where they are coming from and the reasons for their discontent. They have been aided and abetted by a Republican Party that I believe has sold out to Trump in order to hold on to power regardless of the cost to what used to be Republican values of small government, personal responsibility, balanced budgets, human rights, and ethical behavior. A lot of Trump’s support also comes from “one percenters,” who believe that Trump is their best bet for lower taxes, deregulation, and laissez faire economics. The tools that they are using are gerrymandering, voter restrictions, and targeted social media, all threats to our democracy.
The alienation caused by globalism is not just a U.S. problem. It is a worldwide phenomenon and is responsible in part for Brexit and for the authoritarian governments in former, fairly robust democracies like Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Egypt, and Brazil, and for the neo Nazi parties and hate groups forming throughout Europe. The big questions are how far this nativist populism will go and is our democracy inching toward authoritarianism. I believe that what happens in the presidential election in 2020 will determine the direction we are headed. The stakes have never been higher.
So 2020 could be a pivotal year. Hanging over all of us humans on the planet, of course, is the threat of unmitigated disaster caused by global warming. The clock is ticking on this one. If we–all the counties on the planet–do not take major action now on reducing the amount of carbon we generate, much greater action than anything contemplated so far, scientists tell us we are doomed. We do not have another four years to waste before we can move decisively on combatting global warming. With Trump in charge, that will be the case.
What will 2020 have in store for us? It could be, as the saying goes, a game changer. Tighten your seat belts and get to work—for Democrats!