The end of the year, the winter solstice and family birthdays always remind me that we’re at the end of something and the beginning of something else – a convergence of old and new. Normally, it’s a time to review the passing year and prepare for the next. But the last six years have been unlike any that went before. How should we think of them? Our world has changed. The emotional, political, geographic, even the biological tectonic plates we relied on have shifted.
Climate change has brought floods where floods were rare (Western Europe and Arizona), multi-year droughts have depleted our reservoirs (Shasta, Powell, Lake Mead), raging wildfires have destroyed unimaginable amounts of forests and taken out whole residential communities (California and Australia), catastrophic tornados have attached themselves to the ground for never before lengths and devastated everything they touched (Kentucky), shootings have come to neighborhoods never before touched by violence (mine), our nation’s capital was attacked by domestic terrorists (January 6, 2021) because the outgoing US president was determined to retain power by overturning a legitimate election (Trump). Police continued to shoot black citizens while a 17-year-old white vigilante armed with an illegally purchased AR-15 gunned down three protesters before being acquitted of all charges and celebrated by right-wing groups as a “patriot” and “hero” (Kyle Rittenhouse). Worst of all, a lethal virus was loosed on the world, killing 800,000 Americans, while its eradication was effectively prevented due to its politicization by right-wing media and anti-vaccers.
What have these years been like for you? What about the next two or three? What the hell is going on? Issues large and small have us all off-balance. How should we respond and is it possible to right the ship?
At first, President Biden appeared to be managing both the virus and the economy competently. But, of late, the virus has morphed into a new dangerous phase and the president has stumbled, while surprisingly, it appears that one US Senator, a Democrat, is standing in the way of the president’s comprehensive plan to re-balance the social contract – enacting an extension of the Child Tax Credit, financial aid for child care and older Americans’ home health care, reduction in prescription drug costs, paid family and medical leave for private sector workers, universal free pre-school for all 3-4 year-olds, access to affordable high-quality education, an Earned Income Tax Credit for low-wage workers, minimum tax for large profitable corporations, and increased taxes for the highest income Americans. And more… How is it possible that one Senator can hold an entire nation hostage? But, of course, it isn’t just one Senator. Congressional factions no longer work to find middle ground in a bipartisan way. The two party system is locked in an “us versus them” power struggle.
I don’t want my year-end reflections to be political, but I find it difficult to sort out what has happened in this country over the past six years. What seemed solid now seems fragile. Institutional norms are being ignored. The unimaginable is now commonplace. Right wing zealots and QAnon supporters hold seats in Congress, while moderate and progressive Democrats are unable to compromise in support of their own president’s agenda.
Apparently, compromise is seen as weakness. Fairness has slipped from the political vocabulary. State legislatures are enacting voting laws clearly intended to disenfranchise voters of color. Gerrymandered districts now favor Republicans by 39 to 19 giving them 20 more seats than their populations merit numerically.
For two years the world has been fighting a killer virus. Today we have the tools to defeat it. It should be our highest priority worldwide in the near term. Then we can address climate change, an even greater challenge. The past six years have been disruptive and challenging, and it appears the next three – including two more elections – will be just as challenging. Will the great American political experiment survive these changes or will ignorance and selfishness destroy the Founder’s vision? I may not live long enough to know the answer, but I plan to stick around long enough to sense its vector.
As we transition to the new year, my prayers are for peace, wisdom, common sense, and a shared purpose – what used to be our aspirational normal. Here’s hoping for a better new year.