Taking Stock And Looking Ahead

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.

A recent article from the Guardian considered America’s situation “two years in” to this surreal administration.

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….


  1. Hey fellow liberal readers, Happy New Year. I hope that 2019 is good to you and for you! Cheers!

  2. I for one, don’t want to go back to where we were prior to Trump’s arrival. Where we were is exactly what allowed Trump to rise to power and eventually get elected. I laugh every single time I think of what kind of mental gymnastics Pence’s evangelical base goes through to support Donald Trump. His record against women should discount him immediately. And then all the lies which take place daily.

    What does all that do to our collective morality?

    How many exceptions or exemptions have we made? Lowered the bar to what level? Will we get a rap star running for POTUS?

    The Koch brothers took down the GOP with help of his Tea Party friends. They have an image problem but collectively, nothing binds Americans like hate. I call it the WWE mentality.

    Now it’s time for the DNC to crumble. It started in 2016 but the media has done a great job of shining up this classic turd. At least we know the free press is useless in this country. If you want the truth, you’ll need to venture out into the fringes–seek it out. If you expect to be informed today with a remote in your hand, good luck!

    As Chris Hedges points out in his latest article about Seymour Hersh, what year did Seymour leave the Times? It’s propaganda now. Their job is to shine the turd so it’s presentable.


  3. Trump is as American as Obama. His presidency has laid bare America’s soul and shaken its oldest institutions, including the church. Michael Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal church, says: “I think in most folks there’s a sense that something’s out of kilter. We don’t know exactly what, and that’s not a liberal or conservative thing, but there’s something in the way we’re even engaging each other.”

    Curry, 65, who shot to fame at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan, says he is now having more conversations with members of Congress and people in government about spiritual values. Despite it all, does he remain optimistic? He pauses and leans back, then replies: “I believe in hope. I believe in God. This isn’t the first time the human race has been in trouble and I expect it won’t be the last.

    “We’re in the midst of some tough times right now but like the old slaves used to say, tough times don’t last always. As long as there’s a God.”

    Balderdash. We’ve just gone through another season of celebrating a myth. Two myths, in fact; all the irrationality of the birth of Jesus, and Santa Claus. The bishop falls back on ‘a God’. Up to 25% of our fellow citizens don’t believe in ‘a god’, joined by likely that number or more who don’t place stock in the supernatural. But the Guardian piece can only come up with the bishop’s nonsense as a sop to our miserable situation. What we need is a continuing revolution based not on ‘holy writings’ but on the Constitution.

    Beyond that, we must heed the facts of climate change and our imminent demise if we don’t. That’s hard work, as is ameliorating the suffering of the majority of humankind. We know what must be done. We must do it. Join the continuing revolution, the youth are leading.

  4. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast” (An Essay on Man, Alexander Pope)! Happy New Year, everybody.

  5. Cut Bishop Curry some slack. He is a man of god by profession and will do all things to protect his territory. For those beyond the god phase of their life, what he says is of little consequence

  6. Happy New Year to you, Ms Kennedy. Thank you for your daily gifts of insight and wisdom. I look forward to another year of the best …

  7. A wake up call, indeed. In January of 2017 I woke up with this thought: “The tug has to come”. That’s what Lincoln wrote to a friend in January of 1861. He was warning him not to allow compromise on the extension of slavery at the “peace conference” just before his inauguration. Like slavery then, we have a number of intractable issues. Better to grapple with them now than later, when the sustainability of our way of life reaches multiple devastating crises, and fear and hatred is consequently far worse.

  8. A Healthy New Year to all.
    Thank you, Professor, for your continued efforts to educate us and provide some prospective on this past year. As always, your words are some of the first I read every morning, providing food for thought and furthering my resolve to stay involved when it would be so much easier to just hunker down and turn inward.

    I wish the New Year could be peaceful and happy as well, but will concentrate on health as a goal for us all so we can dig in and fight for ourselves and our country’s well-being.

    Find joy where you can. Love those you hold dear and those who need it most. Sometimes they are the same and sometimes they are strangers to us. “Happiness comes when we dissolve into something great and complete.”(Cather) May our goal for the year be to find those small places of greatness completed while we can revel in them.

  9. ” 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. ”

    I would cast it slightly differently as “institutional failures” giving rise to democratic and normative failures, although Ms. Kennedy may have meant to imply that with the word “systemic” and other references today.

    In any event, Todd is right to bring attention to institutional journalistic and media failures as a significant contributor to our malaise. When “journalists” aren’t interviewing each other, they are parroting unnamed sources, interviewing party spokespersons, or reporting on some other reporters reporting.

    I too join Todd and Wayne in recommending Chris Hedges to include:


  10. Happy New Year to all! The comments today are, as usual, thoughtful and thought provoking. A big thank you to Sheila for providing this oasis of rational thought here in the middle of Indiana.

  11. John,

    You might also note that Todd is an expert regarding turds. The only turds he polishes are those dealing with his self-aggrandizement and hate for anything but his own tortured opinion.

    Meanwhile, the rational and sane people who harbor thoughts and desires to retain a functioning democratic republic must continue to soldier on and, first, stop the destruction train of Trumpism and Republicanism. Then we must move ahead to fulfill the ideals of the Constitution writers as well as our own. The phrase, “…a more perfect union…” is NOT static, but an idea that is in constant motion. The only direction where this ideal is satisfied is when we all go forward.

  12. (And dangerous. If unaddressed, climate change could make the planet uninhabitable.)

    Haven’t wingnuts pretty much done that already?

  13. One with a knowledge of history and critical thinking skills needs no Trump to know that race and riches continue to be problems in our society and that of others as well, even among subsets (see Rwanda). As my fellow contributors know, I see most everything (including solutions) through an economic prism, a view that holds that Marx was correct in his diagnosis but wrong in the medicine he provided, a view that (as I often write elsewhere) has led me to conclude that I am trying to save capitalism, if the capitalists will let me.

    I think, for instance, that Trump’s some thirty five percent diehards use race as a metaphor out of economic frustration in not being able to secure their fair share of the economy’s income and wealth, and if they did, as we did for decades following WW II under the New Deal when wage increases and the Dow rose in tandem, there would be only a small cult population for opportunists like Trump to exploit, and even though vestiges of racism would remain in such population, it would, as before Trump, be muted and, eventually, disappear.
    People who have good wages, healthcare, good retirement plans and a future for their successors are likely to be the new status quo exponents, and given such an ideal set of economic circumstances and in time racism would, I here suggest, actually disappear since the perceived need for metaphors and blame games borne out of economic frustration would evaporate.
    Pollyannish? Can’t reverse Fort Sumter? Bad old capitalism a new metaphor to replace color for carving out a new cult population available to politicians like Trump? I think not. I see instead with a fair and equitable sharing of the fruits of our economy the possibility of a new day in which Americans need no props upon which to vent their wrath, a day in which fruitcakes like Trump are laughed at and regarded as quaint artifacts of a forgotten age. Such a future possible socioeconomic realignment that lives up to the Jeffersonian ideal in re the pursuit of happiness, perhaps unfortunately, depends not upon the good will of capitalists and political opportunists but rather the verdict of the polls, so let’s do the necessary.

    A Happy New Year to my fellow contributors, and especially to Professor Kennedy, who affords us the daily opportunity to vent our wrath on the passing scene.

  14. tumps recent tiraid on the working class through the goverment,is just another slam on the people who do the work, ive yet to hear about any invites to the working class that backed this foole to a bbq at mal. or any venue,hes exploited the christians,and a recent article read put his use as a cheap whore the rightwing religious class,..the nra maybe bleeding,but with pelosi on her anti gun,there will be a kickback,one the think tanks and pr people get paid to find a way for them to be without sin. ryan goes home and enjoys the warm fires from wall streets windfall profits from the goverment. if wall street is playing a game here,with your money,its probably the same game they play when the political climate isnt in thier field. we can see how wall street can turn this economy inside out,at any time,due mainly because congress has allowed them to do so,as they follow suit with euros greed also. these turdman-sachs people rule,and we sit there watching it all again,we become the hostage held,with no sight into who runnings what. this little spat with trump and the working class of goverment workers,is and always will be him,kicking us again,and being able to do it,with congresess blessings. i see no one on the right,and a few on the left,backing the working class,instead,kicking the can(us) further down their road.

  15. I would agree with what Todd wrote: “I for one, don’t want to go back to where we were prior to Trump’s arrival. Where we were is exactly what allowed Trump to rise to power and eventually get elected.”

    We must move forward toward a Progressive future, and dump the Neo-Liberalism policies of “Corporations over All”.

    Good news, though: Senator Elizabeth Warren jumped into the race for president on Monday, announcing she is forming an exploratory committee for 2020.

    It does not take long for the Corporate Press to react:
    The editorial board of the Boston Globe, noting that she won re-election with fewer votes that Republican Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker, encouraged her not to run for president.

    “Those are warning signs from the voters who know her best,” the paper wrote. “While Warren is an effective and impactful senator with an important voice nationally, she has become a divisive figure. A unifying voice is what the country needs now after the polarizing politics of Donald Trump.” https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/dec/31/elizabeth-warren-2020-run-president-trump
    A “divisive figure”, funny how someone who opposes the Corporatist Regime becomes “divisive”. “A unifying voice is what the country needs”. I suppose the idea of the Corporatist’s perfect voice candidates would be Joe Biden or Billionaire Michael Bloomberg. I hear the word “unifying” and think of someone who like a mirage is never really there at all or lip syncs the words.

  16. Spot on, ML. The corporate propaganda machine will kick into high gear as the announcements start trickling into the news cycle. The whole unity crowd is corporate democrats who came unglued when David Sirota called out Beto’s voting record last week. They immediately said, “If we can’t come together and support the donor preferred offerings, then we’ll lose to Trump.”

    The donor preferred candidates have done such a great job for the common worker in this country. Trump even heard the complaints at his rallies over all the benefits from his last tax cut going to the richest Americans. He promised another round of tax cuts for middle and lower income folks.

    What happened to that promise?

    I haven’t even heard the DNC clamoring about those tax cuts.

    Here’s a clue…there is very little difference between the donors for the DNC and the donors of the GOP.

    The DNC could care less if they lose to Trump because their donors still win. But lose to a progressive like Bernie Sanders? LOL

    The DNC is going to be eating a lot of crow in the coming weeks…will the media make it look like quail?

    But just like with Harvey Weinstein’s demise, the media can’t plug the holes fast enough in this crumbling dam.

  17. “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, 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.”

    Could there be a more accurate summary of the times we are leaving and the possibilities now arriving?

    But, as happens, we have a new year, new possibilities, new resolutions facing us. Not a fresh slate but one with some room for new ideas and approaches and heros and devils to consider.

    May we become once again the united state of America.

    May it also be happy and prosperous for the people here who share who they are and what they hope for on a daily basis. You all have become an important part of my day.

    And as we tell our friends now upon parting………don’t fall.

  18. E-Mail I received from Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 Committee:

    “Today, America’s hard-working families are under attack from every direction. Health care. Social Security. Student loans. Child care. Flat wages. And just this week, a government shutdown is fanning the flames of bigotry and fear, pitting neighbor against neighbor, and hurting hundreds of thousands of government workers.

    The problem isn’t caused by some indisputable law of physics, like gravity. The problem isn’t that people aren’t willing to work hard. The problem starts in Washington. Our government has been bought and paid for by a bunch of billionaires and giant corporations that think they get to dictate the rules that affect everyone. Tax loopholes. Prescription drug pricing. Financial rules. Environmental protection. These companies define policies that are great for their bottom line, while good, honest people who work hard get squeezed harder every year. It’s corruption, pure and simple.

    That’s not how government is supposed to work. You know it. I know it. And we know it is time to fight back.”

    With Elizabeth Warren you know you do not have a hot air balloon, a triangulated candidate selected by the DNC Power Brokers or some Joe Donnelly type that is more concerned with doing a dance around the issues. Elizabeth Warren has credentials.

  19. I’m glad we set a 100 year red for mid-term election year turnout, but what’s the matter with the 51% majority who didn’t vote? Voter suppression, discouragement, and alienation is working.

  20. Dear Prof Kennedy –
    Happy New Year from Florida where I have begun reading “We the People.” I’m on the 4th chapter.

  21. Dr Kennedy
    It seems that no amount of chastisement of Todd Smekens seems to have the least effect on his rhetoric. Do you recommend that those of us who are disturbed by it should drop off this blog?

  22. OMG @ 10:48 pm. Why does Todd need to be chastised, because he does not think like you want him too??? Maybe, you need to make your own decisions.

  23. Whether to engage in debate or conversation with other commenters, or simply ignore those with whom you disagree, is a decision each of you must make for yourselves.

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