Readers Respond #3

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Responding to yesterday’s Backchannel

I read your post and have to say, I share some of your optimism. Not because things are good or getting better—they’re not!—but because for the first time in what feels like forever, I see potential for the coming year to bring some extremely dark chapters in world history to a close.

First, the Trump-Biden rematch. Like you, I’m not discounting the possibility that Trump wins. But if he doesn’t, that’s the end of him as an active political figure. He’s too old to run again, too criminally liable, too spent. He’ll have a second political life after he dies, I’m sure, like Ronald Reagan had until Trump displaced him with a new cult of personality, but the man himself will be really and truly gone from our politics. Phew!

(Will that be the end of Team Authoritarianism in the United States? Hahahahahahahahahaha no. Still, Trump himself has been such a malevolent accelerationist force in the GOP’s longtime flirtation with the violent far-right that just having him gone will be a big deal nonetheless.)

Second, the Israel-Hamas war. It’s been a horror from beginning to whatever-this-is-that-isn’t-the-end. Whatever hope there may have been at the beginning that Hamas would not survive this war seems to be lessening by the day. The hope that Netanyahu would quickly resign, if it ever existed, has vanished, and in the meantime his coalition of theocrats and pro-genocide lobbyists has little incentive to abandon him. Nonetheless, it’s clear that we are finally viewing Bibi’s last chapter in electoral politics, and it feels like we are standing on the cusp of a true Likud collapse. It will likely take more than a few election cycles to reach the depths Labor eventually sank to, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get there in my lifetime. I hope to see a revitalized Israeli left, for all that it seems like muscular centrism will win the day in the short term. That said, I also wouldn’t put it outside the realm of possibility that the centrists will prove capable of negotiating a true peace and not just a temporary cessation of hostilities. It wasn’t the left, after all, that brokered the peace with Egypt or kicked the settlers out of Gaza. On the Palestinian side, it’s hard to express anything like optimism in the midst of so much death and destruction, but one can at least hope that there will be widespread acknowledgement that Hamas and its allies led Gaza into an unmitigated disaster the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations. The fact that the international left has discovered a new level of bloodthirst about this conflict doesn’t really change the fact that all the relevant actors have the capacity to make (and support) peace. If Israel can eject its terrorists and zealots from leadership roles, perhaps Gaza can too.

On Ukraine, for all the summer’s disappointments, I still see grounds for Western optimism. I root for Ukrainian victory, but, to put it bluntly, it is not necessary to the international order that Ukraine win—only that Russia lose. And lose it shall. The fact that no Russian or Ukrainian collaborator anywhere in Ukrainian territory is safe there has been driven home time and again through missile strikes, drone attacks, car bombs, you name it. No occupation can survive under such conditions, with the risks of connection to the imperial war machine no lower than the risks of resistance to it. It’s simply untenable. Consider that it is only now, nearly two years into the war, that Ukrainian officials have begun seriously discussing a military draft. They’ve been mounting their resistance with volunteers so far, while Russia throws endless conscripts into the meat grinder with nothing of value to show for it, and indeed has already had to deal with one abortive coup attempt. Nothing is guaranteed in life, but boy it sure doesn’t look good for Putin’s imperial aspirations right now. To use the Cold War term, Russia’s sphere of influence has constricted thanks to this conflict, rather than expanding as he’d hoped. That will be as true next year as it was this year, even if Putin gets the favorable peace terms some have been talking about (I doubt he will).

On COVID, I think the Biden presidency has been an unmitigated disaster to rival Trump’s. Trump made COVID response a partisan issue, with only Democrats adopting any mitigation strategies; Biden decided the best way to get past all this rancor and “heal the soul of America” was to make the lack of mitigation a bipartisan affair. Yes, I am still angry. My elementary schoolers are getting shit from their friends about still wearing masks, and hearing “but COVID is over” even as multiple teachers and classmates continue to catch it and call out sick. Yet even here, I see reason to hope for better things in the new year, as various inhaled vaccines that could give us infection-preventing immunity get closer to production and approval. Even for those of us who haven’t resigned ourselves to catching COVID a couple times a year, there is light at the end of this tunnel.

For all that the country and the world face continued horrors going into 2024, on subject after subject there is real hope not only that this too shall pass, but that what comes next will be better. The one exception, perhaps, is climate change, where even rapid societal change wouldn’t save us from continued and indeed accelerating climate catastrophe. Even if we take All The Actions, things will continue to get worse before they get better. But at the same time, it does feel like global apathy may have finally peaked and that we may see increasing pro-climate policy changes as we move past denial and into the bargaining phase. I say “one can only hope,” but that’s just the thing: one can hope now, in a way that didn’t feel possible before.

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