The last couple years have had a way of making saps and chumps out of optimists. They’ve gotten shot down enough they don’t even want to poke your head above the parapet. Optimism is an ethic and an attitude, not a belief. But surveying the ground in recent days I’ve seen hints of better things afoot for 2018.
Yesterday I mentioned that one of the most hopeful things I see these days is all the new candidates for office. Some of them I know personally, many more I know of. Some or many might have run for office in any case. But many, I think most, have been galvanized by the crisis of our time. They’ve dusted themselves off and decided that they can’t wait for anyone else to take up the work and the challenge.
During 2016, in the political world at least, it became a standing joke that it was the year that couldn’t end soon enough. We didn’t know yet about 2017. 2016 turned out to be just an anticipation of the new normal.
Looking back over these two years I see some clarity. 2017 was the year we collectively had to pay the price for what happened in 2016, what we collectively did. This is my abiding memory of it, a daily forced march of dreck and awful that simply had to be endured because the key facts and events had already happened. Like a brutal hangover over after a party that went too far or, more aptly, the capture and abuse after an attack that was insufficiently prepared for or guarded against. There’s that bleak and morbidly hilarious joke about the guy who falls out of a 50 story building and gets asked how it’s going, as he flies by floor 25. “So far, so good!” That’s 2017. All of the awful unfolding was inevitable once the country had ingested the poison of Trumpism. The unique features of our constitutional system make the fact of the presidency, in many respects, an all or nothing proposition.
This may sound like it leaves little reason to imagine 2018 will be any better. Trump is still President. There’s little near-term prospect of that changing. His ability and willingness to do damage are not only undiminished but growing. The tax cut wasn’t the license Republicans needed to cut him loose – that never made sense. Republican fealty to Trump is growing rather than ebbing. But a lot of galvanizing happened in 2017, a lot of regrouping and building. We’ve already seen hints of it in Virginia and Alabama. Indeed, this was evident on a clear view in Georgia and Montana and other states over the last six months. We can’t know what 2018 will bring. But I sense it will be a year of recovery.
Inevitably, people interested in politics and ideology and strategy think mostly in those terms. What’s the right strategy? What’s the right ideological posture? Who on the left side of the aisle gets the run with the ball? But a lot more of it is simply people waking up, becoming activated. Those other things matter of course. But it’s people getting energized, people who were spectators deciding they need to run for office or launch new organizations. Everything is important but ideology, strategy and the rest tends to grow out of, get refined and figured out or coalesce in response to activism and activation, not the other way around. For all these reasons I think 2018 will be a different kind of year.