A Lack of 2020 Vision

New Year’s Eve essays traditionally look back at the past year or ahead to the new one, but we don’t feel up to either task. Once again we’re afraid to look back for fear of being turned into a pillar of salt, and we can’t imagine what’s coming next.
Much of what’s happened over the past three years or so would have been unimaginable just four years ago, so we won’t make any predictions and will try not to be surprised. It seems a safe bet that the the Senate won’t vote to remove President Donald Trump from office, but there’s likely to be more information coming out about his impeachable offenses, and a slight chance it might be too much even for the Republican party. The Democrats are bound to nominate someone left of the American center, but lately they’ve been backing off some of their crazy talk about Medicare for all and it remains to be seen just how far left they go.
As for how all that shakes out in the Electoral College next November, don’t trust anyone who tells you they know.
The sun will continue to rise in the east and the national debt will continue to accumulate and Trump will continue to “tweet” outrageous things, but don’t count on anything else. We suggest you indulge in some revelry tonight, some rest and heart eating tomorrow, and be ready for a wild ride through 2020.

— Bud Norman

On Politics, and Trying to Talk About the Weather Instead

One thing we can say for this crazy election year, as awful as it’s been, is that at least the weather has been unusually perfect here on the Kansas plains. A mild and almost snow-free winter made the desultory results of the early primaries somewhat more tolerable, then an early and warm and eerily storm-free spring provided a pleasant distraction from the ominous clouds that continued to gather on the political horizon. The summer had just enough of those stifling hot days to feel like summer but mostly provided ideal conditions for long walks through the lush local parks as the two worst presidential candidates in American history wrapped up their party’s nominations, and a glorious Indian summer of a fall has stretched clear into November and the final week of a crazy election year and its incongruously stormy political climate.
There’s a chance of storms for today in the weather forecast, with a weeklong drop in the temperature expected after that, which somehow seems appropriate, but the storms aren’t likely to be severe, the next week’s temperatures will probably only drop into the not-bad-to-this-time-of-year 60s, and after that we can hold out hope for another mild winter. The political forecasts are all over the place, though, with that awful Republican clearly gaining on that awful Democrat, and that awful Democrat still clinging to a slight advantage in the national average of the polls and a slightly better advantage in the average of the polls in the states that everyone thinks will decide the matter, and all the partisans clearly quite nervous about how it might turn out.
All of the more mathematical pundits are calculating the odds for all the various possible scenarios, including the popular and electoral votes once again disagreeing, or neither nominee getting an electoral majority and the matter being settled in the House of Representatives, where that guy from Utah that nobody’s ever heard of would have at least a one-in-a-million shot because at least nobody hates him the way both of the their majority party nominees are hated by a majority of the country, not to mentioned the even more far-fetched possibilities. We have a friend who plays harmonica and does pen-and-ink sketches well and is willing to bet money that there won’t be an election next Tuesday, another friend who is one of the better heavy metal drummers in town and agrees that a reptilian race of super-human alien invaders have already rigged the results, and we have a Republican nominee who has intimated that a former primary rival’s dad had President Kennedy offed and also says the election is rigged, and a Democratic nominee that makes it all very plausible, so at this point in such a crazy election year we can’t dismiss any possibility.
What doesn’t seem at all possible, from our perspective here on the Kansas plains, is any sort of happy outcome. The one thing all the polls agree on is that either nominee would be the most unpopular president ever on Inauguration Day, all the pundits on both sides of the partisan divide have made clear they keep this crazy election year’s fights going, but from our position in the middle of the country and on neither side of this awful race we’re just hoping for a mild winter and storm-free spring.

— Bud Norman

The End-of-the-Year Clearance Sale

The news is still on vacation, even if the working stiffs are back on the job and hoping to get another four-day weekend out of the last of the holidays, and the pundits are left with their usual year-end wrap-ups or predictions for the coming twelve months. The predictions are rarely useful, and always put forth with confidence that they will be long forgotten by the time they do not come to pass, but there’s something to be said for taking a brief look back at the year’s events.
Looking back on a year such as 2014 feels uncomfortably like Lot’s wife looking back on burning Sodom, but it is almost worth being turned into a pillar of salt to recall what seemed temporarily important during all those black-letter days on the calendar. So many stories mesmerize the public for a few news cycles, then suddenly vanish as thoroughly and mysteriously as that missing Malaysian airliner that was all the talk a few months back, and it is good to reminded of the ones that still matter. Those girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria are still in the most horrible sort of captivity, despite the flurry of hashtags that well-intentioned and utterly ineffectual westerners sent out for they disappeared from the headlines. Russia is still control of a large chunk of what used to be Ukraine, the Islamic State is still mass-murdering in much of what used to be Syria and Iraq, Iran is still progressing steadily toward nuclear weapons and talks about it are still ongoing, and China is still making trouble for all its neighbors. Further infuriating relegations about the Internal Revenue Service are coming out, Obamacare is still a mess, those many tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America who showed up last summer are still in the public’s care somewhere or another, a memorandum or executive order or some strange constitutional go-around are still inviting a few million more illegal immigrants, the labor participation rate remain low and the number of people dependent on government assistance remains high, and Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress are still going to be installed in a few long days because the public was fuming about it all less than two months ago.
The year-end wrap-ups are hard to reconcile with the popular predictions, but the press will press on. Since the mid-term elections, which were so far back it was almost two months ago, the prevailing storyline has been that happy days are here again and that the president is going to reap the popularity and the Republicans will be sorry they ever messed with him. Such giddy optimism is all the rage now, but we’re going to stick with our old-fashioned gloom and doom. There’s nothing the press can do about the international situation except avert its gaze, the Obamacare rate hikes will arrive in the nation’s mailboxes even the media does avert its gaze, the Republican majorities in Congress will be able to force the media gaze on the IRS and any other scandals that pop up, the government’s restraints on the economy will still be apparent to the industries driving those suspicious but hopeful statistics that the press are touting, and that illegal immigration policy that the press is calling a great political victory remains unpopular in a highly motivating way. It all seems rather messy at the moment, and we expect that will continue for a while.
Which is not to venture any prediction, mind you, other than that some things will get worse and some things will get better. That prediction has never yet made us look foolish, so we will go that far.

— Bud Norman