ON NEW YEAR'S DAY, HARD QUESTIONS MAY PROVIDE SOME CLUES ABOUT 2023
If you’re the president, how old is too old? If you're a liar, should you be in Congress?
FEELING BETTER? I am. I’m sleeping more soundly and longer. I’m reading crime fiction, not scouring news sites for the latest true political crime alarms. In the morning, radio reports that suggest it's safe to get out of bed. Things turned out so much better than many of us feared. I'm talking mostly politics here. The midterm elections weren’t the disaster that they could have been. The Democrats control the Senate; the Republican majority in the House is slender; and many election deniers failed in state elections. What’s more, Donald Trump really seems to be on this way out of our public lives. His reelection announcement showed him to be dispirited and glum. The January 6th investigation by the House convincingly documented his seditious, traitorous sins committed in service of his desperate, destructive schemes to stay in office. It’s possible – but never certain – that he’ll be indicted. His just-released tax returns debunked the central claim to his fame: that he was a master business guy; the forms suggested that he’s business failure and maybe a tax cheat, too. So we end the year on this celebratory note: Democracy fought back, and democracy won. It’s important to note for a couple of reasons. The first, obviously, we aren’t as close to the brink we could have been, when the integrity of our elections seemed at risk and swarms of truly bonkers right-wing politicians hoped to to take control of public offices throughout the governmental ecosystem. Secondly, the election taught us an important lesson: Mean people don’t always win, and nice ones don’t always lose. That’s critical. We’ll need to remember our victories, large and small, in the months and years to come, because in a democracy, the fight is never finished. Lots of things get fixed in progressive, reform-minded democracies like the U.S.; but lots of things don’t stay fixed. Millions of people voted for Donald Trump, and they still believe his lies and take heart in his racist, cruel view of America. Trump’s singular achievement – ensuring a majority right-wing Supreme Count – has upended abortion rights, and now the justices will barrel ahead full throttle to further misinterpret the Constitution. Maybe, for example, they'll soon rule in favor of a wacky legal theory that supposes that state legislatures have exclusive control of elections, with none of the usual checks and balances, namely, review by the courts. The Republican Party has become a dangerous force, opposed to everything, from Social Security to economic equality, access to healthcare, racial healing, legal immigration, free speech, social and economic justice and, of course, freedom to go to school, go to work, go shopping without being shot to death. So, we no longer have a functioning two-party system, which is as unhealthy for Democrats as it is for democracy itself.
THERE ARE LOTS lots of other things to be scared about. The environment is increasingly toxic, and it’s our fault. We aren’t trying hard enough to fix the injuries for which we’re responsible. We have the knowledge and tools to reverse the damage. But so far, we are destroying a planet to which we owe our lives and have no right to ruin. The human world is dangerous and full of bullies, and, one of them is at work trying destroy a neighbor. Ukraine is standing up to Vladimir Putin; but Putin has a nuclear arsenal, some of which is probably operational. China’s itching to take over Taiwan, just as it has done with Hong Kong. The list of malevolent dictators is long. I could go on. But as 2022 was ending, it demonstrated the practicality of hope. Lots of people up and down the political ladder worked hard and worked smart to keep the country headed in a positive direction. A good example was in my home state of Rhode Island, where one of the state’s two congressional seats, long held by Democrats, opened up, and the savvy people were predicting that a popular, relatively moderate Republican would take over. The Democratic candidate, Seth Magaziner, said his own polls showed him running behind. But Magaziner won. And not by accident. The prospect of sending a Republican to Washington startled the state’s Democratic organization, which powered up its considerable resources, while hundreds of volunteers stepped up to make phone calls, ring doorbells, write letters and lobby their friends and relatives to vote.
SO THAT’S THE LEGACY OF 2022. What does it mean on the first day of 2023? Certainly it does not mean the country will be okay. Often, just when things are looking up, defeat lurks around the corner. The same forces that threatened to upend 2022 are still active and ready to do better in 2023. What happens the rest of the year depends on whether progressive forces remain in the game and don’t take last year’s victory as anything more than an object lesson that democracy needs constant attention. Here are two immediate questions: The first is whether Joe Biden should run for reelection. He should not. He’s too old. Joe’s been a masterful chief executive at home and abroad. I’m astonished by what he’s accomplished, and I’m personally chagrined that I misjudged his potential as a candidate and president. Biden championed and rescued “the soul of America.” He brought reason, competence and common sense to government after the chaos engineered by Trump and his thugs. Biden stood up to Vladimir Putin in his atrocious attack on Ukraine. But Joe and I happen to be the same age – 80 – so this is one subject which I know about. Every day, I have more and more insight into what it’s like to be very old; it’s not pretty and not something that should be inflicted on a nation. When you’re 80, death is an everyday possibility, and every time I realize I’ve made it to another day, I wonder if Joe will do the same, to say nothing of whether he’ll get through the next two years, while keeping his brain functioning as well as it should. If Joe, as seems likely, decides to run again, other Democrats should challenge him. Joe Biden should be proud of his single term; and the Democrats should realize their future depends on not being a one-man, a one-old-man, political party.
THE SECOND CHALLENGE on this first day of the new year is that the nation needs to rededicate itself to an ancient principle, the truth. We should start by insisting that a man supposedly named George Santos does not take office as a congressman from New York state, or, that if he does, he should quickly be driven from from the House. One of Donald Trump’s legacies is that he got the country used to his lies, and especially his Big One: that he “won” the 2020 election. Regardless, the truth matters. Santos seems to have lied about practically everything. He lied about attending a school in New York; lied about graduating from two colleges; lied about working for two high-power Wall Street firms; lied about his grandparents being Holocaust survivors; lied about owning real estate; lied about his mother dying in 9/11 when she actually died away 15 years later. And, according to today’s Washington Post, George Santos has had trouble getting his name straight: he used to call himself “Anthony Devolder.” Santos/Devolder is an embarrassment, and not just to Republicans. The Big Apple’s vaunted media monolith failed to uncover George/Anthony’s lies until the New York Times finally spilled the beans AFTER the election, with the Times and other news organization’s ignoring early warnings from tiny Long Island newspaper, The North Shore Leader, that exposed some of the fibs. Robert Zimmerman, who ran against George/Anthony, failed to recognize and exploit a Mount Everest of lies. And, as of this writing early on New Year’s Day, House leaders aren’t trying to block his swearing in, scheduled for Tuesday. Nor are the voters of New York’s Third District taking to the streets, either out of shame or anger, at having been conned.
SO, THERE’S PLENTY TO DO as America begins a new year. It starts with a lesson in first principles: ust because last year turned out okay, it doesn’t mean this year will do the same. And it’s important to hope for the best of outcomes. The truth is the truth. The facts are the facts. Old age is no joke, and Joe Biden’s old enough to know better than to run again. A serial liar needs to be shown the door. Hope is hard work.
I'VE BEEN a reporter and writer for 58 years, long enough to have learned that journalists don't know very much, although I've met some smart ones. Mainly, what reporters know comes from asking other people questions and fretting about the answers. This blog is a successor to one inspired by our dog, Phoebe, who was smart, sweet and the antithesis of Donald Trump. She died Feb. 3, and I don't see getting over that very soon. Occasionally, I may try to reach her via cell phone.