A Guardedly Happy New Year

As we entered 2018, I warned of a dangerous time ahead when congressional Republicans would let  Donald Trump get away with anything to stave off challengers during the long spring and summer primary season. Absent a legislative check and with political pressures at their height, I feared Trump’s efforts to consolidate power by delegitimizing every institution that stood in his path would be enabled by Republicans dependent on the Trump base for their survival. At the same time, I noted how political conditions in 2017 anticipated a blue wave at the end of the year that could return power to Democrats and put Republicans in an existential bind going into 2020, if loyalty to the administration so essential to surviving intra-party challenges could not survive first contact with a general electorate.

Let’s pause for a minute and reflect on where we are. We end the year in chaos, with the government shut down because reality is challenging the lie that Trump tells his supporters about a wall being able to shut out the dislocating changes of the 21st Century. An economy taken for granted just a few months ago shows signs of teetering—or worse. We are watching the last of the guardrails slip away as a president who trusts only sycophants repels all but the most obsequious. Domestic agencies have become corrupted or neglected. Foreign policy has been distorted to serve the president’s personal interests. It is hard to recognize the America of two years ago.

And yet.

As 2018 comes to an end, the path forward is more apparent than it was a year ago. We survived the year with the world damaged but still intact. There was no nuclear confrontation with North Korea. The Constitution is still with us, despite outright congressional abandonment of its primary constitutional responsibility. The blue wave materialized and washed Paul Ryan and the Freedom Caucus out to sea. The Mueller probe marches on despite Trump’s best efforts to stop it, and it is closing in on its targets even as it expands in scope. House Democrats are about to get subpoena power.

As 2019 begins, we remain in grave danger but the opportunities are different now. We have known since the moment Donald Trump raised his right hand and mouthed an oath he couldn’t possibly comprehend that we would eventually have to extract ourselves from what a minority of our fellow countrymen had done, and we knew instinctively that it would not be in the ordinary, orderly manner of other transitions. With the turn of the calendar, we will take the first steps toward that denouement. It’s impossible to know if it will be drawn out or quick, and it’s easy to see how each turn will be fraught with new peril, as peril is unavoidable when the world collapses on the most powerful person in it and on the dreams of those who put him there. But one thing is certain. With the coming of an aggressive House opposition and with Mueller zeroing in on the core betrayal at the heart of the Trump campaign and administration, this next season of reality TV will have new writers and plot twists. Take a second to brace for the peril ahead, and be mindful of how things would look today had the midterm election ended with a different outcome or if Trump were a more effective demagogue.

A guardedly Happy New Year to all.