Well, at least it’s not 2017 anymore.
I expect that future historians will look back on it as one of the darker nonwar years in the country’s history — a year when the president lied constantly, the United States’ global influence suffered and Congress used its mighty powers to enrich the rich. Yet the long view of U.S. history still offers reason for optimism. We usually figure out how to emerge from our darker periods.
In the hope that 2018 represents at least the start of a turning point, I offer seven New Year’s wishes:
Republicans stand up for the rule of law. The country’s most urgent problem is the possibility that the president will impede an investigation into illegal behavior by his aides and possibly himself.
President Donald Trump clearly wants to do so. His allies are defaming Robert Mueller even though Mueller is a longtime Republican, a successful FBI director and a decorated Marine who is pursuing matters of national interest, such as: Does a hostile foreign power have influence over U.S. officials? And did the president use illegal tactics in his campaign?
Republicans in Congress can make sure that the country gets answers. They can refuse to tolerate any disruption of Mueller’s investigation, including the firing of him or his boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. If Trump tries to go there, his fellow Republicans can tell him that his presidency would effectively be over. Privately and publicly, they should be saying so now.
Democrats do not waver. In the worst-case scenario, with Republicans allowing Trump to obstruct an investigation, I hope Democrats have no illusions about the depth of the constitutional crisis.
They should refuse to pass any legislation, including to keep the federal government open, until a real Russia investigation restarts. They should use every available tool to block nominees. They should talk publicly about little else. U.S. democracy will be in an emergency.
Korea avoids war. The risk of a horrific war is real. The most encouraging sign is that, for all of Kim Jong Un’s brutal eccentricity, he generally acts in his own self-interest. That rationality means that containment should be possible, because war would obliterate his regime. Here’s hoping the Trump administration’s cooler heads are setting policy.
The world keeps getting better. It may be hard to believe in the United States, but 2017 was again the best year in history, based on the aggregate well-being of humanity. People have never before lived so long, so well or so freely.
I asked Charles Kenny — author of the book “Getting Better,” a succinct summary of global well-being — what to hope for in 2018. His answers include: final victory in the battles against polio and Guinea worm; famine precluded in South Sudan; progress on the malaria and HIV vaccines, as well as continued U.S. support for treatments.
Science outpaces politics. In the struggle against rising seas, worsening droughts and a warming planet, the Trump administration is trying to make things worse for everyone’s grandchildren. Which means our hopes must rest elsewhere. But there are realistic climate wishes for 2018.
I hope public concern continues to grow (as polls show it did in 2017), the costs of both solar and wind energy keep plummeting, batteries become cheaper and more powerful and governors, mayors and foreign leaders stay focused on the problem. I also hope Americans start devoting more than 2 percent of our philanthropic dollars to climate change.
Democracy thrives. Authoritarianism was on the rise in 2016 across both Europe and the United States, and the response from small-democratic movements was a highlight of 2017. Demagogues in France, Austria and the Netherlands all suffered disappointments. Here, the resistance delivered electoral setbacks to Trump and helped preserve decent health care for millions.
But creeping authoritarianism remains a major threat. Democracy advocates will have to summon even more energy for 2018.
A particular wish: That voter turnout in our midterm elections surges. It was only 42 percent in the last midterm, in 2014, compared with more than 60 percent in recent presidential elections. That’s not healthy. Some groups with the biggest potential to increase their political say are 18- to 24-year-olds (17 percent citizen turnout in 2014); Asian-Americans (27 percent); and Latinos (also 27 percent).
Everyone finds an escape. This is a pretty heavy list, I realize. So I’ll end on a lighter note. I hope all of you find ways to escape our exhausting political times, as well as our all-consuming digital technologies, and enjoy yourselves.
Read Steven Pinker’s forthcoming book, “Enlightenment Now,” to feel better about the current era. Savor Mikaela Shiffrin’s awesome athleticism at next month’s Winter Olympics. Take advantage of our golden age of cheap, delicious and often healthy food. Test drive a semiautonomous car, and get a feel for the future. And when in doubt, spend time with your friends.
David Leonhardt is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times.