My optimism is perhaps more of the Radiohead variety
If you read what I write and you know me, you know I am generally a pessimist. So it might strike you as odd that I find some reasons to be optimistic at the end of 2017.
And before you stop me, yeah I know shit is bad. My mind reels just thinking about the damage that will be caused by the recently passed tax bill. This week the White House (not Trump, but the actual White House) tweeted that it was time to "end chain migration." So yes, the executive branch of the United States is publicly pushing white nationalist talking points. We still keep hearing about killer cops murdering citizens and getting away with it. The opiate epidemic has lowered life expectancy in this country, and a report today shows that it is spreading into African American communities.
So what's there to be optimistic about? As I look back on the past year, I see evidence that the struggle against the kleptocrat disgrace in the Oval Office and his criminal band of right wing radicals is not doomed to failure. They have accomplished a lot less than they should have, considering how many levers of power they control. It is tempting to blame that on their colossal ineptitude, but the inept should still be able to score slam dunks when they hold both houses of Congress and the presidency. It took until the end of the year before they got a major "win."
Much of the Trump administration's problem was that it was stuck in a defensive stance from day one, something I have never seen before in a new presidency. The white nationalist in chief gave a Miller and Bannon-ified inaugural address talking about "American carnage" that crashed and burned. The new president's lack of popularity was underscored the next day by the Women's March. Millions turned out, from big cities to small towns all across America. It was an emphatic message that this president did not have the popular will on his side, something that gave the weak and feckless media the strength to stop covering his seizure of power in such a fawning way.
Trump has mostly been playing defense ever since, except for this week. Soon after the Women's March came the Trump administration's first crack at the travel ban, which prompted a massive wave of protest and civil disobedience. This has largely been forgotten, but it has to be one of the biggest spontaneous mass actions in American history. Lawyers ran to the airport to help immigrants and crowds cheered those who came through customs. This action forced the courts to act, and they put a stop to the ban. On a more personal level, a Syrian refugee family in my neighborhood was able to come into the country just a couple of weeks later, all because of this action. While a modified version of the ban has stood, the Trump administration has been blocked from rolling out the fullest extent of its white nationalist agenda.
During the spring and summer, Congressional Republicans tried multiple times to repeal Obamacare, and ultimately failed (although the tax bill will weaken it.) Repealing Obamacare was the thing that every single Republican was promising to their knuckle-dragging base, and it was treated as a fait accompli. It failed because millions of people organized to pressure their representatives, and because disabled protestors put their bodies on the line. I feel that we have grossly underestimated how improbable and important this victory was.
The health care issue was also used successfully to fire up the progressive base and to sway independent voters. Democrats did very well in this fall's elections, from New Jersey to Virginia to, yes, Alabama. Lesser publicized special elections on the state level in conservative corners of Oklahoma and New Hampshire have even gone the Democrats' way. The tax bill, which is a giveaway to the wealthy, will certainly be an effective tool in 2018. Net neutrality, an issue that younger voters are especially engaged in, is another issue that will be turned against Trump and the Republicans.
What gives me hope in all of these examples is that people are not waiting around for "leaders" to tell them what to do. The protest against the travel ban came from ordinary people taking matters into their own hands. The only way forward is for more of that to happen, and for the rudderless "leaders" of the Democratic Party to learn to be the followers.
And yeah, shit is bad and it will probably get worse next year. We can expect massive cuts to the social state, a further erosion of democratic norms, and perhaps an expansion of the Foreverwar or even an attack on North Korea. As true as that all is, we have to, we MUST fight against the odds. There is no way to be a moral person in a time like this and to sit on the sidelines. The last year has shown that action gets results. So in 2018 I will be putting my shoulder to wheel. I will not have an expectation of winning and there may be a tear in my eye, but the fight must be fought.