One cannot plunge directly into a new year. It takes a few days to dispose of half-consumed bottles of Riesling and to admit that the desiccated date cookies upon the platter of Santa Claus are no longer a holiday miracle, but suitable for the winter mulch pile.
Now, the wine is drained, the sweet cheats gone. The sound of the angry commuting horn is once again heard in the land.
What will 2018 bring? To hear many tell the tale, 2018 will be a race: Will the forces of good impeach an insane Donald Trump before he can ignite a global nuclear cataclysm?
I very much doubt that we will, a year hence, be remembering 2018 in such terms. Sure, anything can happen, but I think so many Americans lavished so much attention in 2017 on the admittedly petulant and puerile aspects of Donald Trump’s first year in office that they lost perspective on many matters of far more importance.
For starters, the Trump administration is demonstrably not the biggest threat to world peace today.
In 2017, for example, China defied international legal rulings and continued to strengthen its illegitimate claim to a series of islands in the South China Sea. Russia continued to subvert Ukraine, persecute domestic opposition leaders, and send troops into Syria to prop up a war criminal president, Bashar al-Assad.
Venezuela slipped ever deeper into economic misery and starvation, with at least 163 deaths in protests against socialist policies that have resulted in food shortages and hyperinflation. Turkey’s president never tires of bashing the West and reinventing history. Iran is still intent on developing nuclear weapons, suppressing dissent at home, and exporting terror abroad. And whoever’s got the bigger button, let us not forget that it is North Korea, not the United States, that is in violation of multiple U.N. resolutions on nuclear weapons development.
The key point is that all these lamentable international trends were in place well before Donald Trump took office. What makes them seem so dire now is that we have a president who is willing, unlike his recent predecessors, to call out the bad behavior of foreign governments and set limits.
It may be too much to call this a case of moral clarity, but fairness and reason demand we judge any president by their actions.
And yet, there remain many who will defend Trump no matter how crass or wrongheaded his words or deeds, and many others who will refuse to give him any credit, regardless of how generous or correct what he says or does may be. Sadly, some are actively rooting for a measure of economic misery and international disorder just sufficient to bolster a case for removing the president from office — on trumped-up charges, if you will.
The interesting question is why? And what are we to do about the current divide in our domestic politics?
In his 1759 work “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” the Scottish thinker and economist Adam Smith described just such a divide this way: “… if you have either no indignation at the injuries I have suffered, or none that bears any proportion to the resentment which transports me, we can no longer converse upon these subjects. We may become intolerable to one another. I can neither support your company, nor you mine. You are confounded at my violence and passion, and I am enraged at your cold sensibility and want of feeling.”
It is as if Smith foresaw our political impasse. Today, many who did not support Trump claim his presidency has so deeply afflicted them that they cannot converse with anyone who fails to acknowledge not only the feeling, but the reality of their being so aggrieved.
Yet conversation is precisely what Smith recommends: “The mind, therefore, is rarely so disturbed, but that the company of a friend will restore it to some degree of tranquility and sedateness … Society and conversation, therefore, are the most powerful remedies for restoring the mind to its tranquility, if, at any time, it has unfortunately lost it; as well as the best preservatives of that equal and happy temper, which is so necessary to self-satisfaction and enjoyment.”
If you are upset about our national politics and still in search of a New Year’s resolution, skip the gym and the dieting. Resolve to speak honestly, respectfully, and more often with others with whom you disagree politically. If Smith’s right, you’re likely to feel better, and the charitable feelings you engender may do others good as well.
Chris Sinacola is a Worcester Sun columnist. His observations on politics, current events, history and more appear online every week. Chris will also be regularly featured in Worcester Sun’s weekly print edition, on newsstands Saturday morning.