I spent the day after Christmas being wrong. In the morning, before the opening bell on the stock market in New York, I announced to my friends there would be a 1,000-point drop by the closing bell. Hell, the TV network people were practically predicting an attack by Godzilla after a long holiday weekend of Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin lobbing hand grenades into the pool. I felt like I was on pretty safe ground.
Not so much. When the bell rang at the end of the largest Dow gain in history, my friends all had some sport with me. There was nothing for it; I had to self-own. I wasn’t simply, merely wrong. I was binary wrong. Wet and dry wrong. Cat and dog wrong. The Dow finished the day 1,086 points up; I was 86 points from pitching a perfect game of wrongness. It was a quantum singularity of nope. A Death Star of fail. That much wrong should have its own congressman.
This is all by way of saying that writing the New Year’s article is a pain in the ass because the prediction business is for the birds. If you had pulled me aside at this time last year and given me 10,000 chances to guess what would happen between then and now, I would not have known where to begin.
“Articles like this are supposed to end in ringing fashion,” I wrote in last year’s version of this article, “but I’m fresh out of rings as we stumble into this brave new year. I’ve talked about the need for endurance and the promise of peace in recent days, but in all honesty, I have no idea which horizon the sun will peek over tomorrow. I am so uncertain about the future that even the absolutes are turning to water.”
A year later and the song remains the same. It is just too weird out there for predictions. All the variables have very sharp teeth, and some even have subpoena power.
I can, however, hazard a few guesses.
First of all, things will get worse in all the places the US has already torn to shreds. In Iraq and Syria, in Afghanistan and Yemen, and in other places we haven’t even thought of yet, there will be war, agony, famine, displacement and plenty of profiteering for those who like to get in on the ground floor of a bloodbath with a bagful of bullets and keys to the armory. Cruel seeds, planted in the Middle East by two presidents named Bush and watered by two presidents named Clinton and Obama, have come to full thorny bloom after 27 years of lucrative strife, creating a situation so perfectly awful that every decision made going forward, even seemingly good ones, will lead to massive body counts.
The ocean will come, the fires will rise, and I believe this may be the year the United States loses an entire city to the consequences of climate change. We nearly lost New Orleans to Katrina in 2005, New York and New Jersey got walloped by Sandy in 2012, Houston took a hard punch from Harvey in 2017, Maria nearly scourged Puerto Rico off the map that same year, and the town of Paradise, California, is ashes after the drought-fueled Camp Fire this past November. It will be worse this year, and worse again next year, because science. Sooner or later, a major metropolitan area will be claimed by the sea or incinerated to the stumps.
As for politics, gadzooks, you may as well take one of those 8-ball prediction doodads up to the roof of the tallest building in town and chuck it over the ledge. “ANSWER UNCLEAR, ASK AGAIN L-A-A-A-A-A-A …” I’d sooner bet the Preakness ponies if they ran ‘em backwards than try to conjure some sort of sensible road map from here to 2020.
The Democrats have a historic chance to not only put a rogue president in check from their new majority in the House, but to set the stage for what by all rights should be a rout in the next presidential election, so of course, I have to worry about them finding a way to screw it up. The back and fill work is already happening; progressive newcomers have been taking withering fire from Democrats and other establishment liberals because they might actually try to get something done, like the Green New Deal being touted by Representative-Elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for one example. That kind of thing will keep happening because the old bulls only like change if it comes in coins after buying a muffin.
As for the Republicans, I have high confidence that this will be the year when their marriage of convenience with Trump finally hits the reef and sinks like a bathtub full of lead. The far-right House Freedom Caucus will carry Trump’s water to the limited degree they can from the minority, and in doing so will further estrange themselves and the president from Republicans in the Senate and the population at large. One of these days, and sooner probably than later, calls from the White House to Mitch McConnell’s office will go directly to voicemail or will simply be put on hold, with “The Girl From Ipanema” playing on an endless loop.
And Trump? I’m pretty sure he’s in for a bad year, bigly. The Mueller report will land with a meaty thud, crack open, and all manner of pit vipers will come slithering out looking to sink their fangs into presidential flesh. Everything from obstruction of justice to overt election collusion with Russia to international money laundering is potentially in play, and he has only so many moves to deploy before the walls come down.
Trump’s new attorney general can quash Mueller’s investigation and Trump himself can personally pardon everyone and everything including the sink in the men’s room, but he will still be in serious legal peril from about a half-dozen investigations coming out of the State of New York. They have the president’s paperwork, his former personal attorney and his accountant in hand. For a lifelong grifter like Trump, that’s a bad day waiting to happen.
Trump’s base always votes in the primaries and will therefore be enough of an ongoing threat to keep rank-and-file Republicans in line, lest they risk facing a primary challenge from candidates who want to build a wall around the moon so the terrorists won’t steal our cheese … but they cannot keep Trump safe from himself, and he is, as ever, his own worst enemy.
My Hail Mary Long Shot Prediction for 2019? Donald Trump will resign before the end of the year and spend the rest of his days watching his brand crumble while fighting subpoenas from various agencies in the Empire State. He will just get fed up and go, leaving us with a politically immobilized President Pence and a 2020 election that will be peerless in the annals of havoc.
You know, or not.
In the end, all I know for certain is this: You and I have work to do. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, and we’ve been here all along. The only good thing that can be said of an age where so much has gone so badly wrong is the fact that so much good can be done to try and make it better. From racial justice to the decarceration struggle, from salvaging the climate to the #MeToo movement, from gun reform to police reform, from voting rights to immigration rights to LGBTQ+ rights and beyond, we have within reach of our arm the power to tilt this sad, strange world ever so slightly on its axis. All we have is each other, and that is enough. It has to be.
Happy New Year.