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The year 2019 is ending. Traditions abound to celebrate the coming of a new year, and this time around a new decade. There seems to be some notion that celebrating the coming year will wash away all of the detritus of the year just ended and provide a clean slate for the new year. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If wishing and hoping were enough, Trump would be in jail already, racial justice would be a reality, and gun nuts would be voluntarily disarming for a safer and better society. Then, engaged government at all levels would be implementing healthcare and education reforms. And, the US government would be acting forcefully to confront climate change.

The year 2019 is ending – and even old TIME Magazine found youthful commitment to confronting climate change a more compelling story than the seemingly endless parade of aging world figures too blind to see much of anything. While I am not sure who reads TIME Magazine anymore, it seems that some people care who the editors choose for “person of the year.” This year it was Greta Thunberg.** I will admit that there is something a little bit annoying about her and that I am not sure what it is. It could just be that she is so young to be so right about anything important, never mind climate change.

For the record, Greta Thunberg was not my first choice for “person of the year.” Puff the Magic Dragon was.*** If only he/she/they were still with us, the world would be a better place.

But America, like little Jackie Paper, has irretrievably lost its youthful innocence. Puff probably knew it would happen, but when it came, it came suddenly and destroyed the playful dragon’s soul. I don’t want to make too much of this since my youthful innocence was lost a long time ago, leaving only what may be described as a shred of innocence. Like Puff, however, my soul is hurting at the moment.

Why should it be so hard for human beings to take care of each other, not just the people we have to care for, but those whose plight should touch us deeply? Maybe the answer lies in a twenty-first century human disconnect that no longer can collectively nurture a soul nor provoke a collective conscience. It seems more evident every day that it is easier to ignore uncomfortable truths when you only see them on an ever-smaller screen.

Since we are about to change the calendar again, this time to a new decade, quickly figuring out a catch phrase for the new decade could help shape it before the twitter set does it for us – maybe the “soaring twenties” to reflect the rapidly rising temperatures fueling climate change. Or maybe in America, the “deadly decade” to recognize the role that individual bullets play on a daily basis in the lives of an increasingly fearful populous. Or maybe, “the decade of decadence” to celebrate the surging victory of greed over morality.

Regardless, I am sure that next year is likely to bring more of what this year has brought. There is no obvious agent of real change who seems capable of rising above our base-based politics. Maybe Trump will be dethroned and his henchmen marched through the streets in shame. That would be good for America and the world, but only if that cleansing act is transformative.

As for the rest of the world, almost all the major powers seem more focused on creating further misery than confronting the misery already at hand. Try to come up with a list of the hard commitments that the nations of China, the US, the UK, India, Brazil, Russia, and Japan have made to confront the human suffering that is strangling the globe.

In a 1980 US presidential debate, Ronald Reagan famously asked the voters to ask themselves: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”**** The suggested answer from Reagan that time around was a resounding “no,” after 4 years of the Carter administration. That same rubric has been trotted out by one side or the other in every presidential election since, so it is no surprise that Trump and his sycophants are channeling their inner Reagan to again put that question to the voters. They hope that all those wonderful happy little white households in suburban America will tote up their monetary blessings and thank Trump with their votes.

But just imagine what might happen if the answer this time were to be “no” again, and for a very different reason. If all that matters in today’s America is the amount of money in your pocket, your bank account, or your stock account, Trump will win reelection. However, if the Democrats can make it mean something else, something different, something more than Reagan meant, there may be a path to reversing the cynical undermining of governance that further paves the way for only greed and corruption to triumph.

Maybe the nation needed Trump’s callous immorality to see Reagan’s words in a communal context that neither Reagan nor Trump intended, that each of us is only “better off” if those around us are “better off.” That a communal conscience can feed the soul in ways that individual economic excess never will.

If there is to be a hopeful future for America, it has to be a hopeful future for all who live in the nation. America must tend to its own inequities and finally confront the cancer of racism in its midst to even try to reclaim any place of leadership on the international front. We are tarnished goods, now seen by many as an impediment to progress in confronting climate change and environmental degradation, in addressing human rights abuses, in providing a safe haven for refugees fleeing violence, and in finally realizing that military might kills more than it cures. No, Americans, we are not better off than we were four years ago.

We each can be better off only when the sick, the poor, the undereducated, and the disadvantaged in our midst are better off than they were four years ago. So, my wish is that 2020 will be the year for a moral awakening in America that can nurture all souls and begin to save the planet.

“A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.” (Chinese Fortune Cookie, Rockville, MD 2019)


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