2017 becomes 2018: What does this mean?

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

Here we are, three days into 2018, with a few things to think about.
I thought that 2016 was a tough year until the onslaught of 2017 hit – it was relentless. And I’m one of the tens of millions who escaped being shot while at a concert or in a church or being run into by a truck while jogging. I’m not being thrown out of the country for dreaming nor will I be disallowed reentry if I decide to ex-patriot myself for a while.

Yet, the reality of 2017 has been a hummer, for just behind the curtain, things have changed that will affect us for decades. We have barely been able to digest it, and we’re on to another year. We have barely had time to think between one headline and the next. And what would the morning bring? One tweet, two tweets, three tweets, a thousand?

It seems such a short time ago that we anticipated the new millennium. There was to my mind an eagerness, a chance for something, however arbitrary our time-keeping that we superimpose on life on this planet. The possibilities of a new beginning, a new 1,000 years coming at us, palled early on. We’ve stumbled along nearly 20 years into another new era proving what we’ve proved in the past – that we’re never apt to learn as much as we need to.

According to Swedish author Johan Norberg, the world in general is better off than it’s ever been – healthier people living longer; fewer murders and wars; less general misogyny, mistreatment of children and famine. This sounds like something I’ve heard from a top politico who likes to tell his base that everything good comes from him and everything bad will be somebody else’s fault.

Oh, and the climate, which is going through a change. Whether it’s human-caused or not, it is still changing, and not for the better.

There is room for looking on the bright side on that front. Despite our country’s doing an about-face on the Paris Climate Accord, individuals are contributing more to science and its research into what we need to do to breathe 50 years from now. Towns, counties, cities and states in the U.S. passing laws and ordinances that will help save the planet as well. And the rest of the First World and much of the rest of it is on board because they do believe in science.

The reason we think 2016 was bad, 2017 worse and 2018 promising more of the same is that this is the news we hear all day long. I understand that to carry on a representative democracy we need to be informed so we can elect the right people (ha ha), but making oneself sick watching the news does nothing to forward our side of the game. Maybe we could all just return to listening to the news at 6 o’clock each evening.

When I read that global income inequality is declining because India and China have brought so many people out of poverty – this is great news. But in the United States, inequality is on the rise – this is not great news. And whose fault is it? Are we not working hard enough? Although the top 1 percent is doing superbly well, the 99 percent are stagnant in salaries, salaries usually being decided by the boss, not the worker.

This is usually why it is that people of fairness rise up and fight against oligarchs (the rich who make their wealth off others; not the good rich, of whom I’m not sure I know any, but maybe it might be Ben and Jerry, who share their ice cream wealth with their workers).

As we stand up and say something about what we fear, we can remind ourselves and those we’re talking to why it is that all of us, rich and poor, get to live here in this pretty, rich, rolling, happy piece of the earth in the first place:

Dumb luck.

Those who get themselves in charge need to be alert, wary of themselves as susceptible to the disease of a little bit of power going a long way. They would be wise not to turn on us little folks like geese on bugs – gobbling us up as they’re happily taxing themselves less and us more, drilling in our backyards, unconcerned about our fouled aquifers and diminishing national parks, thinking about us not at all even though their welfare is inextricably tied with ours.

I’m not sure where they think they can live once the climate’s gone to hell, but I can’t really force them to think.

Even as I take my role in this country seriously, letting my reps know almost daily what I need and expect – my water clear and my air pure, my internet free as well as my Press; my schools teaching facts to kids of all incomes – those in charge are also letting their reps know what they want. Guess who gets listened to? My congressman and one of my Senators send me a thank-you note each time they vote . . . to cut regulations in the Clean Water Act, drill in the ANWR in Alaska, hobble the freedom of the internet, diss the Press, teach creationism in our public schools . . . and then hide from their constituents when they go home.

I would like my representatives to actually work for me and the rest of the non-lobbying part of the country who voted them in. Each time they don’t, it is another chip off my belief in the ideals of democracy.

This is one of the most dangerous parts of oligarchs ruling – they create hopelessness.

So much for 2017. Hello, 2018. I would like to be less cynical, less jaundiced, I want to be hopeful. Perhaps I can turn it, my mindset. In this inch of time, I would like to shoulder the belief that although I’m up against forces willing to undo my democracy, and theirs, I can urge enough people to cherish it, watch it, speak out for it, not let it slip away.

Plenty have stepped up and with a kind of jaundiced optimism, millions in the past year have become watchdogs, investigators and spokespeople for integrity of elected officials from the top down.

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