Our Opinion: There is potential for a better 2018

No amount of spin or application of alternate facts can alter the reality of 2017 from a national perspective. It was a grim, discouraging year, one in which the United States essentially surrendered its claim to be a shining city on a hill providing a hopeful example to many around the world.

President Trump proved to be a divider in 2017, relentlessly pushing the nation apart along lines of race, color, ethnicity and income. He cozied up to dictators like Vladimir Putin and weakened alliances with democratic allies in Europe and elsewhere. He attacked bedrock institutions — the courts, the FBI, the CIA, the media — that dared to challenge his alarming authoritarian tendencies, weakening them in the eyes of the public.

His declaration Thursday that "I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department" in his latest threat to the Mueller probe is more evidence of his disrespect for the Constitutional principles of checks and balances he swore an oath to uphold. These actions, beginning with the firing of FBI Director James Comey, resemble those of a Third World dictator, not a U.S. president who respects the law.

While all of this was somewhat predictable given what we knew of Mr. Trump, long a public figure, what could not be predicted was how readily Washington Republicans would cave in to the president, making excuses for his behavior or tweeting their objections to it before falling in line and voting for his programs. A Republican Party that once stood for small government, conservatism, integrity and principle is barely recognizable today.

Still, there were glimmers of hope as the year ended. The defeat of U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, a bigot and hypocrite who regarded the age of slavery as the good old days and preyed on young girls, in deeply red Alabama, showed that political party and ideology can be overcome to prevent the undeserving from gaining office. Republican governors, like Massachusetts' Charlie Baker, put party aside to protest what the president and his Republican allies in Congress were doing to their states and their nation. Republican state legislators who toed the Trump-Paul Ryan-Mitch McConnell line were handed defeats even in red states in November elections.

There were also signs — in the Berkshires, the state and nation — of a local response to the attacks and the dereliction of responsibilities coming from Washington. If cuts are made to social safety nets to help pay for tax cuts for corporations, than individuals and organizations in communities must step in to fill the breach. If the rights of women and minorities are threatened by government in Washington, women and minorities must become more involved in government, beginning at the local level.

In 2017, the nation also learned to its horror of the extent of sexual harassment and abuse of women in the nation, in particular in the workplace. However, the response, in the form of the #MeToo movement, provided a reckoning and a cleansing. It is possible, maybe probable, that we will never return to the days when predatory sexual behavior was winked at if not openly practiced.

This is truly a revolution, and revolutions can be difficult to keep within reasonable boundaries. Is Senator Kirsten Gillebrand, a New York Democrat, correct in her assertion that differences in the extent of harassing behavior should not be considered in punishing those responsible? There is in fact a distinction, for example, between the behavior of former U.S. Senator Al Franken, who was pushed into resigning before an ethics committee could explore the allegations made against him, and that of the president, who bragged on tape about his abusive treatment of women and remains in office. If there is a threat to this welcome effort to confront and curtail sexual harassment it may come in the form of a backlash against a movement that is perceived as going too far in shaming and punishing while failing to make necessary distinctions.

In 2017, climate change made itself felt with a vengeance. A brutal hurricane season led to the devastation of Puerto Rico and nearby islands. Houston was flooded by days of torrential rain. More than two million acres burned in the worst fire season in U.S. history. Global warming does not mean the absence of cold weather, as the president implied in a foolish tweet Thursday, it means extremes of dangerous weather like the nation and planet experienced in 2017. Global warming must be countered on a global scale, but in Massachusetts we can be proud that the state continues to lead on a fossil fuel reduction and the expansion of green energy.

So while 2017 will not be missed, there were seeds sown for a better 2018. It is in large part up to us to make it so.


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