It’s the beginning of the new year and time to look back a bit and forward, and I must confess it’s a little bit scary. It’s not just that this is a presidential election year but, once again, we all actually get to choose which of the two Americas we want to belong to: the blue America or the red America. Each America has its own heroes (the Donald or a whole slate of contenders) and the villains (Putin and Giuliani or papa and son Biden). Each has its own set of facts (it’s Russia—no, it was Ukraine) and each has its own set of cheerleaders (Fox News or MSNBC).
So, looking into my crystal ball, this is what I see for the coming year:
•The presidential race is going to boil down to whom the Democrats nominate and whether they can do it without tearing themselves apart. I think the country is becoming tired of all this constant tumult and probably could be convinced to turn out the “Drama Queen,” even though it’s tough to turn out an incumbent in a good economy, and opt instead for four years of relative quiet and even boredom with a sense of relief.
•The local Malibu election at the same time as the national election will have a larger turnout than usual, and a bit of confusion because there are some major changes coming in the way we cast ballots, with the county registrar pushing us to vote earlier and by mail if possible, and a couple of our incumbents, Skylar Peak and Jefferson Wagner, termed out. Shortly, the council is going to have to decide whether they want to break the city into districts or face an expensive lawsuit that many cities have lost trying to stop local redistricting.
•There is going to be a bunch of rebuilding of the burnouts in this coming year; about 200 have already gone through planning, and we can expect to all be bitching about the noise and the traffic and the endless parade of pickup trucks doing the construction. Still, a lot of new money—insurance money—is going to flow into our local coffers.
•Nationally, I believe the economy is going to do OK, principally because we’re going to run up a very large national deficit and be pouring money into the economy and we’ll all be out there buying junk we never knew we needed. The president is a developer and, like all developers, he has spent a lifetime operating on other people’s money, so he has no problem with running up big debt. It’s true he can no longer go bankrupt but this kind of debt is even better because there are no bankers breathing down your neck. Now, you just push off the repayment onto the next generation. I must confess, I have never understood why Republicans hate taxes, but seem to love debt. It didn’t seem to make any sense that taking money out of your pocket now to pay taxes was bad, while taking the same amount of money out of your pocket, plus of course a whole bunch of interest, was somehow prudent—but then, I was never terribly good in economics.
•Did the tax cut give the economy a boost? I think the answer is kind of “Yes and No.” Yes, in that there are a lot of people who already had a bunch of money who got an additional bunch more money and poured it back into the economy and, besides, it made them feel good and the Ferrari dealers prospered. The average Joe is still just scrapping by, but if the inequality doesn’t make him crazy, why should the rest of us worry? What was abundantly clear is that corporate America, which is global America, did just fine. By recent count, 61 one of them or so—companies like Apple and Amazon—paid not a single dime in income taxes, despite the fact that they made billons in this country. In fact, the average taxes paid by the major corporations was about 11 percent. I don’t know at what point the villagers light their torches and start up the hill but clearly we’re not there yet, so if Trump gets re-elected we can look forward to another tax cut with perhaps a 3 percent corporate tax rate. Ultimately, they probably are going to want us to pay them to stay or they’ll just threaten to pick up their ball and move to Ireland or wherever.
•There are going to be some major challenges to our American way and our government in the coming year. There are a whole bunch of people who believe in the imperial presidency and the executive should have the ability to do what it wants, period. I suspect some very conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are going to be faced with some very tough calls this year and the face of the American political system may very well change. There certainly is a rise of authoritarianism worldwide and, frankly, I’m fearful that is invariably a prelude to wars. Many people seem to have lost belief or even patience with democracy and there are many leaders who say they can fix it all if only we give them the power. At the risk of sounding paranoid, it’s beginning to look a lot like the 1930s and I don’t know where that leads. Let’s hope America steadies its course in the coming year.