This is the 16th time since The Week launched in 2001 that I’ve used this little space to try to make some sense of the world at year’s end. Through this exercise, I’ve been surprised to discover that I’m an optimist, despite my veneer of journalistic cynicism. My livelihood has immersed me in the rich, colorful evidence of our species’ foolishness, selfishness, and cruelty—sins I sometimes suffer from myself. Yet like many Americans, I am the descendant of immigrant strivers, bred to believe that tomorrow will be better than today, that human ingenuity can surmount all obstacles, that goodness wins out over evil in the end. (A corollary: Bad people eventually get what’s coming to them. Right, Harvey?) Even when confronted with evidence that the universe is not just, I cling to my core conviction the way a shipwrecked man hugs a chunk of floating wood. But after one of the strangest, most tumultuous, and most disorienting years in our history, I must confess to moments of doubt and fear.
Never in my lifetime, even in the 1960s, has the country felt so fractured—so close to a civil war. Our one nation, allegedly indivisible, has cracked open along fault lines of culture, class, religion, and partisan identity, creating chasms of mutual incomprehension and disdain. Politics has devolved into a winner-take-all blood sport. Virtually everything is politicized, from football to wedding cakes. In the coming year, special counsel Robert Mueller would seem likely to conclude that President Trump obstructed justice in the Russia investigation. Mueller may point to other high crimes and misdemeanors as well. It’s impossible to predict how Congress and the nation will respond—or what will happen if Trump decides to fire Mueller—except that what follows will be convulsive. Our democracy will be sorely tested; in the crucible, we will discover whether character, decency, truth, and the rule of law still matter. I’d like to think we will pass the test. Happy New Year, friends.