Well, that year certainly did happen. 2018 feels like it packed a century’s worth of politics and news into a very, very long 12 months. Remember the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea? Yeah. That was this year. Our sense of time, like our sense of reality, has been warped.
Now is as good a time as any to reflect on what happened and what’s coming. 2018 was endless, brutal, hopeful, mind-bending, and just plain strange, but in all of that there were some lessons to be learned about what comes next.
First, the politics of alienation, xenophobia, and tear-it-all-down populism are still dangerously strong, but they aren’t the only forces driving events anymore. It’s hard to pin down exactly what these other political currents are, however, since there are so many of them acting together. It feels like more than just anti-Donald Trump. These are the forces that swept young people and people from under-represented groups into office all across the country, including here in Connecticut.
What that means for the next year is hard to say. Democrats in Washington have their hands full, and the only thing I’m absolutely sure will happen there is a massive volume of investigations and hearings. I’m hoping for some kind of breakthrough on infrastructure that Connecticut could benefit from, but having zero faith in the Senate, I won’t hold my breath.
Mostly, I expect too much of 2019 to be the same as 2018 — in which politics reacts to the unpredictable, erratic nature of the president. Trump will dominate everything, again, and suck all the air out of the room even as he sinks beneath the weight of his own scandals.
The infusion of new blood into the legislature in Hartford could help move forward long-stalled issues like the legalization of marijuana and highway tolls, as well. Maybe. We can absolutely expect our politics to continue to be less about what issues we favor and more about who we are and how we see ourselves.
Second, 2018 proved that Connecticut’s problems are still here and aren’t going away any time soon. The incoming Lamont administration is going to inherit an economy that is improving — slowly. They’re still going to have to grapple with the same miserable fiscal situation that the Malloy administration did. There will still be huge budget shortfalls and very few good ways to fix them.
I’m sure the Lamont administration is going to try to attack the budget situation without infuriating or alienating absolutely everybody they way their predecessors often did. Barring some sort of revenue miracle or Ned digging up pirate treasure beneath the Capitol, money will have to come from somewhere to close the budget gap. My guess? Pot and tolls, with some state employee givebacks and a few more brutal agency cuts. I’m also guessing all of that won’t be done before the legislature adjourns in June, which is like guessing the sun will come up tomorrow.
At the end of all of that, Governor Lamont isn’t going to be a popular guy. If he’s really unlucky, it’ll be like nothing changed at all between his administration and the last one. If he’s really really unlucky, the recession economists have been warning us about will hit. I don’t know what we’ll do then; I do know it won’t be pretty.
Third, the weather is going to be on our minds. Climate change is starting to be noticeable, and we’re going to have to start doing more than just reacting to the latest storm. If talk of a “Green New Deal” goes anywhere in Washington, I expect us to be having similar conversations here.
Lastly, though, I feel like 2018 gave us a few reasons to have hope. I want to believe that we can face challenges like climate change, the rise of authoritarianism, weak democratic institutions, dilapidated infrastructure, systemic racism, and more with open eyes and clear minds.
Nothing stays the same forever. A lot of things I thought I knew about this country went out the window over the past few years, and I thought that the better country we might someday become was lost forever. We’ve had a chance to look our own ugliness square in the face, but we haven’t flinched away. That better country is still out there, and I think we can still make it real.
2019 is going to be another hard one on all fronts. I’m letting myself be optimistic that things can get better. Come back in a year, and we’ll see just how farsighted or foolish that might be.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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