Missing the Point – De-Stressing the New Year

First of all, happy holidays to all of you and your families.  Best wishes for a healthy, prosperous, and relatively stress-free new year.  Thank you for reading my column and for your comments.

It may be difficult, but please do your best to have some fun watching our national politics going to you-know-where in a handbasket.  I know that’s where we seem to be headed but, trust me on this, we’re not going to get there.  The point is, I think we have less to worry about than you may be currently thinking.

More often than not, stress is about perspective.  Let me explain.

At the beginning of my professional life, I studied economics.  I was so impressed by its potential as a social science that I actually wanted to be one, an economist that is.  I was attracted to economics for two reasons.  The first was that economics is an essential science given the implications of successful, democratic capitalism for the success of a peaceful world order and our survival as a species.


Yeah, I agree – although your reaction may be more critical than appreciative.  That’s okay.

The other reason, the one that goes more to the objective of this week’s column, is that there’s something about the core science of economics that makes me feel comfortable and safe, that reassures me about an otherwise uncertain future.  If I had to sum it up in just a single word, it would be “equilibrium.”  It’s the belief that, in a market or world populated by “rational players,” economic behavior will settle on what I’ll call “dynamic compromise.”  Change will occur, the path of which will be uneven and sometimes outright scary, but real, sensible, kind, and productive progress will be the rule.  Mess will occur.  No doubt about it, but success will ultimately prevail.

Early on, economics – then defined simply as the allocation of scarce resources – was known as “the dismal science.”  You can credit that description to Englishman Thomas Malthus who lived in the late 1700s and early 1800s, during the onset of the Industrial Revolution.  Malthus believed that we would eventually run out of the resources we need to sustain ourselves and that would be that.  While some may wonder if Malthus may yet turn out to be correct, I’m pretty sure he was missing the point.  Quite to the contrary, economics, the social science, agrees with the natural optimism in me.  There’s nothing dismal about it.

The trick, as it were, is that these rational players I just mentioned – you, me, and the vast majority of everyone else – will be inclined to act in our own best interests and, in doing so, will eventually do the right thing.  And it’s not just economic activity that I’m talking about.  Social and political change behave the same way.  Over time.  Sometimes over too much time, but eventually we stay on course and move forward, dealing with new problems that we need to solve, tweaking solutions for earlier problems we thought would work, but didn’t.

Now let’s get to what this all has to do with national politics and stress.

If you watch the news…  If you’ve been paying attention even a little bit, you may have concluded that our democracy is in trouble.  The Republican Party has lost its way.  It has become the party of “No.”  Whatever valuable contribution conservative social and fiscal thinking might have has been overshadowed by the mindless failure to put real ideas and programs on the table.  Politically speaking, the Republicans have become the party of “blunt force trauma,” of power over principle.

There are many, many examples of this, but I’ll offer only two.  One is that Republicans in Congress are on the verge of denying Ukraine the resources it needs to defeat and begin the eventual democratic transformation of one of our two principal world opponents, Russia.  Putin’s maniacal obsession with history and control have presented the West with an unusual opportunity, which the Republicans are willing to trash – along with any notion of continuing world leadership by the United States.

And the Republicans who are willing to do this, are holding funding for Ukraine hostage for their own maniacal obsession with what they perceive to be the invasion of our country by people coming from south of our border with Mexico.  Attention pure White people, if there are still any of you left:  Slap yourselves back to consciousness.  It’s all going to be okay.  Immigration, albeit properly supervised, is good and essential for America.  You’ve been duped by your party’s leadership into thinking otherwise.

The other example of the implosion of legitimate Republicanism is, yes, the party’s continuing support of Donald Trump who is, without question, nuts.  He doesn’t want to be President of the United States.  He doesn’t understand or believe in democracy.  He wants to take over the country and rule it, you know, like a dictator.  Don’t believe me?  Fine.  Just listen to what he says and take it seriously.  The “rational player” in you will come to the same conclusion.

Listening to Donald Trump is a no-win situation for voters who currently support him.  Either you believe what he says, in which case you won’t dare let him anywhere near The White House, or you don’t believe him in which case you can’t trust what he says, and that, in and of itself, disqualifies him to be President.

According to no less an authority than his former wife, the late Ivana Trump, it turns out that Donald enjoyed reading speeches written and delivered by Adolf Hitler.  There’s much more to this story, of course, which you can learn from CNN and many other reliable news sources of independent journalism.  …And this is currently the Republicans’ most likely candidate for President?  For which half of the electorate appears ready to vote?

Yes, it would help if the Republicans in Congress and candidates running against Trump went after him with the political vengeance he espouses and now deserves to be directed at himself.  And if only the Democrats had a more popular candidate they could run other than Joe Biden who was, after all, only supposed to be a transitional option.

Suffice it to say, there is more than enough to be stressed out about.  The good news is that, while I can’t save you from wasting your time sitting in traffic, from the problems of shopping online and then returning too much of what you buy, from difficulties you may be having at work, and the many foibles of family life, I can help you politically.

Politically speaking, we’re all going to be okay.  As I handicap the current election cycle, there’s a significantly better than fifty-fifty chance that Donald isn’t nominated and, even if he is, that he loses the general election.  Ukraine is going to be funded and the delivery of US and other NATO fighter aircraft will eventually end the war there and quite possibly the dictatorship of Vladimir Putin.  And Republicans are going to lose control over the House about a year from now.

More to the point, rational players will prevail.  As a nation, as a people, we may swing almost too far away from the true path we are destined to follow, but we’ll come back.  In the meantime, with confidence in the reality of what I’m trying to tell you, I have the following New Year’s advice…  Stop thinking about our national issues as matters you, personally, need to solve, but have no idea how.  Stop feeling frustrated and powerless.  Don’t let the onslaught of negative news be overly distracting.  Sit back and, with the anticipation of watching a well-crafted thriller in which the hero is in serious trouble that you know, somehow, he or she will miraculously survive, enjoy the show.