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No Time for Thinking
Okay, the holidays are behind us now. As warm memories of family recede and the trappings of celebrations are put away until next year, this time in our lives would normally give way to sober reflection.

Normally, that is. This January, we just don’t have time for that stuff. We are on the cusp of what promises to be the most consequential year in our nation’s history. If you like politics, you are in for the thrill ride of a lifetime. If you don’t, you are about to enter Hell. Either way, our options for deep contemplation will be sorely limited. So hang on, citizen.

Most of the pieces are in place already, of course, and moving swiftly. The Articles of impeachment will be sent to the Senate next week. The Democratic field is pretty much set. Global warming is an indisputable fact…except to those with the power to do something about it. Putin has us by the ballot box. The rich are still getting richer and the poor are still getting poorer. And everyone is at least a little spooked.

So right out of the gate, we’ll be going full tilt in 2020. First up: the possible conviction of a U.S. President for high crimes and misdemeanors and his removal from office. It’s hard to imagine higher political stakes than that. And just to crank up the drama even higher, several contenders for the Democratic nomination will not only be taking on a high profile in that trial, but will be called upon to vote on the question. In addition to front runners Warren, Sanders, and Klobuchar, we’ll have Cory Booker and Michael Bennet, all doing one of the jobs they get paid to do —on national TV in prime time. Dropouts Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand will also be in the mix, no doubt itching to make a mark.

Assuming the Republicans stay true to form, however, the trial and verdict will go through the chamber at warp speed. While the outcome is all but assured, however, we’d be foolish to rule out the possibility that Something Entirely Unforeseen will take place. Such events, after all, are a common occurrence in our daily lives. The only question is whether or not they will affect the imagined outcome.

Even if nothing gets settled in the Senate, February will come anyway, and with it a flurry of votes by actual citizens. The Iowa caucuses arrive Feb. 3, followed by the New Hampshire primary Feb. 11, the Nevada caucuses Feb. 22, and the South Carolina primary Feb. 29.

Not hectic enough for you? If we don’t have a clear favorite by the end of February, we just might get one on March 3. That’s Super Tuesday, when 14 states, American Samoa, and Americans abroad all go to the polls on the Democratic side. That adds up to 1358 pledged delegates chosen on one day. If, after that, we still haven’t got anyone near the 960 needed to win on the first ballot at the convention — which could easily happen since nearly all those states allocate delegates proportionally — then things could really get hairy.

You can count me, by the way, as a vote for hairiness. I like the idea of the system flexing all its muscles here at this turning point in history. If it does get hairy, I can see 4 or 5 candidates still in the running by the time the convention rolls around on July 13. If we get to a third or fourth ballot and still don’t have a nominee, then anything could happen.

And the year would barely be half over! By that time, the number of unforeseen events will really be piling up, including those generated by Drump himself. There has even been talk of more Articles of Impeachment rolling off the House’s production line. And why not? The various court cases that have been grinding quietly along will surely free up more evidence of wrongdoing, and those revelations will have to be addressed, election or not.

Beyond that wild prospect, there will surely be some October surprises cooked up by contestants from both parties, and we can count on Putin turning up in a few headlines before November 3rd. Come November 4th, we’ll either be contending with a colossally sore loser who refuses to vacate the White House or a sore winner who has been taking names.

Either way, we won’t have time to pause and reflect. For that, let's set the timer for January, 2021. 2020 will have given us plenty to think about.
Peace on Earth, Within Reason
“Peace on Earth.”

It’s hard to argue with that idea. Peace on Earth. If we really wanted to get there, it would mean absolutely no killing. And no mean stuff…of any kind. Everyone would have to be on their best behavior — everywhere, all the time, forever. Peace on Earth.

I don’t want to be negative, but that is kind of a high bar. Maybe, if it’s just on Christmas Day, I suppose we might allow ourselves to hope for peace on Earth, good will to men. But let’s face it — the rest of the year it’s all we can do to tolerate our friends and families, much less the rest of humanity. So, for the 26th and all other days, I am proposing a less daunting aspiration:

“Try to be nice if at all possible.”
And Clean the Bowl
What I can't help
Thinkin' is how
The party of
Lincoln is now

Would Honest Abe
Vote to impeach
Or see it more
As overreach?

I'd like to think
He'd look at Trump
And vote to flush
That steamin' lump
Hope
I have been trying for a while, without luck, to write about hope. I’m not sure why it’s been so difficult. Maybe it’s because I am such a believer in this noble human quality, and I’m afraid I might come off as a bit too corny about it.

As human propensities go, I think it’s the best we have to offer…better than love, even. I know that’s a heavy claim to make. Major religions, eminent thinkers, and the Beatles have all told us that love is the answer, and maybe it is. But it is not the most noble and human capacity we have.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against love. But let’s admit that there’s nothing really special about it. Mammals love, birds love. I can’t help but think that reptiles do, too. In fact, I am willing to suggest that any creature that walks, slithers, swims, or oozes on this earth feels something akin to love in its life.

No so with hope. It is ours and ours alone as a species. Along with faith, it’s part of the package deal that comes with our big brain. Our capacity for self-awareness is what makes it work, and without it I don’t think we could survive — at least not happily. It keeps our spirits up, it galvanizes our priorities, it gets us over the mountain. And quite often it focuses us on something beyond our own interests, something greater than ourselves. It dares us to reach for what is beyond our grasp.

I suppose love could do all those things as well, but the difference is that love centers on the love object, whatever it is: “I’ve got to keep going to get the medicine to Grandma,” “I’ve got to set a good example for little Emily,” “My mate wants me to do this.” Those are all worthy incentives, but hope works differently. It does not need a love object to function. Like its cousin faith, it can run on an idea, a value system, or a belief. Maybe porpoises have something like that going for them, and you can’t rule out the possibility of hopeful chimpanzees. But since these creatures don’t have a language, we can’t find out for sure by interviewing them (I don’t know if the subject ever came up with Koko).

I don’t think chimps can have faith, either. Faith is also one of the nicer bells and whistles that comes with our big brain, and like hope, it can be a profound source of strength. The only reason it doesn’t make the top spot among our many character traits is that it has proven to be too corruptible — like human beings themselves. Humans can have faith in all kinds of things, including some demonstrably batshit assertions of fact and some obviously worthless s.o.b.’s. Such misapplications of faith can really screw things up for these folks and for rest of us as well. I will let you fill in the examples of religions, cockamamie notions, and unscrupulous leaders we are talking about here.

Hope is not so easily turned to the dark side. Oh, I suppose you might find yourself “hoping” that something awful happens to an enemy, but that seems to me to be a misuse of the word. Hope connotes a sense of optimism, of an aspiration to a better world. Praying (which we might see as a more activist form of hoping) really ought to stay in that same lane — unless you see your deity as primarily vengeful. If you do, then we’re all in for a rough ride.

If we still doubt that hope is our finest, noblest quality, perhaps we should consider its opposite. That would not be fear, though the two are often paired as alternatives. Instead, think of despair. Compare your feelings about despair to those around some other corrosive opposites: fear, hate, doubt, anger, dishonor. None of those is quite so dark as despair. I would argue, by comparison, that hope goes just a far in the opposite direction.

Perhaps you can see now why I was concerned about getting too corny. Hope is definitely a goody-two-shoes aspect of our nature. But it might be enough, in the end, to save our sorry butts. Here’s hoping.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon