Beginning 2020 on a Kind of Road Trip, Exploring Potential Hazards Ahead

It’s 2020! Let the ironic wordplay about clear and perfect vision begin. Or maybe we go with a different metaphor about surviving the difficult teen years of the twenty-first century. How we’re now ready to act like adults and embrace responsibility. How now, we get to vote!

It’s actually mid-December as I write this, and there’s a cold and cheerless rain falling steadily in Washington, DC. This morning the House Judiciary Committee voted (along party lines) to approve two articles of impeachment against President Donald J. Trump: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The full House is expected to vote on the articles of impeachment next week. In a statement issued on December 6, 2019, American Humanist Association Executive Director Roy Speckhardt went on record asking Congress to uphold its constitutional duty, stressing that

To conduct anything less than a rigorous and transparent impeachment process and eventual trial would render our republic dangerously vulnerable and further harm Americans’ fragile trust in our democratic process.

We find ourselves at a moment not of celebration or relief but of grave concern and rancor. As a lover of words and phrasing, I often find the very best wordsmiths can distract from the punishing storm, even as they write about the very thing pouring down upon us. This time it was New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, uniquely summing up “the wonder of the wretched moment.” He was specifically writing about Attorney General Bill Barr’s complete trashing of the inspector general’s report, issued in December, which both soundly criticized and legitimized the FBI’s investigation into possible ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign. “The wonder of this wretched moment has never been the existence and stench of a bad egg in the Oval Office,” Bruni wrote.

That’s hardly strange, given how ably shamelessness serves ambition. The wonder is how many other bad eggs the current president has assembled or hatched. The wonder is this fluffy, funky omelet of unscrupulousness.

If you’re like me, that phrase is just too good not to turn the corners of your mouth up even as you contemplate the stench.

Bruni also referred to Barr’s October 11 speech at the University of Notre Dame Law School, in which the attorney general spoke about the evils of secularism, the need for a “moral [read: conservative Christian] renaissance,” and said (without, Bruni noted, any palpable sense of irony), “No society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity.” Is rapacity—aggressive greed—an impeachable act? Trump’s Republican defenders in the US House of Representatives have been screaming—at their Democratic counterparts, at dignified witnesses in the impeachment hearings, at all of us watching—that the president’s rapacity amounts to far less. I think we all realize acquittal is on the horizon. Which, I suppose, leaves it up to us to find out where the means for restraining individual rapacity lie.

Many will say in the voting booth. But, as some writing in this issue of the Humanist will tell you, that’s not a guaranteed secure place, if you can even get inside. And then there’s the question of what our choices will be. And so, we begin 2020 on a kind of road trip, exploring, in the first issue of the year, the potential hazards ahead. Mike Kuhlenbeck returns with a troubling look at theocracy in Brazil, Mark Dunbar analyzes the tension between progressives and populists in his historical overview of the Democratic party, and Stephanie Zvan goes in search of a humanist political ideology. If and when you need to get off the road to stretch your legs, check out Chris Highland’s humanist ode to the great Sierra sage, John Muir. Our 2020 vision may not be clear, but at least we have our minds, hearts, and eyes open.