by Ralph Scharnau
The news stories of 2018 reveal a flurry of political and societal events. A remarkable range of happenings unfolded across a wide spectrum of issues. Here is a selective look at some of them.
Internationally, daily scenes of human misery were brought to our consciousness. We also witnessed heroic efforts by organizations and individuals to provide health care. Meanwhile, environmental degradation creates pollution, brings long term health problems, and compounds human suffering.
Reporting on environmental damage continues in ever more alarming ways. Global warming, for example, means more severe weather patterns with stronger storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding. There are examples, too. of nations, regions, and municipalities banding together to combat the loss of structures, land, infrastructure, wildlife, and even entire ecosystems. The large corporations seek ever larger subsidies while shifting costs onto the people.
People’s safety and security are undermined by violence. The potential and actual use of force can be seen in insurrections, the steady build-up of weaponry, and invasions. The world seems awash in guns.
The reality of mass shootings is no longer limited to the battlefield; it has happened in schools, clubs, places of worship, and other community venues. Arms control agreements between nations are modified, leaving millions of people vulnerable. Among the nuclear powers, a new arms race could threaten those in Europe and beyond. As great powers unilaterally flex their military muscles, dispute resolution by diplomacy becomes more fragile.
Fueled by the twenty-four-hour-news-cycle and large voter turnout, the year’s mid-term elections in the United States attracted an explosion of commentary in this country and around the world. At the national level, Democrats broke the Republican monopoly on law-making by becoming the majority party in the House of Representatives. Republicans retained their majority in the Senate. The Democrats will now chair important committees (Intelligence, Ways and Means, Foreign Affairs, and Judiciary), play a new role in drafting bills, have a voice in making appropriations, conduct inquires, and establish their own legislative priorities.
The American economy seems to be humming along at a healthy rate. Unemployment levels have reached historic lows. At the same time, wages and workforce participation rates are rising. But even with these positive economic signs, wage levels for millions of workers are still persistently low, and many hold two or three jobs to eke out a minimal standard of living.
It can be argued that women made the greatest gains in 2018. Women everywhere are rising up. They are speaking out about attacks on women’s legal rights, slashing essential health benefits, and the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault. Men with prestigious positions are increasingly being held accountable for using their power and privilege to abuse women.
Women are protesting, marching, organizing, and building power. Thousands of females from all ages, ethnicities, religions and walks of life have surged into the political arena as candidates, campaign workers, fund raisers and lobbyists. Breaking the masculine imposed double standard for women has also translated into new job opportunities, more responsibility, and better pay. And some men have joined women leaders in calling for equal rights.
2018 proved to be a remarkably important year. The possibility of changes marked a strong characteristic of the year. Simultaneously, the suddenness of change could be both exhilarating and frightening. In the midst of these circumstances, most people displayed coping skills.
What all this means for the future will slowly become apparent. The 2020 elections should provide some answers.