Editor’s Note: Julian Zelizer is a history and public affairs professor at Princeton University and the author of “The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society.” He’s also the co-host of the “Politics & Polls” podcast. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
This has been one hell of a year. As a historian who spends much of his time analyzing past variations of our current situation, I can say that this year has been one for the record books. The topsy-turvy universe that President Trump has created in Washington has left many heads spinning. On a daily basis, it has been hard to know what will come next. From the tweets to the Russia investigation to the tax cut, 2017 was unbelievable.
What looms on the horizon for 2018? What are some of the questions that will play a big role in shaping the direction of our politics and the legacy of the Trump presidency?
Here are five big ones.
Is political outrage over?
There is a continued expectation that the next new revelation about the Trump administration will cross the line of acceptability. That has been the ongoing theme of the past year. When President Trump blatantly makes false claims on Twitter or when he wavers on condemning white nationalist groups, there are inevitable predictions of his political demise. Some of his critics cling to hope that a new finding from Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation will be the last straw – that a new discovery will finally make the Republican Congress say, “This is enough!”
But what if the President’s antics have proven that President Trump can, in fact, do just about anything and get away with it? Perhaps the dysfunction in our political system has become so severe that we are politically numb. Our expectations are so low and our experiences are so bad that everything is now acceptable, or at least will be tolerated. Year two of the Trump presidency will be a test for our times.
Is economic conservatism triumphant?
President Trump has moved forward in aggressive fashion on implementing a right wing economic agenda of deregulation and supply side tax cuts. While many have been obsessed with his tweets and tirades, the administration has pushed economic policies that would make Ronald Reagan smile. When Reagan castigated government as being the problem, not the solution, he probably couldn’t have envisioned any president doing as much as Trump has sought to do to free markets from the hand of government.
Opinion: Year in Review
Using executive power, President Trump has ruthlessly dismantled financial, environmental, and business regulations that have been in the corporate cross hairs for years. The tax law provided the massive reduction in rates that the business community has desired for a long time. With policies like these, it is no wonder that some Republicans have sat tight through the most disturbing moments of the Trump presidency.
The campaign for conservative economic policies is not over. One of the big questions in the coming year will be: How much further can the administration go before Democrats are able to create some kind of check to this free market revolution?
Can Democrats reclaim control of Congress?
This question will dominate political discussion in Washington until November’s midterm elections. Most members of Congress are already in campaign mode. Some polls indicate that there is a possibility of a wave election. In other words, we could be looking at a Democratic Congress within one year.
Such an outcome would fundamentally shift the equation of power in our nation’s capital and put the President in an extremely precarious position. The possibility of impeachment would become real and the prospect of the President finding ways to make more legislative gains would quickly diminish. A Democratic Congress would also set up a platform for the party to push new issues and support promising legislators who might compete for the White House in 2020.
Can social rights-based movements survive our attentiondeficit culture?
In the past few years, the nation has witnessed the emergence of two very powerful and important political movements that have challenged social inequities that are deeply rooted in our country. Black Lives Matter offered a frontal assault on institutional racism, spotlighting the way that race continues to influence our criminal justice system as well as other institutions. More recently, the #MeToo movement has brought down powerful figures in numerous industries and raised awareness of how sexual harassment pervades the daily lives of women.
Opinion: Year Ahead
But what happens next? Can these two movements translate their efforts into concrete policy changes within the private and public sector? Changes in policy are the only way to make sure these efforts are lasting. It seems like the Black Lives Matter movement is struggling to keep the attention of decision-makers in the age of Trump, with criminal justice reform and the threats that African-Americans face because of the color of their skin receiving less attention over the past year.
Only time will tell whether activists will be able to keep their movements alive and make sure that they have an impact on policy and electoral politics. The same challenges will confront #MeToo. After the high-profile resignations and the apologies, will there be lasting change?
Will journalism rebound?
Journalism in America came under fire this year. The challenges that the industry faces are extremely serious. Some of the threats have nothing to do with President Trump.
The economic pressures that publishers and broadcasters constantly confront have led them to devote less attention to certain kinds of vital operations, such as coverage of local news or overseas bureaus. The legitimization of partisan entertainment as news, with the influence of shows like “Fox and Friends” that masquerade as rightful heirs to Walter Cronkite’s news desk, are an embarrassment to the character of the industry. (At the same time, news outlets that have provided comprehensive, and often investigative, coverage of the Trump administration have gained new readers and viewers.)
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And then there is a President who has declared certain news organizations a public enemy. He has helped to elevate falsehood over good reporting. He has made threats against press that he deems adversarial in ways that he is unwilling to do with genuine adversaries such Vladimir Putin. How will journalism respond to these assaults and challenges without losing the profession’s core values?
While we can’t predict everything, one thing is for sure: With President Trump in the White House, it is sure to be a roller coaster of a year.