The legendary Annie Abrams, a civil rights and all-around local icon, asked, per custom, the first audience question at the Political Animals Club meeting at noon Tuesday.
As ever, her query was thoughtful and challenging.
She said our panel discussion had been thoroughly doomful, but that the panelists, three local journalists, ought to bear some responsibility for the political illiteracy imperiling our democracy. She said we ought to have proposals for addressing it.
I said the problem is not illiteracy, but bad literacy. By that I meant the modern abundance of contradicting information, owing to the frontier of the Internet and to cable "news" operations that are politically biased by nothing more than business model.
Do a Google search of any political issue. You'll most likely find quickly two diametrically opposing versions ... not views, but versions. The result is that people become so distrustful of those with whom they have partisan and philosophical differences that they instinctively embrace their preferred version and dismiss with near-loathing the supposed lies of the other.
Sometimes, I contended, I write columns that draw from my reporting background. They seek to be expository or objective or at least sensitively analytical, not opinionated rants.
Inevitably, though, critics so stereotype the author that they reject these columns from pre-emptive disdain.
It goes like this: He's a liberal. His content is bogus.
That we can't achieve even a modest majority agreement on facts before we argue--that is the problem.
That's when moderator Roby Brock of Talk Business said I should just wait until loyal Democratic readers found out what I'd said in answer to the panel discussion's opening question: What was the biggest political story of 2017?
We all agreed--Rex Nelson of this paper, Gwen Moritz of Arkansas Business and I--that Donald Trump's presidency was the biggest story.
I went a little further and said that, while Trump's presidency has been preposterous and debasing, it also has been ... drum roll ... politically successful.
My explanation was that Trump has protected his base, with its 30 to 35 percent, which is essential to him if he is to keep viable the dynamic that elected himself last year with only a little more of a base than that.
He built on that base in 2016 when, toward the end of the presidential campaign, mainstream Republicans offended by him personally came home and voted for him because at least he'd permit Republicans to get taxes cut and Obamacare repealed.
Now, as the year ends, those possibilities still exist, considering that Republicans have advanced a massive tax-cut bill that will include a provision to repeal the individual mandate that undergirds Obamacare.
The final piece of the Trump dynamic last year was that the Democratic candidate was weak. At this juncture, we've seen no Democratic presidential prospect possessed of new ideas, new messages or facility for personal connection.
Democrats have spent the year aghast over Trump's tweets and salivating over the prospect of impeachment. Yet Trump has so trivialized our dialogue and hardened our sensitivities that his tweets and other atrocities are political constants, no longer variables. They now have a constant value of zero in terms of political ramification.
And, thus far, I don't see a crime in Trump's humiliating man-crush on Vladimir Putin. A crime will require transferred money. Simple stupidity won't cut it. Trump's base likes Russians more than it likes Democrats.
Add a good-enough economy to that dynamic and you have a Trump presidency pretty much where it needs to be to have a chance for electoral lightning to strike again.
I call that nuanced and objective analysis. I contend it reaches for generally credible expository value even if the guy writing it has known strong opinions.
People who reject it tend to be so conditioned by partisan contempt that they refuse to think beyond the byline.
But here is the question: Has Trump now upturned all of that by his full-throated endorsement of Roy Moore, the man so creepy that he managed implausibly to lose as a Republican in Alabama?
No, not if the base holds nationally and the tax cut for rich people goes through for wild GOP celebration in a few days.
More likely, here is your real potential upturn: The women's uprising against sexual assault and harassment by powerful men.
It may be that the Democrats indeed have new faces, female ones, such as U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's.
The new message? It's that American politics has finally caught up with Helen Reddy, who sang in the '70s: "I am woman. Hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore."
Traditionally, white women in Alabama vote 80 percent Republican. On Tuesday, according to exit polling, they voted 65 percent Republican. That gap did nothing less than revive an extinct breed, the Southern Democrat.
The #metoo movement, my narrow runner-up for story of 2017, is the early favorite for first place in 2018.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 12/17/2017
Print Headline: The story of the year