There Is a Case for Optimism in 2023
And a thank-you to the Daily readers
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I indulged in my share of gloom in 2022, and I have plenty more where that came from. But I want to make the case for a certain amount of optimism in 2023—and to offer my gratitude to readers of the Daily. But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.
'No Good Thing Ever Dies'
Throughout 2022, I’ve worried a lot. I’ve had plenty of smaller gripes—that is my nature as a professional curmudgeon—but mostly, I’ve been concerned about world war, the rule of law, and the collapse of democracy. But here at the end of the year, I am optimistic, which is a surprise even to me. First things first, however. I want to thank the readers of the Daily and The Atlantic for your willingness to join me and my colleagues every week. I hope you’ll stay with us in the coming year; a lot is going to happen in America and around the world, and I look forward to continuing to explore those issues with you.
Before we head off into 2023, let’s think about why the past year wasn’t as bad as we might think, and why the coming year might even be better.
The single most important story of the year is the resilience of democracy. Two great events (or, more accurately, non-events) reassured me as part of that heartening narrative: The Russians failed to win a war in Europe, and antidemocratic candidates failed to rebound in America. These were not small things, and indeed, I sometimes worry that Americans underestimate just how close to disaster we all came in 2022. I am not prone to World War II metaphors, but I was moved enough by the midterm elections to refer to them as “democracy’s Dunkirk.” My colleague Anne Applebaum, meanwhile, offered a terrifying picture of what the world would look like right now had Vladimir Putin’s tanks taken Kyiv almost a year ago.
In 2022, however, the West chose to help Ukraine defend itself, and the voters chose to protect democracy. In fact, the American system is now engaged in a certain amount of healing, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Election deniers, led by Kari Lake in Arizona, are regularly being told by the judicial system to go pound sand. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is, so far, a shambolic and pitiful mess. Congress, with something that these days looks like a smidge of bipartisanship, has sent a bill with the Electoral Count Reform Act to President Joe Biden’s desk, adding some insurance against any further attempts at electoral-vote chicanery.
Meanwhile, consequences for coup plotters, seditionists, and other criminals are piling up. A group of Oath Keepers is facing real time in prison. Some of the January 6 rioters have gotten stiff sentences. And this morning, one of the ringleaders of the plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor got sentenced to the big house for more than 19 years.
Even smaller stories had some positive lessons in them. For example, Elon Musk proved to us that billions of dollars cannot buy everything, and especially not competence or common sense. Tesla stock, the source of so much of Musk’s fortune, has lost more than $800 billion—that’s billion, with a B—in value, most of it vanishing after Musk’s decision to detonate his reputation as a savvy businessman so that he could become the world’s richest shitposter. If this makes people rethink worshipping rich celebrities, so much the better. Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, meanwhile, finally dumped her affiliation as a Democrat, a move that was almost certainly prompted less by ideology than by her realization that she is deeply unpopular among Democrats and was likely to lose a primary in her own party. This ploy seems to have backfired; her approval rating has cratered, which suggests that voters finally might actually punish rank opportunism. Add to these stories the collective national shrug at Trump’s entry into the GOP presidential race, and it looks like 2022 was a bad year for narcissism.
All of this optimism is making me itch, even if I am enjoying the schadenfreude, so let me suggest a few things that could go horribly wrong in 2023. Let’s start with nuclear war.
Russia’s war in Ukraine is nowhere near over. The Russians are in bad shape, but they still enjoy some immutable advantages in geography and manpower. The Kremlin might well try again to take Kyiv, or the Russian high command could simply decide to pursue meat-grinder battles across the eastern Ukrainian front. Putin is a terrible strategist, and if these next moves go badly for Russia, he could return to making unhinged threats. When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Putin loves life and doesn’t want to die, he was right, but that’s a different problem from Putin simply being a desperate gambler who could set in motion events he cannot control. The West must continue to send aid and weapons to Ukraine, but I have worried about unpredictable nuclear dangers in 2022, and I will continue to worry about them in 2023 and for as long as Putin pursues this mad war.
The crisis of American democracy is also not over yet. The Republicans—whose national elected members are still the main source of threats to the Constitution at this point—will take control of the House next month by a slim majority, and the 2024 Senate map favors the GOP. Trump’s gambit to regain his office may well be thwarted, but by whom? It’s not much of an improvement if he’s edged out by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis or one of the many other contenders whose goal is not to restore sanity to the GOP but to use its delusional base to gain the White House. The bright spot here is that GOP control of the House could be such a spectacular and ridiculous carnival in 2023 that voters in 2024 will remember why they were so reluctant during the midterms to let them back into power.
But we cannot end on a note of gloom. Consider this: Anyone who predicted at the end of 2021 that we’d be in such good shape heading into 2023 would have been dismissed as a Pollyanna. Besides, the challenges we’ll face next year, including the preservation of democracy and the restoration of global peace, aren’t new. We’ve faced them before, and we’re still here in one piece. So let’s celebrate by remembering the words of the great prison philosopher Andy Dufresne: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
Tomorrow, my colleague Rebecca Rashid will be here to discuss how to have a happier life in 2023, and I’ll be back on Friday with your New Year’s resolutions—so remember to send those along to me at email@example.com!
- Ukraine’s energy minister warned that New Year’s Eve could exacerbate power outages in Ukraine. About 9 million people are currently cut off from power in different regions, according to President Zelensky.
- The final federal defendant convicted in a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was sentenced to 19 years and seven months in prison.
- Southwest Airlines canceled nearly 5,000 flights on Wednesday as it stumbled to recover from the holiday travel chaos that ensued over the weekend as a result of a winter storm.
Will Children’s Books Become Catalogs of the Extinct?
By Tatiana Schlossberg
The other night, as I began the expansive and continually growing routine of putting my 11-month-old son to bed, we sat together on the rocking chair in his room and read The Tiger Who Came to Tea, by Judith Kerr, and met a tiger who just would not stop eating. My son wasn’t yet ready for sleep and made that clear, so we read Chicken Soup With Rice, by Maurice Sendak. We encountered an elephant and a whale, and traveled through all the months of the year, braving the sliding ice of January and the gusty gales of November. Then we turned, as we always do, to Goodnight Moon, and met more bears, rabbits, a little mouse, a cow, some fresh air, and the stars.
As I slid the books back onto the shelf, they rejoined the long parade of animals around his bedroom: the moose and his muffin, Peter Rabbit, Elmer the patchwork elephant, Lars the polar bear, Lyle the crocodile, stuffed kangaroos and octopuses and lions and turtles. Every night, I sing “Baby Beluga” to him as a lullaby: “Goodnight, little whale, goodnight.”
More From The Atlantic
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Many years ago, my elderly father was widowed by my mother’s sudden and unexpected death. My parents had a New Year’s Eve tradition of ordering Chinese food and watching movies, and when my father found himself alone at 82 years old, I decided to continue that tradition by bringing him from Massachusetts to Rhode Island at the end of every year. The Chinese food was easy to replace, but my father was something of a difficult old coot about movies—and so one year, I decided to plop him in a big chair with the full set of episodes from HBO’s World War II miniseries Band of Brothers. It worked like magic: My father was mesmerized, and peace reigned in the Nichols home.
I bring this up as a suggestion to Americans that they might consider watching the episode about the siege of Bastogne, in which U.S. forces were encircled by the Germans in Belgium for a brutal week in late December 1944. Cut off and surrounded by Nazi tanks, the Americans huddled in the bitter cold as the Germans rained artillery on them. The Germans were so sure of victory that they sent a note to the Americans to surrender rather than be annihilated (to which U.S. Army Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe replied, “Nuts!”). On December 26, Lieutenant General George Patton’s Third Army arrived and broke the siege.
I recommend this not only so that we remember an important Christmas week nearly eight decades ago, but also so we bear in mind that as we celebrate with our family and friends this New Year’s Eve, the Russians will be shelling and bombing Ukrainians in the same kind of unforgiving cold. (Yesterday, Russian forces struck a maternity hospital in Kherson.) The Ukrainian situation is not yet as desperate as Bastogne, but the misery and cold and violence are no less brutal. This year, be thankful for the sacrifices made by the “Battered Bastards of Bastogne,” and hold a good thought for the Ukrainian defenders under siege today.
Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.