“A high hope for a low heaven” is a Shakespearean phrase that Minnesotans might try on for size this New Year’s. Setting sights on modest improvements isn’t as fun as dreaming wild dreams. But, given the divided governments hunkering down in Washington and St. Paul, as well as the absence of steady leadership from the White House, a low heaven might be the best that high hopes can deliver this year.
Here are some of the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s modest wishes for 2019:
Integrity. That some measure of political integrity can be restored to our battered democracy. This is a vast topic. But there should be some hope that partisan gerrymandering can be corrected with the next census; that the census itself can be fairly conducted; that voter suppression can be minimized; that “sore loser” laws passed in Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere can be corrected; that facts can again form the basis for decisionmaking; that campaigns will not welcome foreign interference in elections; that presidents will make public their tax returns and business dealings; that a free press will not be disparaged as an “enemy of the people,” and that respectful disagreement will not be taken as personal betrayal.
National leadership. That Republican U.S. senators summon the courage to place country ahead of career by carrying out an intervention of sorts with President Donald Trump, letting him know that he will lose their support unless he changes his erratic behavior, his divisive rhetoric, his insults to allies and his cozying up to tyrants. While the 2020 ballot box continues to be the best remedy, two more years of Trump could severely damage democratic institutions and global stability.
National leadership, Part II. That Democrats in Congress will surprise us and fill the void left by Republicans who used to stand for fiscal responsibility. The $21 trillion national debt is growing, and political leadership is needed to address deficit spending.
Climate. That, despite opposition from a science-skeptical administration, individuals, industries, communities and states will accelerate their efforts to mitigate climate change. Xcel Energy’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2030 and to generate all carbon-free electricity by 2050 is an inspiring example.
Guns. Responding to the mass shootings in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 7, a woman said she didn’t want more thoughts and prayers; she wanted gun control. That’s what most Americans want. More than three-fifths favor stricter constraints on guns and ammunition. The new Congress should be expected to reflect those wishes, rather than continue toadying to the gun lobby. The administration’s recent move to ban bump stocks is a step in the right direction.
Immigration. Forget the wall. In 2019, the U.S. should move toward a humane, multifaceted border security system while encouraging a spike in legal immigration to meet massive worker shortages due to baby boomer retirements. At the same time, far more attention should be paid to training and retraining skilled workers, including immigrants.
Infrastructure. By 2025, U.S. spending on roads, bridges, transit systems, ports, dams, airports and other basics will be $4.5 trillion short, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Hoping for a major down payment in 2019 is not out of line. Minnesota is due for a gas tax increase, a boost in transit funding and far greater protections for its once-pristine lakes and streams.
Health care. That Congress and/or the U.S. Supreme Court rescues the Affordable Care Act from a Texas federal judge’s declaration that the law is unconstitutional. Coverage for millions of Americans is at stake. After nearly a decade of bickering over the law’s mechanics, it’s time to move on to associated issues such as the quality and affordability of care, including long-term care for the large cohort of Americans approaching old age.
Racial disparity. That the stubbornly persistent achievement gaps be narrowed between whites and people of color in Minnesota. Recent results show a 35 to 38 percent disparity in public school reading and math scores statewide and larger gaps in Minneapolis and St. Paul. For the sake of social cohesion, fairness and future prosperity, those trends must begin moving in a positive direction.
Sensitivity. Tolerance has never been a virtue of the political right, but now liberals are sinking to their own version of small-mindedness. Vigilance on hate speech, racism, sexism and other “isms” (banning Nazi salutes at a Wisconsin high school) is necessary. But extreme versions of political correctness (removing Huckleberry Finn from reading lists because some of its words might be offensive) go too far. American history is full of hurtful behaviors that should be confronted and openly discussed. The hope for 2019 is that the left begins to understand that its obsession with identity politics and its quest for cultural purity and comfort work mostly to the advantage of extremists on the right.
One Minnesota. That a new left-center governor from outside the metro can help heal the growing political and cultural divide between city and country. The state cannot prosper as long as rural residents resent competitive investments needed in the metro. Likewise, metro residents do themselves no favor by failing to appreciate and invest in parts of the state that feel left behind. Finding common ground will be a difficult but necessary task for Gov. Tim Walz.
A low heaven allows a limited number of hopes even though there are many more worthy candidates, among them mutual respect among police and impoverished urban neighborhoods, and sustainable, bipartisan solutions for the state’s biggest problems. Those include college costs, early learning and high costs for housing and child care.
Perhaps the greatest, overarching hope is for a more civil, rational, fact-based discussion, without which a healthy democracy cannot exist.
What are your wishes for Minnesota and the nation in 2019? Add them to the comments or, better yet, submit a letter to the editor at startribune.com/opinion.