Politics

Out With the Old and in With the … What Exactly?

Gail Collins: How about some predictions for the new year, Bret?

I’ll start: House Republicans will flunk all their deficit-decreasing promises. The skyrocketing sales of those Trump digital trading cards will collapse and plunge streaking back to earth.

Bret Stephens: C’mon, Gail — those are safe bets!

Gail: OK, how about a pre-new year prediction? This week, the Jan. 6 committee will recommend criminal prosecution of Donald Trump, but the man’s never going to jail.

Bret: Another pretty safe bet, I’m afraid.

Gail: Sigh. Back to the future: What do you have in the way of thoughts about what’s going to happen in 2023?

Bret: I’ll go bold, or semi-bold, so long as you promise not to hold these predictions against me in a year.

Gail: Well, OK … maybe.

Bret: First, the crypto collapse will continue and the whole crypto phenomenon will be exposed as the tulip bulb mania of our day.

Second, President Biden will announce, after considerable holiday reflection, that he will not run for re-election, especially since he’s increasingly unlikely to face a rematch with the former guy.

And third, Kevin McCarthy will not be the next Speaker of the House.

Gail: Well, I’ll give you number one — would never want to be known as a crypto collaborator. Sure hope you’re right on two: As I’ve said before, I’d love to see Biden follow Nancy Pelosi’s lead and give up the top leadership job for some other useful-but-not-in-charge-of-the-world gig.

And on three: fine, but who exactly are the Republicans going to pick? Any faves?

Bret: Well, nobody in the current House Republican leadership. All of them are election deniers. And Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York, gets special awfulness points because her ethics are purely situational. Also, nearly every House Republican who voted to impeach Trump after Jan. 6 is gone, so that further reduces my options.

Gail: The woes of rational Republicans …

Bret: I guess the House has the option of electing a speaker who is not a member. In that case, I’d probably look to a Republican I could respect, like Rob Portman, the outgoing senator from Ohio whose seat is being taken by J.D. Vance. Though, really, I doubt Portman would want the job. Today’s definition of a sane Republican is a retired Republican, a former Republican, or both.

Gail, let’s look back on the old year, too. What do you rank as the best moment? And what was the worst?

Gail: As a political person I’d have to say the elections were the best. Not just that the Democrats did much better than expected, but that many of the loathsome Trumpian Republicans were rejected in races a rational member of their party would have won.

Bret: We are in total accord in the politics department. But I’d expand the categories a bit. The best moment, in terms of statesmanship, was President Volodomyr Zelensky’s Churchillian riposte to the American offer to get him out of Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion: “I need ammunition, not a ride.”

Gail: I agree — that’s a keeper.

Bret: The best moment in terms of courage has come from the magnificent women of Iran, leading a revolution against their misogynistic rulers. The best moment, cosmically, were the images of deep space and distant time taken by the Webb telescope. And probably the best moment, as far as future generations are concerned, was the fusion breakthrough by the brilliant scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It gave me faith not only that human ingenuity will ultimately solve our long-term energy and climate challenges, but also that the United States can continue at the frontiers of discovery.

Gail: Super choices. Now we’ve got to tackle the worst. And I’m sorry to say that pretty much every year it’s a story about mass shooting. Actually, many stories about mass shootings: innocent citizens mowed down when they’re shopping, or going to school, or working at extremely nonviolent jobs or just out having a good time. Who can ever forget that student slaughter at Uvalde? And it was just a month ago that a gunman in Colorado killed five people and injured at least 18 others at an L.G.B.T.Q. nightclub.

Bret: Not to mention the everyday gun violence that barely gets reported because it’s so ubiquitous.

Gail: And unlike some of our other political crises — say, the Supreme Court ruling on abortion — the gun situation just doesn’t seem to get the political push it needs to get better. Will try to block the memory of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s recent quote-unquote joke about how it would have been so much better if the folks attacking the Capitol on Jan. 6 had been better armed.

You?

Bret: Agree again. I’d add that repulsive dinner between Donald Trump, Kanye West and the Holocaust-denier Nick Fuentes.

Gail: Hmm. Mixed feelings on that one. True, Trump’s guest list was remarkably repulsive, even for him. But that kind of behavior shows he’s dreadful in ways even some of his previous supporters can appreciate. Which is kinda useful, given his already-announced candidacy for a return to the White House.

Bret: As in, “the worse, the better”? Not sure I agree: I think it was yet another case of “defining deviancy down,” as Pat Moynihan famously put it.

Switching topics, Gail, we’ve got a huge migration crisis at the southern border, and it looks like it might get a lot worse as soon as the Title 42 policy permitting immediate deportations ends this week. Democrats seem … pretty nonchalant about this. Your thoughts?

Gail: Bret, since the Republicans’ big new idea seems to be impeaching the secretary of Homeland Security, I don’t think you’ll win with a partisan critique.

Bret: Impeachment is a dumb idea, but it wouldn’t hurt Biden to consider new management in that department. How about Bill Bratton, the former police commissioner of New York City and Los Angeles?

Gail: I don’t have a good solution, but my immediate action plan would be to radically increase staffing at the border, raise the salaries of border patrol agents, expand and improve detention facilities and, on our side, get the Dreamers a clear and simple path to citizenship.

Now, I’m very interested in your thoughts — except you already know we’re going to fight about anything involving the building of a wall.

Bret: Like John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty, I promise not to mention the wall.

Gail: A gift for the holidays!

Bret: The administration and the courts have a point that Title 42, as a public-health measure, is an awkward legal tool to control the border. Problem is, it’s what we’ve got. And we already have a crisis as far north as New York City as officials deal with a migration crisis on a scale we’ve never seen before. If we don’t control it — not over the coming years, but right now — we’re going to have a full-scale humanitarian crisis here in the United States, along with a cudgel that nativists will use for a generation against those of us who support a generous but controlled immigration policy.

Gail: I guess we’re at least in agreement that something must be done.

Bret: The other thing to worry about for next year is a possible recession. The housing and manufacturing sectors are already in a big slump. Job cuts in our own industry, too. Even Goldman Sachs is laying off thousands of employees, which can’t be a good sign. Your advice?

Gail: Well, a good time for the government to create some more jobs — including maybe some in border security, as I was saying. And a very bad time to dillydally about funding basic operations in the new year.

Bret: You know, I wouldn’t be against restarting something like the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps.

Gail: I can understand the Republicans wanting to flex their muscles — even itty-bitty muscles — when they take control of the House. But they’re going to be so distracted by showboating over crime, immigration and Hunter Biden that they’d be well-advised to let the Democrats do as much as they can on budgetary matters now.

How about you?

Bret: Gail, what else? Cut government red tape when it comes to permitting and other barriers to doing business in America. Cut taxes to offset the effects of rising interest rates. Increase the number of EB-5 visas tenfold, to 100,000 a year, to attract job creators to the United States. Allow large infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL pipeline to create thousands of blue-collar jobs and enhance our energy security in North America.

I know these suggestions must come as a total surprise to you ….

Gail: I’m shocked! Guess we’ll be going into the new year continuing to disagree about what’s red tape and what’s critical protection of the consumer, the environment and —

Well, we’ve got all of 2023 to argue about that. But there’ll be no more World Cup debates! Before we go, tell me your thoughts about Argentina’s big win.

Bret: Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooool!

Greatest. Game. Ever.

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