We have passed the barrier to the New Year. We are leaving behind the old year and, with it, an eight year old national Democratic administration. President Barack Obama has left the stage snapping and growling – at Israel, among others. The question of the day is: How will things shape up in the New Year?
An old saying has it, let no man count himself favored by fortune before he is tucked safely into his grave. Time always conceals under its wings some world-changing surprises. For instance, Russia will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution in the New Year. At the butt end of the 19th century, very few people could have imagined six decades of Communist rule. The rule mentioned above – don’t count your chickens before they hatch – applies as well to the new administration, which will not officially begin until January 14.
The truth is no one knows what will happen, until it happens. Donald Trump has been comfortable most of his life inventing and re-inventing himself as he goes along, escaping snares along the way. Politically, the direction he will take is uncharted territory. But there is little doubt that the Trump victory puts an end-point on the Obama legacy.
Administrations lucky enough to be succeeded by presidents of the same party have an after-life in their successors. Had Hillary Clinton won the presidential election, she might have carried forward President Barack Obama’s torch. Not now. His flame has gone out. There will be no more additions to his legacy. Obama likely was as surprised as everyone else at the dimensions of the Trump victory. He and other progressives sharpening their knives in the wings fully expected Clinton to win. Losses on this scale have added a shrill note of vindictiveness to Obama’s last few weeks in office. Always the bull in the china-shop, he appears determined, in the face of Republican revanchism, to break as much crockery as possible before he leaves the White House.
Obama’s personal flame may be sputtering, but the progressive struggle marches on, does it not?
It may be too soon to sing a dirge, but we just don’t know. You can’t have forward movement without troops. Republicans have now seized all the political heights: the presidency, both houses of congress, the judiciary – Trump, not Clinton, will be making Supreme Court and appellate court placements – state governorships, state legislatures, and even a left of center media repeatedly derided by Trump during his rumbustious campaign that may come around in due course. The business of journalism is reporting on politics. This election has emptied the front row of the political theater of Democrats. They are all back benchers now, and the back bench, as we know, does not receive the same kind of media attention as the front row. From the perspective of a contrarian crank, it is not possible to view the election other than as a rebuke to progressive policies. Nationally, the country is broke. The Obama administration added about ten trillion dollars to his predecessor's ten trillion dollar national deficit. Here in Connecticut, the state is broke. Who brought it to its present condition, if not progressive Democrats?
Nationally, Obama laid a progressive plank over shark infested waters and invited his sometimes mutinous crew to take a walk. They did. The results we now see before us. Progressive victories have led to stunning Democratic Party defeats. Here in Connecticut, we’ve seen a similar drama unfold. A shared government, though dominated for many years by somewhat moderate General Assembly Democrats, gave way, as soon as Dannel Malloy was elected Governor, to an ambitious, arrogant and ruthless single party progressive government. Malloy booted Republicans from budget discussions and authorized the largest tax increase in state history, followed by, in his second term, the second largest tax increase in state history. With what result we now see. Deficits are hardwired into Connecticut’s budgets because the state – precisely BECAUSE of the tax increases – is now taking in less revenue than it is spending. Higher taxes have reduced the tax supply lines. During the last election, Malloy appeared to put the break on spending to discharge deficits that, his economic guru Ben Barnes said, had become a permanent feature of state budgets. But Malloy alone, assuming he is serious in his pledge not to raise taxes further, is not driving the vehicle. State employee unions and “fixed costs” are in the driver’s seat.
It was Chris Powell, Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer, who shouted from the roof tops in a hardy, courageous voice -- well then, unfix them. Powell wrote a column in 2011 titled “Unfix the 'fixed costs' in Connecticut budgets.” Powell has been beating that tocsin for as long as this writer has known him. In Connecticut, sadly, there are too many tongues and too few ears.
So then: Whither Connecticut in the New Year?
We’ll see, won’t we? Many of the convenient flower pots behind which politicians in Connecticut used to hide in order to fool all the people all the time have been removed by some superb journalists and a reanimated Republican Party. During the recently concluded elections, Republicans made gains in the General Assembly; the Senate is now equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, 18-18, and Republicans have been gaining steadily in the House. Malloy’s approval rating is around 24 percent. If there are any remaining moderate Democrats in the General Assembly who, putting party politics aside, truly want to attack persistent and difficult problems – read: state unions, Connecticut’s fourth branch of government – it is possible they may cast off their progressive yokes and make common cause with Republicans who, for the first time in half a decade, might be successful in introducing right of center ameliorating legislation.