Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday. Of course, 2020 is no longer nigh. It is here. Happy New Year!
Whenever the end of something is upon us, whether it be a day, year, or a decade, it is a natural time to reflect. As a child, I could swear that someone promised me a flying car by 2020. We have not quite made it to that utopian transportation option, but we have come a long way since this decade began.
The state of Wisconsin was a completely different place in 2010. Democrats had controlled both houses of the Legislature for two years and the governor’s office for eight years. The state was facing yet another multibillion-dollar budget deficit. Taxes had been increasing for years. The state economy was stagnant. The crushing regulatory burden was driving businesses out of the state, public employee unions pulled the strings in Madison, and citizens were denied their Second Amendment rights. It was a dark time for the state.
The people of Wisconsin had had enough and swept Republicans into legislative majorities and elected Gov. Scott Walker. Republicans would remain in power for the next eight years and ushered in a bevy of conservative reforms. They cut taxes, reduced the spending increases (unfortunately, they did not cut spending), reduced regulations, empowered people over unions, and expanded the exercise of civil rights. The results speak for themselves. Compared to 2010, Wisconsin has lower unemployment, higher labor participation, higher wages, more businesses investing in the state (including a rejuvenated tech sector), lower taxes, more protections of civil rights, and has knocked off its “Rust Belt” national reputation. The teen years were very good to Wisconsin.
At the national level, the decade began with a political upheaval. After ramming through Obamacare in late 2009, the public responded by sweeping Republicans into control of the House of Representatives, thus mitigating the damage of President Obama’s administration. By the second half of the decade, the improbable election of President Donald Trump ushered in a new era of populist antiestablishment governance that has upended the old political order. As we closed the decade with the unjust impeachment of the president, we are beginning the new decade in as much upheaval as we began the previous decade.
In the lives of everyday Americans, the decade was pretty good to most people. The Dow Industrial Average was hovering around 10,500 when the decade began, but will finish this decade at
around 28,500. Home values are up, inflation has been virtually nonexistent, wages are finally rising after years of stagnation, and jobs are plentiful. Technological advances have made life more convenient than ever. It is safe to say that as 2020 begins, Americans enjoy the most affluent, safest, comfortable, highest quality of life in the history of our species.
On a personal level, much has changed over the decade. I began the decade with four kids in the house, a busy bleacher schedule, and a full head of hair. I begin the next decade on the cusp of an empty nest, a grandchild, and the fading memory of owning a comb. It seems that nothing can resist the withering assault of time.
Looking back gives on the benefit of perspective. The further one looks into the past, the fewer things rise to the level of importance. One might consider several events in a previous decade to be important, but only one in a long-ago century. Some centuries seem to elude any level of importance altogether except that they are wedged as a bridge between more important centuries. Perhaps it is only when the lens is pulled back that the important things can come into focus.
I keep a quote by Goethe on my desktop that says, “life is the childhood of our immortality.” It is a reminder that this instant; this time; this life; is merely the foreword of a much longer, much more important story. We should laugh for no reason (or any reason), eat the candy, love without reserve, get dirty, play with the bubble wrap, make the stupid joke, and enjoy each moment. Yesterday does not hold dominion over us and tomorrow is not promised. Today is a gift to be opened with childlike joy.