As the end of the year approaches, columnists and editorial writers often remind readers what an atrocious 360ish days it has been. This is never very hard to do — plenty of awful things are bound happen every year, and we know about them in greater detail than ever before. This year was no exception: From the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Harvey to the horror that descended upon Las Vegas in October to unprecedented violence in our own community, we could fill thousands of pages cataloguing everything that went wrong in 2017.
But what about everything that went right? We’re all afflicted by what psychologists call a “negativity bias” — we naturally emphasize and recall the bad in life more readily than the good. We’re more inclined to dwell on a defeat or a betrayal than to take pleasure in our accomplishments or how much we’re loved. And the media deserves a whole lot of blame for making this condition even worse. When was the last time you saw breaking news about a train arriving safely at its destination or another safe, incident-free day at a local high school?
Like children awaiting something new on Christmas Eve, it’s easy to overlook the gifts that are already piled up around us, and we recognize that our commentary on a bitter and violent year has sometimes contributed to this restlessness. That’s why we’d like to give you a gift this Christmas: Three reasons to be optimistic about our city, state and country.
First, the generosity on display in Topeka has been remarkable in 2017. From the record level of nonprofit participation and donations at Topeka Gives ($512,415 and 169 organizations) to the massive outpouring of support for St. Francis employees when it looked like the hospital might close to the local residents and business representatives (such as Westar employees) who traveled to Houston to help with disaster relief, this has been a proud year of public service and solidarity for our neighbors.
Second, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers finally stopped our state’s plunge toward a fiscal disaster in 2017. While we know some people don’t want to hear about politics on Christmas, they should reread the last sentence with one word in mind: “Bipartisan.” If Republicans and Democrats can cooperate on an issue as polarizing and consequential as tax reform, perhaps we shouldn’t be quite so cynical about politics. Perhaps we have good reasons to expect even greater accomplishments in 2018. Of course, there are some Kansans who’d like to take this gift back to the store, but we hope the new bipartisan consensus will function as a firm no-return policy.
And finally, here’s some good news about national politics. Yes, it’s difficult to remember a time when our political system was more riven by hatred and dogma, but can you remember a time when citizens were more actively engaged with what’s happening in their government?
From mass protests (the Women’s March was possibly the largest in American history) to packed town halls to a surge in newspaper digital subscriptions, we’re witnessing a vast civic revival. And we’re not just talking about resistance to President Trump — his election proves that an organic movement of citizens is capable of defying the most powerful “establishment” forces in the country and electing a candidate nobody could have imagined a few years ago. Democracy can be a messy, unpredictable process, but it remains the greatest system of government humanity has devised. That’s worth celebrating. Merry Christmas.
Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.