A poor farmer’s only plow horse ran away. Everyone who knew him said, “What bad luck!” The farmer replied simply, “Maybe. Time will tell.” When the horse returned bringing with it a herd of wild horses, everyone cheered the farmer’s good fortune. But he replied, “Maybe it’s good fortune. Maybe not.” Later that week, the farmer’s son broke his leg trying to tame one of the wild horses. All the neighbors said, “What terrible fortune,” but the farmer gave his same ambivalent reply. The next day the local warlord conscripted all the farmers’ sons for war, exempting only the lame from service.
This old Chinese parable offers an important lesson as we evaluate 2017. It’s tempting characterize every big event as either the best or the worst of the year, but those same events may be viewed differently in time.
For example, the inauguration of the new president in January 2017 could be seen as one of the best or one of the worst events of the year depending on one’s party affiliation. It appears to be a victory for the GOP, at least in the short term. Conservatives cheered the addition of Judge Neil Gorsuch, a strong constitutional originalist, to the Supreme Court this year. A Justice Anthony Kennedy retirement in the next couple of years will move the high court to the right. At the same time, the Trump presidency appears to be moving Congress to the left. His offensive tweets have galvanized Democrats, alienated moderates, and deepened the gender gap between male and female voters. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows women, particularly those with a college education, are moving away from the GOP. A couple of years from now, will the Trump inauguration still be in the GOP’s “best of” category for 2017? Time will tell.
How about the new tax law? Will the law contribute to higher economic growth as Republicans predict? In the past, some tax breaks have spurred growth while others have not. What about the impact of higher deficits and debt on economic growth? Will today’s victory be tomorrow’s regret?
In terms of foreign policy, the Trump administration has the Islamic State on the run, NATO allies paying more of their fair share, illegal immigrants returning home, and arms headed for Ukraine to push back Russian aggression. The same administration has aggravated tensions with North Korea, strained relationships with European allies, alienated allied Muslim majority countries, and endangered free trade agreements vital to our nation’s prosperity. Was it a good year at the State Department? Time will tell.
The #MeToo movement appears on every commentator’s best-of list for good reason. The movement lanced a stinking boil of secrecy around sexual harassment and exposed harassers in Hollywood, media, comedy, music, and elected office. It appears to be the end of the boys-will-be-boys culture that enabled and protected powerful men who harassed women and even other men. If the movement changes individual and corporate behavior, the impact of the #MeToo movement will be an enduring “best of 2017.” If business as usual returns, that sweet victory will turn to bitterness. Forgive my tempered enthusiasm, but Hugh Hefner died this year a wealthy and well-known man and certain politicians remain in office despite credible allegations.
In the “worst of” category, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria devastated the Southern U.S. and several Caribbean islands, causing billions of dollars in damage to property and personal losses than cannot be measured in dollars. Parts of Puerto Rico still have no power. If these losses, however, encourage changes in land use policy and insurance reform, the worst of 2017 might be the best thing for the coast.
Not every good event of 2017 has a downside and not every bad event has a silver lining. The solar eclipse was a blast and the mass shootings in Nevada and Texas were nothing but horrific. The outcome of other best and worst events of the year, however, is not yet clear. And only time will tell.
Krista Kafer is a weekly Denver Post columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @kristakafer