Fears and hopes of the winter solstice

The winter solstice is upon us, arriving in fact at 10:28 a.m. Central Standard Time today.

That’s the hour when the sun stands exactly over the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere: the farthest point south it reaches for the year, and therefore the longest night and the shortest day of the year in our northern clime.

For ancients around the world, including the Celtic Druids in England, the winter solstice held special meaning, both for their daily lives and for their belief system. Stonehenge in southern England remains the most impressive monument to the day’s observance — its huge upright stones are arranged in relation to the sun on the shortest day of the year.

The day was both feared and celebrated.

It marks the onset of winter, bringing months of cold and snow to folks in the Northern Hemisphere. But it also marks the point when days start to grow longer, thereby presaging the eventual victory of warm, sunny days over the winter frosts.

He wasn’t referring to the winter solstice, but French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr said it best: “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” (The more things change, the more they remain the same.)

Our two American political parties can understand both the hopes and fears of ancient solstice worshippers, especially this week.

For the Republicans, the passage of the tax change bill is their most significant legislative act of 2017. It’s something most of them have sought for decades.

Most Republicans believe, or claim to believe, that the tax changes will generate an upsurge in the American economy, spurring economic growth for more business investment, more job growth, higher incomes and higher wages. It’s their winter solstice promise of more prosperity to come.

But they know there’s no turning back for them.

They now own the future of the American economy, for better or for worse. (Some cynics would note that Republicans do indeed own most of the American economy.)

If President Trump and the GOP majorities in Congress are right, they will reap the benefits of prosperity at the ballot box in the elections to come.

But if they’re wrong, they will reap the whirlwind.

And most Americans doubt the promised benefits of the tax bill.

By a margin of two to one, Americans think the bill is designed to help the rich, who are under no obligation to pass on their tax-cut-generated new wealth to the middle and lower classes. And it adds more than a trillion dollars ($1,000,000,000,000) to the national debt.

So the nation will watch to see if the GOP’s supply-side gamble is sound.

For the Democrats, the tax bill turns the Republicans’ situation on its head. Democrats reject the proposal, believing firmly that the promise of greater prosperity from the bill is false.

And Democrats are already licking their chops at what the election of 2018 might bring if the economy doesn’t spring ahead as promised. For them, the winter solstice this week has two faces: evidence that their powerlessness continues, but with the hope of sunnier days ahead.

However, despite overwhelming public opposition to the bill, and near consensus among economists that it won’t accomplish its goals, Democrats face cold, hard political realities before sunny days return.

For one, most employees will see a reduction in the withheld taxes on their paychecks starting in February, putting more money into their pockets. That fact will require Democrats to explain why that’s not a permanent benefit.

For another, most state legislatures are dominated by Republican majorities, who can and do draw congressional and legislative district lines favorable to themselves. Many districts are twisted into contorted shapes in order to elect a maximum number of GOP officials.

For a third, the 2020 U.S. census will require redrawing of those districts.

With Southern and Western states growing in population, and Northern and Midwestern states not keeping up, regions dominated by the GOP will certainly get more members of Congress. States where Democrats dominate will lose members.

“The Winter of Our Discontent” applies in equal measure to both parties this week, and this year.

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