Lee Hamilton

This was an interesting year that’s just passed, wasn’t it? And here’s the thing: I suspect 2018 will be just as intriguing.

Let’s start with some good news. The economy had a good year in 2017, but the question is whether this can continue. The Fed has been raising interest rates, income inequality is an economic drag and a strain on our social structure, productivity growth is lackluster, and the national debt and annual deficits are continuing to grow.

The nation’s politics, meanwhile, have been tumultuous and largely unproductive, and that will likely continue. The Mueller investigation will determine a lot of the political agenda in 2018, but we’re mostly in the dark about where he’s headed.

There has been no sign of a letup in political polarization; indeed, if anything it’s been exacerbated over the past year, with conservatives moving to the right and Democrats becoming more left of center on issues like immigration, health care, welfare, and race. And we’ve had an intensification of cultural divisions — President Trump has shown special interest in these issues, and a willingness to fan their flames. There’s nothing to suggest this will let up.

In world affairs, President Trump has made “America First” his byword — a focus that has led to a worsening of relations with our key allies, especially Europeans. I don’t think that will improve in 2018. Given his approach to the Middle East, his nuclear brinksmanship on North Korea, his mysterious ambiguity toward Russia, and his challenges to traditional U.S. policy and the global system the U.S. built and led for decades, there’s no reason to think that relations with key European and Asian allies will improve. The dominant foreign policy issue — absent a crisis — will be our relationship with China, while North Korea will remain the principal “hot spot.”

Yet while I see plenty of troubled and challenging times ahead in 2018, there are also real opportunities. I think voters are tired of polarizing politicians, which offers us a chance to look for leaders with consensus-building skills.

And for all the stresses and strains of the past year — and the upcoming one — I believe people will respond to leaders in both public and private life who focus on what’s working well in the country, who avoid war, who emphasize common ground, and who are clearly devoted to the common good. Let’s hope 2018 proves me right.

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