Very much up for grabs: this year’s profile in courage

OPINION — “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Identifying the politician offering that idealistic advice is not so hard — President John F. Kennedy at his Jan. 20, 1961, inauguration. But that’s not all the 35th president had to say about the promise and challenges of America.

Climate change? “The supreme reality of our time is the vulnerability of our planet.” Income inequality? “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, based in Boston, planned to regularly tweet out Kennedy’s quotes, though if you now try to seek a daily dose of inspiration, you will see a note on its page: “We’re sorry, but we will not be posting updates to our social media channels during the government shutdown. Also, all National Archives facilities are closed and activities are canceled until further notice.”

If Trump is looking for a national emergency, he should try these ones instead

OPINION — Dueling teleprompter speeches and a high-drama walkout: This is what it looks like when our country’s leaders debate the best way to meet the challenges at the border and whether shutting down the government is the best way to settle it.

If no one budges this week — and the way talks have been going so far, optimism is not particularly warranted — the next step could be a national emergency, declared by the president. But first Donald Trump seems intent on diluting the word “emergency” to mean whatever he wants it to mean on a particular day or hour.

Trump’s reading list: Start with dictionary, look up ‘wall’

OPINION — Though his two terms have ended, it is a tradition that former President Barack Obama has continued: providing his year-end list of favorite books (and films and music). This year, not surprisingly, his book of the year is Michelle Obama’s “Becoming,” already a best-seller. That makes sense, since she is not only his wife and one of America’s favorite first ladies, but also, according to Gallup, the “most admired” woman in the country. Plus, can you imagine the troubles at home if another title topped his list?

But what of our current president?

Through the words of his staff and aides, many of whom have left the building, we know he is not that into reading, whether briefing paper or book, though “Trump: The Art of the Deal” will always have a special place in his heart. And to be fair, with a Democratic majority in the House and anticipated findings in special counsel Robert Mueller’s various investigations, Donald Trump has a lot on his 2019 plate.

For 2018 Trump Starred in Best (Worst?) Reality Show Yet

OPINION — In television shows, the cliffhanger is a bit of a cheat, putting a lead character in jeopardy so fans will have a reason to tune into the new season. Those (including me) who have labeled the current president and his administration something of a reality show — with its surprise guests, plot twists and dizzying cast of characters — could hardly have predicted how much Trump and crew would have followed the script.

As 2018 ends, the United States is on the brink of not only a new year but also new and not always encouraging developments of national and international significance. And no one, certainly not the president, knows how it will end.

The Criminal Justice Bill Shows Where the GOP Is on Race

OPINION — Sen. Tim Scott, Republican from South Carolina, was optimistic after the Senate passed an amended bill this week that makes bipartisan progress on an issue — criminal justice reform — that has divided lawmakers for years.

Scott, an original co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement: “By cutting recidivism, encouraging job training, education and mental health and substance abuse treatments for incarcerated individuals, and making our criminal justice system both smarter and tougher, we have taken a positive step forward.”

The bill is considered a First Step, as it is named, toward addressing inequities in the system that disproportionately affect African-Americans and the poor, in everything from arrests to sentencing, and have contributed to a mass incarceration crisis. Criminal justice advocates will also point out that the changes are modest and apply only to the federal system, which truly makes this a first step. Yet it’s something.

If She Didn’t Give Up on Democracy, Neither Should We

OPINION — If you don’t know Rosanell Eaton’s name, it’s time to learn exactly who she was and why her life and life’s work matters. She is the antidote to the cynicism infecting politics in 2018, a hero of democracy when democracy is under siege. She cared about her country and its highest principles, demanded her basic human and civil rights and brought others along with her.

Rosanell Eaton would not take “no” for an answer.

Her 97 years of life were full of the kind of accomplishments and resistance that truly make America great. We can mourn Eaton, who died on Saturday, and then honor her by following her example.

A House Race in North Carolina Gets Curiouser and Curiouser

OPINION — CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Perhaps North Carolina’s 9th District will have a congressman by January; but maybe not.

You see, there seems to have been a mix-up in the count, distribution and collection of absentee ballots in Bladen and Robeson counties, which make up part of the district — what the state elections board (made up of four Democrats, four Republicans and one independent) called “unfortunate activities” when it first refused to certify the results.

For a while, it looked as though the Republican, former Baptist pastor Mark Harris, had beaten the Democrat, Marine veteran and businessman Dan McCready, by a mere 905 votes of about 280,000 cast in the gerrymandered district that may not exist after a court-ordered redraw. But now investigations, possible lawsuits and an absence of official results mean this particular 2018 race may not be decided until 2019.

After This Election, the NRA Is No Longer Calling All the Shots

OPINION — The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. It’s the mantra of the National Rifle Association, and a certainty for those who would brook no incursion into Second Amendment rights and definitely no gun control measures, no matter how small or “sensible,” as they are often described by those who propose them.

When children were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, and federal legislation that would strengthen background checkswent nowhere, gun control advocates despaired. If the murder of children failed to crack the gun lobby, what would?

But real-life events and political surprises indicate that the landscape might be changing. And the work of groups such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun ViolenceMoms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and other large and small organizations has made a difference.

Where once politicians were loath to cross the NRA because of the organization’s hefty purse and powerful get-out-the-vote success, candidates in unlikely places are showing that a nuanced position is not a deal breaker. Earlier this month, Democrat Lucy McBath, a onetime spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, won a House seat in Georgia that Newt Gingrich once held, no doubt surprising some leaders in her own party. Though the district has been trending away from its once deep-red hue for a while, a well-financed race by Democrat Jon Ossoff last year that engendered enthusiasm could not achieve what McBath did with far less attention.

What Are We Thankful for? Decorum, Trump’s New Favorite Word

As a record-breaking number of travelers hit the road, the rails and the skies for Thanksgiving, it is probably with no small amount of dread. How will families keep the peace amid the inevitable clashes over politics and faith, at least until the turkey is eaten and the football games completed?  Never fear. It’s President Donald Trump to the rescue, brandishing his new favorite word: decorum.

As you might have heard, the administration of the man whose tweet replaced letters in a congressman’s name to spell an expletive (can’t you see him rushing to a Cabinet meeting to show off his “clever” handiwork, which would not pass muster for fifth-grade humor) has issued a list of rules for White House reporters in the press room. Play nice or you will have your credentials snatched. Usually, when I think of the president grabbing something from someone he doesn’t know, my thoughts drift to his infamous Access Hollywood tape before I forcefully fill my head with pleasant images — say, puppies or meadows.

Too Soon? Divining Democrats With the ‘It’ Factor for 2020

OPINION — A die-hard Democrat said to me at the gym, “Somebody has to MAKE Michelle Obama run for president.” This was after Obama’s appearance in a television interview, in which she reminded the world what it’s been missing.

Sorry to let that educated, suburban woman in workout clothes down, but in the former first lady’s own words, she has no wish to be president. Besides, she has already done her time under the microscope, making history along with her husband. It’s someone else’s turn now.

But which someone?