New year’s wishes that might make life a bit better

January 1, 2013 

Christmas has gone, and 2013 is here. I would therefore like to share my own wishes for the new year. Some are lighthearted, and some more serious, but all of them are heartfelt.

 • For Democrats and Republicans in Washington: To understand that if you take off the table in advance everything the other side wants, you aren’t actually negotiating.

 • For the brave men and women throughout the Middle East and North Africa who risked so much to bring about the Arab Spring: The fortitude to resist being disheartened by the example of Egypt, and to be instead emboldened by the example of Tunisia.

 • For the National Rifle Association: A realization that absolutism for its own sake is not a terribly persuasive public posture.

 • For Internet trolls who rejoice in hijacking comment threads: An understanding that by using “gay” and “retard” as pejoratives in their unsigned posts, they are only making themselves look like bigoted cowards.

 • For the supremely talented and too-often-overlooked Laura Linney: An Academy Award for her bravura performance in “Hyde Park on Hudson.”

 • For today’s hyperpartisans, for whom no disagreement is too small to bring forth a flood of hate: A close and thoughtful reading of the title essay of Umberto Eco’s excellent new book, “Inventing the Enemy.”

 • For J.J. Abrams and the other smart people behind the rebirth of the “Star Trek” franchise: That they will decide, very soon, to bring back the Borg.

 • For members of Congress rewriting our tax laws: To come up with whatever bill ideological rigidity and partisan kowtowing will permit, and then stick with those rates for at least a decade.

 • Also for those tax-lawmakers: Same, but skipping the ideological rigidity and partisan kowtowing.

 • For sole proprietors who file individual tax returns: A multiyear phase-in of whatever the new marginal rates may be, to provide time for adjustment and legal advice.

 • For the Department of Health and Human Services: The realization that the Constitution actually values religious freedom, and that one doesn’t pay tribute to that precious liberty by treating religious organizations as no different from anything else. (To compare the relative constitutional weights of the competing values, look up “contraception, right to” in the Constitution. Go ahead, give it a try.)

 • For states struggling with the burden of unrealistic pension promises made to public employees: A recognition that the federal government is not the place to go to find the funding. There is no reason that a bad local decision made for the sake of partisan advantage should be redeemed by the people of other states. This isn’t a knock on public employees, but on politicians who want to escape liability for their predecessors’ promises by forcing our grandchildren to pay for them.

 • For the cable talk shows: Honoring the First Amendment by switching to a format in which the discussion panels do not comprise people who all agree with one another, and also do not include political activists and others with a stake in the outcome of the argument. The news media could do the nation a remarkable service were it to reimagine its mission as asking nonpartisan experts to help set forth the facts underlying our policy debates rather than trying to run them.

 • For the suffering parents and families of Newtown, Conn., and the other sad places on this planet where so much evil has been committed, where this holiday season must be unimaginably painful: To reflect upon the words of the homilist Edmund Steimle, who wrote 30 years ago that the Christmas story, properly understood, is a story not for children but for adults. “People are dying this Christmas night as people die on every night,” he pointed out. We mustn’t, he argued, reduce Christmas to nostalgia and forgetting and “indulging ourselves in the sentimental orgy which Christmas has become for so many.” The peace of Christmas, he argued, is a peace not apart from but within the horror and pain of life.

Why, then, is the season one of rejoicing? Because Christmas represents “hope born of the conviction that the storm, the destruction, the violence, the hopelessness, does not have the last word.”

One of the ways we defeat the hopelessness is to commit ourselves to making each new year better than the old. Let’s make that our shared purpose in 2013.

Stephen L. Carter is a Bloomberg View columnist and a professor of law at Yale University.

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