As the new year begins, let us look up to the stars that light our winter nights.
The transition from 2022 to 2023 has been showered with starlight. Fresh off the front lines in Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky, the most unlikely of heroes, came to America to thank us for our support, and ask for more. As it turns out, the man in green fatigues roused something in us that had been beaten lifeless over the past few years: pride in our will to do good, faith in our democracy and a clear demarcation between right and wrong. Heroism is a rare commodity, but it walked into Congress on Dec. 21 and reminded us of who we are.
Nothing about the Ukrainian presidential visit was business as usual. Zelensky’s superheroic persona was forged in the fires sparked by Russian missiles and tanks. Seems like a minute ago he was an entertainer raising a family in a safe and bustling society. But when the Russians invaded, he stepped out of his old life and into battle dress. His visit to the U.S. shook something loose in our pervasive national cynicism and growing mistrust of one another. Here is a good guy, brave, not afraid to die for his country, a real David against a monstrous Goliath.
The Ukrainians face a winter without heat or running water, under constant bombardment by Russia. Their courage reminds us what death-defying bravery looks like after years of Trumpist self-serving corruption.
“It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars,” the philosopher Hannah Arendt said. Just in these last weeks, as 2022 ended and as 2023 begins, the sky seems afire with hope.
There was something uplifting in how it all looked: the man from Ukraine hugging the outgoing Speaker of the House and embracing the American president. Political pundits have been busy hounding aging boomers out of the public spotlight and urging older statespeople to retire. Yet it was 82-year-old Nancy Pelosi and 80-year-old Joe Biden who were getting things right, and getting the people’s work done. It was 72-year-old Sen. Chuck Schumer who pushed some critical human-rights and voter-rights legislation through Congress.
Heroes come in unlikely personas at odd times. Cassidy Hutchinson is in the news, too. The 26-year-old former assistant to Mark Meadows, the Trump White House chief of staff, a woman who knows right from wrong, decided to tell the truth about President Trump’s alleged crimes despite enormous pressure to dissemble. It is hard to overstate the significance of her testimony. She is key to the Department of Justice investigation of Trump and the insurrection. A woman who had to look up the history of Watergate to guide her may be key to preserving our democracy.
Then there’s the Jan. 6 congressional committee and its 800-something-page report, released during these weeks of wonder. Another unlikely force for good, the committee, over 18 months, compiled a detailed and disturbing account of a rogue presidency, an attempted coup, and a coterie of accomplices to crimes against our nation.
Accountability is in the air, and it isn’t only playing out in our government. More locally, The New York Times recently ran a front-page story detailing alleged unethical behavior at NYU Langone. The article alleged longstanding policies on the part of hospital administrators to offer favorable treatment to powerful donors and celebrities and political figures. The reporting stood boldly against those who think that might makes right, and in support of those who surrender to privilege or who are resigned to “the way things work.”
In the wake of the Times story, maybe those bending the rules will be held accountable. It’s going around.
The fact that we have newspapers and reporters who sweat the details and follow up and write truth to power is another bright star in our firmament.
For these many years of political travail and pandemic grief, newspapers have kept us informed. Stories like the expose on NYU prove that we have people in our profession who care about public corruption and work hard to bring it to light.
Correspondents on the ground in Ukraine risk their lives every day to bring us the human story unfolding there.
We survived the shortest day of the year. As the daylight lingers, is it harmony in our homeland we see in the new year? Moments of happiness? Certainly the stars are brilliant in our cold, dark skies, and we can read that as hope.
Copyright 2023 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.