At Large: You’re Living in the Greatest Time to Be Alive

red and black love print on gray concrete floor
Photo: Ian Taylor

 No surprise: 2020 was definitely a rollercoaster year, mostly with lows and highs that made your stomach squeal. 

And, let’s be honest, 2021 has so-far provided plenty of rocky moments — whether it’s a violent insurrection and claims of election fraud that persisted nearly to the day of President Biden’s inauguration, numerous deaths of beloved celebrities, including Larry King and Hank Aaron, the additional 80,000 deaths and counting from the coronavirus; and the brutal reminder on the night of January 24th that you’re still enrolled at Zoom University and you haven’t read a single syllabus. 

Nothing can change the pain that comes from any of these events. However, we are living in the best of times to tackle these challenges. 

Swedish author and historian Jonah Norberg penned a masterfully written book in 2016 titled Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future. You’re probably thinking, “That’s the most 2016 take,” but use this as my humble recommendation if you’re looking to adopt a more optimistic outlook for the year ahead. It will give you one

Ronald Bailey, in his review at Reason (where I spent summer 2018), explains that Norberg wrote his book for three reasons. “First, because something important happened,” writes Bailey. “Second, because no one believes it. And third, because it’s dangerous that they don’t believe it.” 

What’s the big thing that happened? Humanity got better at simply… being alive. 

Some examples, from Norberg’s book, are the drastic improvements in life expectancy from a mere 31 years in 1900 to roughly over 70 years, as recent as 2019. Or that having a disability is no longer an early death sentence. Not to mention, more than 37% of the world’s population in 1990 lived in abject poverty, or the equivalent of $2 per day, whereas today’s measures show that figure at less than 10% percent

If you’re skeptical of violence and war (myself included) there’s some good news: our world is not only less violent, but battle deaths per year have been in a long term decline since 1946

If you’re saying, “Yes, Leonard, my classes are online, we’re in an ongoing pandemic, and this all seems to have no end. What are you talking about?” 

As much as we all might abhor online classes, imagine this pandemic had happened in 2005, when neither the technology nor the widespread technical ability to adapt existed and educational futures could have quite possibly been stalled. Even worse, there would have been a significant educational gap between the wealthy and well-connected and everyone else. 

Despite spending a year locked indoors, missing concerts and outings, skipping Thanksgiving, and missing much more, two vaccines have been developed in less than a year that remain 90% effective. These vaccines soon enough will be readily available at little to no cost

If that’s not enough to at least make you feel like we’re not totally lost, getting a new outlook should probably be atop your New Year’s resolutions. 

That is: unless you’ve stopped them already. 

Leonard A. Robinson is editor-at-large of The Sting.

Thursdays with the Editor: Across the USA, voters say yes to drugs!

A little voice said, “Just say yes to drugs.”

And voters from New Jersey to Montana to South Dakota and even Mississippi did just that and effectively loosened the grip of the War on Drugs.

Nearby Washington, D.C. , for starters, has decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms with a measure that declares police shall “treat non-commercial cultivation, distribution, possession, and use of entheogenic plants and fungi among the lowest law enforcement priorities.”

Oregon has legalized psychedelic mushrooms and even allowed for them to be tested in controlled environments opening the door to research for possible disorders, such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety.

And that’s before we even start talking about pot legalization.

Voters in the Garden State approved marijuana legalization to the tune of 66 percent, a few points higher than some earlier polls even predicted. Public Question 1 enshrined an amendment into the New Jersey constitution legalizing marijuana use for persons over the age of 21 while also legalizing the cultivation, processing, and sale of the substance.

In Montana, 56 percent of voters chose to legalize and tax marijuana. Voters in Arizona meanwhile came around in support of legalizing marijuana, to the tune of 59 percent, after voting against legalization four years ago.

Even Mississippi got in on the action. The Magnolia State passed a surprisingly liberal medical cannabis allowing for its use in treating over 20 illnesses by a near 3 to 1 margin.

South Dakota, notably more conservative and Republican, nodded before saying “hold my beer” and becoming the first state in the country to legalize both recreational and medicinal use on the same night.

69 percent of South Dakota voters chose to establish a medical marijuana program while 54 percent of voters chose to legalize recreationally, according to Politico.

If voters in South Dakota can cast ballots for both Donald Trump and legalized cannabis, in both medicinal and recreational capacities, what should that tell you?

These results coupled with a 2019 Pew Research survey which reported support for legalization of marijuana encompassed two-thirds of Americans, including 71 percent of millennial Republicans, shows that this culture war issue is on its death kneel.

Interestingly enough, the mantle of this work will fall on Republicans.

After winning historic support from minorities on Tuesday, they will have no choice but to embrace substantive reform efforts in criminal justice with their newfound majorities in state legislatures and unexpected gains in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In short, these elections can usher in a remedy for some of our political strife: a bipartisan coalition working to allow Americans to pursue as much of their personal freedoms as possible.

Or better yet, implementing baby steps for government to learn how to leave us the hell alone.

Supreme Court fiasco brings important lesson for us all

Ruth Bader Ginsburg served on the Supreme Court since 1993. She passed away on September 18, 2020.

On Friday evening, the first night of Rosh Hashannah, the highest court in the land lost its greatest member: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ginsburg’s career as an attorney and jurist is remarkable beyond words and a testament to progress in America, namely for women and other minorities, such as Jewish Americans. Tributes here, here, here, here, here, and here are some of the few that have done more justice than my words could ever imagine.

Mere hours after her passing was announced, unfortunately, many Republicans were hardly able to restrain themselves from blaming Ginsburg for millions of abortions or plotting a conservative takeover of the court.

Anyone with a sense of decency should be troubled.

Ardent followers of the saga that has become American politics should remember the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016 when Republicans stalled the nomination of Merrick Garland. Their rationale? No nominees in an election year.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) even said to “use his words against him” in opposing Garland’s nomination in the case that a Supreme Court vacancy arrives in 2020 because he’d oppose it. Let’s all not act too surprised that he’s seen to have suffered some memory loss.

Republicans cite historical precedent saying that most Supreme Court confirmations that have taken place in an election year have involved the President and the Senate being of the same party.

History is on their side too. There’s been 29 Supreme Court vacancies in an election year with presidents making nominations each time. (Even righteous men fall into temptation!) 19 of these 29 vacancies came when both the White House and Senate was controlled by both parties. 10 of these nominations came before the election and nine were successful. For the 10 nominations that came prior to an election with the White House and Senate in opposing parties, only one was successful: Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller in 1888 appointed by then-President Grover Cleveland.

Short of raw politics, there’s no need to appoint a Supreme Court justice until after the election. Even Honest Abe knew this. After all, he waited until after his re-election to fill a Supreme Court vacancy that arose 27 days before the election.

The modern day Republican Party is neither honest nor representative of Abe’s legacy.

But, here’s a pill more painful for some to swallow: Democrats would do the same thing if given the chance.

In fact, want someone to blame? Former Majority Leader Harry Reid (D- N.V.) is a good place to start.

Through his procedural changes to earn some short-sighted legislative gains, he has given Trump and his Republicans some of the biggest advantages imaginable: from ending the filibuster, the most powerful Majority Leadership in American history, and yes, a lower threshold for Supreme Court nominees.

Want solutions? I have no idea. I’m a college newspaper editor trying to push out a weekly column but I can give you a story.

But here’s a great place to start: realize that the world will not crash over.

Donald Trump will probably nominate Amy Coney Barrett on Saturday morning. She’ll more than likely pass Senate nomination and be sworn in weeks before the election.

Is she more conservative than Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Oh, you bet. Will your life change that much? Maybe, but not in the way that you would imagine.

Roe v. Wade is here to stay. Between Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Neil Gorsuch, and the liberal members of the court, it’ll be a shock if a challenge to Roe v. Wade is ever even considered.

Gays should not fear for our marriage rights, either. Again, this court even with Barrett probably wouldn’t agree to hear a challenge nor should any substantive one be met.

The Court will face a lot of important issues in the months and years ahead, but our focus shouldn’t be on nine unelected judges. It belongs in the halls of our state and federal legislatures where hundreds of people are elected to hear our pleas and cater to our needs or get the boot come November.

Regardless of who fills this seat and when it happens, your life will go on as normal and so will everyone else. Who knows? You might grow, evolve, and change your mind.

For the big brains in Washington, it’ll just be same old, same old. Hypocritical, solution seeking bureaucrats specializing in what the late Sage of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken referred to as, “plain, simple, and wrong.”

Leonard A. Robinson is editor-in-chief of The Sting.