The end of a year, be it calendar or school, is a wonderful time to lean on that time-honored tradition of previewing the coming year — with predictions that won’t come true.
I’ll admit, I’ve been a sucker for columns and programs like these since grade school. One of my favorite year-enders was Ted Koppel’s "Nightlines" of the 1980s and ‘90s, when he’d regularly feature his favorite guests on the last weekday of the year and have them predict what might happen in the year ahead.
I’m offering up a prediction column with a twist: I’m not expecting any of my proclamations or ideas to come true. I’m simply offering up a bunch of things that society could use right now, either for our own survival or simply for our own evolution as a civilization going forward.
Some are small and trivial. Some are existential. But be warned now: I’m not making the most thorough case for any of these ideas here, in the spirit of trying to share 10 at once relatively quickly. I’ll leave the thinking, the pondering and the disagreeing to you — and I do hope you share some of your thoughts on this column with me at TheChuckToddCast@gmail.com. (If the responses get really good, I might even start a mailbag! You too can become a “first time, long time.”) Here goes:
The GOP shouldn't nominate Trump
The evidence is crystal clear: Trump is not the strongest possible candidate the GOP can nominate against President Joe Biden. In fact, one could argue that other than Vivek Ramaswamy, there is no other announced candidate who would have a harder time beating Biden than Trump.
Even if you believe Trump’s attitude and ideas are the answer, Trump himself is now too weak to deliver. He’s not interested in changing the country, he’s simply interested in enriching himself with treasure either actual or perceived, including fame and power. And whenever someone is more focused on their own ambition, it’s doomed to fail.
The question isn’t if but when his ego will cause him to make a decision that’s good for him but bad for the country. Plenty of Americans already believe he’s done that, and his actions on Jan. 6 are easily the most disqualifying on his resume. And yet…
Why it won’t happen: Thanks to an information ecosystem that truly has created an alternative set of facts and beliefs, millions of Americans have found themselves gravitating to Trump’s “too good to be true” promises about the world, the border and the economy.
Mechanically, it’s impossible to dislodge Trump as head of the party. Unlike 2016, when Trump’s outsider status meant he almost lost the GOP nomination thanks to his inexperience at the inside game, Trump now has the state parties wired, with delegate rules for the primaries in his favor and a right-wing information ecosystem on his side.
Trump has a political machine that runs the GOP for now, and if he wins another presidential term, the party is his, semi-permanently. It’s so painfully obvious for just the selfish sake of the future of the party, let alone the future of this country and the future of freedom around the world, that the GOP has to tank Trump and find someone else. And it’s so painfully obvious there’s no one strong enough inside the GOP to do what it takes to dislodge Trump. Just ask Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell.
Biden should not seek another term
America wants to turn the page — desperately. But Trump and Biden are preventing the country from moving on, and one clearly won’t leave without the other leaving first. The two are propping each other up like the curmudgeonly Statler and Waldorf Muppets that were my late father’s favorite characters.
As with Trump, it’s painfully obvious that Biden is among the weakest potential nominees the Democrats could put forth right now. Whether fair or not, the country sees the two as inextricably linked. And when polls take either Trump or Biden out of the 2024 equation, the numbers lurch toward their party the way water breaches a broken dam.
None of us are good are seeing our own limitations. It’s human nature. But it’s clear that 2020 voters viewed Biden as a vehicle to rid the country of Trump and, essentially, reboot our political system. The system can’t be fully rebooted if he’s there, though, and as long as Biden is the de facto Democratic nominee, the numbers are always going to show Trump as competitive.
The potential list of candidates on the Democratic side is quite impressive. There are three in particular that I think ought to fill the Democratic party’s two national slots: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Georgia Sen. Rafael Warnock and Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly. All three could offer something unique to “turn the page,” between Warnock’s background as a pastor, Kelly’s professional life as an astronaut and Whitmer’s able navigation of the current Trump era — and survival of a politically inspired kidnapping plot. All three have stories to tell that would meet the country a lot closer to where it’s at than the current president.
Why it won’t happen: Let me start with Biden’s likely line of thinking. “I beat Trump once and I can do it again.”
Who else can say the first thing? And Biden has not only built a career out of being doubted and dismissed, he’s dreamed of the desk in the Oval Office practically since he was elected to the Senate. The only times Biden didn’t run for president or at least think hard about running were either because of his youth (1976) or because Democratic presidents were seeking re-election (1980, 1996 and 2012).
Now that he’s in the office that so many said he could never win, little could compel him to suddenly decide to bow out. On top of that, Biden has never felt so relevant on the topics he’s confronting. Steering America through what could be a rerun of the 1930s is something nobody in the business of politics would want to back down from. I wouldn’t want to bow out either. But Biden should confront whether he’s prepared to not just lose, but be blamed for years for the consequences of losing.
Ask Hillary Clinton how that feels. It’s something she’ll never get over.
Focus the country on its core problems
Congress should set up three new permanent committees with equal bipartisan representation focused on three overarching issues that ought to guide Congress for the foreseeable future: one for the border, one of the debt and one on climate change. And I don’t just mean setting up a joint committee that is as meaningful as the current joint committee on taxation. I mean three special committees with deadlines and recommendations that are immune from poison pill amendments and rules and get sent to Congress for a simple up/down vote.
That means everyone goes on the record. You may think it’s pointless to hope Congress does this, but they have to be the answer. Alternative vehicles for change, like the private sector, just don’t have the power Congress does.
And while we are at it, let’s take some inspiration from the era of Oppenheimer and enlist all of the best research universities in a collaborative effort to discover the new technologies necessary to fight the ill effects of climate change. There’s a ton of good work already happening, but it’s uncoordinated. Let’s treat mitigating climate change impacts as seriously as we took beating the Germans to the bomb. Government doesn’t need to create a new mindset for this — just dust off the blueprint for the Manhattan Project.
Why it won’t happen: It’s difficult to solve big problems in a multiracial democracy. It’s even more difficult when the government isn’t organized to tackle these three mega-problems. Sadly, the answers to dealing with all three of these problems are quite easy to identify but expensive to pay for, which then makes them that much harder to confront politically.
We are stuck in a rut on all three issues because too many folks want to litigate how we got here rather than confronting the problem as it appears now. Each side wants to believe it has the moral high ground and therefore shouldn’t have to concede any point even in the spirit of compromise — and another faction involved in the impasse is actively invested in the debate being unresolved. There are certain think tanks and nonprofits that would go away overnight if the government started to get into the problem-solving business rather than the problem-exploiting business.
Admit public education is broken
Speaking of blue-ribbon commissions, it’s time for one for public education. The current system of local control and local funding doesn’t work anymore, and it’s painfully obvious that the system is designed to benefit those who know how to navigate the system.
Take my hometown of Miami-Dade County, where there’s basically a four-tiered system for education. The truly wealthy have private schools. Those with less means but great educations or intuitive skills at breaking through red tape have figured out either how to find the right charter school or magnet school. For everyone else, you get classrooms that no parent desires for their kid.
All that’s happened with the rise of charters and magnets is that instead of just favoring the wealthy, the local school systems benefit the elites, whether financially or educationally. And the schools without the wealthy parents or the activist parents wither on the vine and die. It’s already happening to one of the schools I attended in my youth, and it’s hard to watch.
Why it won’t happen: All of the stakeholders seem afraid to do anything too radical to fix. There’s paralysis on the administrative side, there’s paralysis on the teacher side, and the demonization of the teachers unions hasn’t helped — it’s abhorrent that someone like former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo compared the head of a teachers’ union to murderous foreign dictators. Pompeo was sadly just playing to the crowd and desperate for attention when he said it, but it’s why we are likely years away from any serious rethinking about how to deliver good education for kids.
Bring back the expanded child tax credit
A lot of good lessons came out of the failures of government during the 2008 financial crisis and the Covid shutdown of 2020. The biggest was not to be afraid of throwing too much money at the problem, especially if the goal is to keep society from falling apart. One of those efforts was the near-doubling of the child tax credit. Just check census data if you want to know if it worked.
If you like significant drops in the poverty rate, both overall and for children in particular, then you’ll love these results. Rarely does a problem like child poverty look this easy to solve: Give parents more of a cushion, and they can be trusted to use it the right way. Was there some cheating? Yes. But this was a case in which creating a system to prevent cheats would have made it harder to get the money to the good actors.
Why it won’t happen: If you are wondering why so many folks have lost faith in government over this last decade, it’s decisions like this to not help when folks need it, as in during the financial crisis, or stop doing something that works simply because it looks like an affront to one party’s ideology. The 2021 tax credit expansion ended after one year because not enough Republicans — or a key Democrat — backed continuing the program in that form.
Disband the United Nations
Given all the war and strife around the world right now, it’s hard to look at the U.N. and its charter and not conclude it’s been a total failure. This is the first paragraph:
To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.United Nations Charter
Do I even bother moving to paragraph two? By any measure, the U.N. is a complete non-actor or bystander in every major conflict the world faces today. About the only thing the U.N. does well is help with refugees and famine, and if that’s the extent of the U.N. charter going forward, then I might not be as critical. With nationalism on the rise in just about every corner of the globe, we are a long way away from anything resembling a world government, or even a well-respected world advisory committee. The current setup is, at best, a relief valve for smaller countries to vent their frustrations at larger countries. But other than serving as a forum for Festivus-like airing of grievances, it’s not clear it will ever grow into anything more — which, for the permanent members of the Security Council, is likely a feature and not a bug.
Why it won’t happen: There is a need for global response efforts for disasters, and having a vehicle for other governments to consolidate their rescue efforts makes sense. Perhaps focusing on what the U.N. does well, and ceasing attempts to be something it isn’t, would give it the global credibility it needs to expand its scope further down the road. But until then, let’s stop pretending it is a relevant player in geopolitics. It isn’t, and it’s designed not to work well.
Vetting social media
In the 1920s and '30s, America was awash in misinformation emanating mostly from paid print advertisements. There was no government or legal means to hold a company accountable for lying about products in paid ads before the modern alphabet soup of regulators we have today (namely the FTC). And it was causing quite the problem for small businesses who were making honest products.
So in the 1930s, a bunch of do-gooders and other interested parties created Consumer Reports, which pooled money together to buy these products and test them to see if they did what the ads said they did.
It’s such a time-tested model that Consumer Reports is still the most trusted place for consumers to see if a product does what it says it does. But we are facing another misinformation crisis 100 years later, this one on social media. Imagine a Consumer Reports-like entity that would judge whether a social media feed was being produced by AI, was being funded by a major advertiser, or contained misinformation or disinformation more than 25 percent of the time? I’m not looking for someone to tell me whether a specific TikTok post is accurate — I’m simply looking to know whether the poster has a history of accuracy or not, has an agenda exposed by a financial tie, etc.
Why it won’t happen: Chasing technology always has regulators fighting the last war, not the one we are in. Not only that, as concerned as I am about social media and the ill effects it already has had on society and the human brain, others say it’s time to focus on the real existential threat: artificial intelligence.
One of the reasons we rarely clean up tech’s problems is that as soon as we get smart enough as a society to do just that, they go and create another mess for us to worry about.
Bring back music festivals for a cause
Maybe I’m showing my age, but sometimes there’s nothing I enjoy more than listening to old recordings of major musician-driven events. From Farm Aid to We Are The World or even the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, these staples of the ‘80s and early ‘90s are amazing musical time capsules.
To hear both Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson on "We Are The World" is such a joy. Or Liza Minnelli singing “We Are the Champions” with the remaining members of Queen is just a unique musical experience.
The world has plenty of problems that could use attention or resources. Let’s get today’s biggest stars engaged in these joint efforts. They might accidentally make some great music at the same time. (Come on Taylor and Beyoncé!)
Why it won’t happen: Just watch the Fyre Festival documentary and you’ll see why this idea got stale. Too many wannabe Bob Geldofs saw riches in these festivals more than they saw the opportunity to expose fans of different genres to new audiences.
Sadly, tragedy has a way of getting folks to do these collaborations for the right reasons, not commercial ones. But I’d hate to see us need full on tragedies before promoters set their own ambitions aside for a little musical unity. As was once sung: “We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving.”
Prioritize winning again
Thanks to an explosion in data analytics, we can now turn any undefeated sports team into an overrated fraud and any winless team into an overlooked contender who just got unlucky. But we are doing this with such efficiency and such precision that we are actively devaluing the goal of team sports: to win the game.
This trend began in baseball. And I tend to agree that “wins” as a starting pitcher statistic isn’t the best way to judge who the best actual pitcher was in a given year. But I’ll take a pitcher whose team always seems to win when he’s on the mound over a pitcher with a lower ERA and WHIP who always seems likely to lose 1-0 games — because I want my team to make the playoffs and win a championship. And nowhere on the World Series trophy does it say anything about how much statistically better or worse the champion was or is.
Some readers know where I’m headed here: It’s gotten so bad in college football that going undefeated is no longer rewarded automatically, with a perfect-record Florida State team getting locked out of this season’s playoff.
Why do we watch sports, if not for the unpredictable and the improbable? TV ratings go down when the same teams play each other year after year for championships. When new teams break through unexpectedly or the third-string QB wins, that’s what’s inspires good writing, good documentaries — oh, and good ratings!
Why it won’t happen: Actually, I do think the free market will fix this. If the velvet rope ESPN, Fox, the SEC and the Big 10 are putting up for college sports continues, interest will eventually go down, not up. And that loss in viewers will get the powers in charge now to potentially change course. The NFL is a juggernaut for ratings, in part, because it’s week 16 and more than half the league is still alive for the playoffs. If the world of college football wants to avoid becoming a regional sport or niche, it will stop keeping competition out of their system.
Move the bowl games to August
As the college football postseason continues to expand, it’s clear the bowl games that are not associated with the playoff are on life support. Many of the teams participating in these nonplayoff bowls would opt out if it wasn’t for the contracts their conferences signed, and between recruiting, the transfer portal and players preparing for professional careers, bowls have turned to glorified spring-game scrimmages.
So let’s stop pretending bowl games matter and instead rethink the concept. The best part of the bowls, outside the national title picture, is the unique inter-conference matchups. Well, I have a simple solution: Keep the current formula for selecting the bowl game matchups, just don’t play them until August of the following year.
That way, the game means something, launching a season rather than ending one. With the academic year not yet begun at most schools, it’s a bit more classroom-friendly. It’s more family-friendly for the student athletes around the holiday. And it’s also program-friendly, since so much of December is filled with coaching changes and recruiting.
Why it won’t happen: Inertia is probably the biggest hurdle. It’s tough to change the mindset about something ending a season versus opening one. But I think between the financial incentives and the competitive ones, it’s hard to look at this plan as doing anything other than opening the game up to more competition, more teams and more conferences getting chances to playing meaningful games against big-time programs.
Of course, this is college sports, where the leadership is used to making change only when it financially serves their self-interest. So maybe the only way this happens is if bigger sponsor money is possible for August bowl games than for December ones.