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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

The best thing to be said for 2017 is that it didn’t last forever. It’s gone, carrying a host of memories we’d like to forget — from white nationalists marching in Charlottesville to hurricanes devastating Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to a procession of accused sexual predators.

If the Broadway musical character Annie were around today, she’d be singing her song with extra fervor: “The sun’ll come out tomorrow!” But sometimes dark clouds don’t give way to sunshine. Sometimes they give way to ferocious storms. By the time this year concludes, we may find ourselves wishing for the happy times of 2017.

We can already be sure of unhappy occurrences ahead. Some things are foreordained. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will rise, exacerbating global warming. Violence and poverty will ravage lives in many communities. Tens of thousands of Americans will die of opioid overdoses. The federal debt will climb. Horrific mass shootings will erupt.

But some prospective events, though possibly avoidable, are equally bad, if not worse. In many ways, we were fortunate last year, with a healthy economy, a falling crime rate and no new American wars. It’s easy to see ways in which our luck could change.

First, the economy could fall into a recession. This expansion, which began in June 2009, is the third-longest in American history, and it is bound to end, possibly soon. The economy may get a mild boost from the recently enacted tax cuts, but it could also be dragged down if the booming stock market turns out to be a bubble — or if the administration starts a trade war by slapping tariffs on Chinese goods or tearing up NAFTA as President Donald Trump has threatened.

Second, immigration reform could collapse, to the severe detriment of 780,000 people brought here illegally as children. They have been protected from deportation under an Obama administration program that Trump said he will end if Congress doesn’t fund his border wall — which Congress is unlikely to do.

In that case, the “dreamers” would not be legally allowed to work or travel abroad; some would also lose their driving privileges and in-state college tuition. They would become internal exiles, at perpetual risk. For people who are guilty of nothing, it would be an unforgivable injustice.

White supremacists have every expectation of further spreading their message and attracting followers. When Trump is pressed, he has a habit of finding ways to inflame racial tensions, which emboldens neo-Nazis.

Even more ominous is the possibility of war. Trump may jettison the nuclear deal with Iran this month, when he will have to decide whether to certify Tehran’s compliance. Walking away could prompt Iran to abandon its commitments, resume its nuclear program and induce Trump to order pre-emptive strikes — embroiling us in a major conflict.

North Korea continues its effort to build missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to the U.S. mainland. In December, Trump said, “America and its allies will take all necessary steps to achieve a denuclearization and ensure that this regime cannot threaten the world.” But threats haven’t worked. Soon, he is likely to face a choice between eating his words and launching attacks that could produce an apocalyptic escalation.

This is an election year, which is a chance for covert Russian intervention that could alter the results, notes Jerry Taylor, president of the Niskanen Center in Washington. The Kremlin has already shown its capacity and determination to subvert our elections.

That’s just one of the looming threats to our constitutional order. Trump has been led to believe that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of ties between him and his associates and the Russian government will end quickly and harmlessly. If — or more likely when — his delusion is shattered, the president may go to war with the Justice Department, firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Mueller or all three.

It would be an unconscionable breach of his oath of office. Congress could respond by impeaching and removing Trump, putting the nation through an excruciating ordeal — or by letting him get away with it, doing severe damage to the rule of law and popular faith in our system of government.

Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to avoid all these pitfalls, and maybe not. Annie, whose story was set in the Great Depression, sang of better days ahead. But when tomorrow came, it brought World War II.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.