Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Not all bad: 2019's redeeming moments -- Dec. 26, 2019 column


The one big event in 2019 history will remember is the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

How future generations will judge impeachment is an open question. Much depends on what happens in 2020 in the Senate and in next year’s presidential election.

As this politically and culturally ugly year ends, Americans are in a sour mood. Only 37 percent of us approve of the current direction of the country while 57 percent disapprove, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls.

And yet, 2019 wasn’t all bad. There really were bright spots in the gloom.

In the spirit of the season of hope, I’ll share a few things that make me feel better about our cantankerous country. I’m sure you can think of others.

First, about 2.1 million federal employees will be in the vanguard for a benefit that’s been a long time coming and most American workers only dream of: paid parental leave.

Federal workers will have 12 weeks of guaranteed paid leave for the birth, adoption or foster care of a child starting next October. The measure was part of the National Defense Authorization Act Congress passed with true bipartisan support and Trump signed into law Dec. 20.

The House approved the defense bill 377 to 48, with almost the same number of Democrats and Republicans in support -- 188 Ds and 189 Rs. The Senate vote of approval was a lopsided 86 to 8. The idea that Democrats, Republicans and Trump can agree on anything is close to miraculous.

The measure is a needed change that sets a new benefit standard for states and private employers. But it doesn’t go far enough. It does not provide paid leave for workers caring for a chronically ill spouse, child or other close relative, as Democrats had sought.

Only four states – California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island – have established paid family leave plans. The District of Columbia, Washington state and Massachusetts have plans on the books that are being phased in.

Only about one in five American workers have access to paid family leave, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The United States is the only industrialized country that does not require paid family leave. Expect a renewed effort in Congress to change that sorry state of affairs.

The progress of women in government was another shining facet of 2019.  

For the first time in history, more than two women are competing for a major party’s presidential nomination. At one point, six women were in the running for the Democratic nomination. Four remain.

Women are taking their places in state capitals too. A record number of women – 48 Democrats, 41 Republicans and two nonpartisans -- hold executive offices in the states, according to an analysis by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. That’s 29.3 percent of the executive positions.

Nevada in 2019 became the first state where women hold a majority of state legislative seats – 32 of 63 or 50.8 percent. Virginia set new records for women’s representation; 41 women will serve in the General Assembly in January.

With Democrats taking control of the Virginia legislature, the Democratic caucus selected Del. Eileen Filler-Corn as the first woman Speaker of the House of Delegates and Del. Charniele L. Herring as majority leader. Herring is the first woman and first African-American chosen for that role.  

Women also made history in the sports world, inspiring a new generation of girls.

The U.S. women’s national soccer team won the 2019 Women’s World Cup, four years after its 2015 triumph. Then the Washington Mystics won the Women’s National Basketball Association championship. Elena Della Donne led the team to victory while playing with not one but three herniated discs in her back.

“Congrats to the @WashMystics on a gutsy, first-ever championship!” tweeted former President Barack Obama. “A great team performance when it counted. If folks aren’t careful, this title thing might become a habit in DC.”

Amazingly it happened. The Washington Nationals surprised everyone when, after a lackluster start of the season, they roared back to win the World Series.

For once, everyone in Washington was on the same side -- hugging, cheering, weeping over our Nats. The unity was short lived, but it was lovely while it lasted.

If only we could see such team spirit again in 2020.

©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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