It's the start of a new year, a time many people use to start a new habit or project or reach for a professional goal. This week also marks the swearing in of the newly elected members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. There will be much pomp and circumstance as the House transitions from Republican to Democratic control and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., retakes the speaker's gavel.
Pelosi served as speaker from 2007 to 2011. She is smart, hardworking and tough. The first order of business will be to see if the government can be reopened. This will require that the House and Senate (led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.), pass legislation that will then move to President Donald Trump's desk for his approval.
This week will be chock-full of spectacular political theater.
But theater does not always mirror real life. What do Americans think about the progress for the country this new year? According to a Gallup news release this week, the expectations are for a good economy, while most people expect troubles both from crime internally and international conflicts. But almost all expect 2019 to be a year of internal political conflict. Only "11 percent predict 2019 will be 'a year of political cooperation' while 87 percent for 'a year of political conflict.'"
This prediction of internal political conflict is the only area of seven where both parties agree.
The 2020 presidential election cycle has already kicked off, with the New Year's Eve announcement by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., that she has formed an exploratory committee to guide her in deciding whether to run for president in 2020. As the year progresses, the number of Democrats seeking their party's presidential nomination will rapidly expand, and the media will begin nonstop coverage of the potential challengers to President Trump.
As Trump transitions into 2019, he has the opportunity to hone his re-election message and see if it can not only galvanize the troops, but also attract additional voters. The government shutdown and funding for the wall on the southern border will be his first opportunity.
As Margaret Thatcher said, "First you win the argument, then you win the vote." Trump, so far, is not winning the argument.
Why does Trump care about the wall? "We need border security," he said last month, citing the wall as a way to keep out terrorists. "You can't have very godo border security without the wall."
The Drug Enforcement Agency's "2018 National Drug Threat Assessment," which was released Nov. 2, supports Trump's view. "Drug poisoning deaths are the leading cause of injury death in the United States; they are currently at their highest ever recorded level," the report concluded. Additionally, deaths from drugs "have outnumbered deaths by firearms, motor vehicle crashes, suicide, and homicide."
Based on this fact alone, Americans should be rioting in the streets to make sure the government combats this problem.
"Mexico remains the primary source of heroin available in the United States," the report says. In 2016, heroin from Mexico made up over 80 percent distributed in the United States. From 2000 - 2010 it made up less than 50 percent.
U.S. deaths from heroin increased 500 percent from 2008 to 2016. There were five times more deaths from heroin at the end of the Obama administration than at the beginning.
Heroin is not Mexico's only illegal export. "Most of the methamphetamine available in the United States (is) being produced in Mexico and smuggled across the Southwest Border," the report says.
Clearly, there is a need to stop the illegal drugs that are traveling across our southwest border, leading to addiction and death of our people.
And the threats don't stop there. According to Todd Bensman, a senior national security fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies, the terrorist threat is real.
In a Nov. 26 article titled "Have Terrorists Crossed Our Border?" he writes that "15 suspected terrorists have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, or en route, since 2001." That number, which he based on public reporting, is probably a "significant under-count," he noted.
"At least five of the 15 were prosecuted for crimes in North American courts," writes Bensman.
So we have drugs flooding into our country, and suspected terrorists entering.
It will be interesting to see if Trump can persuade the majority of the country to agree to secure the southern border, or if he will seek instead to shore up his base and push forward to set the stage for 2020.
His ability to persuade will depend not only on his use of facts and figures, but also on the way he presents them. This is the area where there is the most growth opportunity for Trump. Let's hope he decides to take it.