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Dr. Peggy Drexler Headshot

Happy New Year?

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Even assuming that the Mayan calendar got it wrong, and the planet will not end in cataclysm -- 2012 still figures to be a tough year.

We're going to live through the bizarre primary of C-list choices, and a general election that is likely to leave us all feeling like the clean-up crew after a carnival.

Then again, maybe the Mayans saw this coming.

It will be an election where the super-PACs, by law, can spend what they want, and say what they want, about anybody they want. The candidates can claim nothing to do with any of it, while repudiating none of it.

So as much as we might want to feel the sense of hope and possibility that comes with the change of years, this is an election year. Worse, it comes in a time spittle-flecked animosity toward the effrontery of contrary opinion.

Imagine what the coming months of full-contact campaigning and mercenary assaults on character are going to do to positions already tempered by four years of political trench warfare.

Reporter and commentator Sam Donaldson once said of Washington politics: "Only the amateurs stay mad." That was politics then. Politics now is a place of molten incivility and viscous resentment. Anger is the common ground.

All due respect to Mr. Donaldson. Everybody's mad, and they're going to stay mad -- about houses, about taxes, about spending, about jobs, about inequality, about healthcare, about marriage, about faith, about immigration, about war, about security, about our shaken sense of national identity.

The irony here is the corrosive division over these issues eats away at any hope we can resolve them.

But: back to the New Year being a time of possibility.

It's possible that the economy will allow some rays of sunshine break through the low-hanging clouds of the past few years.

If it's true that the angriest people are the people who are most afraid, a calmer and more optimistic constituency might make for more collaborative representation. It might diminish the fear that giving something to get something will invite the torch-bearers of the extremes to drag you from your office come next election.

Even so, it's going to take time and courage to reach across the divisions of recent years -- where rational policy has become entangled in convoluted resentments.

In the hopes that 2012 will, in fact, be a happier year, I humbly offer this piece of advice to those who would lead us out of the dark impasse of ideologies:

"Go to hell" is no way to start a negotiation.