If you want to talk about what happened in 1990, call me in 10 years.
I've always felt that the best time to evaluate the significance of a year is about a decade later. But that's not how it works in this age of tracking polls and instant analysis. We need to know what it all means, and we need to know it now.It seems clear that the most important things to take place this past year haven't really happened yet, in the sense that their ramifications have yet to be felt.
As we look back at 1990, it's all but impossible to separate the ephemeral from the enduring; but if we view each passing event as a crossroads and not a dead end, we can at least try to imagine what lies ahead. From our current disadvantaged position, we can only ask important questions about what happened in 1990. Ten years from now maybe we'll have the answers. Even so, the questions are still worth asking.
So here's a random selection for your pondering pleasure:
In ten years, will we look back nostalgically at the "low" budget deficits of 1990? Will we be envious of 1990's "clean" environment and its "low" rates of AIDS infection and homelessness? Or will this be most remembered as the year of Earth Day, when America turned the corner and finally regained its social conscience?
American troops began the year in Panama and ended it in the Persian Gulf. Will this be recalled as the year our nation asserted its new role as the world's sole superpower, the global guardian of regional stability; or as the watershed year when Americans began to withdraw from the rest of the world's problems?
Will we recall German reunification as the first step toward genuine harmony in all of Europe or - I shudder at the thought - the genesis of the Fourth Reich?
Will America's refusal to swallow whole the critics' love affair with "Twin Peaks" be remembered as a sign of the public's incurably bad taste - or David Lynch's?
In ten years, will David Souter be seen as the man who killed Roe v. Wade or as the one who swung the court back in a more moderate direction? And if he turns out to be a - gasp - liberal, will his nomination be understood by historians as an example of George Bush's wry sense of humor, a Skull and Bones fraternity pledge prank designed to rankle the religious fundamentalists, a group he always needed but never trusted?
One thing we know for sure, two issues will never go away: taxes and fad diets. You can read my hips on that one.
And finally, what will be considered our greatest relic, the single item best able to represent this fascinating year in a time capsule: A miniature Hubble telescope? A Madonna video? A Halloween leaf collection bag? A "For Sale" sign? A map of the USSR, before the breakup?
The analysis will come later. For now, there is only the journey. And while we may each carry our own personal baggage into the new year, it is a journey that can, and should, be made together.