Even after crumpling up and trashing the foil and paper that once covered the “aughts,” the instinct to look back is hard to fight. There was war and peace, great music, movies and art, sweeping political victories and bad news for black America. Yet we have to let it go; the newest decade—the “tweens,” let’s say—is ready to be unwrapped. While forward-looking lists invariably open the door to future mockery (see sister site Foreign Policy’s list of bad predictions for 2009), the new decade promises so many radical and interesting changes to the way we live, move and vote—any writer would be hard-pressed to turn down the opportunity.

Without further ado, the view from 2010:

1. The Stimulus Gets Down to Business

The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, enacted in February 2009, was sold as a lifeline for the American economy—and the American worker. While macroeconomic experts debated the appropriate size of the bill, few now question the usefulness of $787 billion geared at staving off the economic crisis that President Obama continues to call “the worst … since the Great Depression.” The ARRA has already funded the extension of unemployment benefits and subsidies for insurance coverage, as well as tax credits for parents and college students and a host of construction projects. But almost a year after its signing, clauses designed to prevent waste and fraud have meant that only a fraction of the money has been put to use. In 2010, the full brunt of the Democrat-led spending blitz will reach American schools, highways and bridges—offering a better sense of the bill’s impact on the economy to come.

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Bonus: Track the stimulus’ impact in your neighborhood here.

2. The Cost of War in Afghanistan Trumps that of War in Iraq

Despite being the “good” war, post-9/11, the American invasion of Afghanistan spent years as the stepchild to the hubristic Iraq debacle. But as Iraqi obligations wane in 2010, the stakes in Afghanistan—soon to be the longest war the United States has ever fought—have ratcheted up. As Obama announced in December, troop levels in Afghanistan will increase to nearly 100,000 Americans by the middle of 2010—while insurgent forces, hostile terrain and poor intelligence make the military task even more difficult.

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War watchers will take Iraq’s political pulse during January parliamentary elections (an open scramble between secular and religious groups, independents and major-party candidates), which could affect the pace of troop withdrawal, set to begin in summer 2010. The real problem? According to Pentagon documents released in 2009, Obama’s plans for the Afghan war, which will necessitate another $30 billion, will be more expensive than Iraq. This doesn’t make Operation Iraqi Freedom cheap, either. The total cost of both conflicts since 2001? $1 trillion.

3. The World Cup Rules the Summer

The ultimate, wave-the-flag, get-to-the-pub global sporting event makes a historic landfall on the African continent in 2010. That’s right—the World Cup is heading for nine cities in South Africa this June and July. The usual favorites, from Brazil to France, Italy and Argentina, will be in attendance—but a number of underdog teams, from Mexico to Ivory Coast to North Korea, will keep the tournament interesting.

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Despite concerns over the developing nation’s ability to keep the throngs of players and tourists under control, South Africa hosted the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup with few security bobbles. What’s more, the South African performance will set expectations for Brazil’s turn hosting both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. What’s certain is that excitement about the first African World Cup will outstrip the hype for next year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Forget the luge: When it comes to 2010 sports, the “beautiful game” is where it’s at.

4. California Puffs, Passes Gay Marriage

California has long been a remarkable trendsetter for the United States as a whole. With two female senators and environmental regulations that go above and beyond the laws for the rest of the United States, the Golden State does seem to live perpetually in the future (and in debt). The last election year damaged its progressive reputation somewhat; by a vote of 52 to 48 percent, California voters rejected a proposition that would have permitted same-sex marriage. But some supporters saw the vote as a stepping stone to change, and as a means of educating Californians on the discriminatory nature of the status quo. The 2009 approval of same-sex marriage in Iowa, Washington, D.C., and Mexico City have provided hopeful templates. Ballot language was recently approved for a gay-marriage initiative in 2010, and pro-marriage volunteers are trying to get it on the ballot in November.

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If California decides it is still not ready for gay couples to enjoy equal rights, the state can still take the lead in another arena in 2010—by passing legislation that would allow residents over 21 to grow marijuana for personal use and to possess up to an ounce without fear of arrest.

5. Democrats Keep Control in Congress

Midterm elections are traditionally a referendum on the president and party brought to power two years prior. The 2010 cycle should be no different. Though Congressional Democrats have had a productive, if slow-moving legislative year—passing the stimulus bill, fair pay legislation and an historic health care reform bill (on which more later)—they are sitting at the reins of a nation still experiencing dismal economic conditions and mounting levels of debt.

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Some Democrats are disheartened, remembering the oft-cited “lessons of 1994,” when Bill Clinton’s unpopularity helped sweep a “Republican revolution” into Congress for 12 years running. There are signs of a coming Democratic bloodbath in November—most notably the recent loss of governorships in New Jersey and Virginia, and the defection of Rep. Pat Griffith, who switched to the Republican Party in late 2009. And while Obama himself has proven to be both popular and a shrewd campaigner, the 49 Democrats who represent districts that John McCain won in 2008 will be on their own—and vulnerable senators like Harry Reid, Chris Dodd, Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu, who stuck their necks out for Obama’s health care plan, might get the boot as a result. (If Reid goes, expect New Yorker Charles Schumer to take his place as Senate majority leader.)

But Democrats now hold such a commanding majority—10 votes in the Senate and 80 in the House—that it’s absurd to think they will lose themselves into minority-party status overnight. It helps that this role is being played to perfection by the Republican “party of no,” which still doesn’t seem to have credible, let alone electable, spokespeople or fresh ideas. If the economy continues its slow turnaround, and Michael Steele’s potato salad is still the only thing going for the GOP, sending another bumper crop of Democrats to Washington should be easy.

Stay tuned for part two of my predictions for 2010.

Dayo Olopade is Washington reporter for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.