It’s 2016, folks. Aren’t you: surprised, relieved, exhausted, still dancing in the streets, nervous about what lies ahead after a year that seemed full of stark surprises, most of them not boding well for the future?
We are looking ahead with some trepidation for any number of reasons, El Nino and the climatic travails it may continue to bring, the fate of streetcars in the district and the debut of the Michael Bay action movie about Benghazi.
Reason #1: 2016 is an election year, maybe the end-all and be-all of all elections, if not the end of elections as we know them.
That’s already happened. In 2015, the the Republican Party presidential nominating process—which had evolved into a lumpy process filled with outlier candidates and PACs and SuperPACs in 2012, unraveled.
To be sure, there was another cartload of candidates that numbered 17 at one point and was so big that it produced tiered first-string and second-string debates, something that had never been seen before. There was a favorite—Jeb Bush, all fat and financed better than a hedge fund, guaranteeing, it was assumed, a deep run in the primaries. Other prominent candidates at the time included Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker and Rick Perry.
It was a familiar lineup except for a few distinct differences —impresario, casino owner, businessman and showman (“The Apprentice”) and birther mythologist Donald Trump announced, in a flaming rhetorical debut that included talk of a “huge” wall at the border, paid for by Mexico, and rapist immigrants, among other things, that he was running for president. So did Ben Carson, an African American Republican brain surgeon.
Trump catapulted into the front runner in the polls, trailing behind him a string of outrageous claims, most of them made at rallies which increased in size and bellicosity, and the fervent hope by his rivals and maybe a good chunk of Americans that he would implode, like one of those Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloons, somewhere along the way, that maybe the last gaffe or slur (against women, Arabs, ethnic groups and Samuel Jackson or Megyn Kelly) would do him in.
Today, Trump leads in the national Republican polls big time and hardly a day goes by that he doesn’t make headlines. The phrase, “President Trump,” has now been uttered by someone other than Trump—by media types and by all of us. Meanwhile, Carson is floundering, Walker and Perry are gone, and Bush is in single digits that could become hardly any digit.
The Republican contretemps have dominated the news and have provided fodder for the campaign itself becoming not the dominant issues of the times, but material for debates and press releases, which simplify the major news of the year, including the rise of ISIS and its attacks in Paris which killed well more than in November. The terrorist attacks were joined by the killings of 14 people in San Bernardino, California, perpetrated by an American Muslim couple apparently influenced by ISIS. There was a horrendous refugee crisis which occurred as a direct result of the civil war and general destruction it caused in Syria, where ISIS is headquartered.
I listened to panel members at a talk at the Aspen Institute in Washington, which included a congresswoman, a Harvard professor of diplomacy and a general, discussing American reaction to Arab radicalism, which is at the root of the cauldron that constitutes the Middle East region. They talked about schism, Shiites and Sunnis, the Arab spring, no fly zones, the ebb and flow of religious and political loyalties. In contrast, what you heard from men and the woman who would be president was killing and destroying ISIS, carpet-bombing parts of Syria and stopping Muslims from emigrating to the United States, fiery, tough, and inflammatory talk couched in great, crowd pleasing generalities.
The other crisis in America was also fueled by the sound of guns and the doing of violence. It was the stirring of a debate over connected issues—the alarming rise in police killings of young African American men and the equally alarming rise in mass shootings and homicides by gunfire. In the area, after the arrest of a young black man named Freddie Gray resulted in his death while being transported, a violent riot and demonstrations and fires broke out in Baltimore, which in the end resulted in the indictment of six police officers. The first trial ended in a hung jury.
The police shootings have sparked “Black Lives Matter,” a national protest movement which in turn sparked protests on campuses about racial issues.
The shootings themselves were a part of the mosaic of national homicides and deaths by gunfire, which, along with gun control, has now became an issue both local and national, after a visibly emotional President Barack Obama issued executive orders which would require background checks for gun shows, among other, modest proposals.
The issue reverberates in cities all over the country, especially in Chicago, but also in the District of Columbia, which saw a 54-percent increase in homicides with a total of 162, almost of them by gunfire.
Mass shootings of various sizes occurred throughout the year, most notably in Columbia, South Carolina, where a young, bitter white shooter killed nine African American bible study members at a historic church.
It is not that there was no other news— much of whatever good news there was served as a balm and antidote to the ongoing alarms and issues of the day, including the weather itself.
The visit of Pope Francis to Washington in September was emotional, dramatic, stirring and jubilant, but in spite of the best words of the pope, the spirit it engendered at the time did not appear to have staying power.
It was the small pleasures offered in our neighborhoods and city—Halloween celebrations on your block or mine, a gospel group singing resonantly at a neighborhood hospital as part of a porch front music festival, the arrival of a panda cub, the Easter egg roll, the New Year’s Eve celebration at the Kennedy Center, realizing you were still joyfully out and awake at one in the morning, the birthdays and weddings, the art on building walls and city museums, communing with friends over coffee.
These things will remain through the year and continue, long after the last bombastic promise and insults on the campaign trail(s).