Is it really time for another new calendar? Time, it seems, doesn’t slow down for anything. The minutes continue to pass at the same inexorable pace, each one gone before you know it. And those minutes quickly become hours that become days, and then weeks, and months, and before you know it, you’re wishing everyone a happy new year again.
But the year just past deserves at least a moment of reflection before it is assigned to history. And so, with apologies to those whose lists might well be different, here are twelve events that were noteworthy, at least in that they dominated the news if not suggesting what 2016 might look like.
The year of Trump – Can there be any denying that in terms of domestic politics Donald Trump dominated the news? Yes, he is a rogue, if not a demagogue, but he hasn’t faded or lost the support of those who, for whatever reasons, find him appealing. He may not be electable, but he is definitely a stronger candidate right now than any of the other Republican contenders.
The threat of ISIS – It may only represent a fractional percentage of those who identify as Muslims, but in its control of large portions of Iraq and Syria and its appeal to militants throughout the world, the Islamic State is as destabilizing a force as the community of nations has faced since the rise of the Third Reich.
Immigration and refugees – While Trump rails against “illegals,” ISIS and the civil war in Syria are creating many more would-be immigrants. The fear of terrorism can close borders that desperate victims of war and poverty need more than ever to be open. It’s an issue that divides much of Europe and the United States, and it isn’t likely to go away soon.
Climate change – Whether human activity is the cause, a cause, or a completely irrelevant concern, the world’s climate is most definitely changing in fairly dramatic ways. The planet is getting hotter, glaciers are shrinking, storms are getting more violent, droughts are lasting longer, and most nations are experiencing much more pollution and diminished air quality. And in Paris, for the first time, the community of civilized nations agreed to address the problem. Good luck with that.
Economic malaise – Well, it’s better than a Great Recession, which is what the country (and much of the world) was suffering through seven years ago. Domestic unemployment then was around ten percent. Now it’s around five. That’s the good news. The bad news is that for the majority of families, incomes are flat-lined. The rich are doing just fine, with record highs on the stock market, but average Americans are still feeling the pain and anxiety of a less than fully realized recovery.
Gun violence and the intransigence of the NRA – The story continues to be the same on both fronts: more deaths from guns both in random acts of violence and in accidental shootings, and the complete rejection of any attempts to control the availability of guns to even those on terrorist-watch lists by the NRA. Both conditions are unique to the United States, where the ambiguous wording in an outdated constitutional amendment takes precedence over the safety of its citizens.
Police killings and race relations – Just this week a grand jury voted not to indict a Cleveland police officer who shot and killed a 12-year old African-American boy. Whether that decision was correct will not matter in the minds of many black Americans as the killings and other incidents of hostile actions by police officers against minority victims continue. The country has now twice elected a black man as president, but it still has a significant race relations problem.
Ryan replaces Boehner and the Republicans in Congress struggle with their leadership role – John Boehner finally gave up on trying to control his dysfunctional caucus, and Paul Ryan reluctantly accepted the role of Speaker of the House. Thus, Ryan put his political career in jeopardy, since his colleagues are just as likely to wring tears out of him as they did his now-departed predecessor. Meanwhile, after over 50 failed attempts, the House finally got a bill to repeal Obamacare approved in the Senate. The President promptly vetoed it.
Planned Parenthood draws fire from abortion foes – Even though it performs very few abortions nationwide, Planned Parenthood became the “whipping boy” for the anti-abortion lobby and the members of Congress who oppose a woman’s right to choose whether to carry a fetus to term. The efforts to deny funding for the organization, if successful, will deprive many women, especially the impoverished in rural areas of the country, with critical medical care.
The coming of Hillary – She used a personal cell phone for her e-mails while Secretary of State; she presided over the State Department when the Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed; she and her husband head a foundation that takes donations from unnamed contributors; she can’t seem to avoid controversy or scandals. And yet, despite all of those negatives, Hillary Clinton is likely, as this year ends, to be the first woman nominated for the presidency by a major party, and may well be the nation’s first female elected to be president a year from now.
Restoring relations with Cuba – Fifty-five years after denying recognition of the Castro government, the United States finally began to renew a relationship with Cuba. It is a small start, but having an embassy in a country can lead to lots of good things for the citizens of both nations. For openers, it would be nice if family members were able to visit each other.
“Star Wars” redux – I’ll confess that I’m not a fan of the franchise, but the immense interest in the latest episode of George Lucas’s epic story has rejuvenated (temporarily, at least) the film industry. And if a spin-off effect of the movie’s popularity is an increased interest in space and scientific research, then maybe the Force will once again be with us and the human race can, indeed, survive and even thrive.
Hope springs eternal. Happy New Year, everyone.