So, How Bad Is It?

If 2016 was a dumpsterfire, then either we a) expected something approaching redemption this year or b) lowered our expectations for the coming year. If you went with (b), congrats–you won.

For me, this year tested all limits of how bad things could get. First and foremost is our illustrious leader, President Donald J. Trump–starting January 20 those words had to be unceremoniously strung together. And it is impossible to say it has not been terrible. He has threatened nuclear war with North Korea and left the conflict in a frozen, unresolved well-are-we-going-to-die state. He has left the U.S. the only country out of the Paris agreement to combat climate change. He has failed to denounce white supremacists. He and his Secretary have left the Department of State a shell of its former self. He has abdicated America’s international leadership. He has fought with the NFL over protest of the flag. After last year’s Israel/Palestine debacle with Secretary Kerry’s speech, he has riled the Middle East with his insistence on recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. He has publicly fought with the widow of a soldier killed in service of his country. He has attacked the media repeatedly. He has somehow managed to damage the “special” relationship with the UK. He has whined. And maybe worst of all, he has tweeted.

In many ways, Trump was 2017 for America (and for a good deal of the world watching, too, I can tell from my time abroad this year). If he wasn’t at the center of a conversation, he was always in the background (and his pompous self probably relishes that fact). But in some ways, he hasn’t been the dictator we expected–mainly because he’s so incompetent–and he may have even done some good things. But more importantly, everything bad that happened in the world this year was not just Trump’s doing, even if we’d say he made it worse.

This summer’s events in Charlottesville showed us that hatred is out in the open and that we are not far removed from the immense violence it can inspire. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a surprise that something like the Las Vegas shooting happened, nor that no legislation materialized in its aftermath, but it cemented the legacy of Sandy Hook–that these will continue and there is little to nothing we can do to stop it, making them like the natural disasters that hit Texas and Puerto Rico. It was sadly one of many terror attacks, even with ISIS in retreat. Then there was the unique cultural moment embodied in #metoo, the pervasive problem from Hollywood to D.C. to the workplace to the street; to be sure, it’s not new, women have been saying it for some time, but I dunno, I wasn’t listening or something. In America, 2017 brought into focus the rot of its society.

And to top it all off were some really troublesome policy changes, culminating in the tax bill passed this month. The tax bill largely enriches corporations and high income Americans, adding $1.5 trillion to the national debt. Taxes are cut for lower income people, too, but to a lesser extent, dangerous at a time when inequality is not only rising but becoming larger in the public awareness. Republicans have repeatedly claimed they are “giving you your money back.” But the government isn’t a business that can give you a refund–it must keep providing at least a core set of services. The essence of what’s happening is that society’s high-earners are conducting a raid on the state because they fundamentally disagree with America’s social contract: that people should pay their fare share so that the government can provide services both to everyone and to the neediest.

Maybe more tragic than all of this is that the alternative facts and the fake news and the bubbles have persisted, to the extent that there are two political camps that have basically become our identities. And it’s quite telling that even a Star Wars movie couldn’t bring people together at the end of this year, and that it quickly descended into bigoted drivel and a pointless petitions.

Maybe the rest of the world had it better. France rejected the world’s rightward shift for a centrist, and Germany reaffirmed Merkel. Iraq saw ISIS removed from its territory, though significant political and economic challenges remain, and the U.S. doesn’t want to help; Syria seems to be at some kind of peace although similarly fragile. In other places it seems only 2018 will put things in perspective: Saudi Arabia is at a significant turning point under the modernizing Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who maneuvered his way to become heir to the throne; Zimbabwe finally got rid of Mugabe, though who knows if things will get any better. In still other countries, things seemed to get worse. Venezuela is collapsing. The U.K. has realized the nightmare that is implementing Brexit. The world watched a humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. China celebrated its 19th National Congress by cementing Xi Xinping’s grip on power, joining the largest nation to the worldwide authoritarian shift. America probably made the world a less friendly place this year, but it got that way on its own, too.

So by the above, 2017 was horrible, if not horrific. But the sky hasn’t fallen. And for my own life, I’ve repeatedly thought that things were at an end. Given the number of health problems I’ve dealt with, I thought death was just around the corner. Given where I believed my life was, I thought a period of optimism was over. Anxiety-driven, I thought terrible things would happen.

I also thought that I had to just turn the corner, to make it to the end of 2017. It had me going back to a quote from a now nearly-decade-old movie.

The night is darkest just before the dawn.

Now as I write this on New Year’s Eve, it’s surreal that I sit here, feeling as I do. But it’s real. And it required real faith.┬áIt has me thinking that perhaps things aren’t as bad as they seem–and that at some point, soon, things will start getting better.

And please take it easy, 2018.

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