Goodbye 2016. There have been worse years, I suppose. In my lifetime, candidates would include 1941, 1963, 1968, 2001 and 2008. But for sheer banality, irrationality, ignorance, incompetence, absurdity and systemic dysfunctionality, 2016 stands out.
My poster children for 2016 are the presidential "debates" during which all of our media moderators, while wallowing around in non-issue issues like emails, failed to ask a single question about climate change.
But in a way 2017 could be, if not the most dramatic and searing year, the most challenging. I use this word carefully — "challenging" — in the sense that, for the first time since 1861, our nation's institutional center finds itself under siege. Worse yet, following all those other bad years I listed above, Americans joined together. That's not what happened in 2016. Just the opposite.
Today we see William Golding's Lord of the Flies scenario being played out: The demagogue Jack, in the personage of Donald Trump, has taken over the island. The sensible one, Ralph, has been deposed. The intellectual, Piggy, has been killed, and what's left is paranoia, chanting and mayhem. Or in today's parlance, "Lock her up! Lock her up!" which sounds a lot like "Kill the pig! Kill the pig!"
If 2016 has a godfather, it was 1968: The Tet Offensive energized the anti-war movement, and things got even nastier. In the span of two months, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. Then we had the Chicago riot at the Democratic National Convention.
Enter Richard Nixon — hated by Democrats both for his support of Joe McCarthy and for the smear campaigns he had waged. In response, Nixon relied on his new "Southern Strategy" to barely beat a charging Hubert Humphrey. The strategy called for direct appeals to racism against blacks as the way to win over white Democrats. (Back then they were Democrats; no longer.) They were angry over civil rights laws and felt abandoned. Fast-forward to 2016, when Trump successfully went national with the same strategy, using Mexicans and Muslims as the designated scapegoats.
Following Nixon's win, famed Washington Post cartoonist Herb Block (aka "Herblock"), olive branch in hand, published a cartoon set in a barber shop. Well-known for emphasizing Nixon's 5 o'clock shadow, his caption read:
"This shop gives to every new President of the United States a free shave — H. Block, proprietor"
Recalling this, with a doff of the hat to "wait and see," I decided to give Trump one free shave.
He got off to a reasonably good start. He backed off his most egregious personal attacks on Hillary Clinton. He had a civilized and useful meeting with President Obama. He equivocated on some of his more outlandish campaign promises: That wall? Well, maybe a fence instead, and maybe we won't deport millions of Mexicans, and, you know, I support some parts of the Affordable Care Act.
Things were looking up.
But not for long. First came Trump's wild charge that he had also won the popular vote, that the results were rigged. Then he denounced America's entire intelligence establishment over its Russian hacking analysis — 17 separate intelligence agencies had traced the hacking to the Kremlin. Then came the call to the president of Taiwan, putting at risk our delicate geopolitical balance in the region. He then hit the road on his victory tour, where we heard the same wild accusations. Now the charges of conflicts of interest are coming with the morning headlines. We learned recently that his family members were already engaging in various forms of amateurish influence peddling.
The dismal clincher came as he announced his appointments and nominations. The New Republic listed the names and experience of the incoming Trump gang members. Here goes:
A conspiracy website mogul, his reputation based on bullying reporters; a campaign finance lawyer; an immigration extremist; a general who was fired for being disruptive; an immigration hard-liner and spokesperson for murderous militiamen; a fracking true believer; a TV pundit who praises Trump University (even after Trump agreed to pay $25 million to avoid going to trial for fraud); a congressman who wants to nuke Iran; a cattle roper; a states-rights zealot (who thinks that the Supreme Court's 1966 landmark Miranda ruling was terrible and wants the government to appoint attorneys to represent fetuses); an evangelical outreach advocate; an outspoken nativist; a peddler of Reaganomics. His Cabinet choices also include a nominee who has said he wants to abolish the very agency he has been chosen to lead. Then there's a first-term congressman whose qualifications begin and end with him being a hunting buddy of Trump's son.
George Orwell wrote that England need not worry about fascism because when the goose-stepping began, the English would giggle. This incoming administration may well put Orwell to the test: Will his analysis travel to the colonies?♦