Correction: make that The. Worst. Year. Ever. Because enlarging the font to apocalyptic proportions and adding superfluous periods in between words is the cool way for serious churnalists to broadcast their rhetorical expertise.
Lake Superior State University has just come with its annual list of banished words and phrases. But in my opinion, they jumped the gun, bigly. Because The. Worst. Year. Ever absolutely deserves to be on the top of the list. It is so much more annoying than Post-Truth. It's almost as cringe-worthy as Echo Chamber -- which, come to think of it, is the perfect home for The. Worst. Year. Ever, given that each one of those punctuation points is like a fist punching you in the solar plexus. Over. And. Over. And. Over. Again.
When you Google "2016 Worst Year Ever" you get a grand total of 270,000 hits. Bam. Bam. Bam.
Just in case you still haven't gotten the message, The Huffington Post put it in a banner headline (since disappeared) of what has to be the hugest type size available to propagandists posing as news-hounds. But like much of the other stuff you read in the HuffPo, the scare headline turned out be pure click-bait. The actual article is about a survey that the website conducted with YouGov, which reveals:
In other words, it's the Goldilocks effect, which has been in effect since probably forever. About a third of the population thinks life is too hard, another third thinks everything is soft and comfy, and the middle Panglossian third claim that they feel, if not exactly just right, then at least as tolerable as can be expected. The Google search results I mentioned above contained approximately the same results from news items: 2016 was terrible; 2016 was actually pretty great and only seemed terrible because of the collective psychic blow of all those celebrities dying; or 2016, sucky as it was, could always have been worse.
Overall, 26 percent of Americans say that 2016 has been good or excellent for the country as a whole, 36 percent say that it has been only fair and 31 percent think that it has been poor. Those numbers, if somewhat pessimistic, are also basically in line with December of last year, when 25 percent said that 2015 had been good or excellent, 44 percent that was fair and 27 percent that it was poor.
The New York York Times was more circumspect in its own headline, which also had the decency to cast a little doubt on last week's favorite meme while still finding it necessary to add those superfluous punchy periods to make their point: 2016: Worst. Year. Ever?
Charles Nevins lists the awfulness without, thank goodness, resorting to a listicle:
Can you tell yet that Charles Nevins is based in London, where they apparently still do dry, understated humor?
Randomly, incompletely: Syria, Zika, Haiti, Orlando, Nice, Charlotte, Brussels, Bowie, Prince, Ali, Cohen. Not everyone was delighted by the results of important votes in the United States and Britain, either.
He goes on to remember some truly Worst Ever Years, like when a Sumatran super-volcano erupted 75,000 years ago and another volcano blew up in the same region in the 19th century, producing a year without a summer and crop failure and famine. And as bad as Donald Trump and his militarized cabinet of oligarchs promise to be, life under siege by Vikings and Visigoths and the plague-carrying rats they brought along as extra baggage certainly would have beat out 2016 as some of the Worst. Years. Ever. And the examples go on. and. on. and. on. The Civil War, the two world wars, the Great Depression, for example.
What really seems to have pushed 2016-haters over the edge into the morass of despair were the deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds this week. It seems that more celebrities have died in 2016 than any pseudo-mourner can be humanly expected to bear. It's more unbearable, apparently, for the pundits singing the Worst Year Blues than the horrific uptick in opioid overdose deaths and the fact that 2016 has seen the highest increase in the general American death rate in more than two decades.
The New York Times editorial board puts 2016 in the new-ageish therapeutic terms of a Beatles hit: Take A Bad Year and Make It Better. Donald Trump's election, of course, is at the very top of the list of what they hiply noun-itize as "horribles."
Yet so many bad things happened, from the unthinkable to the horrifying to the merely shocking. Things fell apart. Tyrants and terrorists trailed blood and rubble across the Middle East and Europe. Refugees drowned in the Mediterranean. Right-wing extremism and xenophobia were on the march. The American election let loose old racial hatreds. The planet got hotter; the Arctic went haywire. The world was burning or smoldering or blowing up or melting.But good liberal propagandist that it is, the Times glosses right over the actual political and plutocratic culprits of all the mayhem, and urges us to just brace ourselves for more "headwinds" (neoliberal-speak for more market based atrocities posing as natural weather events) as we remember to thank the good guys for the memories:
National protests shone a harsh light on police killings of black civilians. Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama inspired millions, their achievements and grace rebuking the sour misogyny of the Trump campaign. American Indians in North Dakota braved rubber bullets and water cannons to protect their drinking water from an oil pipeline. Nations of the world — all threatened by a warming planet — ratified the Paris climate agreement. The global health community found ways to subdue the Zika virus and create an effective Ebola vaccine. The death penalty in the United States kept sliding into history’s dustbin. Some states, reflecting strong public support, began tilting the gun debate in the direction of sanity.Putting Hillary Clinton, hawk and Wall Street maven that she is, in the same inspiring category as the Standing Rock protesters is a bit grotesque, given that she had coldly ignored their fight for clean water throughout her campaign. Also off-putting is the paper of record's denial of agency to the people advocating for their own civil rights:
That’s a message for these times. Lift up those in the Fight for $15, those fighting policing abuses and discrimination, those who are marginalized and poor and weak. This may be the most heartening development in a dismal year — the evidence all around that we know how to do this, and can indeed summon the will.In other words, leave it to the experts to solve the problems of the underclass. Neoliberals still refuse to acknowledge that people need to be respected more than they need to be "lifted up" by the elites. This editorial was just another way of warning poor people to pipe down while they wait for the knowledge class to whimsically elevate them, and advising affluent people to relax, give to their favorite charities, or maybe even volunteer for an hour or two a week or a month. And before you know it, Trump or no Trump, you will start feeling pretty darned good about both yourself and about 2017.
Drew Brown of Vice has an opposite and more refreshing take on all the 2016 angst, which he describes as more kick in the ass than boot to the throat:
It's common to lament 2016 as a kind of spectacularly miserable year, a singularly awful global catastrophe where all the good celebrities died and all the bad ones became president. But 2016 is not sentient, and it's not deliberately tormenting you (no matter how much it sometimes feels that way). It's really just the year a number of cultural, technological, political, and ecological trends all collided into one another in the worst possible way.The oligarchs were taking over the planet and the planet was burning up long before Donald Trump was elected. But instead of looking climate disaster right in the face, we're supposed to be clutching our pearls over Russia, a fake epidemic of fake news, the alt-right, and post-truth. Contra the stuffy Gray Lady, Drew Brown does choose to acknowledge that oppressed people have innate power, and that the younger the people, the more socialism-minded they are likely to be:
In hindsight, it's easy to see how everything that boiled over this year was bubbling away for the better part of the decade. It feels like we live in a markedly—even unthinkably—different world than we did in 2011 or 2015. But we're really just catching a boomerang. This was the year our chickens came home to roost.
Millennials take a lot of shit for being apathetic, flighty narcissists. But the other major Western political upheaval of 2016—the one spearheaded by a geriatric Jewish socialist named Bernie Sanders—shows that we'll come out in droves for anyone who will listen to us, for anyone willing and able to give voice to the demand that our lives don't have to get worse forever just so some monsters with suits and stock options can get rich off our labor while cities sink into the sea.Don't pseudo-mourn, don't deplore the wrong people, and don't scapegoat the wrong people.
It's the class war, and no matter which legacy party is in power, we're still on the receiving end of the kicks and punches. So summon up hope wherever you can find it. But don't forget to be angry and stay angry as well.
Here's wishing all my readers and your families a very healthy and safe and tolerable new year. One thing is for certain: the sparks will be flying.