The year 2016 has shaped up to be one of the worst. It’s been a terrible year for treasured celebrities. And in many ways, these weren’t people who were simply famous. They were iconic figures. Gene Wilder, Muhamad Ali, Prince, David Bowie, John Glenn, Leonard Cohen and Gwen Ifill, among too many others, were the kind of people you looked up to. They were true greats. It’s hard to recall a period of time in which we lost so many accomplished people.
And 2016 only gets worse the more you think about it.
There were horrible terrorist attacks, from the truck attack in Nice France to the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Global temperatures continue to climb to a degree that is beyond worry for many. If one were looking for signs of the apocalypse, they appeared to be everywhere.
Then there was the Brexit vote – a referendum that has compelled the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union – a vote seen by many as analogous to the November surprise that is the oncoming presidency of Donald Trump.
Whether or not Brexit or the election of Donald Trump is cause for concern depends on awful lot on your political leanings. Some see both as conservative victories for regular people – people no longer convinced that there are benefits in progressive politics of diversity and globalization.
In the face of natural disasters and terrorist attacks, politics doesn’t seem nearly as large, but for many– especially the almost 66 million Americans who cast their votes for Hillary Clinton – the outcome of the election is a calamity.
I tend to believe the institutions in America are strong enough to resist an extreme pull to any one side – be it left or right. I don’t think much of the stream of stories that instruct progressive Americans “to be afraid” of Trump or the host of CEOs he’s picking for cabinet positions
I’ll admit, however, our democracy doesn’t seem nearly as sturdy as it did before the nearly two-year long campaign for president began. We’ve all endured countless hours of primary debates, campaign commercials and Twitter wars that haven’t made us look all that great.
What has been a real calamity, even since the election’s conclusion, is the uptick in documentable hate crimes and the profound and unrelenting attacks on the national press. Both are assaults on what Americans of every political stripe should hold dear: freedom of expression. We should always feel free to say and do what we want without fear of reprisal.
If there is anything really worthy of fear, it is in the prospect that those rights could suffer under the presidency of a man who cherishes his own right to free speech but consistently attacks its practice when it runs counter to his own interest. Whether it’s Alec Baldwin’s very funny Trump impersonation on “Saturday Night Live,” the scolding cast of “Hamilton” or the burning of American flags – regardless of whether you like it or not – it’s protected expression.
I hope 2017 is better, for both the planet in general and for the political environment here. It’s difficult – but not impossible – to imagine it getting any worse.