Hope in a hopeless year
December 21st, 2016
Bryan Zepp Jamieson
Every year, I write a piece to coincide with the winter solstice. The theme, always, is that of hope. It’s always darkest before the cliché, the sun will return, so quit shivering and throw granny on the fire.
But this was 2016.
Big Deaths are supposed to come in threes, not thirties. In just this one year, we lost a sizable chunk of the people we admired, enjoyed, who enriched our lives with courage, or talent, or drive. They shaped us, perhaps made us a little bit better than we might have been. I could fill out the rest of the piece just naming the people who died we all wish were still with us. Mohammed Ali and Gordie Howe are dead, and Tucker Carlson is alive. Yes, Virginia, the Universe is fucking random.
They could have saved time and trouble by just lowering the flag to half-staff on January 1st (death of Dale Bumpers) and leaving it there until at least this week (John Glenn).
In America, the country has, in its past, seen fit to elect illiterates, morons, cutthoats, goosesteppers, egomaniacs, sex fiends and fascists. But until now, we’ve managed to avoid electing someone who combined all those features into one gruesome package.
Oh, wait. Americans did avoid electing him. But rigged elections in two or three states, plus the Electoral College, defeated the popular will. It’s a sign of things to come that in the month following the election, there were 1,200 hate crimes committed in Trump’s name—against transgendered, women, blacks, Moslems, and Jews. It didn’t matter who you are: if you aren’t white and male and Protestant, you are now at risk.
Then there’s the matter of Russian involvement in the election. A lot of people look at endless American efforts to stymie popular will in elections around the world and argue that turnabout is fair play, and perhaps it is. But this particular one has made the world a far more dangerous place for everyone.
Trump, or as I call him, President-Select Putnik the Putznik, was the cherry on a poisonberry pie.
Aleppo. Milan. Paris. Nice. Orlando. The Mexican Drug War. Yemen. The Kurds. Sinai. South Sudan. The Ukraine. Somalia. The Philippines (blessed with a vicious madman of their own). Boko Haram. And of course, George W. Bush’s ongoing legacies, Iraq and Afghanistan. Americans don’t like to discuss Iraq, hopefully out of a sense of shame. So most people don’t know there was a terror attack in Baghdad in the same month as the slaughter in Nice, but which killed four times as many people and injured three times as many. I’m sure the victims of such attacks in Iraq scream just as loudly, bleed just as profusely, and die just as horribly as the victims in France did. But Americans don’t count them, because they were the result of an American oopsie called Bush.
This was the year we realized that any hope of avoiding major damage from climate change was gone, and the best we could manage now was to try to avoid utter catastrophe. Naturally, our captains of industry spent billions trying to dissuade us from such precipitous action.
Northern California saw a crippling drought washed away by copious soaking rains as Southern California struggled with the Big Dry like a bug on a pin. But that was nothing compared to the climatic horrors visited on north Africa, large parts of Asia, and even the Arctic, which saw ice melting in November as the ice cap continued a death spiral. As vast as the damage humans have done to the environment is, climate change is on the verge of doing more damage than all the rest combined.
Things have gotten so bad that Putnik has upped his daily presidential briefings from one per week to three. He may even pay attention to some of them.
So no doubt about it, 2016 was an absolute shit year. It was a leap year which only prolonged the misery.
So how does all this tie in with a Solstice message? Is the message changing? Will I suggest you all run out and top yourselves because there’s nothing to be done for it?
The fact is, I lived through a year that was even shittier, and chances are quite a few of you did, too.
Remember? It was a year we elected a man that many believed was temperamentally and morally unqualified to be President. It was the year we learned the American military wasn’t invincible, but could get its collective ass kicked by a small country armed with fifty-year-old technology and lots of resolve. It was the year a major river caught fire, and the space program appeared dead in the water – or dead in the vacuum, if you will – following a catastrophe the year before. People were just beginning to wonder if it was really a good idea to burn leaded gasoline in cars. Two of the most important men in American history were assassinated.
Ah. The nickel just dropped, didn’t it? Yes, I’m talking about 1968. Kennedy and King were assassinated. Nixon was elected. The Tet Offensive made it clear that the war was not going well, and the government was lying—a lot—about what they were doing there.
You say the Chinese just seized an oceanographic drone and took two days to return it? In ’68, the North Koreans seized the USS Pueblo, and held it and its crew for nearly an entire year.
Putin and the Russians may be bad actors now, but 1968 saw brutal repression in Czechoslovakia, Russia sent nearly a quarter-million troops in to crush the “Prague Spring”.
A lot of people think that it wasn’t until after the Nixon resignation that the GOP decided ethics were for losers, but Nixon more than made up for any decency and honesty the GOP once possessed, impeding the Paris Peace Talks and boasting of a “secret plan” to end the war. Five years later and over a million deaths passed, he reached an agreement with Hanoi that was the very same terms he sabotaged in 1968.
Disgusted by the behavior of state police and armed corporate thugs at Standing Rock? You should have seen Mayor Daley’s pigs in action. Journalists called it a police riot. This was back in the days when the talking heads on TV were actual journalists, and not just overpaid fascist clowns.
Somebody even shot Andy Warhol.
There were differences. We didn’t have nearly as many mass shooting back then, but the overall murder rate was far higher. The Black Panthers were a lot angrier and more strident than Black Lives Matter, unfortunately for the same sad reasons that confront BLM today.
We did have several terrifyingly close calls with an intercontinental thermonuclear war, but we didn’t learn about those until much later.
NASA chose to have a capsule with a pure oxygen atmosphere and thousands of yards of electrical wiring. The resultant inferno barbequed three astronauts on the launching pad during a live exercise. A year later, people were still wondering if the space program could recover.
Yeah, 1968 sucked. I posit it was worse than 2016, although I admit our outlook now at year’s end is grimmer than it was in 1968.
In December, two brighter signs appeared that year. Unemployment dropped to 3.3% (as is often the case, the country prospers during Democratic administrations, and this unemployment level was reached after a 10% rise in federal taxes and a boost in the minimum wage.)Finally, on the Solstice of that year, Apollo 8 was launched to orbit the moon and take a picture that forever changed how we saw our world. Two months later Standard Oil would paint the beaches of Santa Barbara black, and this would forever change how we cared for our world.
We survived 1968. We may have been a bit more tired, a bit more cynical, a bit worn around the edges, but we survived. Kids born that year learned to dream just as kids had before. The wounds healed.
We don’t have great economic news or Apollo 8, but there are signs of hope. If Trump doesn’t destroy us, he’ll destroy the plutocracy and the system of lies and corruption that put him in office. Yes, it will boil down to us or him.
There was good news in sports. The Cubs finally made the World Series, and won in an incredibly dramatic world series. The Cleveland Indians were equally deserving. Maybe next year, Cleveland. In the meantime, enjoy your NBA championship. Oh, and next time you get in the World Series, have Charlie Sheen throw out the first pitch. You know what music to play.
In the Premier League, Leicester City won for the first time since…oh, never. Founded in 1884, they had made the finals four times over those 131 years, only to be turned away each time. Meanwhile, just to show some symmetry, in the Canadian Football League (Motto: more yards per down needed) we saw a third year team, the Ottawa Rouge et Noir, win the championship, having appeared in it twice in their three years of existence. That’s a bit like seeing the eight year old who absolutely butchered “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on the triangle in rehearsal get a scholarship to Juilliard because someone else made a typo on their application. For Juilliard, the kid played it in a way that would make Mozart groan in envy.
Lost in the political miasma are the amazing scientific advances and discoveries. If we survive our leadership, people will live longer, healthier, and with an amazing access to all the world’s knowledge—assuming they don’t sewerdip in the slime of fake news instead.
We survived 1968, a year of horrors.
We’ll survive 2016. I believe that.
Don’t lose hope. Never lose hope.
1968 chronology available at: