T.S. Eliot wrote the words found in the title of this article in his poem “Little Gidding,” about time, perspective, and human salvation. It seems only fitting to herald the end of 2016 not as a year passed in celebration, but as the beginning of a new year, lest some of us shoot ourselves in the face while looking back at what a year it was. Because, really, 2016 kind of kicked us in the collective nuts, much like the ISIS guys did to each other in that training video (see above).
For what can you say about 2016? It has been one of those years that seems, on balance, to have been more bad times than good, and less heaven than stairway (Zeppelin references this week are inspired by BK himself). We lost about a million public figures in 2016 to disease and age. We saw the United Kingdom vote to leave the European Union. We saw the election of populist leaders all over the world (it seemed). We saw the continuing collapse of the Syrian state, and the resulting death and destruction that continues to accompany it.
We also saw an election here at home that marked the end of one political party’s dominance, and the start of a new era that might be dominated by a whole new movement. It was a year of change, to say the least. Let us count the ways.
Rest in peace
“Every man’s life ends the same way,” is what we have been told by Ernest Hemingway, but did they all have to end in the same year? It is like God surveyed heaven this past year and said to himself, “Well Me-damned, I need to bring some talent up here to entertain Me.”
Thus spoketh the Lord, and thus was taken from us George Michael, David Bowie, Prince, Mohammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, Gary Shandling, George Kennedy, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Doris Roberts, Florence Henderson, Glenn Frey, Merle Haggard, Alan Thicke, Leon Russel, Patty Duke, Umberto Eco, Kimbo Slice, Harper Lee, Arnold Palmer, Pat Conroy, Gordie Howe, Hans Gruber/Severus Snape, Admiral Ackbar, Princess Leia, and R2-freaking-D2, for Christ’s sake.
Are you kidding me? That is one impressive haul of artistic and athletic talent to be called out for the final curtain. Couldn’t God have had mercy, and at least spared Carrie Fisher or R2D2 until 2017? Sheesh.
That was not all, either. God was not done in simply robbing us of entertainers and artists. So as not to leave the celebrity talent without a heavenly audience, His High Holiness also put out the call for some leading figures from public life, as well. Thus we lost John Glenn, Nancy Reagan, Antonin Scalia, Gwen Ifill, John McLaughlin, John Saunders, Craig Sager, Elie Wiesel, Morely Safer, and Shimon Peres. It might be safe to say, though, that John Glenn arrived in heaven, surveyed the area, and proclaimed he had made it closer than any of the others prior to his actual arrival at the pearly gates.
Also, so as to not leave the Devil in a lonely frame, God also apparently thought, “Hmm, things down in Hell seem boring these days,” and He went ahead and sent Fidel Castro down to keep the Devil company. Cigars, anyone?
Politics and international affairs
Trump wins! — Can we really start anywhere else other than with the victory of Donald J. Trump in the U.S. presidential election? The earth-shaking victory of a real estate mogul-cum-novice politician to the highest office in the world’s most powerful country illustrates how truly fed up millions of Americans really are with the political system in the United States. Many feared a Trump victory (and still do), while most now (hopefully) wish him success and wisdom as he sets out to lead the country.
Brexit — In European terms, Britain’s vote to leave the European Union was as Earth-shattering as Trump’s election in the United States. Not since its founding decades ago has the EU come so close to completely falling apart, and it must still successfully navigate the exit of one of its key (albeit historically prickly) players. No one can really be sure how it will play out as we stare at the onset of a new year.
Populism on the rise — In the Philippines, France, Hungary, and Poland, populist parties made historic and significant electoral gains, and even took power in some cases. Fears of terrorism and refugee flows, dissatisfaction with international trade, and general malaise and anger toward established parties helped populist parties win votes. Now it remains to be seen how they will wield their new political power.
Syria rages on — In the world’s worst ongoing conflict, civilians continue to die by the thousands, and though the Assad regime has made military gains with the help of Russia and Iran, the end does not appear to be in sight. Meanwhile, the Islamic State faces defeats in Syria itself, losing territory there and in Iraq, but has not stopped inspiring attacks in the West and beyond. The United States, France, Belgium, Libya, Turkey, and Indonesia all suffered attacks, amongst other countries.
Cuba-U.S. rapprochement — In a move heralded by most of the world, and by virtually every nation in South and Central America, the United States and Cuba began a tentative thaw after decades of animosity and political cold warfare. The Obama administration led the reopening of ties, following the assumption of power of Raul Castro after the latter’s brother, Fidel, stepped down. While some in America oppose the rapprochement, others see a chance for a new era in ties between the two countries.
Turmoil in Turkey — As if multiple terrorist attacks, refugee flows, and a war next door were not enough for Turkey to deal with, the country also saw an attempted coup d’etat and the shooting down of a Russian warplane, as well as the assassination of the Russian ambassador at the hands of a Turkish police officer. Each of these alone would be frightening developments for a NATO member state. Taken together, they are terrifying and spell heightened trouble for the country bridging Asia and Europe. We should all wish for calm in Turkey in 2017.
And more! — Finally, in this far-from-all-encompassing list, we should touch on the Columbia-FARC peace deal that was signed, ending a decades-long conflict; the continuing civil war in Yemen, in which Saudi Arabia and Iran fight a proxy battle; and the Chinese communist leadership’s continued anti-corruption purge and consolidation of power in the hands of Xi Jinping. All of these developments will require close monitoring in the coming year, as will the nuclear deal between the United States and Iran, which may or may not survive a Trump presidency.
So yeah, it has been a hell of a year, to say the least. This author wrote back in the summer of 2016 that the international order looked to be crumbling at the foundations, and I am not yet ready to revise that assessment. We are still on the roller coaster and hopefully we do not run out of track—or head over a section blown apart by world events—in 2017.
All that being said, I leave you with the words of Mark Twain as you contemplate your New Year’s resolutions:
“Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving Hell with them as usual.”