Once I witnessed a windstorm so severe two 100-year-old trees were uprooted on the spot. The next day, walking among the wreckage, I found the friable nests of birds, completely intact and unharmed on the ground. That the featherweight survive the massive, that this reversal of fortune takes place among us—that is what haunts me. I don’t know what it means.
--Mary Ruefle, Remarks on Letters
At the end of every year since 2017 I’ve thought that the next year couldn’t possibly be worse. (In December 2016 I knew with a kind of crushing certainty that 2017 was going to be terrible—there was simply no way to know how terrible.) By the time the 2020 election rolled around, it felt like we were living through the end of history. “May you live in interesting times,” so goes the apocryphal saying and I so desperately wanted to be bored.
At end of 2020 the situation in this country had improved—Biden had won the 2020 election and a COVID vaccine was just around the corner after all. It seemed that we could reasonably expect 2021 would at least not be as bad.
An armed insurrection against our government instigated by my uncle was not a propitious start. The 3rd and 4th waves of COVID, fueled in part, by the right’s anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-science campaign and the sheer exhaustion of those who knew better, led to continuing social isolation in some circles and recklessness in others. The Big Lie began to take increasing hold in the Republican Party, enabled by the cynicism and opportunism of party leadership. And then there was the rise of fascism on the right which seemed to grow along with, and to some degree propel, the normalization of the insurrection itself. After all of that, how could 2022 be anything but less awful?
I clearly hadn’t learned my lesson because somehow it was awful.
Donald, despite increasing evidence that he had orchestrated, instigated, and led the January 6th insurrection, continued to roam free. Even after the FBI discovered tens of thousands of pages of documents, some of them classified and highly sensitive, that he’d stolen from our government, he remained unfettered by indictments and was able to continue grift tens of millions of dollars off his followers. He had the ability to announce his run for the 2024 presidential race, ensuring that he would remain the most powerful person in the Republican Party.
COVID kept killing upwards of 400 Americans a week and nobody on either side seemed to care anymore.
The Supreme Court ended must have been its worst session in modern history. In overturning Roe v. Wade, women were relegated to second class citizenship and the rights of pregnant people to bodily autonomy were eliminated. The separation between church and state was further eroded; school prayer (which is to say Christian prayer) was sanctioned; Native American sovereignty was impinged upon—again; and the right for states to craft their own gun laws was usurped when a New York State gun law that imposes strict limits on carrying guns in public was found to violate the Second Amendment.
The mainstream media continued to fail us, focusing on the horse race in the lead-up to the 2022 mid-terms (literally the most important election in our lifetimes) instead of what was actually on the ballot—the equality of women and pregnant people and other fundamental rights, on the one hand, and the survival of democracy, on the other.
Despite the herculean job the Biden administration had done to create jobs and restore an economy ravaged by COVID and four years of the Trump administration, inflation and high gas prices—both global phenomena caused in part by Russia’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine and in part by the oil and gas industry’s unfettered ability to price gouge—became the only metrics by which the health of the U.S. economy was judged.
As we approached the mid-terms there was a very real danger that, because of the temporary condition of inflation which no American president from either party has ever had much control—and how it was portrayed in the media and lied about by Republicans—we were going to lose American democracy permanently, That may sound hyperbolic but, with a 6-3 supermajority of radicals untethered by ethics, a Republican Senate led by Mitch McConnell, and a House of Republicans led by Kevin McCarthy, imagine the utter horror show the last two years of Biden’s first term would have been.
And yet . . .
Which leaves me in a strange place here on the first day of 2023. I’m not merely hoping that next year won’t be as scary or awful or demoralizing, I actually believe it’s going to be good. And here is one of the reasons why—for the second time in two years a majority of the American people rose up and snatched democracy from the jaws of autocracy.
I know it’s exhausting and we need to stop putting ourselves in this increasingly untenable position but a win is a win. I also realize that we lost the House but since Republicans only have a razor-thin majority, which may get even smaller if George “Catch Me If You Can” Santos is declared ineligible to serve in Congress, and considering Republicans were supposed to win upwards of 30, 40, or 50 seats, I think we can declare victory on that as well.
For the seventh year in a row, I’m ready to turn the page. But amidst all of the bad, there were pivotal and sometimes extraordinary moments that provided evidence that the tides really are beginning to turn. So this time I’ll be turning the page less out of despair than out of hope. Tonight I wanted to leave you with the possibility that we have plenty of reasons to have confidence that 2023 will be not just be less bad but (dare I say it?) actually good. And that’s something to celebrate.
I wanted to leave you with this, too. Happy New Year!
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Excellent Summary of The Shit Storms Of Past Recent Years and like you Mary, I feel this year won't be a trainwreck as recent years have been, unlike younger generations before, Gen Z is becoming far more politically involved than any of past 5 generations, This is good news, Blue young people outnumber red young people 4 to 1. Thank you for the summary and I will keep it in mind Love Peace Respect
I’ve posted this poem to several forums today. Come what may, we need to be resilient and hopeful. It is how we win: with love and courage.
“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”
- Rumi, The Guest House.