Flat White

2016 an annus horribilis? Grow up

31 December 2016

10:12 AM

31 December 2016

10:12 AM

nycardWe close 2016 with the knowledge that it will be remembered as one of the most momentous years in modern political history. It also saw the deaths of a number of celebrities such as musicians David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones and George Michael; actors Alan Rickman and Carrie Fisher; and cultural icons like Harper Lee, Muhammad Ali and Fidel Castro.

Throughout this, those on the Left have tried to weave a narrative that this 2016 has been somehow objectively worse than other years as we approach a darker, more precarious future. The onus must, therefore, be on rational-minded people to combat this politics of fear and apply common sense and reason to these arguments.

The thing is though; it depends on just whose perspective you get. If you are a person on the left of politics and/or a person with a love of 1980s pop, then 2016 might seem like a particularly bad year for you. Indeed this seems to be the view of Alexandra Carlton who writes for Kidspot.

She claims: ‘2016 feels like the ugliest, cruellest, most frightening year in history. Political norms and hegemonies have disintegrated, leaving us to flounder in the uncertainty of Donald Trump, Brexit and the clash of civilisations that is radical Islam vs. the west.’

These views are not uncommon in the media and Twittersphere, which could be a reflection on their being widely held, or that these social commentators live in the same bubble. Rebecca Onion from Slate writes: ‘Terror attacks, the zika virus, Brexit, police shootings, Syria, Trump, record-hot temperatures, the losses of Prince and David Bowie—this has been one unrelenting turn around the calendar’.

Just how these occurrences are related is never defined, but it speaks volumes about the echo-chamber that today’s social commentators find themselves in, commentators don’t even have to add the caveat that this has been particularly disappointing for the left. To these commentators events like the election of Donald Trump and Britain voting to leave the European Union can objectively be classed as ‘terrifying’ in the same vein as terrorist attacks and disease.

Yet Brexit and Trump are clearly not terrifying to the roughly 50% of the voting population in Britain and the US, so some perspective is needed.  Carlton at least acknowledges that in regard to celebrity deaths, ‘One man’s David Bowie is another’s Bobbi Kristina Brown.’ Likewise, one man’s despised candidate or political event is another man’s champion or moment of celebration.

To a conservative, 2015 might have been a bad year with the loss of Tony Abbott’s leadership and the defeat of the Harper government in Canada. Similarly, a fan of science fiction and horror might grieve for the deaths of Wes Craven, Leonard Nimoy and Christopher Lee in 2015 more so than the celebrity deaths of 2016 where a disproportionate number were musicians.

In a world where celebrities frequently espouse left-wing views, there is a temptation for the Left to claim ownership when celebrities die and attempt to link their death with part of a dark narrative against 2016.

Social commentators can simultaneously lament the passing of David Bowie while also condemning the election of Donald Trump without fear that criticising Donald Trump would alienate some of audience.

Why would it when in the eyes of these enlightened writers Bowie is one of them, a beacon of tolerance, compassion, diversity and progress whilst Donald Trump is the antithesis.

Surely it couldn’t possibly be for example that you might be a fan of Bowie’s music and a Trump supporter, or simply someone who thinks Bowie’s discography and historical context is unrelated to Donald Trump?

What the hysteria over 2016 speaks to is the growing infantilisation of today’s adults. Disappointment over the election results in a two-party democracy is part and parcel of what is to be expected in any election year. Celebrities die each year, it just happens that you particularly liked the ones this year and maybe some of these ones were seen as more culturally significant.

Carlton complains about the disintegration of ‘political norms and hegemonies’ like it’s a bad thing and not something that the Left once stood for. When JFK came to office he proclaimed that the ‘torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans’.

In turn, Obama’s inauguration was characterised by hope. Is the so-called disintegration of ‘political norms and hegemonies’ something to be bleak or fearful about or part of the necessary renewal of a healthy and mature democracy?  Is ‘uncertainty’ totally terrible? What happened to the “live in the moment” ideas of the 60s?

We’re continually reminded that the world is divisive as demonstrated by an election campaign where emotions ran high. Yet what is the solution? Should we revert back to the cynical, third-way politics of the 90s and early 2000s and deprive voters of any real choice?

More often than not, those who complain about ideological division are just as ideological as their opponents; they just sanctimoniously believe that they are on the side of the angels and that their ideas should be immune from criticism.

What 2016 has done is shatter the faux Hegelianism offered by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who infamously justified his decision to appoint a Cabinet with 50 per cent women with the nebulous phrase ‘because it’s 2015.’ 2016 has shown us that history is not linear and that the merits of is put forward by one side of politics are not necessarily inevitably embraced by the other side over time.

In 2008 the American people voted against another term for the Republican Party after two terms of the Bush-Cheney administration; in 2016 they voted against another term for the Democrats after two terms of Obama.

In 1973, Britain joined the European Economic Community. Forty-three years on they decided to put it to a vote and voted to leave. This isn’t ‘frightening’, this is democracy working as it was intended. More than anything, 2016 has shown that everything is contestable and that, fundamentally, the future is unwritten.

So 2016, I salute you. Here’s to an even more exciting 2017 and — hopefully –an end to the fear-mongering over one of the most exciting years in recent memory.


Illustration: Pinterest

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Show comments