Closing Out a Dismal Year

The funniest year-in-review pieces are the serious ones that try to be positive.

I didn’t completely get it until yesterday, when I read “Dave Barry’s 2021 Year in Review” in the Washington Post. But then it hit me full force: Not even Dave Barry can make 2021 funny.

He hit all the high points: January 6, Ted Cruz in Cancun, the George Floyd trial.

Hilarious, wasn’t it? I can tell you’re laughing already.

Another year-end WaPo article is actually funnier, though I don’t think the Editorial Board intended it to be: “21 Good Things That Happened in 2021“. It starts well with #1 “Vaccines”, which are undeniable good. But the article already begins to lose its way with #2 “Innovations”, which is partly repetition (vaccines were a great innovation) and already starting to get ambiguous.

Innovations abounded in telemedicine and remote work, and we began to commune as never before with faraway friends and family.

Think back to all the time you spent on Zoom this year. Was that really the second-best thing about 2021? Maybe it was. (Oh, shit.)

#3-#8 are all variations on the theme that we got rid of Trump, even though he was so determined to stay in office that he nearly overthrew American democracy. By #13 we’re celebrating Britney Spears getting free from her father’s conservatorship. (I haven’t done my research: When was the last time Britney was #13 on the charts?)

Imagine being down to Britney and knowing you still have to come up with eight more upbeat things to remember about the year. I want to make fun of the WaPo editorial board’s clueless choices, but try to do better: Did 21 genuinely good things happen in 2021? To anybody?

The Year of Almost

The true highlight of the year came in June, when we almost got past the Covid pandemic. Remember? It happened right after Biden’s vaccination program got rolling and before Delta and Omicron broke out. The national 7-day average for daily new cases got down to 14K (compared to nearly 200K on Inauguration Day and over 200K now).

In Massachusetts, where I live, that average got down to 52. Not 52 thousand — 52 cases in the whole state. Now it’s 7150. In early July, the 7-day average daily deaths was down to 1, and we had a number of days where nobody at all in Massachusetts died of Covid. Now we’re losing about 32 a day.

In Congress, the Democrats’ razor-thin margins in each house allowed them to almost accomplish all kinds of things. They almost started doing something about climate change, almost protected voting rights, almost renewed the child tax credit, almost reduced the cost of prescription drugs, almost reformed the filibuster, and much more.

As the year ends, the January 6 committee has almost gotten to the bottom of Trump’s coup, and I’m sure that 2022 will see the Justice Department almost get off its butt, investigate him, and send him on a well-deserved multiyear vacation inside some federal facility.

Well, I’m almost sure.

The point of no return

For Republicans, 2021 was the year when all hope of redemption was lost.

Remember the old Republican Party? I wasn’t a fan, because it was mostly dedicated to preserving traditional dominance relationships: rich over poor, capital over labor, men over women, Whites over people of color, Christians over non-Christians, the US over the rest of the world, and so on.

Nonetheless, Republicans could be counted on in certain important ways. Like all sensible Americans, they wanted to protect the country from invasion, terrorism, crime, and disease. They didn’t want to crash the economy. They had their own interpretation of democracy, human rights, and the Constitution, but they were more-or-less faithful to that interpretation, and could even at times be principled about it. Party leaders like Newt Gingrich and John McCain could see the reality of climate change and even support doing something about it.

Then came the Tea Party wave of 2010, and the rise of hostage-taking politics: If Obama wouldn’t give them what they wanted, they’d let the government crash into its debt ceiling, doing unpredictable damage to the world economy. Playing chicken with the debt has been a first-choice conservative tactic ever since, along with other hostage-taking tactics like government shutdowns and threatening to deport the Dreamers. Sure, almost nobody wants those things to happen, but what will you give me to make sure they don’t?

With Trump, the new anything-goes style came into the White House. But the old-time Republican Party was still represented by Senate-confirmed cabinet secretaries like John Kelly, Jim Mattis, and Rex Tillerson, who buffered the country from the worst impulses of the “fucking moron” in the Oval Office.

Whatever they privately believed about their president’s mental capacity, though, most Republicans publicly stuck by him. When Trump turned a public health crisis into a partisan issue, and took the wrong side of it, Republicans (other than a few governors) either supported him or stayed silent, allowing the GOP to become the party of Covid disinformation, snake-oil treatments, and opposition to virtually any policy that might save American lives.

By end of the Trump administration, the “adults in the room” were almost all gone, and the executive branch became an authoritarian personality cult. A handful of Justice Department officials loyal to the Constitution interfered with Trump’s plan to rig the Electoral College, and Mike Pence refused to miscount the votes. Otherwise, the US would have gone the way of Hungary (as Tucker Carlson believes we should).

Then came the January 6 riot, whose purpose was to intimidate Pence and Congress into throwing the election to Trump, or at least delaying the electoral process past Inauguration Day and creating chaos Trump might use to stay in power.

For a few days, it looked like this was the long-anticipated moment when old-style Republicans would find a line they could not cross. Sending his thugs into the Capitol itself, staying silent while they threatened to hang the vice president — it was finally too much. Weather-vanes like Lindsey Graham and Kevin McCarthy turned against Trump.

But then they turned back.

Mitch McConnell could have convicted Trump in either one of his impeachment trials — the evidence to do so was certainly there — but ultimately he didn’t. During 2021, the whole party has gotten behind the Trump’s Big Lie about the stolen election, has made excuses for the attempted coup, and has calmly watched Trumpists set up for the next coup. Those few old-style Republicans who rediscovered their oath of office or their loyalty to the Constitution — Brad Raffensperger, Liz Cheney, and a handful of others — they’re targets now. The Party disowns them.

2021 was the GOP’s last chance to redeem itself, and it refused. Now it will either succeed in sweeping away democracy in favor of Trumpist fascism, or it will die. I wouldn’t want to place bets either way.

Today, our two-party system consists of one party committed to authoritarianism, and another that will almost defend democracy.

Dave Barry can’t make that situation funny, and the Washington Post editorial board can’t put a positive spin on it without looking ridiculous. So I won’t even try.

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  • George Washington, Jr.  On December 27, 2021 at 9:31 am

    Imagine this scenario: Hillary Clinton wins in 2016, and the Republicans gain the majority in Congress in 2018. Then Trump wins the 2020 election. Hillary spends the next two months claiming the election was “stolen,” making unsupported allegations of “fraud.” On Jan. 6, Hillary gives a speech to a crowd of supporters in Washington, asking them to go to the Capitol and “fight.” This is followed by a large group of Hillary supporters invading the Capitol and rioting, while Hillary waits several hours before asking them to stop.

    Does anyone think that the Republicans wouldn’t have hesitated to declare the Democratic party a domestic terrorist group after that?

  • Barbara J Mantegani  On December 27, 2021 at 11:08 am

    Agreed 100%. The Republicans would have co-opted the Army to arrest every Democrat in Washington. 😦

  • lori wheeler  On December 27, 2021 at 5:28 pm

    You might find this blog interesting. He cites the Dave Barry article but adds an additional take.

    Sent from my iPad


  • Mike Val  On December 28, 2021 at 2:13 am

    I know you didn’t forget, but every time Rex Tillerson is mentioned as one of the “adults in the room” who did what they could to save our democracy I remember how thoroughly the choice of an oil executive to be secretary of state was ridiculed at the time. He may have done well, but he had no business being there in the first place.

    • weeklysift  On January 2, 2022 at 6:19 am

      Rex is an example of the difference between ordinary special-interest corruption and the reality-is-what-I-say-it-is corruption the Trump administration evolved towards.

  • Dale Moses  On December 28, 2021 at 3:19 pm

    I think that characterizing the Republican party as “newly” snake oil is incorrect. A piece by The Baffler laid this out in 2007. The history of the Republican party as one that has been deep in the throws of snake oil is long and storied. The difference “today” or well, as of about 2007 or so, is that Fox is unable to suppress those aspects from public view and from inundating their own programming. Trump isn’t the cause of the disease, he is the symptom

    • Anonymous  On December 29, 2021 at 8:15 am

      “Trump isn’t the cause of the disease, he is the symptom”

  • Dan  On January 3, 2022 at 12:24 pm

    The “Year of Almost” implies that the Democrats didn’t actually get anything done. Given the razor thin margins, in Congress, passing the Infrastructure bill was a major accomplishment, which will, among other things, bring safe drinking water, and internet access to areas that need it. It seems to me while Republicans cheer on their leaders for things they never accomplished (like Trump’s claims about improving the economy), Democrats ignore their achievements and complain about the things that haven’t gotten done yet.

  • Anonymous  On January 3, 2022 at 7:11 pm

    I thought Todd & Aaron did an all right job:


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