Following the deaths, in 2016, of David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Garry Shandling, and Leonard Cohen, it’s easy to feel as though a pervasive gloom has settled over us. Fortunately, though, the year now coming to a close has also bestowed many gifts – sufficient to keep even laden shoulders from slumping.
As has so often been the case, Great Britain led the way. Befitting such a fiercely proud nation – one well-accustomed to punching above its weight – it debated, honorably, its position within Europe and reached, decisively, a bold conclusion: the aegis of the European Union is now crushing what it was designed to protect, so casting it off is the right thing to do.
Lesser elected officials too often succumb to the siren song of opportunism. At the forefront of the “Take Control” campaign, however, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove proved their mettle as visionary leaders. Shrewd in their recognition that the British people are, foremost, big-hearted and open-minded, they calibrated their appeals accordingly. Principled arguments won the day and – at last – the U.K. may now look forward to better and more prosperous relations with its European partners. (Better yet, it may do so behind stronger borders.)
A new chapter in British history commenced, and the national mood was unmistakably buoyant. It was an intoxicating moment, as a still-giddy country dared to ponder giant aspirations. Dreams that for so long felt impossible or distant now felt urgent and real. What a time to be alive!
We wondered too, of course: what next for our righteous leaders – Johnson, Gove, and that other great man of the people, Nigel Farage? Hindsight tells us we should have known better. To a man, they stayed true to their convictions by putting their country first. Generously, Farage stepped down as leader of the UK Independence Party, so that the fresh innovations of others may build on his foundations. And gallantly, Johnson and Gove lent luster and fuel of their own to the meteoric rise of Theresa May, who replaced David Cameron as Prime Minister. Again, the democratic will of the British people had asserted itself: May had the all-round skills to negotiate most successfully with the unelected bureaucrats of Brussels.
In America, meanwhile, another woman sought high office. In any other year, perhaps Hillary Clinton would also have prevailed. As never before, US voters were impeccably well-informed as they headed to the ballot box – and Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike much admired Clinton’s temperament, intelligence, and industriousness. In 2016, however, a starry-eyed coalition of voters spied a rare opportunity to set the bar still higher. In the commanding figure of Donald Trump, they recognized a generational talent who, alone, could follow the steady competence of Barack Obama with something altogether loftier. The wisdom of Americans cannot be contained. In 2016, it determined to be Great (again).
Finally! Millions of disenfranchised Americans heard a major party leader speak their words with resounding force. The love these patriots had for their country was equal only to the love Trump had for them in return. “I am your voice,” said Trump, and even the most hardened cynic couldn’t resist this claim’s uncanny persuasiveness. And what a voice! Heartfelt, honest, charming. Sometimes warmly nostalgic. Above all, Presidential.
An astute judge of world affairs, Trump saw how the forces of globalization leave too many of us behind. His rigorous policy proposals promised something better, and, at the end of an ennobling campaign, American hearts and minds were made up. Just so long as we’re all in this together, yes we can be great!
Even in a crowded field of contenders, there can be no doubting 2016’s crowning achievement. On November 8, Donald Trump became President-elect. As with the UK’s earlier vote to leave the European Union, his win pulled the future into much sharper focus. Now everything is possible!
If ever the cut and thrust of the nightly news bulletin starts to feel a little rough, we may for years to come seek solace in the events of 2016. So long as men-of-the-people like Trump and Farage help us to bear our burdens, we may look to the future with renewed vigor. And the power of their example will likewise guide our sons and our daughters to be more humble, more empathetic, public-spirited, and stouter of heart.
Surely no one would have minded if Trump had basked for a short while in his exhilarating victory. Again, though, we should have known better: America’s next President instinctively resists the shallow waters of triumphalism. Instead, without a moment’s delay, he turned his laser-like focus on to the important matters of governance, above the fray of lower-level politics.
After sensibly canvassing a broad spectrum of opinions, but also with customary decisiveness, Trump has been putting together the kind of A-team players who will help to shape his upcoming administration. Among many inspired picks, perhaps the boldest and most brilliant is Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State, the (now former) CEO of ExxonMobil. If Washington D.C. pre-Trump had become rather stale, now we may all enjoy the bracing breath of change. No mistake, Tillerson, like Trump, will shake things up as only committed deal-makers can. How refreshing, too, that both men usefully counter the shrill voices that all too often dominate conversations about climate change. Their healthy skepticism will drive American industry forward, to the benefit of all.
With a fair wind behind it, who’s to say 2017, as a whole, won’t similarly succeed? Of course the future is unwritten, but the many glories of 2016 no doubt sketch the outline of wonderful tomorrows. Thank God. Our sweet boys and girls of today may play and be silly and unencumbered – safe in the unknowing certainty that adults are capable of extraordinary things.