More than a few people are expressing their hopes for a happy new year by saying good riddance to the old – the basis being that they aren’t happy with the presidential election, along with the fact that a lot of famous people died in 2016, especially lately.
The truth is that famous people die every year, and it’s not the year’s fault. Also, whatever you think about the election, the good news is that we had one.
Consider that on March 1, almost 632,000 Arkansans went to the polls to help select the two major party candidates. Then in November, about 1.13 million Arkansans voted in the general election for one of those two candidates or for one of six others. In January, the current president will peacefully hand the Oval Office’s keys to his successor and become a private citizen, while the new president takes the reins of power only temporarily.
This process is fairly common around the world these days but rare throughout history, when power has often been transferred through war or intrigue or birthright. George Washington came along and just gave power up. As flawed as it was, the 2016 presidential election was a blessing, not a curse, when you consider many of the possible alternatives. As Winston Churchill once said, “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
In fact, the 2016 campaign in some ways was remarkably open and democratic. The Republicans offered 17 candidates for president, each of whom had ample opportunities to make their case to the voters. Donald Trump won in part because he inspired first-time or infrequent voters to go to the polls. The Democrats offered the first female major party nominee, and her gender was not the defining issue. Third party candidates were treated, at least for a time, as candidates, not asterisks.
The campaign gave a shot of adrenaline to a political process that has grown predictable and stale. This time, the usual left-versus-right narrative simply didn’t apply. Both Trump and Bernie Sanders gave voice to legitimate concerns about global trade and the unevenness of the economic recovery. Moreover, they made their cases largely through oratory and direct communication rather than formulaic 30-second television advertising, which has been the norm. In November, the candidate who raised a lot less money and ran far fewer ads won by using tools that are at least theoretically available to others: a message that drew crowds and media attention, and social media.
Here’s where some of you say, “But Trump …”
I know, and I share many of your concerns. I voted for John Kasich in the Republican primary and the independent Evan McMullin in November – two candidates I believed offered positive, unifying visions. But, for one column, let’s look on the bright side, or at least all sides. It’s wrong to look at the world through rose-colored glasses, but it’s also a mistake to reach for the gray ones instead. In fact, it’s worse.
It wasn’t just in national politics where 2016 wasn’t so bad. In Arkansas, the Legislature met three times and along with Gov. Hutchinson produced tangible results in health care and highway funding. The unemployment rate in Arkansas is about 4 percent, which is far below the national average. Granted, that’s partly a result of the high number of former workers who have dropped out of the labor force, but clearly things are better than they were.
The Charles Dickens novel, “A Tale of Two Cities” begins with the words, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Based on the way so many people talk these days – and have been for the past decade or two – you’d think these are just the worst of times. Let’s be realists, not cynics. By many measurements, Americans live better than 99 percent of all people who have ever lived.
So may we each have a happy new year while keeping the right perspective on the old one. Maybe it wasn’t the best of times, but the times certainly weren’t the worst.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.