Last November, satirical news host John Oliver blew 2016 up. In response to the results of the presidential election, Oliver decided to signify the so-called death and disappointment of the past year by blowing up a sign with the numbers 2016. And this is not without good reason. The world seemed a little bit more dangerous and unfriendly than in past years. Here are just five of the key events from the past year that will make it into the history books.
- David Bowie, often regarded as one of the most innovative musicians in the world, passed away in early January. One of the first musicians to bring electronic-infused music into the mainstream, he was exalted for his incredible songwriting abilities and has left an indelible mark on the music industry. His ability to shine a light on outcasts in society such as drag queens or junkies inspired many and provided a revolutionary change in scenery from testosterone-dominated Rock and Roll. Another figure who died this past year was Leonard Cohen, renowned for his ability to infuse poetry and fiction into his songs. With a tender voice, he was always easy to recognize in songs because of his melancholic spirit. He is the artist behind one of the most covered and one of my favorite songs in the world, “Hallelujah.” Other figures that also deserve recognition include Muhammad Ali, Prince, Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee, and Phife Dawg.
- Britain exited the European Union, in a move known colloquially as “Brexit.” Defying polls and the recommendations of economists and politicians, the people of Britain’s narrow vote made Britain the first country ever to attempt to leave the supra state of the EU, setting off global economic fears. The vote was one of the first developments in a tide of populism that is now washing over Europe and the rest of the world. Britain’s vote will result in its preclusion from the passport-free travel within the EU and access to the common market, which now gives them the ability to sell their goods without tariffs or regulations across Europe. This was all done in the name of national sovereignty, as Britain wanted to control their own borders for the sake of preventing illegal immigration, thus dealing a blow to globalism. However, this was likely an overreaction to the issue of illegal immigration and will instead be isolating Britain from the rest of Europe.
- An extremely frightening trend that appeared in 2016 and will have deep reverberations for the future is the rise of fake news, which is deliberately promoting misinformation for financial or political gain. This has manifested itself in cases where people often see news that is factually inaccurate or misleading on their Facebook or Twitter feeds, rather than from respected news sources. Additionally, people often see this news from friends who have the same views as they do, creating an echo chamber that further polarizes people on the opposite ends of the political spectrum. A manifestation of this issue presented itself during the 2016 Presidential Election and the issue of “alternative facts” is popping up in the first week of the Trump presidency. In order for responsible discourse to occur on important political issues, people must start off with the same set of basic facts.
- One of the most chaotic and bloody civil wars of the past decade continued in Syria this past year, and it was characterized by atrocities. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrians were forced to flee their homes to escape the ruthless conflict involving the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, ISIS, Syrian rebels, al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra, and others. More than 470,000 people have died in this conflict since it began in 2011 as a popular uprising against the rule of Assad. Many ceasefires have been reached only to have been broken and ignored. 3.8 million men, women, and children have had to leave their homes and become refugees as a result of the war, with many facing a harrowing struggle to make it to safety in other countries, where they are often greeted by squalid conditions in hastily erected refugee camps. There have been multiple recorded violations of human rights and as many as nine mass killings have been documented by the United Nations. Humanitarian aid has been extremely hard to access for anyone in Syria, and Russia has blown up Red Cross aid convoys in an attempt to force Syrians to starve in a form of siege warfare.
- And of course, 2016 will be remembered as the year Donald Trump won the presidency of the United States. And like him or not, this was one of the craziest elections in American history. Never has there been such a radical figure who has been able to ascend to one of the most powerful positions in our country. Despite a raft of blunders that would have sunk any other candidate, such as criticizing Senator John McCain who was captured and tortured in the Vietnam War, or calling Mexicans ‘rapists,’ President Trump managed to connect to millions of voters in the U.S.
His outright lies, xenophobia, and sexism make him one of the most dangerous figures in
America and on the global stage today. The amount of fear he has instilled across the East and West coasts of the U.S. is unheard of for a major political candidate, which is partly
why he entered office with the lowest popularity ratings out of any president. Shunned
by many members of his own party and rejected by many celebrities such as Meryl
Streep and Madonna, Trump’s main course of action includes repealing or rescinding many of Barack Obama’s achievements. He has already started with actions on restarting the Keystone Pipeline, gutting the Affordable Care Act, and setting America back on the global stage with his ‘America First’ policy, which was originally used by aviator Charles Lindbergh in the leadup to World War II and which has anti-Semitic connotations.
At this point, all we can do is attempt to bounce back from the setbacks of 2016 and note that with the bad comes the good – Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders met for the first time in nearly 1000 years, our beautiful National Park System turned 100 years old, and Columbia and rebel group FARC finally reached a peace deal after fifty years of war. Whether or not this year was truly “the worst year ever” will only be a test of time. Here’s to a better 2017, John Oliver.