5 Reasons 2016 Was The Worst Year Ever (That Are BS)
2016 has been a terrible year, right? Terror attacks in Europe, countless shootings in the U.S., Zika, Brexit, climate change, the checking out of David Bowie, Prince, and dozens of other beloved artists, and, of course, the checking in of President-elect Donald Trump. Just look at what's being said about him, weeks before he even takes office:
"I am scared that if gets into office, we are going to see more of the Ku Klux Klan and a resurgence of the Nazi Party."
"I'm afraid things are going to blow sky high during this next term."
"He's shallow, superficial, and frightening."
You probably see sentiments like those on social media about, oh, infinity times a day. But those particular quotes were about Ronald Reagan, spoken in 1980 during his first presidential run. Those young enough to be born after his presidency might notice that Reagan did not, in fact, destroy the world, despite him being a conservative 70-year-old media personality with a habit of saying dumb things. So while it might feel as if 2016's suckiness has doomed us all, keep in mind that we've been here many, many times before.
The Rubella Outbreak Of 1964 May Help Us Beat Zika
The Zika virus is both as serious as the plague and so cartoonishly horrific that it might as well have been directed by David Cronenberg. The entire world is in a panic over this voracious scourge that is coming for our babies. And lest we forget about Zika, there are plenty of headlines to remind us:
It's terrifying that we care what Barbra Streisand thinks.
And those are just the recent ones. We've been hearing worrying stories about Zika all year. Zika is considered by some the new rubella, a disease that became rampant in the '60s. Here are some terrifying headlines about rubella from the past year:
Oh right, there aren't any, because we curb-stomped rubella decades ago. The reason we mention it is that, because its history is similar to Zika, rubella's being used as a case study on how to fight this new menace. Rubella, also known as the German measles, started as a weird foreign disease that hit unborn babies the hardest, causing severe defects like "deafness, congenital heart disease, enlarged spleens, liver problems, abnormalities of the bones and bone marrow, and bleeding disorders." By 1965, over 10 million people were infected. 20,000 babies died, 30,000 more were born with birth defects, and thousands were aborted as a precautionary measure. Then, by 1969, a vaccine was made. By the '80s, rubella was contained to minor, isolated outbreaks. Today, it has been so thoroughly wiped out of the Americas that any American carrying it could be suspected of being a time traveler.
Or suffering from the most unfortunate case of freckles ever seen.
That said, it's not a simple matter of copy-pasting how scientists solved the rubella crisis to the Zika crisis. Zika's transmitted differently, it's less obvious if someone is carrying it, and it's generally going to be pretty damn tricky to develop a vaccine. But scientists aren't panicking. The point is that when a disease swept through the Americas in the '60s, Americans stepped the fuck up. And so far, Zika has only been tied to five pregnancy losses and 28 infants with birth defects in the U.S. -- not exactly fist-pump-worthy numbers, but a far cry from tens of thousands of deaths. Or to sum it up with another headline:
The Real "War On Cops" Was In The 1920s, Not The 2010s
In July, the U.S. took a break from being horrified by the constant shooting of civilians by the police to be horrified by the murder of five Dallas police officers. It fit the narrative that we all seem to have in our heads: Police officers have become terrified to walk the streets because of how violent and anti-blue the U.S. has become, so they tragically overreact to every potential threat they see. But the truth is that the number of cop killings has been steadily declining since the '70s.
You'll notice that police officer fatalities are way down from the U.S.'s Death Wishiest years during the '70s, when several militant groups tried to counter police brutality by declaring open season on cops. In fact, the only statistic that has risen in the past century is the number of police officers per capita. So unless the Black Panthers have made a comeback without us noticing, police officers might have to admit that their job is the safest it has been since disco died.
But what happens if you stretch the graph out further?
It took 10 minutes for people to text #BlueLivesMatter on 1920s rotary phones.
Place a ruler on that graph, and you'll see that our rate of police fatalities is demographically on par with the mid 1800s, when the most coppers had to fear from the public were ride-by muskettings. Police officer deaths, adjusted for the country's population, peaked in the 1920s and early '30s, which was coincidentally at the height of prohibition and organized crime. So don't believe the rhetoric that Black Lives Matter protests fuel a war on cops. Cops are doing OK.
We've Faced Worse Immigration Issues
We don't want to downplay the genuine concern that immigrants are experiencing right now, because it must be a dreadful feeling, knowing that it's more acceptable to be orange than brown these days. But the sad truth is that it's always been hard finding acceptance as an immigrant in the United States. Even sadder, American immigrants from previous generations would look at all of the ugly rhetoric currently flying around and find it adorably polite.
Let's take a trip back to the 1850s and the heyday of the Know Nothing Party (also redundantly known as the "American Party"), a group aptly named, but not for the reasons they think. They too thought that immigrants were destroying their country. Specifically, they were concerned about Germans and Irish, who were bringing the unimaginable horrors of Catholicism with them. Catholics, they feared, were too religiously extreme and would always put their dogmatic religion before their nation. After all, how could you trust people who are loyal to someone as vile and un-American as that dastardly Pope?
South America doesn't count.
Obviously, the Irish haven't destroyed the U.S. -- though they do temporarily damage it whenever a Boston sports team wins something. But the Know Nothings were convinced that all these religious fanatics were a powder keg waiting to explode -- so much so that they felt the need to explode first. They organized protests and wrote scathing editorials in the media, and by 1884, they had 52 members of Congress and mayors in several major cities in their pocket. But their greatest anti-immigrant success must've been in Kentucky in 1855, when mobs of their supporters stormed an immigrant neighborhood, killing 22 people and injuring many more while burning down houses and businesses. On Election Day. It's the kind of voter suppression modern fascists look at with envy and longing, because you only have to do it once if you can suppress them six feet under.
After "Bloody Monday," immigrant tensions died down for a while, especially after the rest of the country ruined the Know Nothing Party's shot at the presidential election in 1856. But immigrant suspicion came back with a vengeance in late 1919 through early 1920, when Germans and Irish were among the groups of immigrants targeted again, this time in the Palmer Raids (named after Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer). With the first "Red Scare," there were fears that "hyphenated Americans" loved their home countries more than America -- concerns which had been bolstered by a spate of anarchist bombings. So over 10,000 people were arrested across 23 states on suspicion on everything from being a communist to speaking with one of them funny foreign accents. But in the end, only 500 people were deported, because the public spoke out against the brutal methods used during the raids, and even other government agencies got sick of Palmer's shit and did whatever they could to stop him.
And we all learned our lesson, and it never happened again.
That's a lesson in how constant anti-immigrant rhetoric can make violence against immigrants seem normal, but it's also a lesson in how that normality doesn't last. By 1860, support for the Know Nothings had collapsed and the party dissolved. The Palmer Raids didn't make it to a full year before its hate became too bitter to swallow. Today, the idea of a riot against those darned clover-pickers and sauerkraut-eaters is absurd. It seems that immigrant integration is more a question of endurance than acceptance, which thankfully means that the odds are always in favor of the people so resilient that they chose to move to an openly hostile country.
None of this is going to be especially comforting if you get a racial slur screamed at you tomorrow, but try to take solace in the fact that you'll easily outlive their heart-attack-prone ass and the particular brand of hate they're wielding.
Every Year Is "The Worst Year Ever" For Celebrity Deaths
It feels like 2016 is the year the Grim Reaper decided that he wanted to put together a talent show. Celebrities are rapidly becoming an endangered species, and perhaps no one summed it up better than CNN when they said "The year seems to have been filled with an inordinate amount of high-profile deaths -- some even on the same day."
Except we tricked you again, because you foolishly keep trusting us. That quote was from 2009, when CNN was talking about the deaths of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Bea Arthur, Patrick Swayze, Walter Cronkite, John Updike, Les Paul, Billy Mays, Ted Kennedy, and many, many more, to the point where they included the freaking Taco Bell dog.
Who was ground up and used as filling in their Chalupa Supreme.
But even 2009 wasn't really that much of a standout year when it came to famous fatalities. As is the case with every other entry in this article, it's all about awareness. That same article goes on to point out that 2009's celebrity death extravaganza could be attributed more to increased awareness than a statistical freak show or a curse. Despite blaming "our hyper-caffeinated, overly Twittered culture," CNN, the well-meaning but dazed grandma of news outlets, was correct that social media is a key competent.
If you saw a headline on a news site or those things made of paper that old people on the subway look at, your involvement in a celebrity death would start and conclude with a respectful "That sucks." But Facebook, Twitter, Xanga, and all the other popular social media sites turn celebrity deaths into multi-day mourning periods. And to prove that it's the time we spend thinking about celebrity deaths and not the body count itself that's steadily rising, we can point to these useful charts, courtesy of Gizmodo, because a good chart can prove anything.
While 2016 has been worse than average when it comes to people leaving for that great after-party in the sky, it's not an unholy anomaly. The real issue is the fame of the people checking out. Bowie and Prince are universally recognized names, whereas you probably mourned David Carradine in 2009, but couldn't remember if he was alive or not if we had asked you five minutes prior.
They estimated fame based on how many Wikipedia pages link to the celebrity's Wikipedia page. Most of Prince's link to sex acts that require additional explanation.
Recency bias might also be a factor. We were all sad when, say, Christopher Lee died in 2015, but he hasn't perpetually weighed on our minds every day since. And Time pointed out that sheer age is also a factor -- a lot of today's big celebrities are baby boomers, and that generation is starting to go. So 50 years from now, when we're all in nursing homes, our children will be crushed that they've lost Justin Bieber, Drake, Kim Kardashian, and Charlie Bit My Finger all in the same year.
The United States' Most Contentious Election Was In 1876
There's no denying that the 2016 election got ugly. Real ugly. Spray tan ugly. Americans felt they had to choose between perhaps the two least-deserving candidates ever to run: an openly antipathetic basic-cable celebrity and a politician with a vagina. Nobody was in a good mood. Things were said, emails were leaked, pussies were reportedly grabbed, and people lost hope in the electoral process itself. But despite all of this, the election was nowhere near as nasty as it could have been. For that, we have to go all the way back to 1876.
During the 1876 U.S. presidential election, Rutherford B. Hayes took on Samuel J. Tilden, in America's greatest grudge match to ever involve such old-timey names. Brutal attacks rained down from across the political spectrum. Tilden was accused of being everything from a thief to a "drunken syphilitic," and the question of whether he was healthy enough to run for president was constantly raised, despite a lack of evidence (he lived for another decade). Meanwhile, white supremacists threatened newly enfranchised black voters in the south to keep them from voting for Hayes, and the Democrats had some key votes annulled because they were found to have committed voter fraud by using misleading ballots. It was whatever the 1876 equivalent of a clusterfuck was. A hootenannyfornication.
Also, this man ran as a third-party candidate, and America tragically refused to declare him King for Life.
The Republicans countered by also committing voter fraud. During a recount in key states, Republican-controlled election boards began throwing out ballots for Tilden that were considered suspicious, on the grounds that wanting Tilden to win is mighty suspicious for a true-blooded American. Long story short, everyone was trying to commit fraud everywhere, all of the time.
The election wasn't decided until March, when a special committee (which had its own corruption issues) assembled to decide what the hell had happened. They awarded 20 disputed Southern Electoral College votes to Hayes to put him over the top. Southern Democrats agreed not to challenge the results in exchange for a variety of political concessions from Republicans which included letting racists take control of the South again. Depending on which modern historian you ask, this was either highway robbery or the result that probably would have occurred anyway if everything was done legally.
It's also important to note that Hayes, who went on to be a rather average President, lost the popular vote. Tilden, who had garnered over 250,000 more votes, commented on this by saying, "I can retire to private life with the consciousness that I shall receive from posterity the credit of having been elected to the highest position in the gift of the people, without any of the cares and responsibilities of the office." These are words we assume Hillary Clinton is getting tattooed across her back right now.
Thanks, Electoral College!
This doesn't make the tone of the 2016 election any better, but if the U.S. could survive the nonsense of 1876, it can survive anything. That's the lesson to take away from all of this. When you have a terrible year, you can't give into gloom and despair. You simply have to put it in context, realize we've survived worse, and try to make the next year better.
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