Gosh, it feels like I just hit the "send" button for 2015's "5 for Fighting" -- Attytood's much-anticipated (by no one) recap of the year's most telling blog posts, which I now jokingly call "columns" -- and here we are again, looking back on 2016. Aside from Your Blogger becoming more of a real columnist in 2016 (in a process not unlike the way that Pinocchio became a real boy) there were -- trust me on this one -- other good things that happened in 2016. Remember Villanova and that Kris Jenkins' jump shot? Remember Bruce coming to Philly for his longest concert ever? Remember?....I don't know, but there must have been other good stuff I'm forgetting.
But, yeah, 2016 seems to be already remembered for one thing, which is being a horrible year, an annus horribilis. (Which means "a horrible year"...Good God, what did you think it meant?) There seem to be two reasons for this. One is an unending torrent of sadness, tragedy, and grief. But in addition to Trump, there were also a (bleep)load of deaths of beloved celebrities. I'll have more to say about that -- including today's gut-wrenching loss of Carrie Fisher -- in a column I'm writing tomorrow. But while there was a ton of other stuff going on, in my world little else mattered beyond the short-fingered vulgarian's unrelenting rise toward the White House. On that note, here's 5 for fighting...about the true meaning of 2016:
5. "Trump landslide is a wake-up call for America," Feb. 9, 2016. One of the biggest of the many, many indictments of the media in 2016 is that we didn't take the rise of The Donald seriously....until it was too late. There's a lot of mythology in that: For one thing, a real lesson of 2016 was the mainstream media no longer has any influence over huge swaths of the American public -- regardless of what is or isn't written. What's more, some people were warning the world about Trump from Day One. Here's an excerpt from what I wrote on the night that the political novice won the New Hampshire primary, nearly 11 months ago:
Do you want to know the scariest part of what just happened in New Hampshire. It's that in a few short months. too many of us have grown too used to the idea. The idea that a guy with no policy ideas other than that his orange-topped brilliance will force the Chinese to cower, the Mexicans to pay for a giant wall and that he will "make America great again" can actually capture the presidential nomination of the party of Abraham Lincoln. The idea that a short-fingered, anti-woman tweeting, anti-immigrant hate-mongering vulgarian named Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States.
As I write this, the newsroom TVs are glowing red, white and blue with the predictable pundit prattling. There's a lot of focus on the race for second place in the Granite State, and on who's moving up going into the next round of states. But let's not dismiss Trump's victory tonight. We shouldn't. We can't. There's too much at stake.
Trump's appeal, especially to blue-collar independents, is testament to the anger that a large and powerful voting bloc -- dominated by older white males -- is feeling in an era when America is becoming increasingly non-white and the middle class is continually undermined. The unlikely rise of the inexperienced real-estate magnate will probably be compared to other iconic political moments -- from LBJ's moral defeat in the snows of New Hampshire in '68 to Obama's surge eight years ago.
Do not listen to them. There has never been anything like this in the nearly 240-year history of these United States. The rise of Donald Trump is no credit to political strategy or calculation, but rather it is a case of the chickens coming home to roost -- in a democratic system that has been badly broken for decades.
The public's quest for entertainment crowding out any serious political discourse. Old-time hatred toward women, racial minorities and immigrants repackaged and re-branded as "a war on political correctness." A vainglorious billionaire successfully selling his "independence" -- because so many of our elected officials have been bought off by other billionaires over the years. And a news media -- desperate for eyeballs and ad dollars -- that can't stop hyping this yuuuuugely entertaining hijacking of democracy, because the latest flap is just so outrageous! Donald Trump's rapid march on Cleveland and possibly the White House is the culmination of so many dangerous things that we've willfully ignored for so many years.
Until now, when it's nearly too late.
4. "Tax soda less, tax rich people more," May 4, 2016. Trump's ascent was often an unfortunate distraction from the fact that a lot of important stuff was happening right here in Philadelphia. Among the local political stories that really caught my attention in 2016 were another string of corruption charges and convictions among local and state Democrats, the failings of our up-for-reelection-in-2017 DA Seth Williams, and the first year of Mayor Kenney, who oversaw a hugely successful (from the local perspective) Democratic National Convention and passed the soda tax. On the last piece, I'm sure this was a coincidence, but I did find it sort of cool that I called for changing the tax by making it less onerous -- like 1.5 cents per ounce instead of the 3-cent proposed levy -- and for taxing diet soda. Remarkably, that's exactly what happened. Here's an excerpt from the piece:
Maybe it's not fair to pick on Comcast. Many of those giant construction cranes you see around Center City and the trendier zip codes (yes, they exist) are tied to property tax abatements or other grants and benefits; the biggest boom may be at Philadelphia's tax-exempt colleges and its health care centers, which briefly flirted a few years ago with payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOTs) before the program was mysteriously wound down. To be clear, the tax abatement programs were born in an era when Philadelphia was like the Chernobyl exclusion zone when it came to new construction -- especially residential units -- but now the tonier neighborhoods are back. What isn't back, apparently, is the city's confidence. There seems to be this civic insecurity that any curbs on tax breaks for these mostly upscale projects would cause Center City to collapse like a giant Jenga. For some strange reason, those fears disappear when it comes to asking working folks to pay more for a shot and a beer at the corner pub.
It goes against every instinct in every bone on my body to be on the same side of an issue as Mike Bloomberg and on the opposite side of Bernie Sanders. But I don't see the harm in a small tax on sugary drinks -- 1 penny an ounce, maybe, or 1.5 cents tops. (Anyone who ever thought the final levy would actually be 3 cents must have flunked Political Science 101.) And Mayor Kenney, please read this if you haven't already, and expand the program to include diet soda. Maybe the smaller soda tax will still trim a few pounds off the civic waistline, and even save a life or two.
But please re-double your efforts to bring tax equity and fairness to Philadelphia in the next three-and-a-half years. Show some confidence that we are a "hot," desirable city and revisit and restructure the tax abatement programs so that the city doesn't become all penthouse condos for the rich and childless and crumbling, empty neighborhood schools for the left behind. Look -- as the Wolf administration is doing in Harrisburg -- at options for taxing dividends or other income that flows more heavily to the non-poor. Jump start the PILOT program so universities and hospitals pay their fair share. And if you want to dream really big, lobby Harrisburg for a constitutional amendment that could bring fair, progressive taxation some day. Make the wealthy pay their fair share for Philadelphia's renaissance -- and then Mike Bloomberg can spend his many spare millions on fighting our guns instead.
3. "Berniacs' long strange trip ends up in Philly...sort of," July 25, 2016. So if 2016 was the year that became Donald Trump, it was also the year that might have been....Bernie Sanders. There's no doubt that a) a lot of Americans, especially in the sinking middle class, are angry and b) for much of the early part of the year, Sanders' Burlington-brewed blend of democratic socialism rivaled Trump's more toxic brew for the hearts and minds of this frustrated electorate. And young voters who went ga-ga over the then-74-year-old Sanders never warmed up to Hillary Clinton once she'd grabbed the Democratic nomination here in Philly -- which may have tipped the November election. For some fanatics, the end of a long, strange trip was a remote campground in South Jersey. Here's my report:
On the other side of Lake Parvin, in the thick woods, six young Millennials — four women in flowing peasant dresses or cut-offs, two guys in psychedelic shorts or T-shirts -- huddled around their red van with the scrawled message: "I Water You, You Water Me; We Grow Together."
"Very, very peaceful" is how Kyle Kunar, a 25-year-old commercial roofer from Toledo, described Saturday night at the campground, where about half the vehicles carried Bernie stickers or messages, and a Guy Fawkes mask hung from a pole.
He and his new friends had joined a pro-Bernie caravan in Columbus. Two 19-year-olds from the Ohio capital, Madison Dixon and Ciara Owens, said their boss at a coffee shop wouldn't give them the days off — so they both quit to come here. "You gotta prioritize," Dixon said.
Ironically, the six Ohioans had held no interest in protesting Trump's nomination in their home state. "We wanted to avoid Trump supporters," said Kunar, citing the violence they'd seen at the Republican's rallies on TV.
Despite Trump's unvarnished appeals to racism and xenophobia, the hard-core Bernie supporters have instead been worked into a tizzy over Clinton, and nothing will divert them from that pre-programmed route.
"Hillary is the bigger threat — not that we'd ever support Trump — most of us never would," Masta said. "But she's a war hawk, a proven war hawk."
"She has more blood on her hands than all the candidates combined!" Duke added.
A short time later, their white van and the "Journey for Bernie" was back on to road, headed into Philly and another protest. What a long, strange trip this week is going to be.
2. "Forget 'Spotlight': There's a war against journalism," Feb. 29, 2016: One constant theme here at Attytood -- which, believe it or not, has been around now close to a dozen years -- is the news media's constant fight for survival, and for self-respect. In late February, I took note of some of the chest-thumping over the journalism movie Spotlight winning the Academy Award for Best Picture -- right at the moment when the media in this country was undergoing a sustained attack. And unfortunately, things have only gotten worse. Here's what I wrote early in the year:
When journalists need to beg permission from politicians to ask certain questions, our democracy is on the rocks. Not surprisingly, reporters who do cover the Trump rallies -- even as they're treated like livestock -- have become the target of scorn, both from rabid supporters of the short-fingered vulgarian and from the podium of the would-be president, in the mode of the Two-Minutes Hate from Orwell's 1984. The independent group Reporters Without Borders, in dropping America's ranking for press freedom to a mediocre 49th out of 180 nations, said: "Donald Trump has brought his grudge-match with the media to an extremely dangerous level for freedom of the press."
In the past when I've mentioned the press abuse at Trump's rallies, I get a lot of pushback, especially from folks who share my liberal worldview. Hasn't the media created the Trump monster with its fawning, around the clock coverage of his Mussolini-like campaign -- and thus brought this on itself? I certainly agree with the first part, that media coverage of Trump's crusade -- from the candidate's incestuous relationship with MSNBC's influential Joe Scarborough to today's appalling comment by the head of CBS that he loves the Trump campaign because it brings in dollars -- has been an embarrassment. But the mistakes of the press don't merit beer-hall-putsch style treatment, now bleeding into actual violence.
And it will only get worse if Trump becomes the 45th president. Last week, the GOP frontrunner promised that one of his priorities in the White House would be to weaken libel laws, to make it easier to intimidate journalists from investigative reporting (like the Globe's "Spotlight" team), by suing them. That's scary, and he made it worse by telling a rally in Fort Worth that papers that have criticized him, like the New York Times and the Washington Post, will "have problems" if he's elected.
Richard Nixon, before he resigned amid rising calls for impeachment for abusing the powers of the White House, said similar things -- but only behind closed doors (and thankfully on tape.) With Trump and his rallies, I am so often reminded of the only good line from the last George Lucas-directed Star Wars film, that "this is how liberty dies...with thunderous applause." With a President Donald J. Trump, the public may not realize all the ways that press freedom have been crushed, and how that's hurting America, until it's too late.
But, hey, we'll still have 2002, and a shiny gold Oscar standing in tribute to what journalism once could do. Even Trump in the White House couldn't take that away.
1. "What do we tell our children about President Trump?," Nov. 9, 2016: Every era has one big public moment you will never forget. You know, where you were when JFK was assassinated...or when America's democratic norms were stabbed in the back. That moment came for me about 8:45 p.m. on the night of November 8. 2016 -- the split second that a massive fault line in this country finally slid. Since Trump's election, my email box has been overflowing with the folks that I like to call "sore winners" -- people telling me to shut up, to stop whining and get with the program, or that I'm the reason they stopped reading the Daily News. Hey, if you don't like this ride, get off right now, because it's only going to get rougher in 2017. #TheResistance to reclaim America hasn't even hit second gear yet, so buckle up.
Here's what I wrote on The Day After:
Every minute that our young people idle their engines -- brooding in a funk about how terrible and hopeless that America seems because a plurality of folks elected such a man as president -- is a minute they've surrendered to his form of tyranny, real or imagined. But every minute they spend fighting back or simply doing things to make the world more just and more sustainable will set them free. Presidential elections, for better or worse, happen every 1,461 days, give or take a few. Social change can happen any second.
If President Trump has a terrible idea, like throwing 20 million Americans off their newfound health care that has saved scores of them from premature death, or deporting a few of your classmates, or speeding the arrival of catastrophic climate change with dirty coal, oppose him. Oppose him the old-fashioned way -- taking to the streets, occupying the office of your reactionary congressman -- or some newfangled way.
But fight back.
And if you're still despondent about the state of Trump's America, act locally. The road to justice starts where you live, in your own neighborhood. Here in Philadelphia, we have old-fashioned bail laws and other tools of New Jim Crow, a pro-Trump police union (and its lackeys like state Rep. Martina White) that blocks social-justice reforms, and a charter school regime that values profits over students. There is a lot of work to be done, not in 2020 but tomorrow, and the day after.
The phrase "President-elect Trump" is a nightmare but also, as my son said, a wake-up call. A game changer. Indeed, when my children were younger and a president named George W. Bush was wreaking his own special brand of havoc on the American dream, we told them that we opposed his actions but everyone should still respect the office of the president.
More than two months before he even takes office, Trump has already destroyed that respect with his words and his deeds, through his talk about grabbing women by their private parts, through discussing his own private parts in nationally televised debate, through mocking a handicapped journalist and....do I really need to go on?