Can we all agree that 2017 was not a good year for anybody in particular?
I don't know where The New Republic's Graham Vyse spent much of the last 12 months — somewhere beautiful and quiet, I hope — but it cannot have been anywhere in the United States of America. You would have to be an especially uncompromising neo-Luddite freshly returned from a year-long hunt in northern Iceland to claim with a straight face that this has been "the year Democrats won by 'going high.'"
Never mind Vyse's dubious contention that the Democratic Party "won" anything of significance this year. Retaking the governor's mansion in a state like Virginia, defeating the Republican lieutenant of America's least popular governor in a solidly blue state, and barely edging out a credibly accused child molester in the nation's most socially conservative state are not victories. They were signs of life, in the sense that having a pulse technically means you're not dead.
What I find bizarre is Vyse's suggestion that at any point in the last year the Democratic Party — its elected officials, its paid and unpaid operatives, its large donor class and shrinking activist base, its countless media allies — have behaved with decorum or composure or shown any sense of proportion or restraint.
Not that they should have. Politics is not a high jump contest. It's a tunnel race to see who can dig fastest and deepest while still being audible from the bowels of the Earth. Unlike Michelle Obama, most Democratic politicians understand this. Which is why they were always there in 2017 to remind us that President Trump is only as feckless and unhinged as his enemies are willing to be if he asks them.
When Trump nominated a respected circuit judge to fill the seat once occupied by Justice Antonin Scalia, Nancy Pelosi accused Neil Gorsuch of "hostility toward children in school, children with autism." His nomination was bad, she added, "if you breathe air, drink water, eat food, take medicine."
When the Trump administration decided to stop participating in the meta-legal fiction that Jerusalem is not for all intents and purposes the capital of Israel, it was a foreign policy blunder of epochal significance, no doubt on par with the decision made by the (now) statesman-like George W. Bush to invade Iraq.
When a mealy-mouthed right-wing senator with an absurdly appropriate surname announced that, after a career of finding principled reasons for opposing disaster relief spending and background checks for firearm purchases, he would retire rather than serve the president, Chris Matthews of MSNBC called it "a dramatic moment in our political history."
When the Republicans introduced a bill that would lower the tax burdens of the vast majority of Americans, Pelosi declared that it was "Armageddon," the "worst bill in the history of the United States Congress."
When the FCC voted to allow internet service providers to differentiate between The New York Times and PornHub, reversing a rule made only three years earlier at the behest of the world's most powerful corporations, it was said to spell the end of the internet, of media, of education, indeed of democracy itself.
When Trump drank a can of Diet Coke or hugged the pope or watched someone turn on Christmas lights, it probably reminded The New Yorker of Hitler and reaffirmed for other journalists the well-established fact that the president is a bona fide agent of Vladimir Putin's Kremlin.
I don't blame people for doing any of these things. Red-blooded Tea Party Patriots — ever suspicious of slimy government tentacles on their beautiful constitutional Medicare, smelling Leninism between the lines of the Heritage Foundation's health-care plan and ready at a moment's notice to accuse Benghazi Hussein "Birth Certificate?" Obummer of lying about anything from his background to his religion to his feelings about dead policemen — provided Democrats with a template. If sobriety and pragmatism had a place in contemporary American politics, President Lincoln Chafee would be signing single-payer health care into law in between ordering PBS to cancel their sleazy agreement selling Big Bird to HBO and instructing Attorney General Elizabeth Warren to block the Disney-Fox merger.
That's not to underestimate the unique contributions of the president of the United States and commander in chief of the Armed Forces, who this year responded to an ISIS-inspired Nazi terrorist attack by observing that there are plenty of halfway decent Nazis and a fair amount of bad apples in the anti-racist barrel, traded ridiculous insults with an East Asian despot in possession of nuclear weapons, insulted his own secretary of state via a popular social media platform, accused a sitting senator of performing sexual favors in exchange for campaign contributions, and coined a new phrase — the oddly catchy "Federal G" — in the course of reassuring the victims of a hurricane of their safety.
This was also the year in which the star of The Talented Mr. Ripley helpfully explained that groping women and child rape exist along a continuum, in which the overrated songwriter responsible for "Desolation Row" acknowledged his Nobel Prize for Literature with a speech that plagiarized the Cliff Notes to Moby-Dick, in which President Obama's first secretary of state responded to critics who accused her of being an empty suit interested only in enriching herself by charging hundreds of dollars for a chance to watch her read from a memoir she almost certainly did not write, in which a film featuring Luke freaking Skywalker (according to friends who saw the film) milking a giraffe walrus made $440 million in four days.
In my opinion, the only person who will come out of 2017 aboveground is one Caleb Green of Chicago, a 4-year-old who wants to be an astronaut and a Ninja Turtle when he grows up and is known to read 100 books in a day. The rest of us are screaming in our burrows.