Goodbye 2016, what did we learn from you?
2016 saw our nation upside down in search of change for change’s sake and a globe rife with terror and uncertainty. As a result, a modern day carnival barker ascended to the presidency, England voted to abandon the European Union to its detriment and the cancer of worldwide terrorism slaughtered innocents at home and abroad. Time and time again computer security was compromised and an American election had been effected by an intrusive foreign government. Syria continued to be a multifaceted catastrophe and a resulting overwhelming migration of the displaced has adversely affected most of Europe.
The fabric of United States society wore and tattered under the specter of perceived bigotry especially between the African-American community and law enforcement.
In Rhode Island, we lost the quintessential mayor of our capital city, the State Ethics Commission was re-empowered, a traditional school was revealed to be a nest of pedophiles, and the Raimondo administration scored a couple of fourth quarter wins after a year of touchbacks and fumbles.
Nevertheless, it is beneficial to review the events of the last 12 months and ascertain what lessons can be derived from what transpired.
Most uproarious, the election of Donald Trump to become our 45th President belied all conventional political wisdom and confounded accepted campaign practices. Boisterous and bombastic, accusatory and insulting, never before had America seen a candidate like Trump. One would think that Trump’s consistent outrageous behavior would exclude him from serious consideration. However, the electorate was thirsty for the inordinate after years of dwindling job opportunities and a descending standard of living. They sought a diametrically different potential style of governing than the status quo. By definition the Donald’s uniqueness foot that bill.
Additionally, Trump picked on a universal scapegoat in citing the problem of illegal immigrants. More than any other facet of Trump’s pitch to the voters, his strangeness and demonization of immigrants compelled distraught and disaffected elements of the electorate. Add to this equation, the disdain for the Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump prevailed in the Electoral College and won the White House.
So what did we learn from this campaign season? First, the American people believe that their opportunities have eroded and they are willing to try almost anyone to lead the country in a different direction. Second, the resurgence of nationalism and nativism appealed to voters in this era of economic stagnancy and globalization.
Similar to America’s want of drastic change, the British rocked the world when the majority of Brits voted to leave the European Union in the Bexit vote. When polled the voters cited the loss of political control to the European Authority, the onslaught of newcomers from a borderless immigrant policy, and an eroding national identity from Union membership.
The unexpected result forced the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, and has left England in a quandary of how to forge numerous individual trade agreements with countries around the globe.
We learned that similar to the sentiments of many Americans, Brits felt their identities as Britons fading and they wanted to regain their sense of citizenship.
The apparition of terrorism and religious fanaticism continued to darken lives across the globe. Attacks at airports in Brussels, Belgium and Istanbul, Turkey, a family park in Pakistan, a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and a seaport boulevard in France, proved no community was exempt from this particular evil. Many smaller incidents of malevolence tainted the headlines and emboldened the collective insanity of the perpetrators. To state that murder and mayhem is an expression of love for a religion is oxymoronic. All we can learn from these tragedies is to be hyper-vigilant for reasoning with myopic zealots is seemingly impossible.
Also pervasive and problematic was cyber-security. Since the advent of the worldwide internet in the 1990s, computer hackers have used their capabilities to steal credit card and personal identification information, have thwarted government transactions, and perhaps most onerous have used intrusions to effect foreign elections. The Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have confirmed that the Russian Federation has hacked the Democratic National Committee’s emails and disclosed them through Wiki-Leaks. Whether or not the disclosed materials which depicted caustic opinions about Hillary Clinton had any significant effect in the election is undetermined. Yet, what we did learn is that no matter how many firewalls or security roadblocks one believes they have to safeguard important information in this world of clouds, internet, and cyberspace nothing including the sovereignty of the election process is exempt from intrusion.
Sorrowfully, Syria was a continuing fiasco in 2016. Enabled by the missteps of the Obama foreign policy, the multi-factional civil war propelled thousands of refugees to flee into overburdened neighboring countries as well as to Europe. Germany especially has bore the aftermath of a misguided open door policy which has changed the political fortunes of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Also, the rise of petty crimes, assaults, and rape related to newcomers has created a sea change in the idea of acceptance of refugees not only in Germany but in the rest of Europe. What we can learn from this predicament is we cannot accept Syrian refugees into the United States without a thorough vetting process. This obviously is close to impossible considering documentation is unavailable from that war torn nation.
Here at home, African Americans continue to voice claims of injustice in their interactions with police. Suspects Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed by police under questionable circumstances. This year is not dissimilar to the last three years where incidences of law enforcement overreach resulted in the deaths of young black men. Besides activist organizations like “Black Lives Matter”, complaints have escalated into devilment as attacks on police. 20 police officers have been brutally murdered in ambushes and targeted responses. We have learned that in a split second police make life or death decisions and sometimes as human beings they can be wrong. We have also learned that suspects imperil themselves by not complying with police instruction. There are no easy answers and the pursuit of justice in practice is complicated and dangerous.
In the Ocean State, we lost our Providence icon, the controversial yet well beloved Mayor Buddy Cianci. In a hopeful sign of accountability, the State Ethics Commission had its oversight powers restored for the first time since 2009. Also, the heinous criminals who stole the innocence of children at Saint Georges School in Middletown were at least held civilly responsible. And giant windmills were no longer something to tilt at in consideration that Deep Water Wind went online off Block Island. It is now producing electricity for 17,000 residents.
Foolishly, Governor Raimondo’s administration suffered a series of hapless mistakes followed by a couple of late year triumphs. A 5 million dollar marketing scheme yielded a stupid slogan “Cooler and Warmer” with a rollout which featured erroneous information. Equally disappointing, was the implementation of the UHIP computer system by RI Health and Human Services in September. Clients suffered without the adequate wherewithal to survive and once again the state appeared incompetent.
A saving grace occurred in December, when Raimondo attracted through tax breaks and incentives the following business endeavors. Wexford Science and Technology will build an innovation center on the 195 land, Johnson and Johnson will have a health technology center which will employ 75 people, and Virgin Pulse will run a health and technology center on Fountain Street in the old Journal building.
Thus, we have learned that Raimondo’s apparent strengths are in engaging businesses on a deal by deal basis. However, when it comes to the operation of government the governor is found sadly lacking.
2016 taught us lessons about our American identity, the audacity of politics, the lackluster performance of government, and the unraveling of our social fabric. Hopefully, we will learn from these experiences and become better citizens. Perhaps more essentially, our leaders will learn a few lessons and become better officials. With the New Year, hope springs eternal.