2016: what a year! We should have known how bad it was going to get when, just a few weeks into January, Clint Eastwood died. He left a great legacy in his final work, "Sully" - a film about a heroic individual worn down by the nanny state. It was a heartening message for all right-thinking Americans, something that turned out to be essential for surviving the rest of the year.
It was a year when so many beloved stars and notable figures passed on: Chuck Norris, Mel Gibson, Scott Baio, Ted Nugent, and most shockingly Kid Rock, taken from us far too early. It felt like our daily response to the news was, "What? Another? When will this end?!" It felt like all the lights we had followed in our youths were going out.
Global politics were hard to believe, too: the U.K. held a controversial vote on "Brexit" and the results came to almost exactly 50/50, with one single extra vote for "remain" - triggering a cascade of resignations and political infighting. When the dust finally cleared, the Labour party was now in power, run by Jeremy Corbyn, a dyed-in-the-wool radical Socialist! Sky News and Fox featured terrifying images of youths in the streets waving red flags and shouting "Up with Brussels! Down with the 1%!"
This didn't only stop in Britain: all across Europe, left wing movements started gaining more traction and more votes. Populist leftists stoked public anger against wealthy elites. Occupty Wall Street had seemed like a silly joke back in 2011, but now it was winning elections! One of the biggest surprises was in Israel: a no-confidence vote collapsed Benjamin Netanyahu's government and for the first time in decades a progressive left-wing government was in charge. Negotiations with the Palestinians started immediately, regardless of destabilizing terrorist attacks from both sides.
But this was only the lead-in for the bigger show: the 2016 U.S. election. Through the early part of the year, the Democrats fielded nearly a dozen candidates, none of them particularly inspiring: John Kerry, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi - even Ben Affleck couldn't pull ahead with his star power. Things were made worse through overexposure from too many televised debates. The Republican side was different: early on Jeb Bush had locked down the nomination, with the only other serious contender being a "hail Mary" run from outsider Donald Trump. By May, however, the writing was on the wall: the Jeb machine had been running so solidly, and so much dirt had come up about Trump's liberal past, that there was really no competition. Jeb had the nomination locked - and with so many weak Democrats still fighting amongst themselves through the early summer, it was pretty clear that the Presidency was Jeb's to lose.
But then something unexpected happened: the long shot outsider from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, took a page from the European "alt-left" populists, and started pulling ahead in the race. He cleverly played his non-Washington credentials and his strong socialist message and demolished the other candidates one by one. Hillary Clinton had been the last one standing, but her long career in Washington and her compromised pro-business past couldn't compate with Sanders' increasingly strong anti-establishment messaging.
To everyone's surprise, the 2016 Presidential election ended up being Jeb Bush, the consummate political operator with decades of service and strong name recognition, vs. Bernie Sanders, the outrageous outsider. It still seemed like an inevitable win for Bush, though. The debates were almost a joke: Jeb would discuss the finer points of policy and Bernie would just repeat his slogans about "an anti-trust wall" and a "millionaire registry" to cheers from the audience.
A large cache of emails had been hacked from the Republican National Committee and Jeb's own gubernatorial organization, and Anonymous trickled them out over the course of the election, revealing decades of back-room deals from Jeb. Most of this was just "business as usual" in politics, but the voters weren't in a mood for "business as usual" anymore. Rumours swirled that the hacks had been made by the now left-leaning Israelis, supporting a fellow socialist - but nothing could ever be confirmed.
The election ended in a shocking reversal: The final hit happened on the Friday before the election, when Al Gore wrote a letter to the Department of Justice asking for further investigation into Jeb's complicity in the 2000 election fiasco, with the implication that new evidence had come up. By Monday, Gore had been forced to retract his statement, but the damage had been done. Jeb's support collapsed in key battleground states and the USA had elected its very first socialist President.
Many Americans felt like they were living in some kind of alternate reality. How could this have possibly come to pass? What was going to happen now? Sanders had said so many things about gun control, enforced health insurance, punishing the wealthy, and worst of all, significantly raising taxes - who know how far he would go? It didn't help that leaked videos from Communist Party of America rallies showed actual hammer-and-sickle flags being waved and shouts of "Bernie!" Bernie!" mixing with other more ominous shouts of "all property is theft!". Sanders distanced himself from these small groups of radicals, but his cabinet and inner circle picks have included an alarming number of "alt left" figures.
As 2016 lumbered to a close, it turned out the year hadn't finished with us yet. Just before Christmas, news came out that Willie Robertson, one of the beloved stars of "Duck Dynasty", had been involved in a freak firearms incident and was in a coma. A few days later, it was announced that he had died. The very next day, Willie's father Phil Robertson, the family patriarch, died of a massive grief-induced stroke. It seemed a perfectly horrible end to such a disastrous year.
Some hope that 2017 will bring a fresh start - others are wondering if things are just going to keep getting worse.