Like the end of last year and the end of the year before that, it's currently in vogue to define the preceding dozen months by their worst elements, and conclude that the year as a whole was a big "dumpster fire" or "toilet explosion" or "the worst year ever since the deeply flawed Cenozoic Era began." These sweeping negative generalizations are particularly popular on Twitter, where the impulse to dramatically insert yourself into the News of the Day is shackled to a tiny number of words. There isn't much room in a tweet for a nuanced meditation on the vicissitudes of recent history unless you work some serious magic or find the perfect GIF.
"Fuck you [preceding year]!" is easy and promises a little flush of catharsis, but I don't know how you make a historical case for 2016 being any worse than any other horrifying year, unless you're giving greater import to the horrors that arrive on your own doorstep in the form of a brain-damaged carnival barker with nuclear launch codes. In any given year, we can count on an incalculable number of injustices and catastrophes inflicting suffering all over the planet. 1346 was a REAL shit year, if we're going to take a Worst Year pissing contest seriously.
Of course, it's true: many, many horrifying things happened this year, as usual—but could it be that this radically unqualified reckless cretin winning the highest office in the land is amplifying these horrors in our minds, making them all seem part of a larger trend of Evil Triumphing? (Evil Trumphing?) Let's never forget that the orange toxic waste flesh sack's razor-thin "victory" was rigged by an antiquated voting system and voter suppression. The slippery mutant rat was rejected by almost 3 million votes, and the majority of Americans—and by far the majority of New Yorkers—see through his petty charade. His victory doesn't signify that America has fundamentally changed, even if it does portend an incoming tsunami of greedy, evil incompetence and oppression. But that belongs to 2017, doesn't it?
The other thing to bear in mind is that this is all a mass hallucination, this mental construct of "the year" itself. Our civilization's long tradition of "ending" one year at the same time has made this arbitrary observance seem somehow significant. This is all obvious, but I appreciated Louis C.K.'s conclusion to his email blast over the weekend, because it reminded me that we can choose how worked up or despairing we want to get about things we can't control, like the future:
"I hope your holiday is going well and that it goes well. And I wish you all a Happy New Year. Meaning that I wish for your New Years Eve to be happy. It’s hard to wish hundreds of thousands of people to have an entire happy year. That’s a lot. That feels greedy and hopeless and also some of you might not deserve a happy year. Everyone deserves a happy moment or day now and again but a whole happy year I would wish on maybe eight people and four of them are terminally ill children.
"Also please remember that the turning over of one year to another is a mental construct that bears no more weight than the things that keep us apart and in competitive categories as human beings. Time is not moving. You’re not losing or gaining ground. You’re not separate from “them” anymore than you’re separate from your own umbrella. It’s now, we’re us and this is here. If you’re in pain, this too shall pass. If you’re in luxury, this too shall pass. Ask an old lady how she’s doing. The internet is not real. Draw a picture on a napkin."
This is not to say that apathy is cool or that nothing we do matters. Concentrating on what we can control helps generate the energy and strength necessary to oppose this new regime. 2016, if we're going to talk about it like it's a single thing, had some good times and some bad times, but it's too soon to put it into any historical context, and even then an entire earth rotation around the sun is far too big to boil down to, say, a listicle of: Years, Ranked. (Though I would click on that.)
Also, some good things happened in 2016.
And it bears repeating that nobody, not even the most rich and powerful scoundrel, gets out of here alive. Ask that proverbial old lady about the significance of the President-elect's most recent embarrassing tweet and she'll likely have a hard time getting too worked up about it. We are living in a very strange and dangerous historical period, but most historical periods are strange and dangerous, especially for those living through them. Let's be grateful to be alive, and remember that we're all in this together, opposing these thugs and pushing for progress in whatever way we can, while we can. Good will come of that.