If 2016 is anything like ‘15, buckle up

You probably noticed that 2015 was pretty weird. But hey, it’s a brand new year — a fresh start, a blank slate, an unwritten script. In 2016, what could possibly go wrong?

Uh, where to begin?

My fingers balk at typing the words “President-elect Trump” because I don’t think such a thing will actually happen. But at this point I’m wondering how to justify ruling anything out.

A year ago, was there anyone on earth who predicted that Donald Trump would utterly dominate the Republican presidential race? That the boastful billionaire would be setting the nation’s political agenda? That Jeb Bush, armed with more campaign money than he could possibly spend, would be drifting helplessly toward the single-digit wings of the crowded debate stage?

Nobody saw this coming, least of all the GOP establishment grandees who, as I wrote in August, are working their way through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief. First there was denial (“What a weird dream; maybe it was something we ate”), then anger (“He’s a clown, he’s a jerk, he should be drawn and quartered”), then bargaining (“OK, OK, we give up on immigration reform”). Now party elders seem to be sinking into the fourth stage, depression.

I have no idea whether they’ll have to reach the final stage: acceptance. Trump’s legions turn out for his revivalist-style rallies, but will they actually vote? If they do — and if the establishment-approved candidates keep pulling one another down like crabs in a barrel — then Trump is the likely GOP nominee. There, I said it.

That doesn’t make him our likely next president, though. Most Americans are appalled by notions such as forcibly deporting 11 million undocumented migrants or hanging a “No Muslims Allowed” sign on the Statue of Liberty. Quite a few dyed-in-the-wool Republicans, asked to support a candidate whose platform amounts to ethnic cleansing, surely would sit this one out — or even vote for the Democratic nominee, probably Hillary Clinton.

Trump vs. Clinton could be a wipeout defeat for the Republican Party on the scale of the 1964 Barry Goldwater debacle. The only caveat? See above re: absolutely ruling anything out.

What else could go wrong in 2016? Well, politics isn’t the only realm in which we have to shift our thinking from “no way” to “please make it stop.” Climate is another. Scientists confidently predict that 2015 will prove to have been the hottest year on record, perhaps by a considerable margin. And this week, temperatures at the North Pole may have reached the melting point — roughly 50 degrees above normal for this time of year.

Also this week we’ve had deadly tornadoes in Texas, bad flooding in the Mississippi Valley, worse flooding across South America and hurricane-force winds in the North Atlantic. On the bright side, there’s been no plague of locusts, far as I can tell.

It is true that the proximate cause of most of this anomalous weather is believed to be an unusually strong El Nino phenomenon in the Equatorial Pacific. I am obliged to include the disclaimer that no one weather event can be definitively blamed on climate change — not even the fact that I saw people in Washington wearing shorts and sandals on Christmas Eve.

That said, let’s be real. At this point, anyone who rejects the scientific consensus on human-induced global warming is either a blinkered ideologue, a Republican presidential candidate or both.

Climate scientists have long predicted that one impact of higher global temperatures will be to make extreme weather more common and unpredictable — and more extreme. With that monster El Nino on the loose, weather in 2016 could be even wilder and woolier.

In other news, what could go wrong in Congress is obvious; the same things go wrong every year. What could go wrong in foreign affairs is too depressing to contemplate.

So maybe it’s better to think about what could go right.

The economy continues to grow — slowly, perhaps, but steadily. Crime is at or near historical lows. About 90 percent of Americans have health insurance, which is closer to universal coverage than we’ve ever been. Budget-busting medical costs have slowed their rise. These and other positive trends should continue, as meanwhile the nation lives through an election campaign that will not be able to dodge issues of fundamental importance.

In 2016, we’re likely to see an exercise in democracy that is passionate, messy, at times ugly — but vitally important. Happy New Year, and note that the seat-belt light will be on through November.

Eugene Robinson’s email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

Editorial cartoons for Tuesday, June 6

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Lummi Tribal members Ellie Kinley, left, and Raynell Morris, president and vice president of the non-profit Sacred Lands Conservancy known as Sacred Sea, lead a prayer for the repatriation of southern resident orca Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut — who has lived and performed at the Miami Seaquarium for over 50 years — to her home waters of the Salish Sea at a gathering Sunday, March 20, 2022, at the sacred site of Cherry Point in Whatcom County, Wash.

The Bellingham Herald
Editorial: What it will require to bring Tokitae home

Bringing home the last captive orca requires expanded efforts to restore the killer whales’ habitat.

Comment: Biggest part of debt limit deal was the dealing

The White House and Congress showed they could find a path that can make real progress in reducing the debt.

Comment: Do we need refuge from drag shows and naked staues?

GOP lawmakers should know that most parents have bigger concerns than men in dresses and Michelangelo’s David.

Comment: To save Twitter, Musk should take it public

It goes against conventional wisdom, but then Musk has always defied how others get business done.

Comment: Milton Friedman was right; CEOs should focus on profit

Stumbles by Target and Budweiser show why wading into politics brings too many variables into the mix.

Editorial cartoons for Monday, June 5

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

A map of the I-5/SR 529 Interchange project on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Set your muscle memory for work zone speed cameras

Starting next summer, not slowing down in highway work zones can result in a $500 fine.

File - A teenager holds her phone as she sits for a portrait near her home in Illinois, on Friday, March 24, 2023. The U.S. Surgeon General is warning there is not enough evidence to show that social media is safe for young people — and is calling on tech companies, parents and caregivers to take "immediate action to protect kids now." (AP Photo Erin Hooley, File)
Editorial: Warning label on social media not enough for kids

The U.S. surgeon general has outlined tasks for parents, officials and social media companies.

Most Read