Even by recent standards, 2018 was a deeply unsettling year.
Our collective conscience was battered by endless spasms of violence, a series of weather-related calamities, ongoing #MeToo sexual assault revelations, and unrelenting political warfare at every level of government, all framed by an erratic president who relishes chaos but does not grasp that most of America has had enough.
It was so much turmoil that typical escapism — the World Cup, the Winter Olympics, a culturally groundbreaking blockbuster movie like “Black Panther” — was but fleeting balm.
There was internal torment, too — life expectancy in the United States continued its stunning decline, as suicides and overdoses continued to rise.
Perhaps no event was more profoundly disturbing and discordant than the Valentine’s Day slaughter of 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A day meant to celebrate love was transformed into another nightmare of gun-inflicted horror.
It was a prelude to other mass shootings at a Texas high school, a Pittsburgh synagogue, and a bar in Thousand Oaks, California, and part of a grim new reality: More than 4.1 million students endured school lockdowns this year.
Climate change continued to wreak havoc, too. Wildfires in California and hurricanes in the Southeast fueled by global warming caused immense devastation. Yet many nations fell short of commitments made in 2015 to fight climate change, and President Donald Trump began weakening regulations to reduce carbon emissions.
Immigration at the Southern border continued to cleave the country. One faction deplored Trump’s policy of separating migrant families and mourned the deaths of two Guatemalan children in U.S. custody. Another attacked illegal immigration, with Trump’s wall embodying their frustrations about a changing nation. His insistence on having U.S. taxpayers fund the wall after promising that Mexico would do so forced the current federal government shutdown.
The #MeToo movement remained strong. Scores of gymnasts confronted Larry Nassar in a Michigan courtroom in a powerful condemnation of his yearslong abuse of them, comedian Bill Cosby was convicted of sexual assault, and film producer Harvey Weinstein was indicted on abuse charges.
Against that backdrop, the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh reopened festering wounds centered on male privilege and the issue of consent. Americans were riveted, and they recoiled — some at the ascension of a man they found to be credibly accused of teenage sexual assault, others at the idea that a decades-ago incident for which they saw no concrete evidence could derail Kavanaugh.
Meanwhile, special counsel Robert Mueller racked up indictments and guilty pleas as his and other probes snared more Trump associates. Russia clearly uses social media to meddle in our elections, and social media companies mine and sell users’ data without their knowledge. We still don’t know the full extent of Russia’s actions, but clearly, we know big tech must be regulated.
Mostly, 2018 was about Trump. He continued to upend established ways in Washington. He alienated allies and courted despots, accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial of election interference, and falsely proclaimed that he and North Korea ruler Kim Jong Un had reached a denuclearization deal. Backing Saudi Arabia in the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a dismaying setback for human rights. Worries here and abroad about foreign policy decisions spiked with the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a voice of stability and reason.
In New York, Democrats seized a big majority in the State Senate, powered by big gains on Long Island, and now control all three levers of government.
After decades of lost opportunity, development finally seems likely at the Nassau Hub, and talks about transforming Belmont Park might bring back the New York Islanders. East Hampton Town officials led Long Island into a critical discussion about rising sea levels as they considered retreating from the coast in Montauk.
But Nassau County still was roiled by the assessment debacle, even as new County Executive Laura Curran tried to achieve a needed fix. The corruption trial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and his wife, Linda, ended in a hung jury. They’ll be back in court in 2019, when former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota faces charges of abusing the powers of his office. Commuters suffered through a hellish year on the Long Island Rail Road. Corporations were the big winners in the first year of the federal tax bill, but Long Island homeowners worried that their 2019 tax returns will take big hits.
A new calendar won’t magically bring a new script. We must write that ourselves. We must learn from 2018, and reset. We can start by building on the moments of hope and inspiration that pierced the bleakness:
Like acts of courage and sacrifice by teachers in Parkland and elsewhere, firefighters who poured into California and first responders to hurricanes Florence and Michael. And like grieving and furious Parkland students whose #NeverAgain campaign helped spur 27 state legislatures to pass more than 60 gun-control laws and the Trump administration to ban bump stocks.
We need more of that in 2019 to begin to tip the balance toward light, not darkness. Toward order, not chaos. Toward unity, not division.