Depending on one's passion, ethnicity, nationality or field - assuming they possess one - certain calendric years crackle with thunder and lightning where the overwhelming majority barely twinkle with weak starlight. For an example, to most people the years 323 BCE, 632 CE and 1215 signify little if anything. Ah, but to a polymath - a cross-disciplinary scholar - these three years are among the most important in world history, for they are, in chronological order, the years in which Alexander the Great and Mohammad died - thereby forever changing the course of world history - and the year in which the English King John agreed to accept the Magna Carta at Runnymede, which forever changed Western jurisprudence. To a baseball fan, 1927 looms large for this was the year Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs while playing on what many aficionados consider the greatest team of all time. But to those of different passions, 1927 was either the year made famous for Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic (thereby making the planet a smaller place), or Warner Brothers' release of The Jazz Singer, which ushered in the "talkie revolution" in motion pictures, thereby forever changing communications.
For Jewish people, 1948 is the year the modern State of Israel came into existence. (As an ironic footnote, 1948 on the Jewish calendar - which is less than a month away from entering 5777, and was thus 3,829 years ago - this 1948 was the year in which the first Hebrew, Abraham the son of Terach - was born). Then there are years which can be all but universally identified in a word or two or three: - like 1492 (Columbus, Exploration): 1776 (Jefferson, Madison, Independence); 1969 (Woodstock, Neil Armstrong, the deaths of the 3 27-year old "J's" - Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison); and 1984 (Orwell, Dystopia, Big Brother). The latter, of course, is not a real year on the calendar, but rather the title of a novel portraying an eerie surrealism which to this day is referred to as "Orwellian."
What the years listed share is the fact that each one profoundly changed the course of human history: whether it be in terms of dispersion and conquest (332 BCE and 632 CE); freedom and human rights (1215 and 1776), the compression of planet earth (1927, and 1969) or totalitarianism (1984). Then too, there are a couple of days which draw an immediate response, such as the Ides of March (44 BCE) December 7 (1941) and today, 9/11 (2001).
All of which brings us to a question about 2016: namely, will it eventually be added to the roster of watershed years which, as stated above, profoundly and irrevocably changed the course of human history?
There are still 58 days left until America goes to the polls and elects its next president, as well as House, Senate, Governors and state legislatures. Without question, this presidential cycle has been the most cynical, childish, churlish, derisive - and least edifying - in American history. Ironically, it is a race between perhaps the most and - unquestionably least - qualified candidates since 1790. It has been so filled with lies and quarter truths, distortions and fear-for-fear's sake strategies as to make even the most gnarled, wizened politico wince in pain. What makes the 2016 race and its potential for "enshrinement" in the Calendric Hall of Fame, isn't so much who the candidates were and who eventually won, but the very weltanschauung of the people and the nation which went to the polls. For clearly, there is a growing faction in this country that is becoming increasingly unrecognizable.
We have reached a point in American politics where personality has outpaced platform and the spotlight so glaring, so omnipresent, as to turn every misstep, every misstatement into a screaming 80-point headline. (n.b.: With regards to platforms, the Associated Press recently reported “Trump’s campaign has posted just seven policy proposals on his website, totaling just over 9,000 words. There are 38 on [Democratic candidate Hillary] Clinton’s “issues” page, ranging from efforts to cure Alzheimer’s disease to Wall Street and criminal justice reform, and her campaign boasts that it has now released 65 policy fact sheets, totaling 112,735 words.”) It is likely that no future presidential (or congressional or gubernatorial) candidate will ever again enjoy high favorability ratings. Instead of being received as human beings who succeed and fail, have strengths and weaknesses and can run on their record, they will be perceived as either the embodiment of good or the paradigm of evil.
For nearly a century - since the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 - most of the world has looked to America for leadership in times of chaos, steadfastness in times of international anomie, and defense in days of destruction. Indeed, for nearly a century, the United States of America has been, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, "the last best hope of earth." But today, in 2016, there is a haunting, daunting, creeping super-nationalism pervading many of our people. At the same time, we are witness to a growing cadre of so-called leaders who stand mute to the largely unschooled, untutored voices screaming out in favor of blood, spoil, oil and old-fashioned "America First" nationalism as the only "solution" to the admittedly challenging reality of globalism. Indeed, an unnerving number of our fellow Americans have reverted to an eerie 1840's-style "Know Nothingism" which, like their mid-19th century forebears, feasts on a diet of xenophobia, racism, outrageous conspiracy theories and religious fundamentalism. The gap between those who are fully engaged in the political process and those who are enticed to "drop in for a visit" every couple of years continues to grow with every passing election cycle. Much of the world stands aghast at an America which, to a great extent, they no longer recognize; an America which might actually elect a president who has made positive comments about tyrants like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un; who has suggested that an illegal "To the victors go the spoils" type of imperialism is part of his international playbook; and who claims to have a plan for everything from destroying ISIS to getting Mexico to pay for the construction of an American Maginot Line. But to make matters even worse, there are factions all over the world who see this candidate as a "useful idiot"; one who can be bought by a cynical compliment or a dollop of sugar for his gargantuan ego. All over Europe and South America, we see the rise of hard-right political factions likewise undergirded by nationalism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and FEAR.
In the early nineteenth century, the Austrian statesman/politician Klemens von Metternich, in summing up the post-Napoleonic spate of revolutions, famously stated "When France sneezes, Europe catches cold." The 2016 version of this homely metaphor could easily be "When the Donald bellows, the world belly laughs."
Whether or not 2016 joins our Calendric Hall of Fame only time will tell. And if it does, what will the reason be? What aspect of world history will it have changed? While no one can know, make no mistake about it: both history and the world are watching and waiting . . .
Copyright© 2016 Kurt F. Stone