Roughly Speaking Dan Rodricks: Commentary and conversation on life in Baltimore, Maryland and the USA

Rodricks: Eager to say farewell to the worst year of the century

Has there been a worse year than 2017? I don’t think so. Not in recent memory. Getting to a year as cumulatively bad as this one requires a half-century reach, back to 1968, the deadliest 12 months of the Vietnam War and, at home, a miserable year of assassinations, racial tension and riots, protests and political turmoil.

At least 1968 had a “big save” at the end, when the three Apollo 8 astronauts orbited the moon, sent back the first-ever pictures of “Earthrise,” and, on Christmas Eve, took turns reading from the Book of Genesis. Americans sighed. Americans cried.

Perhaps something wonderful will fly out of the dark side of the moon and save 2017. Perhaps it was the stunning upset of Roy Moore by Doug Jones in the special election in Alabama for a U.S. Senate seat on Dec. 12.

But, even with that, after nearly 11 full months and hundreds of tweets by President Donald J. Trump, I am inclined to judge 2017 the worst year of the 21st century. And that includes years of calamity (the 9/11 terrorist attacks), war and recession.

Every year has a certain level of awfulness, or historically horrific events: natural and man-made disasters, deadly diseases, unsettling developments in politics, racial and ethnic strife.

But it strikes me — and, apparently, a lot of other Americans, including those who live in and around Baltimore — that 2017 had awfulness to the third or even fourth power.

Trump is not singularly to blame for the horridness of 2017, but, for many Americans, he inspires a sense of dread and a profound worry about what happens next. He’s a president who causes far more anxiety than he relieves.

A majority of citizens consistently express deep-rooted disapproval of the 45th president. As of Nov. 30, the Real Clear Politics average of eight national polls showed a 39 percent job approval rating compared with a 56 percent disapproval rating. In Maryland, the Goucher Poll put Trump’s disapproval rating at 71 percent.

Of course, his approval rating among Republicans and among those who voted for him remains high. And Trump thinks he’s doing just swell. In late November, after completing another of his many golfing trips to Mar-a-Lago, he tweeted to his followers that he had “possibly done more than any 10-month President.”

This was just before Trump retweeted incendiary, anti-Muslim videos from a British nationalist group, sparking widespread criticism and prompting warnings from the State Department about anti-American backlash.

Trump’s first year in office is a 100-car pileup of controversial and polarizing statements, nasty tweets, unconstitutional executive orders, spiteful reversals of Obama administration policies, international embarrassments and attacks on the press, all of it corrosive to democracy.

Americans have been forced to think about their president every day, something most Americans would prefer not to do.

Americans would generally prefer to wake up each day to a better country. But citizen satisfaction with the way things are going in the U.S. has been falling since the late 1990s, according to the Gallup organization. In October, only 21 percent of the people in a Gallup survey said they were satisfied with the state of the country. That figure was around 37 percent just before Trump’s election.

While majorities of Americans consistently tell pollsters they think the country is on the wrong track, there’s a different story in Maryland.

A majority of people surveyed for the most recent Goucher Poll said they thought the state was on the right track.

And yet the percentage of people who expressed pessimism about the state’s direction increased by nine percentage points between February and September.

It’s hard to know exactly what that’s about. But there are plenty of reasons — arguably a flood of reasons — to feel depressed or even despondent as we reach the end of 2017.

Consider the rise in hate crimes.

Consider the rise in violence — the daily shootings and homicides that occurred in Baltimore at a pace not seen in the city for two decades, and the mass shootings that claimed so many lives in places like Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas. The Mass Shooting Tracker database listed 397 mass shootings across the country between Jan. 1 and Nov. 24, with 560 people killed, and another 1,896 wounded.

On Nov. 30, Baltimore detectives who had just buried one of their own, Detective Sean Suiter, went to a street corner in East Baltimore to investigate the fatal shooting of a 21-year-old man, the city’s 319th homicide of 2017, one more than the total for 2016 with a month left in the year.

Add to these man-made disasters, the natural ones that flooded Texas and Florida and ripped through the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The damage from Hurricane Harvey’s drenching of the Houston area could approach $200 billion, one of the costliest storms on record. Hurricane Irma tore through the West Indies, the Caribbean and parts of Florida. Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.

I make no apologies for ending the year with this chronicle of the bad. That’s the kind of year 2017 was, a real stinker. Be glad it will soon be gone. And, if you can — because we must — raise a glass of bubbly optimism for the year ahead.

drodricks@baltsun.com

twitter.com/DanRodricks

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