Let us pause to look back on the big stories and events of 2021.
It was the year of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, the Gazette-Mail’s West Virginian of the Year. Our energetic senator was everywhere, both in the media and in his objections to the Build Back Better legislation. To understand his concerns about BBB, which would deliver enormous benefits to his West Virginian constituents, is to wrangle a wet cake of soap in the bathtub. Evidently, every Senate Democrat is out of step, except Joe Manchin and the mercurial Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.
It was a year in which our state’s legislative GOP supermajority saddled us with additional charter schools, thus ensuring that more of tomorrow’s adults acquire mediocre educations. As an add-on, Republican lawmakers authorized the pilfering of $4,600 from our public schools for every student who enrolls in a private school, charter school or who opts for home schooling, a learning experience in which parents who can name all the Kardashians are also thought to be well qualified to teach trigonometry and Dostoevsky’s use of imagery.
It was a year of child-like denial of the twin threats of our time, COVID-19 and climate change. Worsening fires, tornadoes, floods and heat were reduced to nothing when compared to whatever it is that passes for Tucker Carlson’s wisdom. And more than 800,000 dead of COVID-19 meant little to those who have come to believe that the only way they can be truly free is by remaining shackled to vaccine refusal.
Notwithstanding the above, the political story of the year began and ended with the Jan. 6 effort to snuff out American democracy. The attempted coup d’état was fomented by a sociopathic president whose stock in trade was his supporters’ ignorance and prejudice. In the year since, his congressional supporters have demonstrated an eternal truth: You can’t stomp out evil when your feet are made of clay.
The work of the House Select Committee that is investigating Jan. 6 epitomizes what is right in America. The committee is steadily uncovering details of the attempted overthrow of our government by Donald Trump and his cronies. We have learned that Trump’s seditionist caucus even circulated a Power Point document detailing the steps in their plan. Like mobsters, several of the smirking minions evidently will plead the Fifth Amendment, when called to account.
As the Jan. 6 riot was ongoing, several Fox News talkers quietly texted Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, begging him to urge the president to call off the dogs. Also that day, the same Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham were advising their viewers that perhaps it was deranged libs who were the troublemakers. If there were an award for best pretense to a news channel, the winner would be Fox News, by a mile.
In 2021, success in the GOP became tightly tied to candidates’ skill at dancing the duplicity shuffle. They hesitate to loudly say that the 2020 election was stolen (because a mountain of evidence proves that it wasn’t), yet tacitly let on that it was rigged, leaving the once-great political party a smoldering, half-sunk hulk of its former self.
Elsewhere this year, prosecutors appeared to edge closer to indicting Trump for his evident attempted election fraud in Georgia (“Find me 11,780 votes ... ”). Similarly, in New York, Trump faces possible indictment for alleged real estate fraud for routinely undervaluing his assets when he had to pay taxes on them, then overvaluing the same assets (by more than 3,000% in one case) when using them as collateral for bank loans. As well, it is possible that the Department of Justice quietly spent the year building cases of obstruction of justice against the former president, based on Robert Mueller’s having found 10 such instances.
Believers in “massive voter fraud” found little comfort in the handful of illegally cast votes that were discovered. Three residents of Florida’s The Villages retirement enclave voted twice. In Pennsylvania, a man cast a vote for his dead mother, while a Nevada fellow complained that someone had cast a vote for his deceased wife. And someone had, him. All five illegal votes were cast for Trump.
In more uplifting news of 2021, President Joe Biden returned calm and competence to the White House. And the economy is booming. Since Biden was inaugurated, 6 million jobs have been added (the most in any president’s first 11 months), unemployment has dropped from 6.3% to 4.2% and 16 million fewer individuals are receiving jobless benefits. Although inflation will continue to pester us for a while (it was unavoidable due to supply chain issues and burgeoning consumer demand), it already is on the wane.
Aside from the improving economy, Biden got an infrastructure bill through Congress, an enterprise Trump might have accomplished had he understood the art of legislative deal-making. Internationally, Biden has not repeated Trump’s lovefest with Vladimir Putin. Biden has reassured our NATO allies that the security pact will remain in force.
The year also saw the U.S. exit Afghanistan, 18 years too late. The airport scenes, and deaths of 13 members of our military and hundreds of Afghans who wanted to leave the country were awful. We grieve for them. At election time, Republicans will attempt to saddle Joe Biden with the terrible airport images while remaining mum on Trump’s negotiation of the departure months earlier, an agreement that included releasing 5,000 Taliban from Afghanistan’s prisons. Kudos to our military who evacuated nearly 150,000 potential victims of the Taliban, far more than had been anticipated
Unfortunately, at least 30 states enacted laws making it more difficult to vote in the next presidential election because, of course, the five Trump votes described above mean that election security is a complete mess. With a couple of voting rights bills being bandied about in the Senate, one of them co-sponsored by the West Virginian of the Year, I humbly suggest that he and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., brush any clay from their shoes before entering the chamber.
The foes of abortion scored a victory in Texas this year with a law that, for lack of a better term, “deputizes” all citizens with the authority to sue any woman who gets an abortion, and anyone who helped her get it, after about six weeks. An alternative approach for those who are against abortion is not to get one.
This was a year that we honored those law enforcement officers who do the right thing. They are the majority. And it was a year that, on some occasions, police officers who are ill-suited for the job, such as those who ended the lives of George Floyd and Daunte Wright, were held to account.
It was a year that many of us got vaccinated, a year that the wisdom of Dr. Anthony Fauci made us wonder how some physicians, such as the ditzy doctor who announced that the COVID-19 vaccine magnetizes the body, ever made it through medical school and why medical licensing boards don’t take action against them.
There was good news on the labor front, as wages and working conditions improved in direct proportion to workers’ discovery that they had the muscle to make it happen. Perhaps unionization is ready for a comeback and better times are ahead for working people.
It was a year that we lauded the geriatric juggernaut Tom Brady who, at 43, led his team to a Super Bowl win. And we congratulated the Marshall University men’s soccer team, which won the 2020-21 NCAA national championship by defeating the University of Indiana in the title game. And this year, we have unconfirmed reports that this paper’s Sportsperson of the Year, Mountaineer basketball coach Bob Huggins, was seen smiling.
It was an astonishing year. Let us leave 2021 alone and look ahead, hopeful for good things. I wish you a great New Year!