By Rick Morris
Largely because of the gaga about the Mayan calendar, 2012 is a hugely anticipated year in popular culture. Looking back at the past few that were as highly anticipated, 1984 and 2000, they were preceded by fairly nondescript years in 1983 and 1999, respectively. That’s not to say that nothing happened in those years, but they certainly didn’t rate with some of the more famous historical years like 1968 or 1989. So, based on that small sample size, it would have been easy to predict that 2011 would be “just another year” before a big one.
Wrong. 2011 was a pretty big one in its own right. And yet, many of the big plotlines leave lingering questions about what they will ultimately mean, leaving open the possibility that the aftershocks could still render 2012 even more grandiose in importance.
Here’s the biggies from the year:
^ Time Magazine, correctly, singled out protesters of all stripes as the most influential actors of the year. After a false start in 2009, when the Green Movement fizzled under the iron grip of the regime in Iran, the spark to the global tinderbox was lit with a literal fire in Tunisia in December 2010 when a fruit vendor, dissatisfied with the harassment of governmental bureaucracy (truly, a universal complaint!) torched himself as a (most painful) means of protest. Tunisia was the first domino to fall, followed by Yemen, Egypt and Libya with varying amounts of bloodshed. Syria continues to boil over, while Greece and England suffered crippling riots and Czar Putin (shockingly) got his first real taste of severe protest late in the year. In the US, the Tea Party was counter-pointed by Occupy Wall Street and the scores of liberal copycat movements that set up campgrounds in cities nationwide. Social media is a key component in the various protest movements, as well as the continuing macro evolution of the Internet and mobile communication technology.
^ Libya’s status as one of the revolutions listed above served as one example of what a bad year this was for bad guys worldwide. From Gaddafi to Kim Jong-il to bin Laden, it was the worst year for major tyrants since 1945. The bin Laden mission, carried out heroically on May 1 by Navy Seal Team 6, brought about great national joy and served as a sort of national balm mere months before the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Subsequent news items to be listed, though, demonstrate how and why the national unity and exhilaration was measured in mere days.
^ The Great Recession – or the lingering aftereffects, depending on your definition of present economic woe – continues to haunt the United States and the global economy, contributing at least in part to the aforementioned mass dissatisfaction. With the European Union now strongly divided between economic “haves” who have conducted themselves responsibly (i.e. Germany) and “have-nots” who are deadbeats who have racked up large tabs that they want to skip out on (Greece), the fusion between the global financial and social turmoil comes to its most profound nexus.
^ As students of 1994-95 history might have predicted, the Republican takeover of the US House in November 2010, combined with increased power to block legislation in the Senate via filibuster, contributed to extreme gridlock in DC. Early in the year, it seemed as though both parties might reassess their tactics after Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot and almost killed (surviving what others, tragically, did not), but the discovery that the gunman was the stereotypical “lone nut” disarmed the movement toward increased political civility. Highly pitched budget battles were waged all year long, most famously over the debt ceiling at the beginning of August. Voter confidence in the federal government, already near historic lows, plunged further. It has not been raised by a generally pathetic crop of Republican presidential aspirants that threatens to reelect President Obama in spite of historically bad economic metrics that have occurred on his watch.
^ A year after the massive Haitian earthquake shocked the sensibilities of the world, more horrific misery from Mother Nature visited the globe. Japan suffered one of the worst earthquakes in recent human history and unfortunately, it was only the first prong of a tragic triple threat as a tsunami and nuclear meltdown at Fukushima immediately followed. In America, a wave of unbelievable super-tornadoes devastated communities in Joplin, MO and wide swaths of Alabama.