"Take A Bad Year. And Make It Better" is the title of an editorial attributed to "The Editorial Board" in the New Year's Eve edition of the New York Times. It begins by asking you to pretend that you're in a "cosmic therapist's office, in a counseling session with the year 2016." The therapist asks you to face the year and "say something nice about it."
What a terrible requirement this seems. Such a terrible year. So glad it's over. But was there anything good to say about 2016 . . . except maybe the Chicago Cubs? It's easy to think of the bad things, beginning with "the election of a president unfit for the job."
Then there was the trail of "blood and rubble across the Middle East and Europe. Refugees drowned in the Mediterranean. Right-wing extremism and xenophobia were on the march. The American election let loose old racial hatreds. The planet got hotter; the Arctic went haywire. The world was burning or smoldering or blowing up or melting."
The editorial then suggests that "it would help to have a frame of mind, a perspective with which to consider the year gone by. And with it, a sober but bracing way to meet the headwinds and miseries that await in 2017. It could be this: a recognition of the power of unity, of drawing close, and of speaking out. Of the strength that solidarity wielded in 2016, over and over."
"The most powerless of economic players, low-wage workers, kept pressing for a $15 minimum wage. Rallies across the country . . . invigorated the cause," and against all odds, "More than two dozen states and localities have raised minimum wages as the movement has gone mainstream."
"The most frequent targets of the dehumanizing rhetoric of the Trump campaign — immigrants and refugees — found welcome in many communities. Families opened their homes to displaced Syrians. Churches gave sanctuary to unauthorized immigrants. Governors and mayors, teachers and lawyers, faith leaders and congregations vowed to resist any efforts to demonize the foreign-born."
"There and elsewhere was evidence that the center could hold, and reason and compassion prevail."
"National protests shone a harsh light on police killings of black civilians. Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama inspired millions, their achievements and grace rebuking the sour misogyny of the Trump campaign. American Indians in North Dakota braved rubber bullets and water cannons to protect their drinking water from an oil pipeline. Nations of the world — all threatened by a warming planet — ratified the Paris climate agreement. The global health community found ways to subdue the Zika virus and create an effective Ebola vaccine. The death penalty in the United States kept sliding into history’s dustbin. Some states, reflecting strong public support, began tilting the gun debate in the direction of sanity."
"The forces of disunity are strong, but our job is to make the country less divided than Donald Trump’s splintering campaign has left it."
After that inspiring beginning, the editorial left me feeling dissatisfied, though. It preached a paean from an old song: "to give one another the benefit of the doubt -- while remaining ready to defend the homeless, the unemployed, the underemployed, the disabled, the sick.” And saying: "That’s a message for these times. . . . This may be the most heartening development in a dismal year — the evidence all around that we know how to do this, and can indeed summon the will."
To me, that is not so much heartening as it is dismaying. I thought that was the message that we'd been following at least since the civil rights days of 50 to 60 years ago. The truth seems to be that we, as a society, had pretty much lost that "my brother's keeper" spirit. We -- even we liberal Democrats -- had let the greed of Wall Street and consumerism creep into our more idealistic values, most vividly exemplified in the vast, and growing, income inequality. So maybe they're right. Maybe we need to learn it all over again.
So be it. The myth of Sisyphus became a myth because of its universal and eternal truth. Going back to Greek mythology, Sisyphus was condemned to repeat the same meaningless task of pushing a huge boulder up a mountain, only to have it roll back down, requiring him to repeat the task . . . again and again.
Albert Camus made this the center of his existential philosophy in his 1942 essay, "The Myth of Sisyphus." In it, he raises the question of the seeming absurdity of such a life without meaning. But unlike the pessimistic existentialists, Camus' answer is that "the struggle itself is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus as happy." Another way of saying that might be: "It's not the destination but the journey that matters." Or: Life is not inherently meaningful; but we create our own meaning.
I'm not sure this quite applies to our politics and continual effort to create a society that makes life better for all our people, but it's where this NYT editorial led my thinking. I guess I'm saying that, rather than giving up in despair, let's take this election outcome as a challenge to renew our commitment to our principles of freedom, justice, and equal dignity and opportunity for all.
Perhaps four years (and, please, let's make sure it's only four) of being shocked and shamed by our elected leader will teach us not to let go of those principles again. Those are worth working for, even if we have to start over again at the bottom.
Let this motivate us: We will not be defeated by Donald Trump's superficiality, greed, and me-first view of life.