2017 – That was the year that was

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

It’s not your imagination – 2017 was an extraordinarily strange year. Even putting aside the inauguration of a tempestuous former reality TV show host with no political experience as president, we had more than our share of surreal hot button issues from potential nuclear annihilation, to Biblical scale storms, fires and floods. 

On the scale of total absurdity, who would have guessed that we would ever have a fever-pitch national conversation about which bathroom we should use? Didn’t we all know that back in first grade?

Apparently not. Back in early 2017, newspaper and magazine columns like this – https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/24/us/transgender-bathroom-law.html were common and apparently necessary.

And yes, the news got stranger.

I got the feeling that we would argue about who should use which bathroom forever. Who would have guessed that a resurgence of Nazis, complete with regalia, swastikas, anti-Semitic slogans and “Heil Hitler” salutes would enter our streets and news cycles? But our new American Nazis embraced another lost cause – the Confederacy - especially the Confederate battle flag and statues honoring Confederate “heroes” and their “noble cause”.

“White lives matter” rallies, though small, were held across the country – even in Tacoma. I’ve see a few trucks in Tacoma with Confederate flags – and several more Confederate flags hoisted out in the county. Fortunately I haven’t seen any Nazi flags yet.

Photo by Morf Morford

Photo by Morf Morford

Every conversation – on any topic – seems to devolve into extreme fringe hysterics. Conspiracy theories seemed to abound. ”Fake news” was not only a slogan – it seemed to be an aspirational journalistic goal by politicians and a raft of continually emerging aggregate, if not fantastical, “news” services.

For a graphic chart of our media landscape, take a look at this website: http://www.allgeneralizationsarefalse.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Third-Edition-Full.jpg.

Who would have guessed that much of the media and many political leaders would portray Russia as our friend and our own FBI as an agency not to be trusted.

And in the topsy-turvy world of 2017, for some at least, it seemed reasonable to spend a thousand dollars on a phone.

The summer of 2017 will be remembered for almost non-stop hurricanes, floods and forest fires. And the first coast to coast total eclipse in the United States since 1918 – remember the frenzy over eclipse glasses that came and went?

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria left their marks in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico: https://weather.com/storms/hurricane/news/hurricane-maria-irma-harvey-three-united-states-category-4-landfalls. Hurricane season goes from June 1st to the end of November – and there seemed to be one almost every day.

And if you didn’t have a hurricane, it was pretty likely that you would have a historic fire or drought. Who of us would have imagined California cities threatened – if not devastated – by fire? And virtually every fire expert expects fire damage to get more extreme in coming years.

To keep an eye on current fire conditions, take a look at this website - https://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?webmap=df8bcc10430f48878b01c96e907a1fc3.

It’s fair to say that no part of our massive country was untouched by climate upheavals. Few dared to use the term “climate change” – but it couldn’t be more obvious.

Even here in the Pacific Northwest, we had the driest and hottest summer in decades. Nationwide we will easily set heat records that won’t be broken until, well, probably next year. Details here: https://futurism.com/2017-set-hottest-year-recorded-history/

And if your area didn’t have a natural catastrophe, the U.S. had two of the most lethal mass shootings in many years  (to track shootings across the United States see here: https://www.massshootingtracker.org/data).

And the disasters didn’t seem to pass – in late December most of Puerto Rico still did not have working electricity and much of Southern California was still on fire.

The #metoo movement galvanized a long latent movement regarding sexual harassment and assault. “When you are a celebrity, they let you do it” is no longer a tolerable public policy. Across Hollywood, politics and everyday life, there is no excuse for, and should be no tolerance for, sexual harassment.

Media accounts emphasize the universal nature of this problem: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/10/the-movement-of-metoo/542979/ and https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/22/sexual-harassment-doesnt-just-happen-to-actors-or-journalists-talk-to-a-waitress-or-a-cleaner?CMP=share_btn_fb.

In local politics, Tacoma’s mayoral race was as personal and ugly as any national election.

Some local stories change scenery and characters but the story seems to stay the same; in 2016 we witnessed a near revolution over the proposed placement of the world’s largest methanol plant at the Port of Tacoma. A little over a year later we saw proposals for a massive LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) plant in Tacoma. On both sides, the proponents and arguments are largely the same.

Some stories are completely unexpected like the explosive growth in home prices (and rents) in Tacoma. Many homes increased in value over $10,000 dollars a month. If you were looking for a home, you had to be prepared to see prices go up by the week. Who would ever have imagined that Tacoma would be one of the hottest real estate markets in the country?

The 1970s were described as a “kidney stone of a decade”. That seems like a good description of 2017. Most people I know spent most of 2017 just waiting for it to pass.

The political scandals, accusations, surprise resignations, abrupt dismissals and ever more convoluted investigations seemed to go on forever, but as long as we didn’t see The Big One (earthquake) (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one) or drop The Big One (on North Korea) or they drop The Big One on us, I’m happy.

Trump Russian nesting dolls Photo by Morf Morford

Trump Russian nesting dolls
Photo by Morf Morford

In a normal year, our president having toddler-level name-calling more suitable for a children’s playground spat with Kim Jun Un and threatening nuclear holocaust for no particular reason, would be alarming front page news, but this has been no normal year, it’s been 2017.

The must-have toy of 2017 was the Fidget Spinner. This toy spins. Some more elaborate versions sparkle and beep and squeak with high-tech sound effects. There are no points earned or levels of complexity achieved, no skills acquired. These spinners move, emit light and noise and literally do nothing. They perfectly sum up 2017.

This is the year where one of the most influential financial forces – Bitcoin – has literally no concrete cash or fiduciary assets, is based on the “greater fool” business model and is literally a working definition of a ponzi scheme, where Uber, one of the major game-changing transportation companies owns essentially no vehicles and has near-zero employees, where social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, with virtually no solid assets – or rules and guidelines (besides their own “service agreements”) define our social networks, influence our buying decisions and our elections, where Siri and Alexa answer our questions, and Amazon, the world’s largest retailer, has virtually no inventory and somehow a more than 500 page tax bill ”simplifies” our taxes so that they can supposedly be done on a one page postcard.

Who needs friends, or parents or teachers, or evenmoney in this IOT (Internet of Things) economy?

In the swirl of unreality that somehow defines 2017, all these absurdities, in the context of even greater absurdities, some trivial and distracting and some global and enduring, even the much-discussed zombie apocalypse, seems reasonable.  After all, one dictionary definition of “zombie” is person who is or appears to be lifeless, apathetic, or totally lacking in independent judgment – an addict of social media and a screen -  kind of like a living and breathing Fidget Spinner.