I used to think 2015 was bad, but that was before the first few weeks of 2016. It is still January and Donald Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination, has already said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?”
The really scary part—without getting into what this line of thinking might presage in terms of Trump’s actions, if he ever got to the Oval Office—is he could be right. Teflon Trump: nothing sticks.
People like to be bullied when the world feels too upended and menacing to cope; when, as Trump puts it in one of his favourite tropes, “Something’s going on.” Trump’s plugging into Dylan, odious as that thought is: “Something is happening here/But you don’t know what it is/Do you, Mister Jones?” We will find out just what over the next few months. Napoleon used to ask of his prospective generals, “Is he lucky?” Trump appears to be. That is scary, too.
The scariest part, however, is that Sarah Palin supports Trump, and she said: “Trump’s candidacy, it has exposed not just that tragic ramifications of that betrayal of the transformation of our country, but too, he has exposed the complicity on both sides of the aisle that has enabled it, OK? Well, Trump, what he’s been able to do, which is really ticking people off, which I’m glad about, he’s going rogue left and right, man, that’s why he’s doing so well.”
Or as James Joyce put it in Finnegans Wake: “Did you aye, did you eye, did you everysee suchaway, suchawhy, eeriewhigg airywhugger?”
No wonder Stephen Colbert, preparing to imitate Palin on The Late Show, first fired a taser gun at “the part of my brain that understands sentence structure”. That did the trick. Minus his occipital lobe, Colbert was right at home with Palin’s, “Well, and then, funny, ha ha, not funny, but now, what they’re doing is wailing, ‘Well, Trump and his, uh, uh, uh, Trumpeters, they’re not conservative enough.’”
Still, I have to hand it to Palin. Her new word—squirmish—is useful. She characterised the Middle East as a place of “squirmishes that have been going on for centuries”. The world in 2016 does make you squirm. In just three weeks, close to $8 trillion has been wiped off global equity markets by a “correction”. The reasons seem unclear, which is not very comforting. China is slowing. There is no next China. Oil prices are sinking, a trend that should have benefits, but appears to have few this time. The terrible relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, that is to say the Shiite and Sunni Muslim worlds, just got far more terrible. Nobody really knows what to do about Islamic State, unless it is Palin, who on the one hand wants to “kick ISIS ass” and on the other wants to “let Allah sort it out”. Allah’s got a way with squirmishes, if you just give him time.
And, it is not like the year began on a high. In fact, 2015 was already a real downer. It brought the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the Paris massacre, the San Bernardino slaughter, the rise and internationalisation of IS, the death toll in Syria to about 2.5 lakh, the arrival of more than one million desperate migrants and refugees in Europe, dead little Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach, a Saudi war in Yemen, Putin offensives on various fronts, the warmest year on record, American bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, and sundry other disasters.
At least an American embassy in Havana opened. There was the Paris climate accord. Look no further than this troubling world to understand Trump and the various rightist populists making a lot of noise on the European fringes.
Well, at least it snowed. It snowed a lot. We were snowed under with coverage—the buildup, the blizzard, the post-blizzard. At least the snow was white, unlike the black flags of IS, and at least it had nothing to do with Trump or Palin.
Unless, as I confess I did, you found yourself imagining Trump opening fire on Fifth Avenue on some slacker not wielding a shovel and staining the snow red with blood, to the roar of the 'Trumpeters'.
Cohen is a columnist for The New York Times and an author.