Like every other year, 2016 was, well, eventful. The Broncos won the Super Bowl; Dylan won a Nobel. Ali and Prince and Bowie and a seemingly inordinate number of celebrities died. Terror struck Nice and Orlando and Berlin. Aleppo was destroyed. Brexit happened. Dallas and the summer of rage kept happening.
The list goes on. But when the historians get around to 2016, only one thing will have happened. Donald Trump happened, and nothing is likely to be the same. He didn’t happen in a vacuum, of course. Sixteen Republicans (and an impossibly “unpresidented” discussion of short fingers) happened along with him. Bernie and Hillary. Emails and Comey. Tweets and demagoguery. Putin and Wikileaks. The Electoral College and a 2.8-million-popular-vote-
And through it all, I — a columnist who has been covering presidential elections dating back to 1984 — had to try to put this uniquely bizarre election season into perspective. The epic Democratic fail; the epic Republican fail that unexpectedly turned into victory.
Because it’s the end of the year, and this is what news organizations do as years come to an end, my editors asked me to pick my five favorite columns of 2016. Three are about Trump. I got in one about Peyton Manning and the Super Bowl and the unlikeliness of happy endings, and one about Nice and terror and how perfect nights turn into horror. But, mostly, they’re about Trump. The unlikely night Trump won. The GOP convention night when Cory Gardner walked out on him. The Clinton pneumonia and how the cover-up is always worse than the cold.
Here they are. One thing you may want to keep in mind as you read them: 2017 is probably going to be even worse.
Feb. 8, 2016: Peyton Manning’s Super Bowl storybook ending
Of all Peyton Manning’s many remarkable career statistics, this one may be the most remarkable of them all:
When Manning inevitably announces his retirement sometime over the next few days or weeks, he will become only the second Hall-of-Fame-caliber quarterback in NFL history to have gone out on top, with a Super Bowl victory in his last game, with the storied sunset beckoning, with no more worlds to conquer.
July 15, 2016: The terror of the Nice attack is a test
When you see Reuters photographer Eric Gaillard’s photograph of the small body lying covered in the street, a child’s doll at its side, whatever part of your heart that remains unbroken surely must break now.
It’s the exact image that any terrorist hopes for: a symbol of the end of hope and the crushing of dreams. And when you see the body and the doll, you know you must do something to counter that image. But what?
And this is where your heart breaks again.
July 20, 2016: Cory Gardner opts out of Trump’s coronation
I have to give Cory Gardner credit. When faced with a choice, he stood up — or actually ducked out, but still pretty much the same thing — for principle.
OK, he wouldn’t say what the principle was exactly. And, being Cory Gardner, he didn’t feel the need to explain any of it to voters.
In other words, it wasn’t quite a give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death moment, but still.
On the night Donald Trump was remarkably nominated by a major political party to be its presidential nominee, 10 of the 12 Republican senators who were elected in 2014 took to the stage in Cleveland for a show-of-unity photo-op. Many of these senators have little enough use for Trump, but they did show, to their shame.
Gardner was one of the two freshman senators who didn’t. He left Cleveland earlier Tuesday, after spending only one day at the convention, because, he said, he had work to do in Colorado. We’ll forgive him the white lie. If he wouldn’t say it, it was still pretty clear: Gardner left because he didn’t want to be part of Donald Trump’s coronation.
Sept. 13, 2016: Clinton’s pneumonia and Trump’s own strain of phlegm
So, like, what were the chances?
Donald Trump and his team – old Rudy at the barking front of the pack – kept insisting, with absolutely no evidence, that Hillary Clinton was facing disqualifying health issues. That she was frail (read: old), lacking in stamina (read: female) and was hiding something (read: Clinton) terrible about her health. Parkinson’s. A stroke. MS. Dysphasia. Aphasia. Southeast Asia.
And then comes the video – the Zapruder film of the 2016 campaign – of Clinton leaving the 9/11 memorial early, stumbling as aides assisted her into a waiting van, and it was as if Trump knew more about Clinton’s health than the doctors, just as he knows more about ISIS than the generals.
I mean, what were the chances?
But here it was. A piece of terrible luck. And how did the Clinton people respond? Well, we can add another piece of conventional wisdom to the ever-growing pile: The cover-up is always worse than the cold.
Nov. 9, 2016: The America we thought we had, the America we’ve got
Here’s what I tell myself: We elected Donald Trump, but we didn’t mean to.
We didn’t vote for authoritarianism. We didn’t vote for misogyny. We didn’t vote for racism. We didn’t vote for bigotry. We didn’t vote to dismantle the safety net. We may have voted for building a wall, and we might have even believed the absurd lie that Mexico will pay for it, but we didn’t vote to separate families and we didn’t vote for people to live in fear. We didn’t vote for tax breaks for the rich. We didn’t vote to lock up our opponents. We didn’t vote to strong-arm the Constitution. We didn’t vote for the alt-right. We didn’t vote to deregulate Wall Street. We didn’t vote to rob 20 million people of their health insurance. We didn’t vote for voices of reaction and the darkness that will surely descend upon our country.
Or did we?