History will remember 2016 as the year we quit hero-worshiping our presidents. It was necessary and overdue, if a letdown for some. Frothy fantasies fade.
But this was also a year when Americans faced an existential test of our survival instinct — and passed it. The real winner in 2016 was resilient America.
It was as far as you could get from a romantic campaign Camelot. No parents were hoping their kids would grow up just like dishonest Hillary Clinton, the defeated Democrat, or distasteful Donald Trump, the Republican who won.
Plague on both, was many voters’ feeling. When the shouting was over, though, the red and blue map filled in, our nation had aced its exam on whether dynamism or decline will characterize the USA in this unfolding century.
We chose dynamism, even as dissent persists. The word went out to a watching world: America’s best days are still ahead. We the people say so.
Ahead of the July conventions, I wrote that this election wouldn’t only test the candidates and the parties. It would test all of us as self-governing citizens in a free society. We faced five exam questions:
One: How much did we want relief from sluggish economic growth and stagnant living standards that have punished the middle class while the rich thrived? A lot, said voters in choosing Trump’s agenda for change over Hillary’s same/same approach.
Two: How tired were we of no-win wars -- and how alarmed about the global Islamic movement’s relentless onslaught? Very, said voters in opting for Trump’s “America First” strategy over Hillary’s failed internationalism.
Three: How much did we value our sovereign nationhood in the face of a silent invasion by foreigners contemptuous of our laws? Plenty, came the answer from goodhearted but weary Americans – rejecting the disaster that is open borders and sanctuary cities.
Four: How fed up were we with anti-American elites telling us what words are unspeakable and what thoughts are unthinkable? To the gills, voters made clear. His crudity grated, but her scolding grated more. Political correctness couldn’t stop him.
Five: Was there still any of the “Don’t tread on me” defiance that once kept Americans from being herded like sheep by slanted media and corrupt politicians? Darn right, said voters – identifying more with the billionaire in Trump Tower than with the smug manipulators at the Clinton Foundation and CNN.
An opposite verdict on these questions would have signaled acceptance of decline. Goodbye to American greatness. Instead we took the other road. We met the test.
The new president still confronts immense challenges. But he will seize them with FDR-like ebullience and resolve, not Obama-style excuses.
Something else was tested in 2016: our constitutional republic itself. And it measured up as well. Voting irregularities were minimal. The electoral college tempered raw majoritarianism. The losing side conceded gracefully. Splinter candidates made their point. The Senate stood its ground on the Scalia vacancy. The system worked.
We needed it to, because in the nongovernmental sphere America’s institutions of civil society had something close to a system fail. Survey the field and it’s not pretty.
Our major political parties presented voters with a Hobson’s choice between two of the most flawed, least respected figures ever nominated. Our news media abandoned journalistic fairness and bragged about it.
Our education system infected millennials with astounding economic and civic illiteracy. (Exhibits A and B: the Bernie movement and the post-election street riots.)
Our entertainment industry fueled the moral licentiousness that tainted both Trump and Clinton. And our churches abetted it, heaven forbid. Our major corporations lurched leftward.
Yet the people saw their way to the safer of two imperfect options even so. Uncle Sam is battered but still standing. The dream is alive. America won in 2016.