We can’t predict the events that will change the world, grip our nation, or wrestle us and our families to the ground. As we begin 2011, the shootings in Arizona have shaken the nation’s core. No one could predict such a weird, devastating act of violence and the resulting national conversation about mental illness, civility, and political rhetoric. As we look back on the last year, there were at least 8 such events or trends that rattled our complacency, broke our hearts, or lifted our spirits, and that may shape the year and years to come
In the first two weeks of 2011, in addition to the Arizona tragedy, we’ve already seen an early grip of winter, with a snow storm in the southeast and snow on the ground in 49 states (missing only Florida). Internationally, half of Australia is under flood waters. What else will happen? The unexpected, mostly. Here are the 8 pieces of news that still matter:
1. The Haiti Earthquake: We saw the horrific calamity of a massive natural disaster in a nation without the resources or infrastructure to handle it. We also saw enormous generosity and thousands of examples of fortitude in the face of hopelessness.
· The next natural disaster: Where will we see the next major natural disaster, which will test the endurance of a nation, and cry out for the response of fellow man?
2. The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: The oil spill became worse than anyone expected, and it disappeared from view faster than predicted. It’s left an uncertain future for many families and businesses in the Gulf, and there are likely to be many ecological time bombs hiding in the depths.
· Energy-related crisis: Coercing energy from the elements and the earth’s resources is dangerous. Will the New Year’s crisis be an oil eruption, a mine disaster, a nuclear meltdown, a wind turbine accident (or bird slaughter), or a slow kill of lands and peoples?
3. Mid-term elections: The midterm elections reset the political landscape. But it may have signaled more of a return to balance thane beginning of a sea change. Conservatism is certainly on the rise, but it’s likely the Tea Party presents more of a revolutionary corrective than a long term governing philosophy. Now what?
· Congressional Gridlock. There isn’t likely to be much progress on congressional priorities because of the split government, but Boehner seems wise and is likely to present a careful and disciplined House.
· Obama Centrism: Obama will look enough like a centrist to raise his popularity numbers. Whether or not it results in reelectionis likely to demand more on whether the economy is finally stimulated.
4. Chile Miner rescue: A disaster that could have depressed a nation, instead lifted the spirits of Chileans, and of the world, as rescuers defied the odds, should great courage, and cheated the grim reaper. The feel good moment of the year.
· More Smiles: I wonder what the 2011 equivalent will be. The heroic aide to Rep. Giffords is a candidate, but his actions were buried in such sorrow.
5. Gen.Patraeus in Afghanistan. Although it came about through a firing, the appointment of David Patraeus as the on-the-ground general in Afghanistan was great news. Now, we will probably win this chapter of the war on terrorism, our longest war. Some even want to give him a fifth star.
· Afghan Progress. We should see real progress in Afghanistan because of Patreaus and surprises by a President who now seems committed to win there.
6. Economic Doldrums. Here’s my expert analysis of the situation: The national economy still sucks. For most people, 2010 was lived out under the constant pallor of economic doldrums.
· Economic Glimmer? There will be some loosening of the recessionary stranglehold, but do you know any entrepreneurs who are taking the risks necessary to spark a new business climate?
7. Sarah Palin Obsession Disorder: The Palin obsession is an interesting political phenomenon. Palin is clearly the most popular, admired, hated, galvanizing, polarizing public figure of the last year. There are lot of conservatives who love Sarah Palin, and a fair number of Republicans who wish she would fade from view. According to most polls, a large majority of people—including most Republicans—do not believe she is qualified to be president. Yet she dominates media comment. Either Democrats fear her or want very badly for her to stay in the forefront, because she embarrasses serious Republicans. Either may be true.
· Palin Star Fades: I cannot see this continuing. She is gone as a presidential candidate (perhaps, oddly, because of the Arizona tragedy) and I believe she will flame out in 2011, with real Republican candidates for president gaining attention.
8. Public Infidelity: This is a tired topic. But who could have imagined the fall of Tiger Woods as a result of rampant promiscuity. Then there was the loser Jesse James for whom Academy Award-winning cutie Sandra Bullock just wasn’t enough. Odd Brett Favre behavior. On and on.
· More of the same: Cultural taboos are so incredibly weak that the desire for sexual exploration will continue to overcome any sense of morality or decorum. I’m going out on a limb here, eh?