The Washington Walrus has finally hit 100 articles! And in the 7 years since its inception (January 2016; okay, we don’t post regularly), a lot has changed in America. So to commemorate this momentous… moment, we thought it’d be fun to try and summarise and maybe evaluate some of the things that have happened since then. How has the character (or “soul”, as Joe Biden would put it) of this nation changed? What distinguishes today from back then… Well, there’s only one place to start.
2016: The Rise Of Donald Trump
In his final Last Week Tonight segment of that year, John Oliver blew up the cursed numbers themselves in a therapeutic gesture of frustration and disappointment with what seemed like a terrible year, marked by numerous high-profile celebrity deaths (David Bowie, Prince, Alan Rickman, etc) and the election of Donald J. Trump. The latter point marked the most significant shift of this period of time.
While most of us were certain of Hillary Clinton’s victory, in hindsight, the writing was on the wall. Many Americans felt betrayed by the system and disappointed in the not so perceptible “changes” promised by the Obama administration. In truth, Obama had to sweep up the mess of the economic downfall that occurred in 2008 and was largely gridlocked in his domestic agenda, against increasingly combative Republicans. Hillary Clinton, it seemed, was not the answer. Perhaps, no run-of-the-mill Democrat was.
In the 2015-16 Democratic campaign, Bernie Sanders had emerged as an unlikely favourite amongst the youth. An independent with a noble, if not particularly successful track record, he seemed to capture something of the same spirit that led to Trump’s shocking election; a feeling that corruption was ripe is Washington and lobbyists, billionaires, and special interest groups were calling the shots. For quite awhile, he was a great challenge to the Clinton campaign, but ultimately lost. (Many assert that had he succeeded, he might’ve beaten Trump. I’m not exactly convinced he wouldn’t…) This is besides the point however. The point is that a rot had set in and politics would not proceed as usual.
2017-19: “Chaos Is A Ladder”- Littlefinger
Upon releasing her memoir, Becoming, the following year, Michelle Obama wrote that she “stopped smiling” upon listening to Trump’s inaugural address because she simply couldn’t pretend any longer. For those who hoped he would rise above the petty insults and divisive rhetoric of his campaign, it became immediately clear that things were about to get wild. First, there was the ban on people flying in from predominantly Islamic nations. Then, a series of cabinet upheavals. Scandals galore. Then, an insensitive summary of Charlottesville, in which he deemed there were fine people on both sides; both sides being white supremacists and protestors. It was in this moment, Joe Biden apparently decided he should run, in order to “save the soul” of America.
The fact that Trump was so emboldened in his office and able to get away with (seemingly) anything perhaps emboldened the left, in turn. If the battle couldn’t be won in Washington, then perhaps it could be in the culture wars. Indeed, the values of left and right had polarised increasingly throughout the decade with right-wing commentators arguing the left were pushing a politically correct agenda across America, particularly in universities while the left challenged the right’s reticence on civil rights’ issues including gay marriage, trans identification, and more.
The breakthrough of the Harvey Weinstein case in 2017 marked a major cultural shift in the dynamic of women dealing with powerful men. With the colossal expose, a number of issues and transgressions were brought to light, helping to widen the scope of what was and wasn’t acceptable behaviour (or had always been). In the following years, Hollywood would amp up their promotion of diverse works and female-led stories, again sparking the ire of many who felt politics (or liberal politics) had become more important than art and story. At the same time, a parallel was being drawn by critics of the Democratic Party, who felt identity politics and the optics of diversity were becoming ever more prioritised in electoral agendas. This was dismissed by some as generational blindness. “OK boomer” became a de facto response for many.
The battleground for the culture wars had traditionally been fought in news media. By the 2010s though, social media had become the dominant source of information for most. Where misinformation and been brought to light with the 2016 election and the ensuing trials of Facebook, there now also lay the problem of a new level of sensationalism in misleading click bait headlines, yellow journalism, and (often) straight-out lies. Trump’s rise to power was seen as being emblematic of a post-truth world, in which both sides claimed ownership of whatever the “truth” was. Annoying celebrities started confessing their stories as “speaking [their] truths”. There was much cringe-worthiness to be found. Most crucially, it seemed beyond political differences, the left and right had come to hate each other outright.
Let’s not forget the dual disappointments of Game of Thrones season 8 and The Rise of Skywalker (both 2019) either. I’ve nothing to say about them. Just don’t forget.
2020: The Boiling Point
The fact that this year started with an impeachment barely anyone remembers shows how crazy the Trump years had gotten by this point. Somehow, 2020 would become the year all hell broke loose for a couple of reasons. First, the beginning of lockdowns in response to the emergence of Covid-19. Second, the protests and unrest that resulted from the murder of George Floyd in the summer. Both of these factors influenced the culture and politics of the US enormously this year, with the mania perhaps lending some desire for normalcy, found in the wrinkled hands of old Sleepy Joe.
How Covid became a political issue may be question for future historians but by 2020, when everything else had, there was no reason this shouldn’t have been. Indeed, Trump mocked Biden in the debates for “wearing the biggest mask” before getting Covid himself. Beyond his pantomime, it was drawn as a debate on the nature of civil liberties for many; with some arguing against big government limiting their freedom through mandated governmental worker vaccines and lockdowns. Others felt that these opponents were questioning science itself in the name of partisanship or wilful ignorance.
As regards the second factor, the Black Lives Matter movement had become increasingly visible throughout the 2010s since social media allowed for the sharing and exposure of police brutality. With the shocking violence and boiling point of George Floyd’s death, the truth was driven home once again that black lives were treated as second class in America. Critical Race Theory became more prominent in the years that followed, with a wider net cast for those learning of the systemic oppression caused by economic and power models in US history. And while some progress had been made since the 1992 riots, Americans were reminded of the lived realities of many Black Americans. Unfortunately, this lesson has needed repeating throughout history.
2021-Present: Conflict At Home & Abroad
2021 started off with a little hiccup at the Capitol. A misunderstanding or something. Then a new leader was sworn in. So… Joe Biden’s presidency has and hasn’t marked a return to normalcy. I, for one, no longer feel the need to google the president’s name every day to see what wackiness he’s gotten up to. On the other hand, America remains deeply divided and though Trump is presently indicted, I don’t think his loss in 2024 is guaranteed. The same seeds of discontent fester and not even under the surface. To many, these legal proceedings are a “witch hunt”. Increasingly the idea of a “national divorce” seems pushed to the forefront, even if in political jest.
The Biden presidency (post Covid), outside this sphere, has chiefly been defined by the Ukraine-Russia war and inflation. The expansion of NATO and America’s involvement in this conflict may define the coming years, if no resolution materialises soon. As Trump had been (shall we say) cozy with Putin, things would likely change should he succeed in getting a second term. For most Americans however, economic burdens will distinguish this decade (even more so) than the last. To go back to where we began, it seems Bernie Sander’s concerns have only become more pertinent and fully understood with the passing years. As billionaires control social media and politicians fail to close the left-right divide, the country lies in a precarious position.
The Washington Walrus Thanks You…
Thanks to all for reading this or any of the articles we’ve put out in the last 7 years. It’s been an interesting blog to attend to, even if not attended to regularly. While it started out as an exercise in writing about current politics and American history, it transformed to something that could address all sorts of cultural, social, and even entertainment-based issues. No subject’s too light or heavy to cover, so long as something lies beneath the surface (e.g. Rotten Tomatoes’ scoring not accurately reflecting viewers’ interests and appreciation of art).