By Laurie Kotka
Certainly the most optimistic of thinkers would be justified in reflecting on 2016 by asking, “What just happened?” And while the upcoming new year is accompanied by hopes of a new direction in 2017, if the last year has taught us anything, it is just that — there are no guarantees.
So as I started to deconstruct just a few of the events of 2016, a couple of seemingly unrelated things surfaced.
First, George Michael was a talented vocalist. While listeners caught glimpses of this during his early career with Wham!, it wasn’t until Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 (Listen) that the depth of his talent was realized. While the numbers suggest a different story, Michael wanted more than the 1987 success of Faith (25 million copies ). Listen marked his turn toward self-reflection with songs like Freedom! ’90.
In the same way the last straw can ignite meltdowns often incongruous with the real catalyst, so too was the death of George Michael on Christmas day.
The popularity of Faith generated 6 top-five hits and a number of awards. Despite this, there was a clear break between Faith and Listen. While Michael’s image dominated the music videos that accompanied Faith, he refused to appear in any of the videos for Listen. His lyrics likewise established his need for a return to authenticity, “There’s something deep inside of me./There’s someone I forgot to be.” (Michael, Freedom! ’90)
His transparency was rewarded with a sharp decline in sales. Listen Without Prejudice sold only 8 million copies.
By this point, maybe you are thinking that it’s possible Listen just didn’t sound as good as Faith. And I’d encourage you to go back and really listen to them both, examining the subject matter, lyrics, and his vocals.
In the break between the success of a highly-produced pop success, championed by a dream in blue jeans and a much more subdued reflective work of art nearer to the heart and mind of the artist is the portrait of a man who realized the value of authenticity. He never looked back.
That led me to a Disappointing Observation which is the second thing that stood out to me.
By death or by failed commitment to one’s own values, 2016 has robbed our world of the authentic. Nowhere is this more painful and more evident than in the political sphere.
Washington D.C. is capable of attracting principle-driven public servants worthy of the trenches of policy making. And despite the worst that critics fling their way, they remain steadfast. These are genuinely good men and women going to work every day, intent on making the world a better place.
They are the senators and representatives and governors we hold to a higher standard, right or not. Funny how we don’t expect much out of those that we never believe will deliver much to begin with.
That leads me to the following disclaimer.
If you support someone mentioned here, they are only here because I have invested my faith in them. I counted on them to take a stand when it really mattered and they went the other direction. I trust they will find their way again.
Senator Ted Cruz.
In September 2013, I watched him take the Senate floor in the name of defunding Obamacare. Green Eggs and Ham was a nice touch. This certainly aggravated many of the people Senator Cruz works with each day, but he did it anyhow and I respected him for it.
Fast forward to this past election season.
I watched Trump attempt to humiliate his wife, Heidi Cruz…
…and call him “Lyin’ Ted Cruz”
…and if that weren’t enough, he went after Cruz’s father, testing his talent for spreading fake news.
Cruz almost made it too. He went toe-to-toe as well as anyone could against someone with an aversion to fact. He held his ground as long as it would seem he could while still holding on to his career. To be sure, his Facebook post revealed the struggle he faced in arriving at his decision to vote for Trump.
While I understand the logic that took him from A to Z, I am not sure how he ended up here:
If Obamacare-Filibuster-Ted Cruz presented the image of a man taking a stand for his values, surely this is what compromise looks like.
It’s just sad and I can’t reconcile the two.
Speaking of sad…
Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.
Of Ryan, policy strategist Sara Fagen stated, “Sadly, Paul Ryan is one of the few politicians who understand that good public policy comes before politics. He’s one of a minority of people in public life who are properly ordered. We should applaud him for this.” (Fagen, 2016) Following release of evidence that Donald Trump made inappropriate and offensive comments about women, Speaker Ryan stated he could not defend Donald Trump. It was encouraging.
But only a few weeks later, that crumbled when Ryan changed directions and put his support behind Trump. Jennifer Rubin characterized Ryan’s fall from grace…
His reputation as a squeaky-clean public servant, all-around nice guy and policy heavyweight earned him a measure of respect from friends and foes alike. Claiming he was a hypocrite, a liar or a phony was wasted effort. Not the Wisconsin boy scout! Then came Trump.
Ryan frittered away a good deal of his reputation on defending the indefensible, namely Trump’s candidacy. Ryan’s last act of intellectual debasement came in the form of an op-ed for CNN… (Rubin, 2016)
Resigned to whatever the next four years may bring, Ryan’s visage bears the mark of his compromise. He looks like he is carrying a burden and I do not doubt that he is.
Former Governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee.
In some ways, I am more disheartened by this one than the others. As a conservative Christian with a respectable knowledge of U.S. History, I listened when he spoke. But the more he spoke, the less I liked what I heard.
Suggesting a candidate is not Christian because his tax returns support less than a 10% tithe and then supporting a candidate who won’t even release his tax returns is shoddy logic. Questioning another person’s relationship with the Lord is disgusting. The Lord is pretty clear on that topic too… “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you — who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12)
A once thoughtful political analyst, Huckabee’s words grew harsh and he more frequently turned to name calling. Nancy Pelosi recognized this behavior as beneath Huckabee shortly after he asked Pelosi if “she’s racist or just dumb.”
Of #NeverTrumpers, Huckabee stated, “I’m going to tell you something. I’m going to remember them. And I hope every other Republican remembers them. Don’t ever ask me for your vote again because you’re done.” (Kludt, November 8, 2016)
When did Huckabee turn not-nice-guy? Maybe a person becomes the company they keep.
Walk with the wise and become wise,
for a companion of fools suffers harm
I will miss George Michael and his amazing voice. I didn’t always agree with the choices he made, but he owned them and wasn’t going to cave.
We need to believe in our leaders. Maybe now more than ever. When the time comes, as it most certainly will, they too will need to own their values and refuse to cave.
Everett, B. (2013, September 24). Cruz Ends Marathon Speech. Retrieved December 28, 2016, from Politico.com: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/09/harry-reid-filibuster-government-shutdown-097263
Fagen, S. (2016, October 12). Paul Ryan is right to back away from Trump. Retrieved December 28, 2016, from cnbc.com: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/10/12/paul-ryan-is-right-to-back-away-from-trump-commentary.html
Farley, R. (2016, July 22). Trump Defends Oswald Claim. Retrieved December 28, 2016, from FactCheck.org: https://www.factcheck.org/2016/07/trump-defends-oswald-claim/
Jennifer Steinhauer, J. R. (2012, August 13). Conservative Star’s Small-Town Roots. Retrieved December 28, 2016, from newyorktimes.com: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/13/us/politics/family-faith-and-politics-describe-life-of-paul-ryan.html
Jones, A. (2016, September 25). All the Pop Culture References Ted Cruz Made in His Faux Filibuster. Retrieved December 28, 2013, from theatlantic.com: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/09/all-pop-culture-references-ted-cruz-made-his-faux-filibuster/310648/
Kludt, T. (2016, 8 November). Huckabee promises to ‘remember’ Republicans who didn’t get all in on Trump. Retrieved December 28, 2016, from CNN.com: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/08/politics/mike-huckabee-donald-trump-republicans/
Logan, B. (2016, March 24). ‘The images are worth a thousand words’: Trump shares an unflattering photo of Ted Cruz’s wife. Retrieved December 28, 2016, from Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-shared-an-unflattering-picture-of-ted-cruzs-wife-2016-3
Nwanevu, O. (2016, October 6). Ted Cruz Is a Very Bad, Low-Energy Trump Campaign Volunteer. Retrieved December 28, 2016, from Slate.com: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/10/06/ted_cruz_is_a_very_bad_low_energy_trump_campaign_volunteer.html
Sweeting, A. (2016, December 26). George Michael obituary. Retrieved December 28, 2016, from theguardian.com: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/dec/26/george-michael-obituary-wham-pop-star
Tatum, S. (2016, September 23). An incomplete list of the most vicious Trump vs. Cruz attacks. Retrieved December 28, 2016, from CNN.com: http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/23/politics/worst-things-donald-trump-ted-cruz-said-about-each-other/