Here’s a prediction that follows a year when almost every prediction was flat wrong: 2015’s reputation will age well.
It could well even be remembered as the turning point in the greatest global crisis of our time.
That’s not to say the world-tilting hangover you’re feeling from the worst of the last 365 days isn’t real. The barbarism of ISIS and other horrendous acts committed in the name of religious extremism are indelible. As is all the continued horror in Syria. But amidst the domestic sturm und dang of overly hyped fears and hysterical pandering to our worst instincts, continued progress around the world made us safer, healthier and potentially even smarter.
Conservatives have a vested interest in scaring the Rice Krispies out of you. As we approach the election, that remains their best hope to dull the fact that Democratic presidents outperform Republican ones in every way that matters. Diminishing or hiding Obama’s accomplishments underneath a veil of fear is a necessity. Even Democratic candidates for president have to make arguments about how they’d improve America that often come across as minimizing the progress made during the last seven years. The media’s bias toward sensationalism also helps to explain why good news is often ignored or skimmed over.
So as a public service and a tribute to the truth, let’s dwell on the positive developments of the past year for a moment.
5. Obamacare kept saving lives.
It’s rarely mentioned, but the point of the Affordable Care Act is to keep Americans from dying. Positive enrollment news hasn’t been enough to overshadow the fact that the president’s health reforms have suffered some bad setbacks at the hands of Republican saboteurs this year. Even though the increases in prices of health care services is lower now than they have been since 1961, premiums also did not continue their trend of coming in below expectations for a pretty simple reason — the newly insured were sicker than expected. They’re getting health care and lives are being saved. How many lives? A study done on Massachusetts after Romneycare found 1 life saved for every 830 people gaining coverage. Given that about 17 million Americans have gained coverage, we can project that about 20,000 lives will be saved each year. You don’t hear that on the news. We hear about how Kentucky’s new governor wants to break his system’s excellent Kynect health care system, while headlines about how hard it will be for him to actually unwind Obamacare and stories about the drive to expand Medicaid in Republican states slip below the fold somewhere into the Phantom Zone deep beneath the comments section.
4. We had the second-best year of job creation this century.
Remember how Republicans said Obamacare would destroy the economy? “Even with weakness seen during the summer, job gains in 2015 will top 2.5 million, making it the second-best calendar year for U.S. job growth in this millennium, after last year’s 3.1 million,” MarketWatch reports. “The last time more jobs were created in a two-year period was at the height of the dot-com boom, in 1998-1999.” Weird. The first two full years of Obamacare led to the best job creation of the century. Surely, Republicans will be called out on that.
3. The GOP stopped hiding the antipathy that’s dividing the party.
In 2014, Republicans proved that they had the skills and discipline to run sober candidates who could exploit a very favorable electoral map. In 2015, we saw the party begin to reap the burden of letting bipartisan immigration reform die without ever even getting a vote in the House. The urge to continually demand deportations instead of reform reflected an animated base that represents about half of the party. The other half of the party recognizes either the advantages of immigration or the costs of appearing intolerant in a changing America and generally supports reform. From this morass emerges Donald Trump pitching a ridiculous wall, slurring Mexican-Americans, determined — it seems — to drive Latino voters to reject the Republican party the way African-Americans have for decades. And even if that doesn’t happen, this could be the year that the long fantasized split in the GOP will come to fruition.
2. We gave diplomacy a chance.
Making predictions about the Middle East was already a fool’s errand before our war of choice in Iraq decimated the region, empowered Iran and exacerbated tensions between ethnic groups while awakening latent rage that has been built up over generations of oppression. As 2016 ended, good news — Iran ridding itself of the uranium needed to build a nuclear weapon — was paired with a disturbing revelation — more Iranian ballistic missile tests. Just as parties in the U.S. are torn over attempting peace with a sworn enemy, nationalistic forces in Iran continually hanker for war. Hopes of this deal proceeding successfully and denying Iran nuclear weapons, eliminating the existential threat to Israel, hinge on so many variables that hope seems foolish. But President Obama’s administration has proven that engagement with Iran as with Cuba is a worthy goal, regardless of our ability to control every possible outcome.
1. We may have put the world on the path to avoiding the worst of the climate crisis.
It was a bad year for people hoping to prove that 97 percent of climate scientists are wrong. The world greatly improved its chances of avoiding the worst of drought, floods and famine carbon polluters hoped we’d eagerly embrace. The Paris agreement is imperfect, no doubt, with enforcement replaced with financial encouragement, global cooperation and public shaming. But it’s also the most the world has ever done to collectively fight climate change — and it comes on the heels of an Obama-sparked green energy revolution that has helped the world see the first year where the economy expanded and carbon emissions decreased for the first time in 40 years. If this is the beginning of the world’s commitment to avoiding leaving our descendants a purposely wrecked climate, history will remember 2015 as the moment when humans took responsibility for our actions. If not, we’re doomed. Ben Adler at Grist summed it up best: “For activists all over the world, the Paris Agreement shows there is still hope for maintaining a livable climate, but there’s a lot more work to be done pushing world governments to meet the challenge.”