It’s tradition in journalism and commentary that everybody needs to write about what a rotten year the previous one has been. But that’s emphasizing the negative. Let’s turn that frown upside down, people! Some really good things happened in 2022. Here’s my list.
The Mid-Terms, National. Up until the evening of November 8th I thought a resurgent Donald Trump would become all but unstoppable. Then he was stopped. In fact, he smashed into a brick wall, leaving an unsightly orange stain. His endorsed candidates went down all around him, Democrats held the Senate and just barely lost the House. The red wave washed harmlessly ashore and Trump, deservedly so, took the blame for his party’s stunning underperformance. Trump may have finally committed the one outrageous transgression that Republicans will find unforgivable: he’s a loser.
The Mid-Terms, Wisconsin. It could have been much worse. Going into election day I figured Mandela Barnes would lose, but I also thought there was at least an even chance that Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul would go down as well. That didn’t happen and, in fact, Evers and Kaul won by fairly comfortable margins by recent standards. The Democrats remain in a very deep hole in part because of extreme partisan gerrymandering, but also because they’ve retreated into deep blue Dane County and have little appeal anywhere else. Nonetheless, Evers will be there to play goalie against extreme conservative policies for another four years.
Ukraine. It’s hard to list this as a positive given the suffering of the people of Ukraine, but their fight against Putin has been inspiring. It has revealed Putin and the Russian military to be much weaker than had been thought, it has badly damaged Putin on the international stage, it has strengthened NATO and it has reminded us all about the value of democracy and classical liberal values. And the generally strong bipartisan response here in the U.S. has further marginalized the few Republicans, like Josh Hawley, who like Putin because of his homophobia and retrograde social policies. Hawley refused to attend Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address to Congress. That made him look like a petulant idiot, not that he needed to provide more evidence.
Pandemics. Pandemics? Yes, pandemics. We’ve had them before and we’ll have them again. But we’ve learned a lot from COVID about how to manage them, both scientifically and socially. And the speed with which immunizations were developed is pretty breathtaking. Humanity emerges from all this more resilient.
The Economy. I admit it. I make the mistake of watching the stock market. First it’s down because investors fear a recession. Later that same week it’s down again because economic indicators, like employment and growth rates, were too strong. Nonetheless, inflation seems like it might be abating. And when your worst problem is not unemployment but too many open jobs, well, things could be worse.
Federal Budget. Congress passed a bipartisan budget bill just before Christmas and it didn’t really come all that close to a government shut-down. (They were days away, but negotiations never stopped.) Senate Republicans shrugged at entreaties from their hard-right House colleagues to put off the deal until they regained control there. Republican Senators probably did that because they wanted the spending for their states that they knew they could get through while Democrats still controlled everything. Pork unites us. Pork is good. Importantly, the bill also contains a bi-partisan provision that clarifies that the Vice President’s role in counting electoral votes is simply ministerial.
State Budget. The state of Wisconsin has a nice problem: a $6.6 billion surplus. The question will be how to spend or save it. It’s encouraging that Speaker Robin Vos, Sen. Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu and Evers have already met about it and are talking about working together through the process. I wouldn’t count on that, but it’s a better start than we’ve had in two previous Evers’ budgets.
Student Debt. Forgiving student debt is one of the most bizarre proposals in recent memory. Why not clear everyone’s mortgages or their car loans? It was pretty clear that Pres. Joe Biden didn’t want to do it, but felt that he needed to toss a bone to his party’s hard-left. Now the whole horrible idea has been put on hold while the Supreme Court sorts it out. It’s likely, but not a sure thing, that a conservative court that has been deferential to legislative bodies is not going to allow the executive to spend a half trillion dollars without authorization from Congress. Let’s put a stake through the heart of this thing and get serious about restraining the cost of college and removing degree requirements from jobs where they aren’t necessary.
Fred Prehn. Prehn has finally resigned from the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board. He refused to step down after his term expired almost two years ago. I suspect he was asked to stay on by industry lobbyists so that he could be there to scuttle PFAS regulations, which he did. Before he left he voted to restart rule-making on PFAS, which will take years. Then he had the temerity to whine in his resignation letter that he stayed on the Board “at great personal cost.” Never mind the cost to public health and safety thanks to him. Good riddance.
Michael Gableman and Janel Brandtjen. Wisconsin’s two premier unhinged election deniers have been brought down at the hand of Vos, who created them in the first place. Vos essentially fired Gableman and ended his bogus “investigation” into non-existent voter fraud and he stripped Brandtjen of her elections committee chair. He did that not because they were undermining confidence in our election system, but because they dared to cross him. Still, the result is the same.
Jeffrey Copeland. The Sennett Middle School principal had been credited with restoring order to the school. Then the district administration fired him for allegedly violating its policy on anti-racism. Copeland is Black and all he did was comment on the lack of communications skills of a teaching candidate. But the story has a happy ending because Copeland was reinstated earlier this month by the School Board.
Luke Fickell. This guy looks like a winner. Credit UW Athletic Director Chris McIntosh for making some very Un-Wisconsin kind of bold moves.
Badger Basketball. They weren’t supposed to be any good at all this year. As I write this they’re ranked 15th in the nation.
The year finished strong and it wasn’t just because of Fickell and Badger buckets. Until November I was thinking this would add up to an awful year. But the blows to Trump were unexpected and wonderful. And the return to normalcy following the election, with most losing candidates gracefully conceding, suggest that maybe the Trump hard-right populist fever has broken.