Was 2017 craziest year in American politics? Not hardly


The website Politico.com, which provides in-depth coverage of Washington, asked 12 historians last month if 2017 was the craziest year in American political history.

Fortunately for the reputation of historians, only one of them said it was.

Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts, who wrote about their responses, conceded that things have been worse.

There’s 1861, “the year America went to war with itself over slavery,” Pitts wrote.

And there’s 1968, when the Vietnam War spiraled out of control and the country was unprepared for the divisiveness and violence that its protests unleashed.

Say what you will about 2017.

And make whatever predictions you like about how 2018 will go.

But it’s hard to see how we are anywhere near either of those two historic low points.

Pitts has a point when he described 2017 as “the year the last norms fell.”

He is referring to behavior that has now become tolerable on the public stage, including the actions of President Trump, who likes to be the center of attention so much that he keeps getting in the way of some good things his administration is doing.

There is no doubt that American society is cruder and ruder than it used to be.

At the very least that makes it a more difficult place to raise children.

However, though the norms may have fallen, the country itself has not.

That argument is made effectively by Jennifer Rubin, a columnist on The Washington Post website.

Rubin is conservative and dislikes Trump intensely, but writes that anyone who worries about what 2018 holds should go back half a century to put things in perspective.

“By most objective measures — life expectancy, rates of poverty for the elderly, educational attainment, clean air and water, medical technology, etc. — we are much better off today,” Rubin wrote. “And yet Americans often seem cynical, angry, resentful, stressed, anxious and alienated from one another and from our government.

The sunny sense of optimism that has defined the United States seems to have dimmed.

“Put differently, most of the country (and the world) is far better off than it was 50 years ago, but we often don’t feel like it.”

Rubin is right.

Pollsters have been asking Americans for four or five decades whether they think the country is on the right track, and with the exception of about five years, a majority always says we are not.

This is one example of how people are too cynical.

The United States still would not be the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world if everything was always going wrong.

Most likely, the general negativity about whomever is president, or whichever political party is in power, influences the answer to the polling question.

Only when we look back do we see that maybe things weren’t so bad after all.

To apply all of this to 2018, it’s easy to find things to worry about. Trump can’t stop baiting North Korea, which is a risky game to play.

A special prosecutor continues to investigate his 2016 campaign’s relationship to Russian intelligence efforts.

Moving away from politics, it is a certainty that another disturbed gunman will kill a bunch of innocent people at a public gathering.

And in Mississippi, it sure would be nice if the economy would pick up.

It’s been a decade since the Great Recession and everyone is impatient for the business climate to improve.

Short of nuclear missiles being fired in Asia, it is difficult to see how anything that happens this year could match the relentless march of bad news from 1968.

As for 1861, at least none of the states are talking about seceding this year.

Will there be bad news in 2018? Absolutely.

But Americans have had worse. We got through it then, so whatever happens in 2018, we’ll get through that too.