Y2K and This New Year’s Day
The start of the new millennium was so frightening it had a special name: Y2K (Year 2000). In 1982, Prince’s song 1999 reflected worries of a nuclear apocalypse, as the cold war with Russia led many to believe the world would end by the turn of the century. Instead of being depressed, Prince advised us to go out with a bang and party like it’s 1999.
“War is all around us, my mind says prepare to fight
So if I gotta die I’m gonna listen to my body tonight…
Say say two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time
So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s nineteen ninety-nine…”
When the real 1999 rolled around, we were no longer worried about the cold war and the Russians. Instead, the great concern was that computers would not understand the date changing into the 2000s, thus wiping out everything from power grids to anything depending on computer technology.
Thanks to the software companies that prepared for the change, everything went smoothly and those fears ended up being a big nothing burger. But this New Year’s Eve — that is another matter. Ironically, we are once again worried about the Russians, but this time it’s cyber rather than nuclear warfare. Looking back over some of the trauma of 2019, I realize I am in a state of anxiety and worry far greater than I was in 1999. My inability to celebrate is fueled by some horrific events and the never-ending acrimony and lies of Donald Trump.
My top five list of things that kept me up at night this past year is (in no particular order because all of these upset me equally over the last twelve months) are the environment, guns, the proliferation of hate groups, our country’s cruelty toward migrants, and our divisive and dysfunctional political climate.
Despite what some believe, there is no denying our climate and environment are on the road to destruction. The number of hurricanes, tornados, extreme heatwaves, blizzards, and floods were on the upswing in 2019 as we ping ponged from one extreme to another. On January 31, the wind-chill and frigid cold left Chicago feeling colder than Antarctica. Intense heat and lack of rain led to massive wildfires in California and Australia. Too much rain and the melting of glaciers caused by our continued burning of fossil fuels and the buildup of greenhouse gases have led to global warming and massive flooding all over the world. Right now, much of Venice is under water. This was the year of the “bomb cyclones” and “wedge tornadoes” and flash floods, along with hurricane Dorian, during which our president became a fake weather caster by means of a sharpie. That storm left 70,000 people in the Bahamas homeless.
2019 brought no reprieve from gun violence and our government’s refusal to take the smallest step to study the impact of guns on our country or pass gun safety laws. As I write this, 2019 has had more mass shootings than any year since researchers started keeping track. As of December 1, there were 385 mass shootings in the U.S., according to data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive (GVA). There were numerous school shootings, including one in November in Santa Clarita, California where a student shot five classmates, killing two and himself, in sixteen seconds. In May, a student opened fire on his college classmates at UNCC, killing two and injuring four, and a school shooting in Highlands Ranch, Colorado left one student dead and another eight injured. We also endured shootings in government buildings, shopping malls, public spaces, and places of worship. In May, a disgruntled city employee entered a municipal building in Virginia Beach and killed twelve people. Then there were the two infamous August mass shootings, August 3 at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in which 22 people were killed and at least 24 wounded because they looked like Mexicans, followed by a shooting in Dayton, Ohio, the next day that left nine people killed and 27 injured. According to the GVA there have been 36,000 gun-related deaths this year, including homicides, suicides and accidents, and yet our elected officials offer no more than banal tweets expressing “thoughts and prayers.”
Some of the shootings are directly related to the escalating climate of hatred, as hate groups proliferate and come out of the shadows. Attacks against Latinos, Muslims, Blacks, Jews, and the LGBTQ community continued to make news. Hatred motivated the El Paso shooter as well as the gunman who attacked the Poway synagogue in California. The shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, which killed two children and an adult and injured twelve, was linked to domestic terrorism. The FBI has not released the 2019 statistics yet, but hate crimes were at a sixteen year high in 2018, and I suspect this year will be even worse.
The crisis at our border with Mexico and the plight of migrants seeking asylum has not abated. On February 15, President Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border in an effort to fund his wall. His anti-immigrant rhetoric, a main feature at his rallies, will likely be an even greater part of his 2020 campaign than it was in 2016. The International Organization for Migration says the number of migrant deaths in the Americas in 2019 has passed 500. Almost half of the deaths were recorded at the US-Mexican border, including the deaths of fifteen children. Countless children remain separated from their families. Countless people linger in terrible conditions in detention centers.
2019 was the year of The Mueller Report as well as the impeachment of Donald Trump. A redacted version of the Mueller report was finally released in April. Half of Americans believe it contains damaging evidence, especially of attempts to obstruct justice. And the other half of our country believes Trump was exonerated. In September, we learned of the Whistleblower’s Complaint and the scheme to withhold aid to Ukraine unless it agreed to investigate the Bidens. Again, our country is pretty evenly split on the impeachment issue, so 2020 should bring even more political divisiveness. We are living in an era of governing by presidential tweets, more than half of which have been attacks on others. While the House Judiciary Committee debated articles of impeachment against him, Trump’s twitter account exploded with more than 100 tweets or retweets on one afternoon alone. Among these tweets was one mocking 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who he told to “chill” after she was named Time person of the year. More angry tweet storms to come in 2020, I’m sure.
As the near year and new decade approach, I feel extremely anxious about what they will bring. It feels like there is no end in sight to the chaos and cruelty of Trump, and running for office again under the cloud of impeachment will not improve his temperament. How can I welcome another year of this? Sorry, Prince, I just can’t party like it’s 1999. I fear this new year will be the true Y2K, disrupting everything I hold as just and moral and what truly makes America great. I’m struggling to feel hopeful that the new decade will bring us peace, kindness, community, and love.