Goodbye 2013, you year of unfortunate discoveries.
This was the year in which we discovered the lengths one party was willing to go to in order to defeat a policy that had long since defeated them.
Healthcare reform is a fait accompli, voted through by Congress, ratified by the Supreme Court and already in the process of being implemented across the country. As of this writing, more than 4 million Americans have taken advantage of expanded Medicaid coverage, and another 1 million or more have signed up for health insurance through the federal exchange. To repeal reform now would rob those people, and untold numbers more, of health insurance they are due to have — some for the first time — at the first of the year.
And yet, Republicans shut the government down in October — the low point of a strategy that included 44 votes in the House of Representative to try to repeal the law. In so doing, they harmed real flesh-and-blood people, whose livelihoods were threatened or cut off for the duration of the shutdown, and exposed the core of extremism at the heart of a party that remains responsible for one half of the legislative branch.
The shutdown was an expensive lesson that seems to have taught the Republican Party as much as it did the Democrats. By year’s end, Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s architect of austerity, had come to a budget agreement, albeit modest, and by no means favorable to struggling Americans, with Senate Democrat Patty Murray. And none other than House Speaker John Boehner had found the courage to speak out against the outside conservative groups that have demanded that their party self-immolate, rather than dare cooperate with the hated president to improve the law.
We also discovered that the great unresolved conundrum of American history — that of race — remains toxic and potent in American life.
The conservative majority on the Supreme Court junked the Voting Rights Act, 50 years nearly to the month, after the March on Washington.
The Trayvon Martin shooting, and the not-guilty verdict rendered against the man who killed him, exposed a continuing, deep rift in this country over the issue of race. The hostility and rage directed at the Miami Gardens teenager in death, and the wounded, raw response of black Americans to the outcome of the trial, showed us that we are anything but post-racial.
When President Obama waded in, stating the simple fact that Trayvon could have been his son, revealing the universality of black male “othering” whether by store clerks or neighbors or police — he reaped the whirlwind from the enforcers of American perfectionism, who demand that the veil never be lifted on our nation’s racial divide.
Even the death of Nelson Mandela forced some on the right, including Ted Cruz, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to confront the reality of right-wing rage, and in Gingrich's case, to defend the honorable nature of freedom fighting, even when the freedom fighters are black.
Meanwhile, at year’s end, we learned that anti-gay bigotry has a vibrant constituency, so long as it is steeped in Christianity. The Phil Robertson spectacle has taught us that the right sees no irony in mugging the president over his right to speak about his own experiences, or attacking the first lady for daring to suggest kids eat healthy food, but that they will go to war with a television network over Robertson’s right to declare that gays are “full of murder” and haters of God and that black people preferred life under segregation.
The utter lack of irony among those who constantly police speech directed at them, but who try to graft First Amendment protections against government censorship onto private corporate decision-making, when the speaker is a conservative, was itself instructive.
On the upside, we learned about the positive power of spiritual leadership from Pope Francis, whose deeply personal ministry to the poor, and whose bold critique of the Gospel of Greed gave hope to Christians and non-Christians alike around the world who still believe in the idea of caring for the least of these. Pope Francis has given eloquent voice to Jesus’ simple mission: to care for the poor, to shield the weak, and to love mercy more than gold.
And that, at least, made this a year not just of unfortunate discoveries but also of hope.