Viewing 2016 in retrospect — doing so is unpleasant, but less so than was living through it — the year resembles a china shop after a visit from an especially maladroit bull. Because a law says, “The state of California may not sell or display the Battle Flag of the Confederacy . . . or any similar image,” a painting of the 1864 Siege of Atlanta was banned from display at the Fresno County fair. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services churned out a 25-page policy statement about “the systematic inclusion of families in activities and programs that promote children’s development, learning, and wellness.” That is, government should provide, as an act of grace — systematic grace — a role for parents in raising their children.
Let freedom ring, in the nooks and crannies of the administrative state: One day a year — Lemonade Day — children in Austin, Texas, can sell the stuff without spending $460 on various fees, licenses, and permits. Twelve-year olds in a Tampa middle school, learning about “how much privilege” they have, were asked if they were “Cisgendered,” “Transgendered,” or “Genderqueer.” Two years after Emma was the most common name given to baby American girls, the trend was toward supposedly gender-neutral baby names (e.g., Lincoln, Max, Arlo) lest the child feel enslaved to stereotypes. A New Jersey mother says a police officer interrogated her nine-year-old son after he was suspected of a racial slur when he talked about brownies, the baked good. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pondered whether a worker committed racial harassment by wearing a cap emblazoned with the Gadsden flag (depicting a coiled rattlesnake, with the words “Don’t Tread on Me”). A University of Iowa professor complained that the Hawkeyes’ mascot, Herky, a fierce bird, is “conveying an invitation to aggressivity and even violence” that is discordant with the “all accepting, nondiscriminatory messages we are trying to convey.”
At Washington’s refurbished Watergate Hotel, the message on room-key cards reads “No Need to Break In.” The New York Times reported the downside of humanity’s mastery of fire: “Figuring out how to make fire was no doubt an evolutionary boon to our ancestors. But it may have led to our smoking habit.” Facing a budget shortfall in 2010, New York’s legislature raised the cigarette tax $1.60 to $4.35 per pack, expecting, illogically, that it would discourage smoking and raise $290 million annually. By 2016, cigarette revenues had fallen 25 percent and smuggled cigarettes held 58 percent of the New York market.
Congress considered bills to prevent the IRS from hiring or retaining people delinquent in their tax payments. Unions in New York and California lobbied for exemption from the $15 minimum wage they had lobbied for. It was splendidly appropriate that when Cuba buried the architect of its ramshackle socialism, the vehicle carrying Castro’s ashes broke down and had to be pushed by soldiers. “Thou swell, thou witty, thou sweet, thou grand” were not lyrics that many Americans sang about either presidential candidate, but one of them had to win, so as you steel yourself for 2017, remember H. L. Mencken’s timeless wisdom: A martini is “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet.”
— George Will is a Pulitzer Prize–winning syndicated columnist. © 2016 Washington Post Writers Group