Much has been said about how 2016 was a year full of unexpected twists, turns, tragedy, and turmoil. The silver lining: Those same ingredients — tumultuous elections, controversial legislation, and blatant discrimination, to name a few — make great fodder for political cartoons. As we start what will hopefully be a saner 2017, let’s take a moment to reflect on the year — and cartoony commentary — that was.
A large contributing factor of the chaos of 2016 was, of course, the presidential election. While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the presumptive — if not pre-ordained — Democratic nominee, she faced a strong competitor in Senator Bernie Sanders. While Clinton struggled to connect with Millennials and the voting public in general, Sanders cultivated passionate supporters, running as a political outsider despite decades of service. He was, however, no match for machinations within the DNC to ensure Hillary — who had been an also-ran once before against President Obama — secured the nomination.
On the other side of the aisle, the field for the Republican nominee was crowded with a slew of candidates, ranging from political insiders and outsiders alike. During the primaries, Republican voters would whittle down the list, eschewing established politicians — including Governors Jeb “Exclamation Point!” Bush and John Kasich, and Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — to nominate brash reality TV star and businessman Donald Trump. His most consistent platform being the labels he applied to his opponents (“Little Marco”, “Lyin’” Ted Cruz, “Low-energy” Jeb), Trump put the “bully” in bully pulpit and irked his party’s establishment. Between Trump and Clinton, voters would be choosing from two of the least popular candidates to run for the Presidency.
While the Presidential election dominated the headlines at a national level, the South Carolina statehouse provided its own news locally. In March, state legislators discussed making feminine hygiene products tax-free, as with other health care items. Of course, given the legislature is predominantly male, one couldn’t help but wonder whether those emphatically debating the tampon tax understood that “feminine protection” wasn’t a 2nd Amendment issue.
In March, then-North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed into law the Public Facilities & Security Act, requiring individuals — including transgender individuals — to use restrooms based on their birth certificates rather than their gender identity. Despite the immediate outcry over LGBTQ discrimination, Upstate Senator Lee Bright would introduce a similar bill in South Carolina. Unlike our neighbors to the North, however, legislators ultimately killed Bright’s bill, and Bright himself would later lose his re-election bid. We’ll likely revisit this issue again in the new year, though, as first-year Representative Steven Long has proposed a similar “bathroom bill” for 2017.
In May, Governor Nikki Haley quickly signed a bill — the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act — into law, making abortions illegal after 19 weeks of pregnancy. At the heart of this legislation was the claim that fetuses feel pain by 20 weeks, despite scientific studies finding it unlikely to occur before the third trimester. On the heels of the kerfuffle over LGBTQ discrimination and bathroom bills, this passionate concern over the human rights of the unborn seemed more than a little ironic.
Just as Charlestonians started to reflect on the anniversary of the Emanuel AME shooting, a gunman shot up Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fl. Sadly, this revived many of the same ironies and questions as the previous year’s massacre, showing that — despite the bloodshed — we weren’t yet any closer to understanding what qualifies as an act of terror vs. a hate crime, the debate between gun rights vs. gun control, or the impact of normalizing political rhetoric against groups who are then victimized.
With Hillary Clinton, Republicans had an easy political target, given her many controversies. Thanks in part to ill-timed — and purely speculative — reports by FBI Director James Comey, Hillary’s use of personal email servers as Secretary of State plagued her throughout her candidacy. However, she overcame one scandal when the final report of the Select Committee on Benghazi — led by South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy — cleared her of wrongdoing in the 2012 deadly attacks in Libya, after years of fiery partisan conspiracy theories to the contrary. However, this bit of good news was short-lived, overshadowed by reports that Bill Clinton had a questionable “run-in” meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on an airport tarmac amid the investigation into Hillary’s emails.
When pharmaceutical giant Mylan dramatically raised the price of EpiPens — epinephrine injectors used to counteract severe allergic reactions — to $600 for a pair, it was yet another concrete example of Big Pharma choosing profits over people. While Mylan would later introduce generic versions that would sell for half the cost, it continues to underscore the need to reform how we price health care and medication.
2016 continued the tragic trend of police violence against black men, including the September shooting of Charleston native Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, NC. Closer to home, the court case against former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager would eventually end in a mistrial and a deadlocked jury, despite cell phone video of him fatally shooting an unarmed — and black — Walter Scott (no relation to Keith) multiple times in the back as he ran away. When it came to black lives or blue lives, there appeared to be some debate over whether one mattered more.
When a lewd 2004 conversation between Donald Trump and Jeb!-cousin Billy Bush was leaked, many wondered if it would be the one-gaffe-too-far to finally do in the Republican nominee. In the hot mic audio, captured while the two did a segment for Access Hollywood, Trump discussed his tendency to kiss beautiful women — and “grab them by the pussy” — without consent. While many would point to these comments as the epitome of rape culture and sexism within Trump’s campaign, he shrugged them off as harmless “locker room” banter between guys. When several women came forward with claims that Trump’s words matched his actions in their experiences, an uneasy Republican establishment further questioned the ramifications to their brand due to their unorthodox nominee. In the end, Billy Bush would lose his job at NBC over the conversation, while Trump would go on to win the Presidency.
Yes, while Clinton would win the popular vote by more than three million, Trump won the electoral college and the Presidency. Given his “America First” platform and habit of disparaging groups of people based on race, religion, and nationality, it was probably little surprise that Trump resonated with white supremacists like David Duke and the KKK. The white nationalist arm of the Republican party — known as the “alt-right” — also came into prominence over the course of the election, due in part to Trump’s appointment of Breitbart News chair Steve Bannon as CEO of his campaign and chief strategist of his Presidency. Following the election, America saw an uptick in hate crimes, including attacks on Muslims and graffiti featuring swastikas and other racist sentiment, as if emboldened by Trump’s win. While Trump stayed silent on this rise in racism and unsettling footage of an alt-right post-election celebration that featured Nazi salutes, he seeming more alarmed by the cast of Hamilton, demanding they apologize for voicing concerns to audience-member VP-Elect Mike Pence during an ovation.
In short, 2016 was marked by things that zigged instead of zagged. Trump defied poll numbers, media analysis, and a punchline status to win the Presidency. Jurors couldn’t rule on a high-profile court case despite seemingly damning video evidence. The Grim Reaper took beloved celebrities and innovators — including Prince, Bowie, Gene Wilder, and Carrie Fisher — at a gut-punching clip. The trial of Emanuel AME shooter Dylann Roof ending with a ‘Guilty’ verdict was a rare spot of sticking-to-the-script in an otherwise unpredictable year that left many simply numb by the end.