When deciding how to review the past year, there are so many choices. I decided to limit it to the unexpected.
Last week, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky met President Biden and spoke before a joint session of Congress to thunderous applause. His country is holding its own against Russia on the battlefield. In contrast, Putin has appeared to be isolated in his country and Russia’s invasion has been subject to almost universal condemnation. Before the war, the reputation of the Russian military was very high while Ukraine had a small army. It was expected that Kiev would fall within days. Putin was the seasoned politician and cagy KGB veteran, and Zelensky was a former actor. Russia has had a longstanding program of misinformation, which has been very effective. Yet it has been Zelensky who has used the media to his advantage while Putin seems totally out of touch.
I do not follow Ukrainian domestic politics. But I doubt that Zelensky played up his being Jewish, including being from a family of survivors, in a country which helped Germany in executing the final solution. Also, his wife is not Jewish. However, his Jewishness has been mentioned in our country. He has been compared to Judah Maccabee, who successfully led a small group of Jewish fighters against the strongest country in the world at that time, Greece.
Another person who you would have not expected to emphasis his Jewish background is First Gentleman Doug Emhoff. Although his first wife is Jewish, his current wife, Vice President Kamala Harris, is not. Yet the specter of increasing anti-Semitism has forced him to take a more public role on the issue and his being Jewish. He recently chaired a panel dealing with the problem of increasing antisemitism.
It did not come as a shock that anti-Semitic incidents increased tremendously in 2022. What was unexpected and jarring, is how it became mainstream, such as with basketball star Kyrie Irving, recording artist Kayne West, comedian Dave Chappelle and “The View” host Whoopi Goldberg. Trump helped their cause by inviting Kayne to Mar-a-Lago, and meeting with him and Nick Fuentes, a known anti-Semite. Furthermore, Trump made comments concerning the Jewish community and establishment that appear to mimic anti-Semitic tropes.
For almost 50 years since the Watergate House Committee’s investigation and hearings, we have heard on many occasions that this Committee hearing is just as important, whether it was Iran Contra or Benghazi. Even Mueller’s investigation was built up. Yet none of them had much impact.
When the January 6 Committee was established, the expectations were low. The committee exceeded expectations. Its effect on public opinion as it relates to reminding voters of the danger to democracy posed by various right-wing extremists and Trump and election deniers was an important factor in these candidates going down to defeat in the midterms. I have not yet read the report. I am waiting to receive it in book form. However, I anticipate that the report and the release of the backup documentation will influence shaping public opinion. It will affect Trump’s ability to win as a Republican candidate for president, and if he wins the party’s nomination, it will hurt his chance to win the general election. It also affects the decision of the special counsel in deciding whether to charge Trump with a crime. One of the fears of charging Trump is that it will tear the country apart. If the vast majority supports or is not vehemently opposed to charging Trump, then if the special counsel thinks that charges are merited, the special counsel will proceed.
One of the questions was whether Trump created Trumpism and thus it is the cult of personality, or if Trump understood the feeling of the base and that Trumpism is just another name for populism. The feeling of many was that Trumpism was a creation of Trump, and as long as Trumpism was prevalent in the Republican Party, Trump would be its leader. This is appearing not to be the case. Trump’s popularity within the base has fallen tremendously, especially after the debacle of the midterms. You know Trump is in trouble when such Trumpian stalwarts as Moshe Hill will not commit to Trump for 2024 and Sholom Moskowitz does not want him to be the party’s candidate for president in 2024. Trumpism is still alive in a significant part of the party. They are looking for a new leader. Right now, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is the favorite to take up the mantle.
It was expected that the Republicans would take back the Senate with a small majority and the House of Representatives with a significant majority. Neither happened. The Democrats gained one seat in the Senate and the Republicans only gained a small number of seats in the House for a narrow majority.
It was also a bad year for the Federal Reserve and the administration, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who all thought that inflation was transitory despite the data showing otherwise. Belatedly, they had to admit that they were wrong. These are supposed to be the experts, and to many it was surprising how they got it all wrong.
China, where Covid began, has prided itself in containing the virus with minimal cases and deaths compared to the United States. They decided to impose a zero-Covid policy while not emphasizing the importance of vaccination. This policy had been in effect for nearly three years. Then in response to public outcry they relaxed their policy with little preparation for the likely result. The effect has been immediate. Covid is out of control with a high death count. Who would have expected such incompetence?
There are plenty of prognosticators who think that they know the future. The most famous is Punxsutawney Phil. The year 2022 is another example of why it is foolhardy to make predictions.