Many Americans no doubt think that, with this year’s toxic presidential campaign, terrorist strikes in cities around the world, the presidential election, the ongoing immigration crisis and the election of Donald Trump, 2016 clearly ranks as the worst year ever. And even if that is difficult to prove in any genuinely objective way and because facts no longer matter, it certainly feels like the worst year ever.
But, if we can take off our blinders for a moment, look beyond our own petty problems and employ a little historical perspective, we are certain to discover years that were worse than this one. Aren’t we?
For instance, the violent collision of an asteroid with earth 66 million years ago triggered tsunamis and earthquakes, released enough heat to set much of the world on fire and began the cataclysm that made the dinosaurs extinct. Surely, that was a terrible year.
In 1949 through 1953, the New York Yankees won the World Series each year. That would easily make 1953, as the fifth straight year of pinstripe dominance, the most dispiriting year in history for baseball fans.
In 1347, the Black Death arrived in Europe where it lingered for three or four years, killing 50 million people. Really bad year, 1347.
Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the first Virginia tobacco to Europe in 1548, where smoking it in a pipe soon became wildly popular.
In 1998, “Shakespeare in Love” won the Oscar for best picture. It beat out “Saving Private Ryan.” “The Big Lebowski” wasn’t even nominated. That can ruin a year.
In 1971, the Ford Motor Co. introduced the Pinto.
With the urging of Pope Urban II, the First Crusade officially began in the summer of 1096 and continued for three years, although it was followed by several subsequent, bloody Crusades. Many a crusader no doubt looked back at 1096 and wondered to himself, “Pope Urban?”
The year 1989, arguably, was the pinnacle of popularity for the mullet.
The cold wave of 1936 ranks among the most intense in recorded North American meteorological history. Wind chill in some northern states dropped temperatures to as low as -100 F., and rivers were completely icebound as far south as Richmond, Va. Brrrr! Bad year!
The cold wave was followed by one of the hottest summers on record, the infamous 1936 North American heat wave. Ouch! Really bad year!
In 1876, kudzu was introduced into the U.S. at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.
In 1857, James Buchanan was sworn in as the 15th president of the United States. During his first and only term, he gave the nation the Panic of 1857, war against the Mormons in the Utah territories, partisan deadlock in Congress, the Dred Scott Decision, and, just as he departed from the Oval Office, the Civil War.
Historically speaking, the bar for 2016 might be higher than we thought.
James Werrell is opinion page editor of The Herald.