Winners and losers of the year


Now is the time to reopen my old reporter’s notebooks and see who among last year’s national newsmakers deserves sugar plums or a lump of coal for being naughty or nice.

Once again it was a great year for coal, in my not-too-humble opinion. But, keep in mind my purpose is not to dictate my choices to you as much as it is to invite you to come up with choices of your own.

And now, the envelopes please …

“Biggest Winner”: Let’s hear it for Doug Jones, Alabama’s first Democratic senator-elect in more than 20 years. Although Jones was helped notably by allegations of pedophilia against his Republican opponent, Roy Moore, his nail-biter of a victory in the deeply conservative state encouraged Democrats as much as Donald Trump’s presidential victory over Hillary Clinton had depressed them.

Coming a few weeks behind a “blue wave” of surprisingly large off-year Democratic victories in Virginia and New Jersey, Jones won with the help of a larger-than-usual turnout of women, especially black women, in a race that saw a larger turnout than usual among blacks and lower-than-usual among whites. No wonder Republicans criticize Democratic “identity politics” so much, even as they practice more conservative versions of their own.

“Biggest Loser.” That dishonor goes to scandalized movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Accused of decades of sexual assault and harassment, Weinstein’s fall touched off a “reckoning,” a national tsunami of firings and suspensions brought down prominent men in movies, politics and journalism who also were accused of sexual improprieties.

Is this what democracy looks like? A new debate is rising on the right and left as to whether a new gender McCarthyism is taking hold, finding accused men guilty before giving them a chance to prove their innocence. Stay tuned. Anyone who solves that divide and survives will be a strong contender in this category for next year’s honors.

“Most Defining Political Moment.” The Women’s March by hundreds of thousands of women in Washington and other cities a day after Trump’s inauguration raised the curtain on a new “resistance” against Trump, even as he solidified his hold over the Grand Old Party. Republicans ridiculed the lack of a clear agenda among the protesting anti-Trumpers. But this year’s Democratic successes in off-year elections give Republicans reason to be nervous about the 2018 mid-terms.

“Turncoat of the Year.” There are numerous candidates in this heavily contested category, but my award goes to Donna Brazile. The interim head of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign upset her fellow party leaders with a book that revealed what her fellow Dems needed to hear: Cozy relations between the party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign had done great damage to both.

No, she did not charge collusion or a “rigged” election, as some right-wing critics alleged. But she did tell Democrats what they needed to hear, if they intend to win the White House in 2020. That took courage — and, I am sure, she sold more than a few books.

“Most Charismatic.” In accordance with the alternative universes created by our currently polarized politics, I am splitting this prize along party lines. The GOP winner, not surprisingly, is President Trump, whose charisma completely eluded me until I witnessed the electricity he generates in his rally crowds. As much as conservatives ridiculed President Barack Obama’s crowds for behaving as if their “messiah” had arrived, the Trumpers sound clearly thrilled to have found a political savior of their own.

Among the Democrats, clearly charisma-challenged after Obama’s departure, I find myself returning constantly to good ol’ Joe Biden, to whom the unofficial title “good ol” is attached so often that it sounds like part of his name. At 75, he still lights up crowds with his seemingly boundless energy. But Democrats need to focus on an area they have neglected: Growing new talent for national races as Republicans have been doing in recent years.

“Best Comeback.” For this honor, you can’t beat the New England Patriots rebound from a 28-to-3 deficit in the second half against the Atlanta Falcons to a 34-28 victory in overtime — one of the biggest blown leads in Super Bowl history. That’s too bad for Atlanta, but symbolically the Patriots offer hope to Democrats, beleaguered in their exile from power in Congress and the White House: You can come from behind and win, but first you’ve got to show up for the game.

By Clarence Page

Contributing Columnist

Clarence Page is a member of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board. Readers may send him email at [email protected].

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