The Center Presents: Top Stories of 2016 (Part Two)

The year 2016 may likely be remembered by history as a year full of surprises, divisions, and changes. To help remember the year that was, we at The Center for Vision & Values asked some of our fellows and contributing scholars to reflect upon 2016 and create their own list of the Top Stories of 2016. We invite you to reflect upon some of the most important stories of 2016. Here are the top political, presidential, and foreign policy stories. Enjoy!T op Stories from the 2016 Presidential Race
By Dr. Paul Kengor5.) Feel the Socialist Bern. Bernie Sanders, a lifetime professing socialist, got 13 million votes in the Democratic Primary (Donald Trump got 14 million in the Republican Primary, a record for a Republican). That is a stunning feat for a socialist. What does that say about America today? What does it say about the Democratic Party today?

4.) GOP Field. Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, amid an impressive field of 17 original candidates, what Barack Obama rightly called the most impressive field of GOP stars he had ever seen. For Donald Trump to emerge with the nomination was truly remarkable.

3.) Swing States. Donald Trump won the presidency by winning (among others) Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina—a rare clean sweep of crucial swing states and a major accomplishment. He did what Mitt Romney and John McCain could not.

2.) Not With Her. Hillary Clinton’s loss is the nightmare scenario for Democrats, especially with her losing to Donald Trump, and after leading Trump by double-digits just a few weeks before the final vote. She was the Democrats’ golden girl. She was the anointed one awaiting her coronation. She was the feminist icon, and she lost to (of all people) Donald Trump, who she sees as a male chauvinist pig. Hillary’s loss (and to whom) was an extraordinary political moment.

1.) Popular Vote Divide. The most striking fact of the 2016 presidential race was Donald Trump winning the presidency while losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million, shattering the previous record popular-vote loss by a winning president. (George W. Bush lost the popular vote by 543,000 in 2000, and that was considered a major embarrassment for Bush.) This is utterly unprecedented. Here are numbers of comparison:

Hillary’s popular-vote lead over Trump is now almost 2.9 million votes. (Here’s the most reliable vote-tracker.) Trump’s percentage loss to her is 46.1% vs. 48.2. That gives Trump a lower percentage than not only Hillary but also than Obama in 2012, Obama in 2008, Romney in 2012, Bush in 2004 and 2000, Kerry in 2004, and Gore in 2000. Trump may yet get lower than McCain, who was at 45.7%.

Top Stories from Acting or Former Presidents
By Dr. Gary S. Smith

5.) George W. Bush. Significantly departing from political tradition, George W. Bush neither endorsed nor voted for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who aggressively attacked the former president’s brother Jeb during the primaries and publicly accused Bush of lying about WMDs in Iraq. It was rumored that the 43rd president would vote for Hillary Clinton, but Bush voted either for a third party candidate or wrote in another name.

4.) Jimmy Carter. He once again tried to play the role of peacemaker by urging Barack Obama to recognize a Palestinian state. He exhorted Obama to recognize the Palestinian state diplomatically as 137 other nations have already done. While Carter’s plea is certainly not surprising, it is remarkable in light of his age (92) and the life-threatening health problems he dealt with in 2016.

3.) Bill Clinton. He was considered by many to be the nation’s consummate campaigner but played a rather ineffectual role in his wife Hillary’s 2016 quest to win the presidency. In 2016 the former president gave more than 400 speeches in almost 40 states. However, Trump made Clinton’s past sexual exploits an issue, and Clinton lost some of his star power because, unlike in 2008, he was not the most recent Democratic president and he has not run for office since 1996. Bill’s ineffectiveness on the campaign trail contributed to his wife’s loss and was “frustrating to the longtime Democratic closer.”

2.) Record Setting Pardons. Barack Obama has so far given either pardons or commuted sentences to 1,324 individuals, which is by far the most extensive use of the president’s power to grant mercy in American history. His more than 1,000 commutations are 50 times the number George W. Bush conferred and more than the amount given by the last 11 presidents combined. Almost all of those who received a pardon or a reduced sentence from Obama had been sentenced under tough antidrug laws.

1.) Approval Ratings. Given his low approval ratings for much of his second term, it is very surprising that Obama is ending his presidency with such a positive rating—currently 57 percent—his highest ranking since September 2009. To put this in perspective, in December of their second terms, Clinton had an approval rating of 67 percent, Ronald Reagan 63 percent, and George W. Bush 24 percent. Two factors primarily account for the public’s favorable assessment of Obama—the economy’s better performance in recent months and the high unfavorable ratings of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Top Stories of U.S. Foreign Policy
By Dr. Earl Tilford

5.) Brexit. On June 23, 2016, the electorate in the United Kingdom voted by 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the European Union, despite the Obama administration’s support for London remaining within the EU. The so-called “Brexit” decision represented a cultural and nationalist movement presaging a similar phenomenon in the U.S. election on November 8 that produced an unexpected Republican political victory to retain both houses of Congress and gain the presidency for Donald J. Trump.

4.) Terrorism. The Islamic State’s strategy shifted toward inspiring individual acts of terrorism by Muslims residing in Western Europe and the United States. Attacks in Paris and in Nice, France, in Berlin, in Brussels, in San Bernardino, California on December 3, 2015 killing 14 Christmas party goers, and an attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida on June 13, 2016 claiming 49 lives, are harbingers of a wave of difficult-to-detect terrorism yet to come.

3.) Paying Iran. The Obama administration’s payment of  $400 million to Iran on January 17, 2016 to affect the release of four American prisoners held by Tehran on false charges and the subsequent payment of an additional $1.3 billion in two installments on January 22 and February 5 represented two things in particular: 1) a major shift from the policy of never paying ransom for hostages and 2) it demonstrated the insipidness inherent in the Obama administration’s Iran policy, one more intent on securing a flawed nuclear arms deal as part of the “president’s legacy.”

2.) The Failure in Syria. The failure of U.S. diplomacy to secure a workable accommodation in the Syrian civil war has cost an estimated 500,000 lives and flooded Europe with refugees. Over 23,000 have been resettled to the United States with up to 110,000 expected before President Obama leaves office on January 20, 2017. Not vetoing the December 24 U.N. resolution condemning Jewish settlements in the West Bank and forbidding Jews to live, worship, or enter West Jerusalem makes reaching accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians far less likely and a major conflict in the region likely.

1.) Russia. Moscow’s warming relations with Tehran to include large-scale arms sales and the establishment of a robust Russian military presence in Syria to support the Assad regime reflect the realization of a Russian vision for penetration of the Persian Gulf region and gaining unfettered access to the Mediterranean heretofore unrealized by tsars and commissars from Peter the Great to Stalin. They also reflect poorly on Obama dismissing Mitt Romney’s Russia warnings during the 2012 elections as old Cold War thinking. The danger posed to Israel include massive arms shipments to Hezbollah under the cover of Russian S-300/400 surface-to-air missile sites complicating and deterring Israeli aerial interdiction operations over Syria and southern Lebanon.