Dec. 26 2012 09:07 AM

There were signs that society advanced, even if just a little


Hey, remember last week when there was supposed to be an apocalypse based on an ending point to the Mayan calendar? Well, since you’re reading this on or after Dec. 26, that obviously didn’t happen. There was an alternate interpretation of the prophecy that held that the ending point—which was actually the culmination of one cycle and the beginning of another—was a cosmic convergence that ushered in a new age of enlightenment.

That’s almost as silly as the idea that malevolent celestial beings were going to pour water from the sky and flood us out of existence. Still, we like the notion, and an argument can be made that 2012 saw events that pulled us out of the darkness.

The big one, of course, was Barack Obama’s impressive victory in November. Considering the slow creep of the economic recovery, the incumbent could easily have been ousted, and he may well have been had the Republicans managed to hoist a better candidate than Mittens Romney. Still, let’s give the U.S. electorate enlightenment points for seeing through Romney’s thin veneer and the GOP’s deceitful campaign. Had Romney been elected, we’d have seen an accelerated shift of wealth to the top strata of society, perilous deregulation, unprecedented military spending, a further dismantling of the social safety net, more institutionalized disregard for science and at least one new right-wing justice on the Supreme Court.

Similarly, San Diego voters in November saw through Carl DeMaio’s disingenuous performance as a moderate and rejected his mean-spirited, ego-driven politics, selecting liberal populist Bob Filner as mayor instead. Local voters also did away with Congressmember Brian Bilbray and his shameless scapegoating of immigrants who come here illegally to escape destitution.

At the state level, voters took mercy on school children by passing a tax increase, rejected an effort to strip unions of their power to fight big business and finally did something to fix the unfair Three Strikes law.

Perhaps most important of all, 2012 was a banner year for LGBT rights. The president of the United States announced that he’d “evolved” on the issue, now supports marriage equality and then won the election. Minnesota, Maine, Washington and Maryland all saw pro-marriage-equality wins on Election Day. All four candidates for mayor in supposedly conservative San Diego—it’s really not—supported equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. We are truly on the other side of the mountain in what is the civil-rights issue of our era. It was only as matter of time, and that time has come. In 2013, we’ll see how enlightened Supreme Court swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy is.

Sensible marijuana policy is trailing marriage equality on the advancement continuum, but it also made strides in 2012. California took a big step backward this year when four U.S. attorneys cracked down big-time on medicinal-pot dispensaries, but then voters in Colorado and Washington legalized weed for recreational use, so now the nation has two test cases to watch. In the aftermath, Obama said he won’t bring the federal hammer down on stoners in those states. We’ll see.

As the year closes, two major issues are playing out: gun violence and the federal budget.

Too early to know, but the brutal massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators who tried to shield them may have finally created the impetus for a new assault-weapons ban. Time will tell if there’s an enlightened response to the National Rifle Association’s surreal call for placing armed guards in every school in the country.

And the Republican Party is a shambles. Obama has offered a trillion dollars in spending cuts if the Republicans will go along with a tax increase on personal income above $250,000, and he’s even floated a change to the way Social Security benefits are calculated that his political base hates. Most Republicans are against Obama’s proposal, but some would go along with some kind of tax increase, if only on income above $1 million a year. Those lawmakers are starting to call out the others—the Tea Party types—as inflexible, purist martyr-loons. The GOP is splintering, and because of the party’s trajectory toward the extreme, that’s great for the nation.

It was hardly a perfect year: Our government kills foreigners in drone warfare. Unions are under siege in certain states. Californians missed that chance to abolish the death penalty. Not enough progress has been made on combatting climate change. The architects of the financial collapse have largely gotten away with it. The middle class is still shrinking.

Still—and maybe it’s the rum-spiked eggnog talking—all in all, we’re feeling pretty good about 2012.

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