Normally we open our annual awards column with an explanation of why John McLaughlin shouldn’t sue us. It’s become traditional, in fact, to skate the thin ice of “homage” and “satire” versus straight-up theft of intellectual property (which, of course, we’d never ever do... or, at least, admit.)
This year, sad to say, we no longer have to do this dance. It’s sad because The McLaughlin Group television show is no more. It was retired upon the John McLaughlin’s death earlier this year, and we have missed the weekly political chatfest ever since. Pat Buchanan is an interesting guy to listen to, especially since in his own run at the presidency, he was a sort of proto-Trump. Clarence Page and Eleanor Clift are likewise missed on a weekly basis.
But no time of year highlights the absence more than now, because McLaughlin came up with a list of year-end award categories for all his panelists to spar over, which was always guaranteed to bring up some events from the past year that had almost totally been forgotten.
We always played along in our own year-end columns, offering up what our choices were for all the categories (and a few extra ones). This year, sadly, we do so not in homage but rather in memoriam. Rest in peace, John, while we attempt to at least partially fill the hole you’ve left.
Biggest Winner Of 2016
Of course, in any presidential year, the obvious choice for Biggest Winner is the election’s winner. But since Donald Trump is eligible for so many other awards this year, we’re not going to give it to him. After all, even though in his own mind he won in “a landslide,” by the historical numbers this just isn’t the case. Compared to other presidents (even just compared to Barack Obama’s two elections), Trump barely squeaked by. Plus, there’s that whole “behind Hillary by almost three million popular votes” thing, as well.
We could have waggishly given this award to Vladimir Putin, but decided to pass on that one, too.
If we gave these awards out solely in the political arena, we would have given it to “the legalization of recreational marijuana,” which scored a bigger win (four states, including California and two East Coast states) than it ever has before. But even weed legalization didn’t make a clean sweep, as one ballot measure lost in Arizona.
Instead, we turn to the world of sports. We considered giving Biggest Winner to Michael Phelps, who is the winningest Olympic athlete of all time (in any sport), but then discovered we had already done so, back in 2008 (when he broke Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals in one Olympics).
No, there’s really one feat from 2016 which qualifies ― and was an astounding 108 years in the making. When the Chicago Cubs won the World Series this year, it broke a century-old curse and therefore has to be seen as the most impressive win of the whole year. The Cubs made an unbelievable comeback, from being down three games to one in the World Series, and ended their magnificent year with a seventh game that went into extra innings. After the victory, an unbelievable five million people lined the streets of Chicago for their victory parade ― what ABC News called “the largest gathering of people ever in the Western Hemisphere.” That is way more impressive than any political victory this year, which is why the Cubbies are the Biggest Winners of 2016.
Biggest Loser Of 2016
Again, the obvious choice in any presidential year is the losing candidate. Hillary Rodham Clinton ― and her entire campaign apparatus ― was in many ways the Biggest Loser Of 2016. She may have gotten more votes than Trump, but she utterly failed to excite young voters and she did a lousy job of corralling all the other former Bernie Sanders voters to boot. Turnout was down across many demographics, so it’s hard to accurately say which group Hillary failed to inspire (to get to the polls) the most. Or “the least,” to be more accurate.
Thematically, Hillary ran a very similar campaign to the one she did in 2008. One of her slogans this time around was “a progressive who gets things done” ― which is another way of saying “dream small.” In 2008, Democratic primary voters rejected this for undiluted “hope and change,” and in 2016 Hillary struggled to beat a self-described “Democratic Socialist” who also told the electorate that dreaming big was the way to go. Hillary came off calculated, incremental, and timid by comparison ― both times.
Team Clinton was supposed to be assured of victory by their awesome ground game ― one that largely failed to equate to actual votes on Election Day. Even without all the media idiocy and the scandals, Hillary was obviously nowhere near the campaigner her husband always had been. She had eight years to try to rectify this situation, but she still exuded an insufferable air of entitlement throughout the entire campaign. Biggest Loser of 2016 was, without a doubt, Hillary Clinton (and the campaign she waged).
But we’re also handing out the Biggest (Literal) Loser of 2016, as a tangential award, just because it was so amusing. The Irish bookmaker Paddy Power had their own “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment this year, because they actually started paying out on bets that Hillary Clinton had won the American election ― three weeks before the election happened. After a series of stumbles by Trump (most notably, Pussygate), Paddy Power decided Trump’s chance of winning was essentially zero, so they just went ahead and paid off everyone who had bet on Clinton to win. This cost them roughly a million dollars.
When Trump won, they had to pay out another five million bucks to the people who had bet on him (Trump had longer odds, hence the higher payouts, one assumes). It was ― quite literally ― a “win-win” bet. You couldn’t lose if you had placed an election wager with Paddy Power. For holding the lose-lose end of this bargain, and for (as they put it) winding up with “some very, very expensive egg on our faces,” Paddy Power wins the special Biggest (Literal) Loser of 2016 award. Better luck next time, guys!
Since Donald Trump doesn’t like to call himself a politician, we’re going to disqualify him for this particular award.
On the Democratic side, we had Bernie Sanders (who ran the campaign of his lifetime, only to ultimately fall short) and Elizabeth Warren. Warren managed to walk the tightrope between Team Hillary and the Feel The Bern crowd better than any other Democrat this year. She never endorsed Bernie, but somehow still maintained the love and respect from the progressive wing of the party. She was also reportedly in the final few to be considered to be Hillary’s running mate. Warren exited the election season smelling like a rose, with no visible scars from either candidate’s camp. That’s pretty impressive, in the midst of such a hard-fought race.
But we have to give this award to a Republican this year. Of all the Republicans trying to figure out how to deal with Trump, one man excelled at his own high-wire act: Reince Priebus. Early on, he declared the Republican National Committee (which he chaired) to be absolutely neutral in the 17-way GOP primary race, and he did such a good job of neutrality that he is going to wind up with perhaps the most powerful job in Washington after the presidency itself. Since he’ll be Trump’s White House chief of staff next year, we suppose we’ll have to retire our recurring joke about his name (”take out the vowels, and you get his job title ― RNC PR BS”). Instead, we’ll have to follow the lead of Stephen Colbert, who earlier this year pointed out that his name is an anagram for “crisp bee urine.” Now that’s an image that can’t be un-thunk, wouldn’t you say?
Joshing aside, though, Priebus was the best at getting close to Trump without totally appearing like a suck-up (cough, cough... Chris Christie... cough...). Because he obviously was respected by Trump for doing so (since he scored such a plum job), Reince Priebus has to be seen as the Best Politician this year.
Hillary Clinton was certainly in the running for this one, but we already gave her Biggest Loser, so we’ll move on to other bad politicians instead. There was no shortage of bad politicians on the Republican side, mostly due to how many of them ran for president. Chris Christie certainly had a brutal year, as did Ben Carson ― and all the rest of the yahoos on stage for the GOP primary debates.
But one man stood above (below?) them all in the Worst Politician category. He had a mountain of cash to play with, he had the full backing of the establishment of the party, and he even stuck an exclamation point after his name for good measure. None of it, alas, helped “Jeb!” Bush one tiny little bit.
Of all the Republicans who tried mixing it up with Trump in the primary debates, Jeb! came off looking weakest. Saturday Night Live spoofed Trump calling Bush a little girl (”The name on your birth certificate is actually Jebra”), which was funny because it was so close to the spanking the real Trump doled out to him on a regular basis in the primary debates. In fact, it was hard not to feel sorry for Jeb! since he looked so bewildered and confused as to why the nomination was not falling into his lap, as planned.
Jeb! wasted more of other people’s money than anyone this year, and he couldn’t win a single state. He couldn’t even get higher than fourth place in most states, as a matter of fact. That’s a pretty dismal showing for the man who was supposed to be the dynastic candidate on the GOP side.
As a matter of fact, he was so pathetic and so obviously the worst of a bad lot that from this point forward we can’t even bring ourselves to make fun of his exclamation point. From now on in these pages, he’ll just be plain old “Jeb” again. If we ever bother to mention him again at all (which we probably won’t).
Most Defining Political Moment
The temptation is strong to just throw up our hands and say “Election Night.” But that’d really be a cop-out, we feel. We could go back and rehash the campaign for the most defining moment for Trump and Clinton, instead.
For Trump, it’d either be “Pussygate” or the moment when Ted Cruz dropped out of the race. Cruz was the final non-Trump candidate to fall, which was the exact point when most Republicans realized their “Never Trump” dreams had been dashed.
For Hillary Clinton, it’s pretty obvious ― her “basket of deplorables” gaffe. That one is going to live in the political lexicon just as long as Mitt Romney’s “47 percent,” that’s for sure. When oh when will politicians learn it isn’t a great strategy to outright insult large groups of voters? Inquiring minds want to know... sigh.
But instead, we’re reaching even further back, and even further afield. The Most Defining Political Moment of 2016 was the Brexit vote in Britain. Not because it defined politics in America in any way (it didn’t), but because it was the canary in the coal mine warning us all that the pollsters might not always be right. Sometimes “waves” occur in the public that the pollsters just flat-out miss. Brexit was one of those times, and Trump winning the U.S. presidency was another.
The Brexit vote and the Trump election will both have far-reaching ramifications for how pollsters conduct public opinion polls, that much is sure. The pollsters [and I include all my own pollwatching columns in this, absolutely] just blew it. There’s just no way to sugarcoat it. Trump voters were telling me before the American election that Brexit was going to happen here. I scoffed. Along with just about everybody else. And look what happened. Which is why Brexit was the Most Defining Political Moment of 2016. It set the stage for Election Day, if only we had realized it.
Turncoat Of The Year
We had so many nominations in this category that we had to limit it to people who turned their coat twice during the course of the year. Which excluded the entire Bush family, since they turned against Trump but never followed this up by trying to suck up to him later on.
It also disqualifies all the Democratic entries (Bernie Sanders, who disappointed some followers by backing Clinton) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (for obvious reasons).
Instead, only people who turned against Trump and then turned back to him later were considered. The most successful of these were probably Nikki Haley and Rick Perry, both of whom wound up with nice positions in the Trump administration, after scathingly denouncing Trump earlier in the year (Haley, notably, in her response to Barack Obama’s State Of The Union speech).
But there’s one real standout among this weaselly crowd. Mitt Romney earned a lot of respect (from both sides of the aisle, in fact) for mincing no words denouncing Donald Trump during the primary campaign. He stuck to this position right up until Trump won the presidency, and then he started pathetically groveling at Trump’s feet, because he thought he was in the running to be secretary of State. The entire nation watched his disgrace and his abasement, much to Trump’s glee.
In the end, it didn’t get him anything more than the complete destruction of all the respect he had earlier earned. Romney turned his coat twice, and wound up being nothing more than a punchline. That wins him Turncoat Of The Year, easily.
Well, there’s always Ben Carson, but we gave him this award last year... and we’ve already given Jeb Bush Worst Politician this time around.
Instead we’re going to give it to a man hilariously described (in a nomination from a commenter at my web site) as “Tom (?) Somebody who ran as VP with Hillary.” Heh.
Yes, Tim Kaine was easily the Most Boring of 2016. In fact, right before she made her announcement, he appeared in a television interview where he called himself boring. That’s rare honesty in a politician.
Hillary Clinton obviously chose Kaine for two reasons: because she thought he’d lock down Virginia (which he did manage to do), and because he was guaranteed never to upstage Clinton on the campaign trail. This was a very bad decision, but it did play out exactly as she planned. He never did steal her limelight, in the way Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders or Al Franken surely would have done.
For better or for worse, Tim Kaine was definitely the Most Boring guy in the political world last year.
If we were only limiting our definition of Most Charismatic to “positive charisma” then we would easily hand this award to First Lady Michelle Obama. FLOTUS not only gave an amazing speech at the Democratic National Convention, she also wowed crowds in her campaign appearances for Hillary, and she was downright endearing in the television interviews she gave. By the end of the year, many Democrats were urging her to consider running for office in the future, which is a pretty impressive show of respect.
But we’ve always defined Most Charismatic as a neutral thing ― it can be bad or good, depending on the person in question and your own point of view. By this measure, it is impossible to give the award to anyone other than Donald Trump. Trump was charismatic, because the entire political world ― from the media to the late-night comics to the president himself ― absolutely hung on his every word and action. It was just about impossible to ignore Trump, to put this another way. That’s charisma, whether you like the guy or not.
To give a non-political example, Rodney Dangerfield was charismatic in Caddyshack. He was annoying as heck, but every time he wandered on screen, he absolutely dominated the action.
That’s Trump to a “T”. Trump dominated the Republican primary race, he dominated national news coverage, he dominated cable news (so painfully you expected them to start screaming a “safe word,” at times). He dominated the entire race from beginning to end ― because all of his opponents (from both parties) were reduced to nothing more than reacting to what Trump said and did. Which is why he was clearly the Most Charismatic, for the second year in a row.
The name Merrick Garland springs to mind here, but he didn’t really get a “bum rap,” he was just stonewalled by Senate Republicans. So he doesn’t really fit the category, we feel.
Instead, we’re going very specific here. We’re really awarding the “Bummest Rap Of The Bummest Rap” award, if truth be told. The overarching bum rap was the entire Hillary Clinton email story. Once again, a Hillary Clinton scandal winds up with no smoking gun, no “if there’s smoke, there’s fire” fire, and, in fact, no smoke at all. She made a bad decision, and it came back to haunt her. That’s it. America’s security was not compromised, she did not intentionally spread secret documents around, and there were no charges and no court case at all. Nada. A giant nothing-burger, just like the entire Benghazi hoopla (which won last year’s Bummest Rap award, we should mention).
In fact, one reader pointed out something (in a nomination for the Most Underreported Story category) which we found very interesting. While everyone on the Democratic side got the holy Hell hacked out of their emails (the D.N.C., Debbie Wasserman Schultz, John Podesta, etc.) ― Hillary’s email server never got hacked. That was lost in all the confluence of the “political email scandal” stories this year. The one server that didn’t get hacked by Russia was the one Hillary Clinton set up in her house. Even when Donald Trump all but begged the Rooskies to release the emails Clinton deleted, they couldn’t ― because they didn’t have them.
But as we said, we’re giving out the Bummest Rap Of The Bummest Rap award this year, and it goes to James Comey’s October Surprise letter to Congress saying he was reopening the investigation into Hillary’s emails ― a mere eleven days before the election. Two days before America voted, he said “never mind,” but by that point the damage had been done. If Comey hadn’t written the letter, Clinton might easily have won the election. Because he did, she lost. All for nothing ― no smoke, no fire, nothing. That’s a bum rap indeed.
Leading the list of nominations here would be the old joke: “How can you tell Donald Trump is lying? Because his lips are moving.” Maybe that should be updated to: “Because his thumbs are tweeting,” which would indeed be more appropriate for Trump. Or perhaps “Trump doesn’t pay any taxes,” which we may never actually confirm (since he’s never going to release any tax returns, ever). And then there’s the Russian ties to so many Trump advisors ― that’s a pretty fair rap, and one we are definitely going to hear a lot more about in the future.
There were literal raps against some politicians this year, like the 12-year corruption sentence handed down to Sheldon Silver, former speaker of the New York state assembly. And the 10-year corruption sentence just handed down to former House member Chaka Fattah.
But we feel the Fairest Rap of the year was that the Democratic National Committee had a very large thumb on the scale for Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign. This was proven when the D.N.C. emails were leaked, but by that point Clinton was already the nominee. This scandal caused the unprecedented resignation of D.N.C. chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz the day the Democratic National Convention started. That’s pretty bad optics for an event that is supposed to present party unity to the country, to say the least.
Some of their machinations were inexplicable, like limiting the primary debate events and scheduling them when the fewest people would be paying attention. Hillary Clinton was actually a very strong debater ― it was one of the things she excelled at in her campaign, in fact. So why limit her exposure when she’s so good at it? It defies explanation, really.
Would Bernie Sanders have won the nomination without all this back-room bias? It’s hard to say one way or the other, but he should have been given a clear shot at doing so with no favoritism from the party’s national committee. Whomever wins the chair going forward should be required to sign an iron-clad pledge that this sort of thing will never happen again. Because the accusation that the D.N.C. was in the tank for Hillary very early on was the Fairest Rap of 2016.
We seriously considered the Chicago Cubs for this category, for their amazing comeback in the World Series. But then we went ahead and gave them the Biggest Winner award, which we felt was sufficient.
In the presidential race, both candidates had some pretty amazing comebacks. Donald Trump came back from Pussygate ― as well as all the other scandalous things he got caught saying during his entire campaign. Trump’s campaign, in fact, was one comeback after another, for a solid year and a half. That’s pretty impressive, we have to admit.
Hillary Clinton staged quite a few of her own comebacks. She came back from losing Michigan to Bernie. She came back from the flu, and all the questions about her health. She came back from the email story ― over and over again. She just didn’t quite come back from the last iteration of it, that’s all.
But there was a spectacular political comeback happening in the background, while the whole presidential race drama played out. Because President Barack Obama turned his public approval ratings around during 2016 in a way he has never done before. Obama’s second term hasn’t been a great one, in the job approval polls. The first year of his second term, he plummeted from almost 53 percent job approval (right after his second inauguration) down to a low of under 42 percent. He spent his second year fluctuating from a little over 41 percent up to a high of 44 percent. In 2015, he managed to improve slightly, but got stuck in the doldrums around 45 percent. He ended 2015 at a year-end low, 43.7 percent.
In 2016, Obama completely turned this around. His job approval ratings shot up steeply, all year long. He ended last month at 53.3 percent job approval ― a gain of almost 10 points over the year (and December hasn’t even been fully calculated yet). He is now at the highest level of his entire second term, in fact.
This turnaround was nothing short of astounding, and he probably owes a lot of it to the ugliness of the presidential campaign for his successor. To put this another way, a whole lot of Americans realized that they are going to miss Obama when he’s gone. “No-drama Obama” is going to be replaced with reality television’s “All drama, all the time” Trump.
Obama had his “most improved” year of his entire eight-year term in 2016, in fact. Barack Obama is now polling a full point above where he was when Osama Bin Laden was killed, to put this in the most dramatic fashion possible. For this stellar year in the polls, Barack Obama wins Best Comeback, hands down.
Most Original Thinker
This one pains us, we have to say, right up front. But we’ve always let the chips fall where they may here, so we gotta do what we gotta do.
[Sigh... here goes...]
The Most Original Thinker of 2016 was none other than Kellyanne Conway.
[See? We warned you...]
Yes, Conway is nothing more than political spin in human form. We do realize that, trust us. But Conway succeeded (where two others had failed) in turning Trump into a winning candidate. Many words come to mind when thinking of Conway (but, to be honest, “unfazed” and “unflappable” are high on the list), but she realized what sort of personality Donald Trump had (for better or worse) and worked with it to contain him enough that millions of Americans felt safe voting for him. She forced him to use TelePrompTers when no one else could. She got her point across using rather astonishing methods (the most jaw-dropping of which was “argue your point directly to Donald while being interviewed on a cable news show he loves to watch”). She was also the first female campaign manager in American history to run a winning presidential campaign, to her credit.
Sure, for a liberal watching her prevaricate and pirouette to “explain” Trump’s “real meaning” is nothing short of fingernails on a chalkboard. [Aside: Does that metaphor need updating? Does anyone even know what this sounds like anymore, what with the prevalence of whiteboards in schools?]
Where were we? Oh, right, Kellyanne with the flyaway hair.
We really have no idea how she managed it all. But the fact remains that she succeeded where others had failed. She lassoed Trump and broke him to the saddle. That’s a rather large accomplishment, considering who this buckaroo was (and still is).
For this seemingly unachievable feat, for whatever strategy she came up with to keep Trump pointed towards the goal, we have to (in all honesty) award the Most Original Thinker award to (shudder) Kellyanne Conway.
Most Stagnant Thinker
OK, we’re not going to belabor the point too much, but the Most Stagnant Thinkers were pretty much everyone on Hillary Clinton’s campaign team. We already slammed the Clinton team, up in the Biggest Loser entry, so we’re only going to touch lightly on her campaign’s miscues and mistakes here.
Team Clinton ran a traditional campaign, using traditional methodology and traditional strategy. Unfortunately for her, this was precisely the opposite of what the electorate was looking for this time around. The voters wanted someone who authentically cared about them and their plight, and they wanted someone who would promise them things that they knew were probably unattainable ― but were worth fighting for. Bernie Sanders gave Democratic primary voters this in spades, but unfortunately he fell short in the end. Donald Trump gave the voters unachievable promises by the truckload ― and they ate it up.
Team Clinton’s inability to read the mood of the country and constant reassurances that the tried-and-true would work this time around also fell far short of the goal. Clinton’s timidity, half-measures, and focus-group-tested slogans just didn’t cut the mustard in 2016. Even Democratic voters never really trusted her ― and that’s a BIG problem.
For not reacting adequately to the reality around her, for not naming someone exciting and progressive as running mate, for ignoring certain states, for overpromising and underdelivering, the Hillary Clinton campaign team easily wins Most Stagnant Thinkers of the year.
Best Photo Op
We had a plethora of candidates for Best Photo Op this year. So let’s quickly zip through the runners-up.
Most adorable political photo op of the year was completely unplanned and unpredicted. It, in fact, qualifies (as the insurance companies say) as an “act of God.” While Bernie Sanders was addressing a rally in Oregon (in the open air), a small bird flew down and alit upon his podium. The bird stuck around for a while, listening to what Bernie had to say. Easily the best feel-good video clip of the entire presidential campaign!
Speaking of Bernie, the funniest satire of the year was not Alec Baldwin doing Trump, but rather Saturday Night Live’s earlier decision to cast Larry David to satirize Bernie Sanders. Lorne Michaels proves once again he is a comedic genius, in other words. The funniest of these appearances happened when Bernie and Larry both appeared on the same night. Not many picked up on it, but Bernie paid Larry back ― after Larry asked him what Bernie thought of his impression of him, Bernie replied: “It was pretty... pretty... pretty... pretty good.” The circle was complete, at that point (at least, for Larry David fans).
Then there was Barack Obama’s (literal) mic drop, after the immortal presidential line “Obama out” ― also one damn fine photo op (or video op, we suppose).
But, once again, this one has to go to Donald Trump. Trump’s grand entrance to the Republican National Convention is now part of history. He entered to a backlit stage, appearing just as intimidating and exciting as any professional wrestler’s entry. It was pure reality television, and it fit Donald like a glove.
His entrance was mocked at the time, but Trump had the last laugh. It turns out people were actively looking for a spectacle this year, and that is precisely what Trump gave them, from his blinding stage entrance all the way through the end of the convention. Best Photo Op goes to “backlit Trump entry to GOP convention.”
Worst Photo Op
Um... #PhelpsFace, maybe? Nah....
The Worst Photo Op award goes to Hillary Clinton leaving an appearance at the New York City 9/11 memorial site, on 9/11. She had the flu, and she’s not exactly a spring chicken, so she probably should have skipped the event and just admitted publicly that she was sick. Or attended for 10 minutes, and then beat a hasty retreat.
Instead, America got to see Clinton all but collapse, and then get manhandled into a vehicle by security agents. This is not exactly a good look for a presidential candidate, to state the painfully obvious. Worst Photo Op goes to Hillary’s stumble on 9/11, hands down (and, almost, full body down).
This category is a complete free-for-all, as always. Feel free to join in with your own additions to the list.
Live coverage of Trump rallies on cable news ― Enough already!
The normalization of racism as “the alt-right” ― Enough already!
Penis-measuring contests during presidential debates ― Enough already!
Groping women becomes somehow acceptable again ― Enough already!
Roger Ailes ― Enough already!
Kanye West ― Enough already!
Hillary’s email ― Enough already!
Debbie Wasserman Schultz ― Enough already!
Superdelegates ― Enough already!
Trump’s kids ― Enough already!
And, finally, one we can all agree upon, to close the list out:
Anthony Weiner’s wiener ― Enough already!
We could get ultra-specific on this one, and go for Marco Rubio’s tweet stating “I have only said like 10000 times I will be a private citizen in January” ― right before he reconsidered and jumped back into the Senate race, but we’re not going to.
We could just totally punt and go ultra-generic, and give Worst Lie to “everything that has ever come out of Donald Trump’s mouth,” but we’re not going to do that, either (it’d just be too easy).
Instead, we’re branching out into the world of sports. Because the Worst Lie of 2016 was Ryan Lochte’s made-up moosepoop about getting shaken down for his wallet at gunpoint while in Rio for the Olympics. A gas station’s videotape told quite another tale, and Lochte had to repeatedly back away from his fecal-bovine-matter story.
Now, Rio de Janeiro had made a mighty effort to clean the city up and not appear on the world’s stage as a crime-ridden Hell-hole, so Lochte’s lie was even more damaging than it would have been in, say, Athens, or perhaps Sydney. In fact, it was the cause of an international incident complete with Lochte pretty much fleeing the country so he didn’t have to talk to the Rio cops, and it was an enormous black eye not just for Lochte, but also for the U.S. swim team, for the U.S. Olympic team, and for the entire United States of America.
Ryan Lochte was, to be blunt, the ultimate “ugly American.” Which is why his lie cut so deep. Lochte did more damage to America’s image to the world than even Donald Trump on the campaign trail ― and that is saying a lot indeed. Ryan Lochte, disgracefully, was the source of the Worst Lie of 2016.
Capitalist Of The Year
We normally branch out from politics to give the Capitalist Of The Year to some well-deserving person who has used the capitalist system to a notable degree in one way or another. But this year, we have to stay in the political realm and hand Donald Trump the Capitalist Of The Year. The old question: “Could a billionaire buy a presidential election?” will likely never be asked again.
Trump proved that pretty much all the traditional machinery of national political campaigns are overrated and not strictly necessary to win the race. He did so in unconventional ways, to put it mildly. He started off swearing he was going to foot the bill for the whole campaign, and then had to be shamed into actually donating the money (rather than just loaning it to his own campaign).
Trump did donate millions to his own campaign, but he recouped a portion of it as well, since he had to pay for the use of Trump Tower, his Florida resort, his airplane, and all the rest of the Trump properties he used while campaigning. It should be noted that this is somewhat mandatory (by campaign finance law), but the fact remains that no other presidential candidate in history made as much money as Trump from his own campaign.
On top of this, Trump’s own brand was immeasurably affected by his campaign run. There aren’t many people in the entire world who haven’t heard Trump’s name by now. Since he has (in the past decade or so) mostly made money by essentially renting his name out to others, this means the Trump brand is now more valuable than ever.
Trump is going to redefine what presidential conflicts of interest are as well. He’s going to hand over his business to his own kids, meaning the potential for scandal will be almost unlimited. This may serve to bog Trump down in pay-to-play accusations later, but for now he’s pretty much picking and choosing which conflict of interest traditions he’s going to follow (the law preventing presidential conflicts of interest doesn’t actually exist ― something Congress might think about changing in the near future).
For all of these reasons, Donald Trump is pretty much the only choice possible for Capitalist Of The Year.
This is another one of those anything-goes categories. So here’s our list of people who deserve recognition, but just didn’t fit into any of the other categories.
All the “Never Trump” Republicans, who put country before party.
Jo Cox, the British politician who was murdered for her “Remain” stance on Brexit.
Barack Obama, for pardoning more people than all presidents back to Truman combined.
Terry McAuliffe for attempting to restore voting rights to 200,000 felons in Virginia.
Merrick Garland, for obvious reasons.
Jill Stein, for leading the recount effort.
Megyn Kelly, for standing up to Trump in a debate.
George Washington University, for considering the creation of the Antonin Scalia School Of Law (which would have given us a choice of acronyms to call it: “ASSOL” or perhaps “ASSLaw”).
The hilarious (and fictional) presidential candidacy of Deez Nuts.
And, finally, another one we can all agree upon, to close:
The internet naming contest in Britain for a new arctic research vessel, where the name “R.S.S. Boaty McBoatface” won in a landslide.
Person Of The Year
This is going to be a controversial pick, at least if I have any Donald Trump fans as readers (stranger things have happened...).
The “Person Of The Year” is an award which John McLaughlin ripped off (oh, excuse me, “did a satirical homage of, each year”) from Time magazine, which has been awarding the “Man Of The Year” for almost a century (they started in 1927 with Charles Lindbergh). It has always been defined as the “person (originally: man) who was the most influential over the past year.” This is completely neutral ― Time awarded it to Adolf Hitler, in 1938, after all, which was not to say he was the most-loved person of the year or the “best” person of the year, just the most influential.
So for 2016, our Person Of The Year is none other than James Comey. The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations proved to be more influential than any person to hold that position since the fabled J. Edgar Hoover (who, infamously, “had a file on everybody”).
Comey inserted himself into politics in a way not seen since Hoover ― not just once, but twice during the presidential campaign. He spent an inordinate amount of time investigating Hillary Clinton and her email server ― when a tighter investigation would have wrapped up well before the conventions and perhaps even before the primaries started.
When he was (finally!) finished, he broke longstanding F.B.I. tradition and held a very public press conference ― which was pretty much unprecedented (investigations that don’t find anything are routinely dismissed by the F.B.I., not splashed across national television) ― where he sniped at Hillary Clinton, but finally admitted that there was no crime worth prosecuting her for concerning her private email server.
Not content with inserting himself in the presidential race to such a degree ― while maintaining that the F.B.I. could not comment on Russian interference in our election, mind you, because it would appear “too political” ― Comey then issued the infamous “October Surprise letter,” with only 11 days remaining in the presidential campaign. Eleven freakin’ days! Once again, he ignored F.B.I. protocol when issuing this letter, because he thought the public had a right to know, even though he was still totally mute about all that Russian interference in an American election.
Comey himself would likely argue there were mitigating circumstances. The press conference happened only a few days after Bill Clinton wandered over to another plane at an airport, and talked with the sitting attorney general “about grandkids.” That sort of perceived conflict of interest could indeed have spurred Comey to distance himself from his boss (the A.G.) with a public press conference. Bubba goofed, no doubt about it. But as for the October Surprise letter, there really is no excuse.
Whether by design or whether by accident, James Comey inserted himself personally into the presidential campaign. These two incidents had an enormous effect upon the public, as is proven by the polling immediately afterwards and by the election itself.
Comey admitting: “Oh, never mind, there’s nothing to see here, folks,” two days before the election wasn’t good enough to repair this breach of F.B.I. protocol ― not by a long shot.
F.B.I. chief James Comey will go down in history as being second only to J. Edgar himself, when it comes to using the apparatus of our national police force to intervene in American politics. Personally, we find this incredibly shameful, but that’s just our opinion.
But no matter what you think of him, James Comey’s interference in the presidential election qualifies him like no other for the Person Of The Year award. His influence was greater than any other one person’s ― including Donald Trump’s. Which is why we had to give him the award this year.
[See you next Friday, for the conclusion of our 2016 awards!]
If you’re interested in traveling down Memory Lane, here are all the previous years of this awards column:
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant