Reflecting on the 2010s

The April 2011 tornado was just one of many natural disasters that defined the decade that will soon end.

The month is going so fast! Pretty soon, we’ll be celebrating a new year, which will also introduce a brand new decade.

When I reflect on the past 3,635 days, I have to note the rise in populism that defined this decade. From the Occupy movement rallying the “99 percent” against billionaires over the issue of income equality to white nationalists reacting to rhetoric about immigrants and minorities, we had no shortage of people presenting themselves as the “voice of the people” to blame groups deemed unfairly favored along class, ethnic, gender, or national lines.

This was a decade in which people took to the streets to be heard, from the massive crowds protesting an extradiction law in Hong Kong to white nationalists rallying in Charlottesville to the millions who gathered in 168 countries in a show of unity on women’s issues.

Like any decade, there’s been good and bad, but this one sure has some dramatic bads: civil war, terrorism, natural disasters, and ideological divisions led to fear and tragedy across the globe.

Rallying cries ranged from “#MeToo” to “Black Lives Matter” to “No Collusion” and “Lock Her Up!” I make no moral equivalence; just recalling the popular phrases people chanted.

The Islamic State filled the vacuum left when we prematurely declared victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. These monsters seemed determined to out-do their predecessors with shocking acts to inspire fear magnified by sharing online. The hope of the Arab Spring led not to the spread of democracy across the Middle East, but vast chaos and cruelty.

Osama bin Laden, Muammar Gaddafi, and Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi all met the bloody ends they had coming, but a rising Russia and China protected tyrants like of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. One is tempted to think that Vladimir Putin and China’s “president for life” Xi Jinping ended the decade enjoying the sight of American influence fading in their hemisphere as they encroached upon ours. As we turn the page on one decade, we enter the next with Americans deeply divided and Europe unraveling before our eyes.

Not to be outdone, individual lone wolves showed us they could provoke chaos as effectively as nations, demonstrating ever-more efficient ways to murder human beings in our churches, nightclubs, movie theaters, offices, and especially our schools. We kept quite a body count as the bullets fell in Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, Charleston, Orlando, El Paso, Pittsburgh, Dayton, Aurora, and all of the rest of the cities that became members of the fraternity of slaughter. From an Ariana Grade concert in England to a Bastille Day parade in Nice, France, there was no where any of us could feel completely safe from violence.

Darkness was clearly on the march in the 2010s. We can and we must do better.

If the madmen didn’t get us, we still felt the risk of natural disasters like the 2011 tornadoes that killed 324 people, raging wildfires, or the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that killed a staggering 15,840 Japanese. This was the decade we got serious about the impact of greenhouse gases and plastic pollution on the planet and moved toward renewable energies.

We realized just how easily we could find ourselves in man-made disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Flint Water Crisis.

It wasn’t ALL bad, of course.

Social media showed us how we could come together -- or become encased in bubbles sharing curated media catering to tribal preferences. We started talking about hate speech and data privacy.

Blockbuster and CDs were replaced by streaming services. Our screens got thinner and smaller, attached to our wrists and toted around as tablets. We started using drones, 3D printing, virtual assistants, cryptocurrency, and the “Internet of things.”

We finally got electric cars. They didn’t fly as promised in sci-fi movies, but some of them were self-driving.

Same sex marriage became legal is the US and other countries. Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn, and we learned to be more understanding of women’s rights and less tolerant of sexual harassment.

We discovered exoplanets, grew cells in a lab, found water on Mars, peered into a black hole, celebrated our spacecraft leaving the solar system, and even landed a probe on a comet!

This was the decade of the iPad, the fidget spinner, the selfie stick, the energy drink, the man-bun, Harambe, Epstein, and the gluten-free diet. And it was a pretty great decade for college football in the state of Alabama, right?

So here we are... older, more street-wise, and hopefully ready for whatever 2020 can throw at us.

— Steven Stiefel is a staff writer at the Times-Journal. Email: news@times-journal.com.

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