We say farewell to 2015 with mixed feelings. This has been a year that showed us both the best and the worst of human behavior in vivid, living color.
If we judged the past year only on the disrespectful rhetoric of presidential campaigns, or on the recent mass killings carried out in France and California by Islamic State sympathizers, we’d call 2015 an enormous downer – a black eye for humankind.
It was the worst year since 2001 for jihadist-inspired killings in the U.S., and another banner year for gun violence in general, including murder, suicide, and accidental shootings.
But the past year also brought progress in politics, environmental protection, social relations and an ongoing U.S. economic recovery that is putting more people to work . The U.S. economy added about 2.3 million jobs through November, which dropped the national jobless rate to 5 percent, the best it’s been since April 2008.
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On the down side, middle-income households are shrinking in number – to less than half of households for the first time in four decades, according to a Pew Research Center study. And wages are inching up but not enough for many families to support themselves.
But showing once again the cheek-by-jowl closeness of good and evil, the nations of the world met in Paris – just weeks after the devastating jihadist attack – and committed themselves to reducing carbon emissions linked to climate change. We know the Paris accords are not enough, but they may very well mark a turning point.
Here in the U. S., the U.S. Supreme Court’s narrow decision in June to require that states legally recognize same-sex marriages was a victory for human dignity and equality. But numerous presidential candidates would attempt to roll it back, just as they have worked to roll back women’s reproductive rights.
In politics, our deeply and bitterly divided Congress and state Legislature both averted government shutdowns. Political leaders worked across the aisle in the end to forge national and state budget agreements that kept agencies running, retained key health care assistance for those who need it, found money for highway construction and, at the state level, improved funding for schools.
American race relations saw both horror and hope this year. In perhaps the country’s worst moment, a young white man brutally murdered nine black parishioners at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June.
Many Americans also grieved the rash of high-profile shootings of young black men by police. This has sharpened African American insistence on greater police accountability and shined a bright light on the persistent lack of economic opportunity and quality schools in many predominantly black communities.
Yet this senseless bloodshed has stimulated the most honest, intense, and overdue national dialogue about racism and white privilege we have seen in many years.
In Olympia, which was touched by an unfortunate shooting of two young black men by a police officer in May, the police chief and leaders of the black community have begun a series of meetings that already led to a commitment to more training to assure bias-free policing. We hope it leads to better police-community relations in South Sound.
Naturally, we hope that the new year will build on the progress we’ve seen in 2015. The past year has reminded us that human progress is always possible, giving us hope for the coming year.