At the end of last year, reality TV svengali Andy Cohen and Vanderbilt scion Anderson Cooper were on hand to drunkenly administer the arrival of 2022 to the benumbed and bleary-eyed massed in Times Square—who, though fewer in number on account of the then-ascendant Omicron variant, waved their half-erect balloons while Cohen berated Mark Zuckerberg, Ryan Seacrest, and outgoing New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, the “crappiest,” the most “horrible,” leader the city ever did see. Was there cause for hope?
Whatever optimism may have momentarily leavened the piss-streaked streets was quickly dispersed by the inauguration of de Blasio’s successor, Eric Adams, an ex-cop who rode to victory on a wave of inflated crime statistics: just one example of a national obsession with our apocryphal descent into lawlessness that would consume the pundit class in the coming months, while legitimate threats to human flourishing were variously exacerbated, downplayed, banalized, or else commemorated with musical performances by the cast of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, which is how Democrats chose to solemnize the forces arrayed against democracy on the one-year anniversary of the attempted coup at the U.S. Capitol.
As the months wore on, warnings of our collective demise by climate change proliferated, and prescriptions for its abatement called for more of the same. In February, Russia’s botoxed despot invaded Ukraine, inciting a global energy and food crisis to which the United States responded by directing a spigot of dollars into the coffers of Ukraine’s military, totaling $68 billion by year’s end—more than Congress allotted to spend over the next decade on “clean electricity” tax credits as part of Biden’s “landmark” legislation to fight the ruination of the livable biosphere. Signed in August to great fanfare, the so-called Inflation Reduction Act—tagline “the largest action on climate change ever”—massively undershoots the mark for what is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius; in any case, as the IPCC warned in February and reiterated in April, that goal may already be out of reach.
But, once again, we found ourselves diverted from the knowledge of certain death by viral trends—NyQuil chicken! Pink sauce!—only to discover, upon snapping back to reality, that the cruelty and hostility of our economic system had been disappeared from the cable news chyrons and replaced with breathless coverage of the Federal Reserve’s valiant efforts to maintain it at all costs. Taming inflation may require breaking the back of labor and pitching over a million onto the unemployment rolls, but, hey, unelected technocrats like Fed chair Jerome Powell are ready to do what it takes to keep the family-size box of Cocoa Krispies “affordable” without cutting into Kellogg’s profits. Sacrifices must be made for the health of the economy! This rhetoric is redolent of the response to Covid-19, when scores of workers were allowed to die so that the economy might live. But, of course, that sacrifice has not halted: in May the United States passed, with hardly a mention, one million dead from Covid-19, just as another virus—monkeypox, now mpox—began spreading among men who have sex with men.
Yes, our handmaidens of immiseration made a decent showing this year. In June, the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, stripping millions of access to abortion—only to turn around and pout over the fact that anyone would dare challenge their impartiality, their legitimacy, just because their “logic” is arbitrary, inconsistent, and seemingly designed to bolster only the rights of those who collect AR-15s like stamps. Speaking of: there were at least 609 mass shootings this year, one of which, in Uvalde, Texas, left nineteen children and two teachers dead. That came only ten days after ten people were murdered in a Buffalo, New York, supermarket by a white supremacist. In November, five people were killed and twenty-five injured at Club Q, an LGBTQ bar in Colorado Springs—a brutal but predictable escalation of the right’s assault on queer people that, as a guest on Tucker Carlson avowed, will only continue until the “evil agenda” of trans health care is put to an end. Republican state legislatures are keen to expedite the process: over three hundred anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced this year across the country, 140 of which specifically aimed to restrict access to gender-affirming care.
The pundits told us breathlessly that voters in this year’s midterms would hand MAGA Republicans even more power to enact this and other components of their agenda. Indeed, they warned, Americans were, on the whole, so tired of Biden’s spendthrift ways, his lax attitude on crime, his arcane dedication to bipartisanship, that they were going to cede control of Congress to an extremist program, a foot soldier of which attempted to assassinate the third most powerful elected official in the United States with a hammer (forgot about that? The New York Times didn’t think it worthy of above-the-fold coverage). Contra the forecasters’ certainty, this prophesied “red wave” failed to materialize, staying democracy’s passing to at least the next election and delivering us back unto a paralyzing status quo, in which Senate Democrats will most assuredly speechify endlessly while House Republicans busy themselves searching for Hunter Biden’s dick pics.
To make matters worse, at this year’s Planet Fitness-sponsored New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square, CNN promises a teetotalling Andy Cohen and Anderson Cooper. No thanks! Instead, we raise the first—of many—birdbath-scale martinis to the beastly year that was and the year yet to be. And while we nurse our collective hangover, why not revisit some of the most salubrious salvos, essays, criticism, and fiction The Baffler published over the last year?
Airborne Toxic Events
By Ben Ehrenreich, Issue no. 62
“Aerosol transmission of Covid-19 was never merely a medical question.”
By Sophie Pinkham, Issue no. 62
“The forgotten, bombed-out towns of eastern Ukraine no longer have the privilege of even the bad kind of history. They have become a purgatory: a fate worse than oblivion.”
The New Neurasthenia
By Charlie Tyson, March 15
“The term ‘burnout’ has achieved cultural prominence precisely because it resonates with affluent professionals who fetishize overwork.”
The Gospel of Organizing
By Daisy Pitkin, April 21
More than a century after their founding, workers at library and museum systems founded by Gilded Age wealth are winning unions.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
By Jérôme Tubiana, Issue no. 63
How one Chadian migrant got in and out of jihad
By Alessandra Bergamin, Issue no. 63
“It is the fortune of a few pitted against the burden of many. And the palm oil industry is nothing if not rapacious.”
By James Wham, June 8
The Cannes festival is not so much about the films as it is about glamour and access to it.
Tales from the Thrifts
By Noah Kulwin, Issue no. 64
“Cryptocurrency’s capacity to encode both hard-money crank politics and climbing profits places it on a continuum with previous American financial scandals.”
Flooding in the Sacrifice Zone
By Tarence Ray, August 9
Even before the flood, parts of Eastern Kentucky looked like what they call natural disaster, all the time, every day.
Everyone’s a Critic
By John Merrick, August 25
“The brand of high-cultural elitism practiced by the other Cambridge critics looked not merely suspect, but downright archaic.”
Fiction by LJ Pemberton, September 23
“Daddy didn’t truck with the grotesque like those medieval torture shows at the Renaissance Faire. He wanted his wax figures pretty and handsome.”
By Austin McCoy, Issue no. 65
“The movement against police violence seemed to run into headwinds as soon as it gained momentum.”
Sentience and Sensibility
By Meghan O’Gieblyn, Issue no. 65
“The notion that capitalism metabolizes dissent is no longer theoretical but embodied in the architecture of its most profitable corporate technologies.”
By Jules Gill-Peterson, Issue no. 65
“The history of DIY transition offers one path out of the quagmire of zero-sum legal arguments and toward what might come after, or in the place of, state-sanctioned care.”
Fiction by Yoni Gelernter, October 14
“One day he became worried. Eichmann was painting again.”
By Michael Waters, October 26
Queer beaches are resilient community spaces. But they are also contested ones, and many have disappeared.
The Sick Proletariat
By Jess McAllen, December 5
“Critiques of psychiatric control should be focused on the austerity that leads to the choice between medication or incarceration.”
Have Your Forgotten Him?
By John Thomason, December 14
The “forgotten American” mythology of the POW/MIA movement continues to haunt our politics today.