Twenty seventeen may go down as the Year of Venting Spleen (and not just because “spleen” rhymes with “seventeen”), but because of media events such as the December 12 USA Today editorial which led with the observation that a president who would all but call New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is unfit to clean toilets in the Obama presidential library. You had to think: Whoa, is this USA Today or John Oliver?
USA Today, the American favorite in hotel lobby newspaper boxes, was characteristically balanced in saying that President Trump was equally unfit to shine George W. Bush’s shoes. The editorial wins the Pacific Sun’s year-end award for the most pungently spleen-clearing moment.
At the end of 2017, there are also local blessings wherever you look and especially in the spirit of community that emerged in the aftermath of the catastrophic fire-borne losses in October. In life, as in the partially burned Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa, the show must go on, and it has, as we all grapple with a nation divided, regions across the state burned to a crisp, a tax “reform” bill that just might kill the California economy, and a beat-down media on the ropes with fake news charges on the one hand and a never-ending shameful parade of groping media moguls on the other.
For the North Bay, the historically rainy winter was equal parts blessing and blight, and gave us plenty to write about, but the horrible local fires came with no actual silver lining. The flood and fire events framed a natural year for the books, as the bestial politics of our time unfold in the outer-outer sphere of Cocoon California, at a place known as Mar-a-Lago.
Outside the Cocoon
But that USA Today editorial got me to thinking outside the cocoon and about how much of a pain in the neck it is having this maniac in the White House. The editorial’s arrival into the growing file on Trump-as-disaster had a historic irony in that nobody took USA Today seriously when it was launched 35 years ago—the colorful, general-interest pretense signaled the death of serious journalism, said serious journalists.
Meanwhile, in 2017, a trove of serious journalists—Glenn Thrush at the New York Times, Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker, Charlie Rose, not to mention seriously funny Sen. Al Franken—found themselves out of work thanks to #MeToo, a powerful, ongoing movement that holds men accountable for sexual harassment and abuse. A movement powerful enough to garner Time’s Person of the Year.
The inferno brought some clarity to the role of local media in 2017. Since the 2008 economic crash, community newspapers have folded or been enfolded into larger media conglomerates. To be locally drawn and based, if not biased under this administration, is a more difficult enterprise given our at once media-hating and media-loving president. At the same time, the man has inspired some of the fiercest investigative reporting in the big national dailies since the days of Woodward, Bernstein and Hersh.
Locally, we can blame Trump for a lot of things, including our generally foul mood, but he’s not responsible for the quality of the roads in Petaluma or the fact that Marin County emerged in 2017 as one of the least pro-pot counties in the region, despite having birthed the 4/20 movement. We can, however, blame Trumpian politics for Walmart and the wealthiest family in the country selling T-shirts over the summer that called for the lynching of American journalists. The shirts have since been removed, but not the stain of violence directed at reporters in 2017.
Election Day 2017 was a far more joyful occasion than 2016, with victories for progressives, LGBT candidates around the country and on turf previously targeted by the likes of the Christian Coalition—school boards, local councils and the election of transgender Democrat Danica Roem to a Virginia seat in the statehouse formerly occupied by a homophobe.
The Bar is Low
Notable deaths in 2017 included the death of satire, the death of consumer financial protections, the death of net neutrality and the death of renewable energy tax credits.
It’s a soul-crushing time to reflect on a hard-bent year that has been kind of relentless with the stressors. So here’s to CBD oil and to legalization generally under Proposition 64, with benefits that kick in on Jan. 1. And here’s to radio station KRSA, the San Francisco–based K-Love, aka 103.3 Relax FM on the FM dial—if only to hear that guy with the deep, rich voice jump on between songs and say: Relax.
The station switched to a contemporary Christian format in October. Speaking of contemporary Christianity, at least it can be said that this country didn’t send a child molester to the U.S. Senate in 2017. This year, victories over the right-turned America came in small doses, and a Doug Jones victory in Alabama underscored just how low the bar is these days.
Dialing us back to the local scene, many would head to the bar in 2017 in the North Bay. In the aftermath of the fires, social media reported that drinking heavily and doing yoga were key North Bay healing strategies. After the fires, the good people of Marin County took in thousands of refugees, who decamped in far-flung locales including Lawson’s Landing at Dillon Beach to hidden glamping spots on the coyote-strewn mesas of West Marin.
As 2017 draws to a close, the indicators call for a recession within two years and the pressure is growing in the North Bay to deal with its chronic absence of affordable housing. An already tight real estate market felt the hurt badly with the destruction of 6,000 homes around the region—and average home prices spiked by $100,000 on average a month after the fires. At the end of 2017, the median price for a home in Marin is closing in on $1.3 million; in Sonoma County, it’s half that at $680,000. Check in on those numbers this time next year.
Summer of Dud
There were some moments of love; love was in the air and love rose from the ashes. Love continued to do its thing in 2017, despite the challenges and temptations of, well, hate. The 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love was celebrated locally, but it all felt flat and defeated, counter-nostalgic and out of place in the currently harsh times. Activists appeared to be more focused on the #MeToo movement, the Trump onslaughts on civil rights for immigrants and on national monuments such as the Bears Ears in Utah, and in taking back the House and Senate in 2018.
The summer was too hot, again, and in Marin County, Highway 1 south of Stinson Beach was closed all year because of the spring rains, which washed out the road and made it impassable in both directions. As a result, the traffic in West Marin was epic all summer and the snarls were unbearable, as was the parking in Bolinas—which only got worse when a poor blue whale washed ashore after getting hit by a ship and drew thousands of gawking tourists.
At the same time along Highway 101, the congestion-beating emergence of the SMART train provided commuters with an alternative to road-raging along the Narrows, even if the train’s impact on traffic was barely a blip, but that could change. The endless delays in getting SMART off the ground were met with immense popularity for the new ride, and plans afoot in 2018 will perhaps add a car to the train to accommodate the demand.
Across the Border
A rolling storyline along the Marin-Sonoma border could not have been more poignant for what it might signal for the new year: The emergence of people shutting up about how they just had to vote for Trump because Hillary was such a nightmare. Anti-Trump graffiti has popped up across from a Trump campaign sign hung way up in a tree that declared the silent majority was back in town.
Over the past several months, the war of competing images and sentiments escalated, and the anti-Trump stuff was met with an American flag with the cross sticking out of it. The image is pretty alt-right folksy (see photo) and featured olive drab electrical tape shaped to a crucifix.
It was there for quite a while, and the image was straight out of the Roy Moore campaign via his ever-present crucifix-meets-flag lapel pendant. All the graffiti and imaging was taken down and painted over around Thanksgiving. The “Silent Majority Stands for Trump” sign is gone, too.
The generally held existential pain of 2017 was eclipsed by a life-altering local catastrophe. In 2017, we witnessed the startling right-wing violence against Charlottesville protesters on our devices and on CNN, and we witnessed—or lived through—the soul-crushing Coffey Park inferno. And yet there was also an amazing solar eclipse to reflect upon.
Good News, Bad News
Democracy is on the ropes—that’s the bad news. The good news is that in lowering the bar, Trump has raised the possibility that, indeed, anyone can be president some day.
We’re media folks over here, so the bad news for us is that The Village Voice, the venerable New York City weekly, went out of business in 2017, one of a handful of media properties to go belly-up in one way or another this year. Those other papers include the Houston Press, which folded soon after economy-killing Hurricane Harvey hit, and the LA Weekly, which has apparently been bought by a cabal of Republicans who want to run a newspaper where nobody gets paid for writing.
The really good news is that with the death of The Village Voice, the Pacific Sun is now the oldest continuously published alternative newspaper in the United States. It hasn’t been bought out by Republicans; king tides have not, and will not, flood us out, and we, along with the team at our sister paper, the North Bay Bohemian, just published our first edition of Explore the North Bay, a lifestyle magazine about food, drink, outdoor adventure and the arts—all of the great things we have to be thankful for in our neck of the woods. Long live print.