This was the year that the president of the United States was implicated in a felony. It was also the year that the president received Kanye West in the Oval Office.
“All we really have is today,” Kanye said, huddled with President Trump in October, ostensibly to talk about prison reform. “We just have today.”
Down in Florida, victims of Hurricane Michael were weeping in their roofless homes.
“Over and over and over again, the eternal return,” Kanye continued, picking through his own psyche on live TV. “The hero’s journey. And Trump is on his hero’s journey right now.”
Is that what this is? Are we all on Donald Trump’s hero’s journey? Was 2018 just the third tablet of “Gilgamesh,” wherein our hero ignores his advisers’ request to take it down a notch?
“We are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t,” wrote a senior White House official in the New York Times in September, describing how “senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.” Suddenly, Washington had an old-fashioned mystery guest in its parlor, like Deep Throat but with fewer cigarettes. (One imagines the author vaping instead, and writing voice-to-text).
Was it Nikki Haley? A month later, she announced her resignation as ambassador to the United Nations.
Was it Jeff Sessions? The attorney general stepped down a month after that.
Was it John F. Kelly? Trump announced his chief of staff’s departure a month after Sessions’s.
Was it Jim Mattis? The defense secretary called it quits 11 days after Kelly.
The “grown-ups” left the White House this year, and we are left with eternal underclassman Stephen Miller and the vice president, who, in times of trouble, shuts his eyes and thinks of — Mother? Mother’s pet rabbit Marlon? (The rabbit wrote a book this year, but then again who didn’t.)
“The time has come to establish the United States Space Force,” the Veep said Aug. 9.
“I want to die,” said a 5-year-old Guatemalan boy a week earlier; the U.S. government had separated him from his father for three months after they sought asylum. This year, family separations became official U.S. policy, and heart-rending images from the border triggered large demonstrations across the country.
The year went fast but felt slow. Get this: Before 2018, most of us had never heard of Stormy Daniels, the siren imperiling this hero’s journey. Our modern Odysseus, reacting to the threat, called her “Horseface.”
This year California burned so much that Brooklyn saw smoke. This year NASA landed a chunk of machinery on the Elysium Planitia, 34 million miles away. This year a movie titled “Black Panther” cracked the top 10 highest-grossing films of all time. The Washington Capitals finally won the Stanley Cup.
On the second day of this year, President Trump tweeted that his “nuclear button” is “much bigger” than Kim Jong Un’s. Eleven days later, residents of Hawaii received an alert on their cellphones: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
It was a drill. But in 2018, it was easy to assume otherwise. After a gunman shot up a high school in Parkland, Fla., in February, its students started a nationwide movement for gun control, inspiring rallies across the country.
“To the leaders, skeptics and cynics who told us to sit down, stay silent and wait your turn: Welcome to the revolution,” said 17-year-old Cameron Kasky to the crowds in Washington.
Kasky turned 18 a week before the Nov. 6 elections, when voter turnout hit a 104-year high for a midterm. Democrats won the most House seats since Watergate; a record number of women will soon take office in Congress.
Before that came the twin testimonies of Brett M. Kavanaugh, nominated to the Supreme Court, and Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist who alleged that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a house party in the early ’80s.
“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” she recalled, with a clinician’s reserve, to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“A calculated and orchestrated political hit,” Kavanaugh said in his response, which was by turns snarling and tearful.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia let women drive automobiles; it also killed a Washington Post journalist.
“It defies logic,” said the father of a 27-year-old Navy veteran who escaped last year’s mass shooting in Las Vegas only to die in another, in Thousand Oaks, Calif., 13 months later. The father, like Odysseus, had named his son Telemachus.
Kim Kardashian West, less focused on heroes’ journeys than her husband, got Trump to commute the life sentence of a Tennessee woman who had served 20 years for a first-time drug offense. “BEST NEWS EVER!!!!” Kim tweeted.
Not all prisons have bars. After pleading guilty to lying to Congress, the president’s former personal attorney described their relationship as a “mental incarceration.” There are now at least 17 separate investigations into Trump or his associates.
“I am all alone (poor me) in the White House,” the president tweeted on Christmas Eve, after forcing a government shutdown, “waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security.”
The Democrats are indeed coming back. Nancy Pelosi is expected to retake the speaker’s gavel and resume her place in the presidential line of succession. Despite a limp mutiny within her caucus, she seems made for this moment. In a televised Oval Office spat, Pelosi said something that sounded like a preview of 2019, or the start of another hero’s journey. Her tone was soft and troubled, like a grandmother losing her patience, but her words seemed lifted from Homer.
“You will not win,” she told her cyclops.