America’s Annus Horribilis

On November 24, 1992 Queen Elizabeth II gave a speech at Guildhall to mark the 40th anniversary of her Accession. In it The Queen referred to recent events as part of an annus horribilis.  In typical understatement The Queen said: “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis.”

Annus horribilis

The unpleasant events which happened to the Royal Family in 1992 included:

  • Prince Andrew, Duke of York would separate from his wife Sarah, Duchess of York.
  • Anne, Princess Royal divorced Captain Mark Phillips.
  • Diana, Princess of Wales’s tell-all book revealed the unhappy truths of the princess’s marriage – particularly, the affair between Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles.
  • Scandalous pictures of the Duchess of York being kissed on her feet by her friend, John Bryan, were published in Daily Mirror.
  • Intimate conversations between the Princess of Wales and James Gilbey from a tape recording of their phone calls were published in The Sun.
  • The affair between the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles was confirmed by a transcript of a recording of their phone calls published in the Daily Mirror.
  • Windsor Castle – one of the Queen’s official residences – caught fire and was extensively damaged.
  • John Major, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, announced to the House of Commons that the Prince and Princess of Wales had decided to separate.

While they were admittedly sad events, 1992 represented a year of personal tragedy, personal embarrassment and personal loss for The Queen.  None of these events, as upsetting and traumatic as they were to the Royals, brought into question the future of the Monarchy and certainly none of these events rocked the United Kingdom to its core.  Not one single event or even all of them combined came close to calling into question the viability of the U.K.’s democracy.

What was an “annus horribilis” for The Queen was little more than fodder for the tabloids and gossip sharing for many Brits.  It did not represent a constitutional threat nor did it threaten the values, freedoms and lives of The Queen’s subjects.  In the final analysis it was a very personal annus horribilis” and not one that created upheaval and division throughout Great Britain.

Contrast The Queen’s year of personal misery with the kind of year the U.S. has had since January 20, 2017 when the 45th President took the oath of office on the West Front of the Unites States Capitol. As 2017 draws to a close many are asking if this past year has been America’s “annus horribilis.  It was a year of shameful and divisive language, hostile and racially motivated acts, misdirected economic and social policies, and dangerous rhetoric and threats on the world stage by the first President to be so widely characterized as wholly unfit for office.

From the moment the Presidential oath of office was administered by the Chief Justice, a dark cloud appeared over Washington and it has grown wider and darker throughout the year.  We were shocked that our new President’s questionably disingenuous statements gave way to documented and well proven lies.  We watched suspicious activities increasingly become supported by facts and evidence.  We experienced what was hoped to be just an overactive political ego become dwarfed by the severe and continuous manifestations of chronic and consuming narcissistic personality disorder.  We became frustrated when our hopes for transparency regarding his tax returns and allegations of previous sexual harassment and abuse were answered with angry defensiveness and obfuscation. We hoped against hope that the campaigner’s vile language, racial slurs, humiliating words directed at and about minorities, people with disabilities, women, and those with different lifestyles or gender choices would, once he was elected,  give way to the chief executive’s more moderate and inclusive attitudes.  Such was not the case and we were left to learn to live with yet more disappointment.

The Queen called it “annus horribilis” but for the more plain spoken Americans who have been outraged by what we’ve witnessed since the inauguration it was just a damn horrible year.  A year of shame, humiliation and fear about the true State of the Union.  And even greater fear for the irreparable damage that will be left behind when the reins of power eventually transfer to more responsible hands.


The anger and frustration with the President has divided family members and torn friendships apart.  He has been one of the most divisive figures in American political history.  He has been the butt of nightly attacks by late night comedians in a way that no other President has ever been so consistently lampooned. He has changed cable news from media outlets that carry world-wide news events to virtually 24/7 political shows.  And his predictable twitter rants that follow reports about him on television or by political opponents has changed social media more than anything since the first major commercial Internet Service Providers hit the scene in the early 1990s.

For the first time in modern history the American President is no longer universally regarded as the “leader of the free world”.  Many have relegated him to a second tier leader with German Chancellor Angela Merkel often identified as the most influential world leader.  Extreme American nationalism and exceptionalism have served to wear out the U.S. welcome around the world.

Mt. Rushmore

As the president becomes increasingly isolated by world leaders it only follows that he will see a growing movement by members of his own party moving away from him as the 2018 mid-term elections approach.  His coat tails will likely not be seen as an advantage to those Republicans seeking election in 2018 but instead he will feel like an albatross that they will fight to rid themselves of.

The old saying “with friends like that who needs enemies” could not be any more true than when the President’s former close and trusted adviser Steve Bannon makes public statements such as:  “Trump is like an 11 year old child.”  Or, “He’s got a 30% chance of finishing his first term either because of impeachment or the 25th amendment.”

With the lowest approval ratings after his first year in office of any previous President it is hard to understand why he believes that the way out of his political predicament is to try to dig himself out of his hole.  Two thirds of Americans view him unfavorably and the CNN poll shows that voters favor Democrats over Republicans in 2018 House midterms by widest margin in years with 56% favoring Democrats and 38% favoring Republicans.  This could result in a seismic shift in the political balance in Washington with a real possibility that Democrats might have a chance to re-take both the Senate and House.  The underlying reason has as much do with Trump’s style, personality and demeanor as it does with his policies.


Such is the report card for year one of the Trump presidency.  The real question is what will year two bring.  Only time will tell.  But the one thing that seems clear to so many is that 2017 has been America’s “annus horribilis or less eloquently put, a damn horrible year.


Many Americans will undoubtedly be glad to see the end of 2017 hoping against hope that 2018 will help restore dignity, admiration, trust and confidence in their government and in their President in particular.  But hope is not a plan.  It will take increased and unrelenting activism to regain the government we deserve.

Change may be just around the corner

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