It may not be what you think.
1. The Reelection of Barack Obama
Duh! Despite four years of Republican obstruction in Congress, despite the mountains of dirty money that billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers threw at him, despite the ugly rightwing hatred of him, and despite sleepwalking through his first debate, Barack Obama decisively won a second term.
2. The Decline of the Tea Party and Neanderthal Republicans
The Tea Party activists damaged the Republicans' chances of winning back the Senate and managed to help Obama hang on to the White House. They took down Richard Lugar in Indiana and put forward Richard Mourdock of Indiana, and Mourdock and Todd Akin of Missouri proved how ignorant and insensitive they were on the issue of rape. George W. Bush's communications woman Karen Hughes had the best post-mortem: "If another Republican man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue."
Second-best line came from Republican CNN analyst Ana Navarro, who said on election night: "Romney self-deported from the White House."
3. Latinos Flex Political Power in New Progressive Coalition
The massive Democratic turnout of Latino voters showed the new political power of this rising voting bloc. And a new progressive coalition took shape consisting of African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, young people, women, and gays and lesbians. Along with it, a progressive, class-based message, articulated both by Pres. Obama (who campaigned against "those at the very top") and more naturally by Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and Bernie Sanders, proved to be a winning one.
4. The Triumph of Gay Rights
Not only did Pres. Obama endorse same-sex marriage this year, the voters of Maine, Maryland, and Washington State also did so. And the citizens of Minnesota beat back a constitutional amendment prohibiting it. The great nonviolent social revolution for gay rights has largely triumphed. Witness the historic victory of Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, the first openly lesbian or gay official elected to the U.S. Senate. (We love you, Tammy!)
5. A Plague of Gun Violence
The horrific murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, along with the rampages in Aurora, Colorado, and Oak Creek, Wisconsin, flashed a spotlight on our violence-drenched culture and the plague of gun deaths in America. Belatedly, Pres. Obama came out for gun control -- at least on semi-automatic weapons -- while the NRA disgraced itself.
6. Global Warming in the Here and Now
The Arctic Ocean opened up, Greenland's ice mass shrank, drought struck two-thirds of the United States, Superstorm Sandy raked New Jersey and New York, a deadly typhoon hit the Philippines, and record heat covered the Earth: Global warming is here, and it is already taking a toll. In response, activists across the United States and on more than 100 campuses began pressing a divestment campaign aimed at the fossil fuel companies.
7. Civil Liberties Keep Getting Crushed
Whether it's the FBI spying on Occupy Wall Street or whether it's Congress refusing to amend the National Defense Authorization Act so that the President can't grab a U.S. citizen and throw him or her into a military dungeon, or whether it's Congress and the President reauthorizing FISA and all its sweeping powers to monitor us, we are getting less free here in America year by year.
8. The Normalization of Drones and the Afghan War
The Obama Administration has escalated drone warfare to new heights in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, killing many innocent people along the way and inciting hatred against the United States. The Afghan War entered Year 12, and it now looks like 20,000 or more U.S. troops will remain there, indefinitely, after 2014.
9. The Middle East Quagmires
The Syrian civil war got bloodier and bloodier, and the Assad regime got weaker and weaker. But still it hung on, dangerously, to power.
Meanwhile, Israel continued its untenable occupation of Palestinian land and its oppression of the Palestinian people, bombing Gaza and building more settlements on the West Bank. No breakthrough there is on the horizon.
10. Organized Labor Takes It on the Chin
It was a bad year for organized labor. First, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin won his recall election after demonizing and decimating public sector unions. Then, Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan signed a "right to work" law in the cradle of the American labor movement. As labor activist and author Bill Fletcher Jr. puts it, we are witnessing "the final offensive" of capital against labor in America.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Farewell to Four Progressives Who Died in 2012."
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter.
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