Another year older and still no wiser: the best and worst of 2018

The time has finally come to close the book on the year that was and gaze ahead with a head full of bright-eyed optimism for 2019—because as we all know, a new calendar is a panacea to all of the problems we’re facing and a stern reminder to right everything that’s wrong with us. In 2018, there were good things: Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga together onscreen, the Grundy Center girls coming within a basket of a state championship and Patrick Mahomes, to name a few. There were also bad things: politics, politics, and, oh yeah, politics.


So without further adieu, it’s time to recognize the best of the best and the worst of the worst in the second annual awards ceremony. Complaints should be directed to Brenda Abels, and as usual, none of the recognitions come with any prizes. I’ll see you all next year.


Iowan of the year: Matt Whitaker


How does a weird Crossfit dad/middling federal prosecutor best known for settling dry cleaning cases and catching one pass in the Rose Bowl become the most powerful law enforcement official in the nation? That’s a great question, actually. It doesn’t really make sense when you put it that way.


Nonetheless, Ankeny native, former Iowa Hawkeye and eternally unsuccessful political candidate Matthew Whitaker somehow pulled it off and inspired all of us in his ascendance to the post of acting Attorney General, a title he’ll keep until President Trump appoints a permanent replacement. Hopefully, the impending departure will free him up to get back to his important work on the advisory board of World Patent Marketing defrauding potential entrepreneurs, er, I mean, creating the American Dream for anyone willing to pay thousands in fees and get nothing in return.


Whitaker is a true Horatio Alger success story, and for as long as he’s allowed to stay, he’ll carry on the fight to torpedo the Mueller investigation with Captain Ahab levels of zeal. God bless him. What’s the over/under on how many more times he’ll run for Congress? I’ll set it at four.


December surprise of the year: Bipartisanship


Politics is a stinky business, and the federal legislature’s current approval rating is on par with state inspections at work, splinters, waking up with a Charley horse in the middle of the night and flat tires during a Christmas road trip.


Against all odds, however, the House and Senate are finally coming together to get things done. In the last month, we’ve seen a farm bill, prison reform and a bipartisan condemnation of the U.S. funded atrocities in the Yemeni Civil War.


None of them are perfect: Chuck Grassley, one of two farmers in the Senate, voted against the farm bill for an extremely valid reason, and the First Step Act, contrary to what you may have heard on either end of the spectrum, will not unilaterally end the epidemic of mass incarceration or push millions of violent criminals back out onto the streets. It is what its moniker suggests—a piecemeal law that will allow some federal inmates to earn more credit for good behavior and some terminally ill prisoners to return home while increasing funding for transitional education and job training programs.


And despite all of the turmoil that constantly surrounds him, President Trump deserves praise. He’s living proof that everyone should base their political views on issues and not people or parties (for further evidence, see Rachel Maddow losing her mind on the decision to withdraw ground troops from Syria or the New York Times editorial board completely reversing course in less than a year).


His contempt for the Republican establishment was one of the hallmarks of his 2016 campaign, and though he’ll never give up on the border wall, Trump hasn’t been afraid to go toe-to-toe with war hawks and law and order conservatives on issues like criminal justice and Syria. Which brings me to my next award…


Useless Nebraska politician of the year: Ben Sasse


Any politician who sells books arguing that caring about politics is the reason the world is so awful (and makes $175,000 a year as a politician) should not be taken seriously or listened to at all, plain and simple. Ben Sasse, the Senate’s most loquacious Never Trumper and folksiest Cornhusker (who, by the way, holds degrees from Yale and Harvard) is on the road spewing his message to the masses, and luckily, no one’s really paying attention.


So, about that bold Never Trumpism. Is Sasse standing up for moderation and working across the aisle to reach consensus? No, not even close. He joined 2024 presidential candidate Tom Cotton, who once claimed that this country has an “underincarceration” problem, in opposing the First Step Act, and in the last few days, he’s thrown a fit over Syria because of Putin or our values or something to that effect. 


Last year, I used this space to rib on a dumb column, written by  Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, about why America “needs” Nebraska football to be good. I’d read that a thousand times before I even considered opening Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal. Ben Sasse, an undeniably intelligent man, is a huckster with a hefty helping of snake oil to sell, and you should slam the door before he gets a word in. 


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