IS IT more difficult to think of 19 good things that happened in 2019 than it was to think of 18 good things last year, or 17 in 2017, just because 19 is a bigger number than 18 or 17 — or was good news in genuinely shorter supply this year?
Either way: Given the ugliness of our politics, we think it’s worth reminding ourselves that not all is gloomy in the world. Far from it, in fact. In keeping with our annual tradition, here is some good news from the course of the year — along with our wishes that, next year, we will have trouble paring down the list to a mere 20 items.
In no particular order:
1. Scientists announced a new therapy that seems likely to benefit 90 percent of people who suffer with cystic fibrosis, until now a terribly debilitating disease. As we noted in an editorial, the achievement is the result of a generation of persistence by patient advocates and scientists who never threw in the towel, even when the goal seemed impossible.
2. Another frightful disease may be checked by a new vaccine protecting people from the Ebola virus. The director-general of the World Health Organization called the progress in vaccine development “a triumph for public health, and a testimony to the unprecedented collaboration between scores of experts worldwide.”
3. The U.S. economy continued to grow, now more than a decade after the Great Recession, and unemployment fell to near-record lows.
4. Galvanized by proposed legislation that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be easily extradited into Communist China, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens mobilized to fight for the rule of law and democracy. Despite pressure and vilification from Beijing, they demonstrated, mostly peacefully, month after month — and last month took to the polls in record numbers to support pro-democracy candidates in local elections.
5. In another inspiring mobilization, women in Latin America and then across the world rallied against the continuing pandemic of anti-female violence. Young people in many countries mobilized to demand action on climate change. And young people in the United States continued to demand progress on gun-law reform.
6. Reports this year showed that Americans gave $428 billion in charity in 2018, 2.1 percent of the country’s total economy and more than the entire national economy of Norway. Figures for 2019 won’t be available until next year, but it’s a fair bet that the generosity continued.
7. Same-sex marriage became legal in Taiwan, proving again that human rights are not a “Western” value, as well as in Ecuador, Austria and Northern Ireland. Legal recognition is granted to such marriages now in 30 countries on every inhabited continent.
8. People power was haltingly bearing fruit in Sudan, whose population of 43 million suffered for years under the murderous dictatorship of Omar Hassan al-Bashir. After months of courageous, often dangerous, protesting, citizens won a commitment for a three-year transition leading to elections. And Mr. Bashir was sentenced to two years in prison for corruption.
9. The U.S. women’s national soccer team inspired our nation by winning the World Cup — and then using their celebrity to campaign for gender equity on the soccer pitch and beyond.
10. Staying in sports, we celebrated when the Mystics and Nationals both brought home championships. Even non-Washingtonians could take some pleasure in what our columnist Thomas Boswell called, when the harrowing baseball playoffs and World Series were finally over, “the most remarkable October run the sport has ever seen.”
11. The U.S. constitutional system showed its resilience as judges acted to check overweening executive assertions of power in areas ranging from the census to immigration policy to the president’s ability to keep secrets from the public.
12. The public got a glimpse of another aspect of their democracy at work when a series of public servants and former public servants courageously defied insults from the world’s most powerful man to give honest witness at the impeachment hearings. History will remember former Russia adviser Fiona Hill, Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and others for stepping forward to do their duty at a difficult time.
13. In 1990, 82 children under the age of 5 died around the world for every 1,000 children born. By last year, as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation reminded us, that rate had fallen to 37 — still too high, but remarkable progress nonetheless. In fact, as a Gates Foundation report notes, “Health and education are improving everywhere in the world” — a too-little recognized fact that should spur us to continue investing in progress.
14. In January, a record number of women, 102, took their seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Unfortunately, the progress was all on one side of the aisle, as Democratic women increased their ranks from 64 to 89, and Republicans fell from 23 to 13.)
15. In November, a similar phenomenon played out in the off-year elections in Virginia, where, come January, women will occupy the two most powerful positions (speaker and majority leader). As our editorial noted, “In its 400-year history, fewer than 100 women have been elected to the General Assembly, as against more than 9,000 men. Forty-one of those women will be among the 140 lawmakers who convene in Richmond in January.”
16. And with the April election of Lori Lightfoot in Chicago, a record number of black women (eight) were serving as mayors in America’s 100 largest cities.
17. The continuing progress of science was exemplified by the first-ever image of a black hole — defined by our science writers Sarah Kaplan and Joel Achenbach as “a bottomless pit in the fabric of the universe from which not even light can escape.”
18. In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported some of the most encouraging news about the deadly drug use epidemic in years — a decline of 5.1 percent in the number of people dying from drug overdoses from 2017 to 2018. As we wrote, “The raw numbers of deaths — 68,577 in 2018, vs. 72,224 in 2017 — are still unconscionably high. But the progress shows that the federal, state and local mobilization against drug addiction, which has emphasized treatment and availability of the life-saving opioid antidote naloxone, is producing results.”
19. Much was written about a “democratic recession” around the world, and with reason. But that made all the more impressive the many popular uprisings on behalf of liberty and free expression. Even with the United States abdicating its traditional role as advocate for freedom, and with China and Russia pressing their authoritarian models, people rose up and spoke up against corruption and for dignity and self-expression, often at great risk and against great odds. This happened not only in Hong Kong and Sudan but also in Algeria, Lebanon, Bolivia, Chile, Iraq and even Russia (Moscow) and the United States (Puerto Rico).