An event, says the Penguin English Dictionary, is “a happening or occurrence, especially a noteworthy or important one.”
This is true but incomplete. Yes, an event must be part of reality – that is why it’s the opposite of fantasy – and it should be special, but it should also have a clear beginning and end.
The French Revolution, for instance, was clearly the event of the year 1789. Yes, it didn’t end that year, but that year’s storming of the Bastille, abolition of feudalism, Declaration of the Rights of Man, and arrest of King Louis XVI were major events with clearly timed beginnings and ends.
The feminist revolution, by contrast, cannot constitute the event of any single year because it did not begin with a bang, has been unfolding for more than a century by now, and has yet to end.
It follows, that in selecting 2021’s major event we must first disqualify all things related to the coronavirus pandemic. Yes, the plague remained a major disruption on multiple plains. However, it generated nothing that can pass for the event of the year – not even last summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
True, the 32nd Olympiad was first delayed by a year and then held in empty stadiums, spookily epitomizing the pandemic’s universalism and debilitation. Most proverbially, rather than give rise to a superhero a la Jesse Owens or Michael Phelps, the games were underscored by the collapse of a superstar – Simone Biles – thus symbolizing a plagued world’s underperformance and sense of paralysis.
Even so, the world was not paralyzed, and there were also non-pandemic events in 2021, some of which were actually extremely significant.
GEOPOLITICALLY, the year’s drama was the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Tactically, the move that caught everyone off guard will be recalled for its abruptness and chaos. Strategically, the country’s handover to Islamist fanatics might be seen, in the future, as a harbinger of setbacks further afield.
However, while the Taliban’s abuses are steadily offsetting much of what America had done there, for now their imprint is confined to Afghanistan. That is why the American retreat from Afghanistan is not the event of the year.
This cannot be said of the year’s other geopolitical drama: China’s military intrusions in Taiwan.
The Chinese air force’s flyovers above the alternative China have sparked much global commotion, underscored by a new American understanding of China as its main rival. The flyovers, some of which included more than 50 jets, are part of this context, as is the retreat from Afghanistan, which is part of an American strategy to focus on the Chinese theater, and avoid imperial overstretch elsewhere.
The Chinese challenge produced another geopolitical drama, the announcement of a military partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom and the US, known as AUKUS, after the three’s acronym.
However, while these are clearly fixtures of an unfolding Cold War II, they do not compare with Cold War I’s dramas, like the Cuban missile crisis or the fall of the Berlin Wall, which were, respectively, the major events of 1962 and 1989.
The year’s three major political dramas, in Israel, Germany and America, can also not be crowned as the major event of 2021.
The Israeli drama – the end of Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year premiership – was significant in many ways, having stemmed the attack on the judiciary, empowered Israeli Arabs and replaced a one-man oligarchy with a multi-headed collective of equals. Even so, like the Afghan retreat, the Israeli change of power was not a global event, and therefore cannot be considered the event of the year.
This cannot be said about the European year’s political drama – Angela Merkel’s departure.
Having played first violin in Europe’s response to multiple crises, from economic meltdown in Greece and Russian invasions in Georgia and Ukraine, to refugee influxes everywhere, Europe’s strongest stateswoman since Thatcher did matter globally.
However, Merkel’s departure was announced almost two years ahead of her successor’s election. Consequently, the end of her career was by no means sudden, and therefore not really an event. This is besides the fact that there is no sign, for now, that Germany’s change of guard will affect the rest of the world.
That cannot be said of the American change of guard.
JOE BIDEN’S victory was not foretold, and its significance obviously transcends America. Even so, it cannot be counted as the event of the year.
Biden’s victory was significant not because of its victor, but because of its loser and the end it put to his unforgettable stint at the free world’s helm.
Then again, Donald Trump’s departure is also not the event of the year, because what followed it was even more dramatic than his electoral defeat, and far more ominous than what preceded it.
The mob that stormed the US Capitol on January 6 attempted to disrupt a joint session of the American legislature which convened to formally approve the result of the election that Trump had lost.
It was thus an attempted coup d’état, led by the outgoing president’s assertion, in front of the mob, “we will never concede,” and by his call on the rioters to “walk down to the Capitol,” soon before they indeed proceeded to invade, vandalize and defile American democracy’s inner sanctum, and to stab the free world’s heart.
In line with a seminal event’s definition, it was sudden, dramatic, and bore profound meaning, showing in live broadcast that the Trump presidency was not an accident, that the social fury he deployed is real, vast and deep, that American society is as torn, and American democracy is as ill, as the two have not been since the American Civil War.
That is why the attack on the US Capitol is, with no contest, the major event of 2021.
The writer’s bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.