Hurricanes. Floods. Wildfires. Tornadoes. Landslides. Earthquakes. Tsunami destruction.
Natural disasters left hundreds of thousands dead and millions homeless. Thousands more were killed or wounded in terrorist attacks in Iraq, London, Paris, Russia, Bali, India, Jordan and elsewhere.
2005 was surely a year we'd like to forget.
In response to last year's events, vitriolic personal attacks reigned in a divided the USA. Partisan politicians and an insatiable 24/7 media reveled in unfair accusations and the blame game, exacerbating the bad news. TV coverage was so painful that we frequently sought refuge in the Food Network, the Golf Channel or even reality shows.
But there were many under-reported achievements and heroics that provide hope for the future. As the curtain rises on 2006, a positive review of 2005, and a few resolutions, might yield more optimism.
In the face of unprecedented natural disasters, at home and abroad, countless American heroes in 2005 risked their lives to save others. American helicopters lifted those they could and dropped tons of supplies to other survivors. American corporations, individual citizens and the U.S. government provided more relief in each tragedy than rest of the world combined.
Mother Nature will challenge us anew in 2006. As we address tomorrow's catastrophes, let's remember and take strength in the capabilities, compassion and generosity displayed by Americans throughout 2005.
In the War on Terrorism, many suffered much in the fight to see freedom and opportunity replace oppression, bigotry, slavery and intolerance. Much progress was made. The U.S. was free from attack at home for the fourth straight year. Unprecedented elections were held in Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Ukraine, Lebanon, Afghanistan and even Saudi Arabia. Women received voting rights and a Cabinet position in Kuwait. The IRA dismantled its weapons arsenal. The seeds of a multi-ethnic democracy were planted in Iraq.
Terrorism will not end in 2006. But the world where terrorists can recruit, train, seek WMDs and plot mass murder is getting smaller. Constructive dialogue and support against terrorism and WMDs is increasing worldwide. This will ultimately yield a safer, more peaceful planet, as long as we remain resolved.
At home, 2005 saw a strong and growing economy. Five million new jobs were created since mid-2003, at higher average salaries, keeping the unemployment rate at a record low 5 percent, while setting new records for home ownership. Tax receipts were up, while tax rates were down. The net deficits fell by 25 percent. Projections now show the deficits falling to 1 percent of GDP by 2009, less than half of the 40-year average.
As we begin 2006, the economic outlook is bright. And our nation is positioned to lead the world toward more fairness, more prosperity, and more security.
But we need to adopt a few key resolutions.
We need to focus on the broad common goals that can unite us, rather than focus on simplistic black or white "solutions" that tend to divide us. We need to focus on the end of the road that we seek rather than dwell on the roadblocks in our way. We would do better to focus on tomorrow's successes, rather than yesterday's failures. We need to work for a better future, rather than getting mired down in finger-pointing about past transgressions. We need to end counterproductive rhetoric and vitriolic name-calling, and instead conduct our national debates on goals in a more civil fashion.
The common goals are right there in front of us.
We all want to see the world at peace and rid of terrorism, genocide, poverty and oppression. We all want good education; job opportunity; sustainable economic growth; Social Security made viable for the future; and our moral values preserved.
Reaching clarity and consensus on the objectives is perhaps as important as the solutions we ultimately adopt. We will always find disagreements on exactly how to proceed toward these common goals. That is the nature of our democracy. Healthy and civil debates on possible solutions are what makes our democracy strong and sustainable. But when we replace civility with anger and personal attacks, the democracy becomes unsettled, and the process becomes counterproductive.
So let's seize this New Year as a time to end inflammatory rhetoric, slanderous claims and half-truths, and unite the soul and spirit of our currently divided nation. Let's declare mean-spirited personal attacks as unacceptable in our political dialogue.
Let's focus on common goals, unite in a civil dialogue and make our nation and the world better. This will not be easy. There will be no instant miracles in a terribly diseased political environment. But we must try.
Jack Tymann retired as president of Westinghouse International. He later founded Homeland Security Partners, focused on counterterrorism technologies. He served on and chaired the Clinton-Mubarak Presidents' Council for the Middle East from 1993-2001. Today he serves on the board of AMIDEAST, promoting mutual understanding between Americans and peoples of the Arab world.