Everyone loves a good comeback: Just ask Mariah Carey, who this week earned her 19th number-one single with a 25-year-old bop, 1994’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” But in a time-is-a-flat-circle era of unnecessary TV and film reboots, indistinguishable reality-show reunions, and generational shit-flinging, triumphs like Carey’s seem rarer and rarer. Instead, it seems like the ugliest, most nonsensical, and most harmful things are the ones repeating on us like a rancid Christmas ham. And while we don’t want to exactly celebrate the unwelcome comebacks of 2019, there are definitely a handful that stood out in their sheer awfulness. Here are six that, with any luck, will be gone again—and, hopefully, forever—by this time next year.
In 1993, Rudy Giuliani ran for mayor of New York City with a promise to “clean up” the city—enacting, once he was elected, a tough-on-crime strategy that demonized immigrants of color while playing to the fears and wallets of white conservatives. In 2001, after NYC was attacked on 9/11, Giuliani became “America’s mayor” as he was praised for his leadership during an unthinkable crisis. These days, though, he’s a haunted nutcracker abetting the crimes of another doddering New York racist and then admitting to them at the top of his lungs on Fox News: In his role as Trump’s fixer, Giuliani has spilled the beans on his client’s hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels, confirmed the president’s personal financial stake in appeasing Russia, and butt-dialed an NBC reporter—twice. But Giuliani’s crowning achievement of 2019 was setting in motion a presidential impeachment thanks to a plot to accuse Trump’s possible 2020 rival, Joe Biden, of obstructing anti-corruption measures in Ukraine—proving that even in a crowded field of inept criminals, officious toadies, and craven opportunists, he’s willing to go the extra terrible mile.
It’s been nearly 20 years since the World Health Organization declared that measles was eliminated in the United States. But a potent combination of factors including international travel, inadequate medical access and information, medical charlatans, internet quackery, and celebrity anti-vaccination rhetoric have brought the highly infectious disease—which killed thousands of people per year until 1963, when a vaccine was introduced—roaring back. This year saw approximately 690,000 cases worldwide (a 200 percent increase over 2018 numbers); in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed more than 1,200 individual cases in 31 states between January 1 and December 5, 2019. The majority of those infected were not vaccinated against the disease, but this year’s outbreaks showed a strong correlation to “personal belief exemptions” nurtured by social-media anti-vaccination advocates. In response, Washington became the third state, following California and Maine, to prohibit vaccine exemptions based on personal or philosophical beliefs.
From a historically Black Brooklyn neighborhood to a Mississippi fire station to college campuses across the country, one of the starkest and most indelible symbols of America’s racist roots became disturbingly prominent in 2019. And though people continue to suggest, with a willful #notallnooses ignorance, that this particular rope doesn’t always symbolize racism, context matters: In a time of increasingly emboldened hate rhetoric and crime, there’s no excuse for ignoring that a noose is a direct threat to Black people. More oblique references, however—most prominently, President Trump’s appropriation of the term “lynching” to describe impeachment proceedings—show how far America hasn’t come in reckoning with the racism, violence, and intimidation that nooses represent. It was only a year ago, after all, that the U.S. Senate passed legislation making lynching a federal crime, despite more than 200 proposals that sought do so over the years.
Unearned confidence is a hell of a drug—even more powerful than the many performance-enhancing substances champion cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to using in his notorious 2013 sit-down with Oprah Winfrey. Though cycling’s international governing body, Union Cycliste Internationale, banned Armstrong from competitive cycling for life and stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles, 2019 found him back in the headlines as a commentator for NBC Sports’s coverage of the Tour de France and the subject of the network’s documentary Lance Armstrong: Next Stage. Everyone loves a good redemption arc, after all—especially if it boosts ratings and revenues.
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing fashion editors that Crocs needed to be made chic by any means necessary: fur, gemstones, collaborations with high-end fashion labels and streetwear purveyors. The fact that the sherbet-hued foam sandals were made famous by noted chef and sexual harasser Mario Batali, who became the company’s brand ambassador in 2007, seems like reason enough to want Crocs to stay gone. And yet, like mom jeans and extravagantly puffy sleeves, trendmongers gleefully took the shoes’ inherent ugliness as a kind of challenge. Which brings us to 2019, the year that brought us not only Post Malone’s fourth collaboration with Crocs (they sold out in less than two hours), but also Crocs that feature teeny-tiny fanny packs on the heel straps. The Crocs resurgence is driven largely by teen girls, according to consumer research that reported that the brand was the 13th most popular among “average-income female teenagers.” Defying conventional beauty standards with objectively hideous footwear never goes out of style.
In advance of his January 6, 2020 rape trial, the serial predator and eminence grise of independent filmmaking has decided it’s a great time to throw himself a pity party. In an exclusive December interview with the New York Post, Weinstein lamented the loss of his career, calling himself “the forgotten man” and griping that his entire legacy would be overshadowed just because he happened to sexually assault, harass, threaten, humiliate, retaliate against, and ruin the careers of more than 80 women. Weinstein told the Post that he wants New York City “to recognize who I was instead of what I’ve become,” which seems like a tall order given that, by all accounts—including Ronan Farrow’s detailed, horrifying 2019 exposé, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and the Conspiracy to Protect Predators—he’s been an abusive bully his entire career. But Weinstein can take comfort in the fact that all those pesky lawsuits are behind him: On December 11, he and the board of the now-defunct Weinstein Company reached a settlement that, according to the New York Times, “would not require the Hollywood producer to admit wrongdoing or pay anything to his accusers himself.”