When we began listing good things that happened in the year to match the year’s number — 16 good things in 2016, 17 good things in 2017, and so on — we knew the exercise would grow more challenging as the century wore on. To be honest, though, we didn’t think it would get this hard, this fast. The year 2020 turned out to be a difficult one to love.
Still, good things did happen. Perhaps more than usual, our list this year includes silver linings — "Yes, a terrible plague struck humankind, but...” We don’t apologize for that; finding the silver linings is how we all make it through. And we’re sure this list is far from exhaustive; we’d love to hear from you. What good things happened in 2020 that we’ve omitted here?
More to the point — we’d like to wish everyone a safe and happy new year. May our common challenge a year from now be whittling the list down to 21!
Without further ado, then, 20 good things — starting with a few of those silver linings.
A terrible plague struck humankind, but scientists responded with unprecedented speed and common purpose; cooperating across national lines to decode the virus and then discover and manufacture vaccines that can prevent the disease.
Thousands of people volunteered to take the experimental vaccines — at some risk to themselves — so safety and efficacy could be tested and proven.
We learned to appreciate the selfless dedication of nurses, orderlies, doctors and other health workers who risked their lives to save ours — and the selfless dedication of truck drivers, grocery stockers, farmworkers and so many more who risked their lives to keep the economy from collapsing.
Many of us felt isolated and frustrated in our social distancing, but many found meaning and connection with young or adult children, older relatives and other pod mates.
We also connected and reconnected with friends, relatives, colleagues and therapists across great distances as we became accustomed to Zoom calls and FaceTime video chats. We wouldn’t suggest that in-person wedding celebrations are gone forever — but the advances we made in telehealth, remote work and virtual gatherings will outlast the pandemic.
As movie theater chains struggled across the country, some family-owned drive-ins made a comeback, bringing a sense of community to small towns that had thought they were gone forever.
A record number of Americans turned out to vote in our national election, pandemic notwithstanding.
As the president launched an unprecedented assault on the democratic process, local and state officials of courage and integrity stood up to his assault and did their jobs with honor. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Michigan Board of State Canvassers vice chair Aaron Van Langevelde and other Republicans stayed true to law and principle despite the corrupting pressure of their president, the cowardly silence of their national leadership, and, at times, vile and violent threats to them and their families.
And... he lost. We realize that for 74 million Americans, that doesn’t count as a good thing, but the result was welcomed by 81 million — ourselves among them. And this is our list. We celebrate the defeat of the worst president in U.S. history.
Black women led the nation to this fortunate result, with more than 9 in 10 voting for Democratic candidate Joe Biden in an election that was far closer than it should have been.
In so doing, they helped elect America’s first female vice-president, first Black vice-president and first Asian American vice-president: Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
The Supreme Court ruled that no one can be fired for being gay or transgender.
When the country was really in trouble, Republicans and Democrats came together in Congress and the administration to pass the Cares Act, which provided relief to businesses and workers suffering through no fault of their own.
The Federal Reserve, under the leadership of chair Jerome H. Powell, mounted an innovative rescue effort that kept the economy battered, but afloat.
One of the most horrifying acts of police brutality ever caught on video — the killing of George Floyd — led to an outpouring of protest and reflection and, in many cities and state capitals, the beginning of reform.
NASA named its headquarters building in D.C. after Mary W. Jackson, the agency’s first African American female engineer. Mississippi replaced a flag that had featured Confederate symbolism. Fairfax County renamed Robert E. Lee High School for the late civil rights leader John Lewis. Congress voted to rename 10 Army installations that honored Confederate generals. Despite resistance, Americans began to reckon more honestly with their history.
The United States launched astronauts to the International Space Station on a U.S.-made rocket, after years of dependence on Russian technology. The reusable booster did its job and then returned safely, potentially opening an era of more cost-efficient space travel.
Carbon dioxide emissions declined — in part due to the recession, yes, but also because the cost of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, is declining more quickly than many experts had predicted.
With the United States set to rejoin the Paris agreement, and China pledging to reach carbon neutrality by 2060, momentum grew for the global community to take its climate emergency seriously.
After four years of an administration appointing mostly White men to the judiciary and the executive branch, the government was set to look more like America. And not just with its new vice president, but with a plethora of new faces including the most Native Americans elected to Congress, the most trans people elected to state legislatures, a burst of Republican women elected to Congress and a highly diverse and competent array of nominees for the incoming Cabinet.
Oh — and a panda was born at the National Zoo!
Happy new year.
Any good news we missed? Let us know in the comments.