For most people, a list of the best news stories in 2020 would be extremely short. But even in a year marked by much grief and countless sorrows, there have been terrific examples of great changes for the better. Chief among these is the success of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine-development project. Few predicted that one, much less two, pioneering vaccines would result so quickly from this vast outpouring of effort and government funding to the private sector. The remarkable all-hands-on-deck explosion of ventilator production that began last spring might have already faded from memory, but no one whose life has been dealt a blow by the pandemic will ever forget the arrival of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.

The covid-19 pandemic won’t be the last one. Another is inevitable, perhaps more dangerous and possibly arriving relatively soon. Operation Warp Speed’s example of public-private partnership has set the standard for how to respond. The scientific breakthroughs assembled under this banner will be a blessing to medical research for decades to come, just as the U.S. space program fueled a half-century’s worth of dynamic scientific and technological advances. In a year shadowed by deadly illness, closed schools and economic setbacks, Operation Warp Speed offered inspiration and hope.

This was also the year of the Abraham Accords. Israel and the United Arab Emirates took the lead and most of the risk here, with the UAE demonstrating the courage it has shown in many years of deployments of its special forces to Afghanistan. For its part, Israel had to size up the opportunity and agree not merely to suspend settlement expansion in some contested areas of the West Bank,but to also concede that the provision of F-35 stealth fighter jets to the UAE would not imperil the Jewish state. With the subsequent addition of Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, the accords are a major milestone on the road to stability in the Middle East.

Historians will mark 2020 as the beginning of the great coalescing of an international anti-Chinese Communist Party movement. “Countries that once avoided upsetting Beijing are moving closer to Washington’s harder and largely bipartisan stance,” a Wall Street Journal article noted this week. The United States has led in demanding not just accountability from the CCP on the origins of covid-19 within Wuhan but also on demands that telecommunications giant Huawei cease its attempt to infiltrate and infect the world’s 5G networks — and that the Uighur people be released from the gulags the CCP has built for them. Hong Kong no longer has even the paper-thin veneer of limited freedoms it once had, a devastating loss that has sent shock waves through world capitals. Free states can no longer pretend to not know the nature of Chairman Xi Jinping — yes, he is also President Xi, but the party title is more important — and his plans.

Finally, the sad passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after long and courageous struggles and decades of principled jurisprudence could have led to yet another confirmation hearing meltdown. But while the questioning of Amy Coney Barrett was heated, attacks from senators on her record did not cross bright-red lines. And her confirmation allowed for a tilt of the Supreme Court toward a consolidation of viewpoints on how the Constitution ought to be applied. There are now six solid originalists on the country’s highest court for the first time in my life as a lawyer. There is reason to hope that the rights of free exercise of religion, speech and due process against “woke” mobs backed by any sort of state action — and a return to the bedrock protection of property rights against impositions from federal, state and local bureaucrats — is at hand. The court’s new majority is a lantern in the dark days of 2020, and it has just begun to burn.

None of these four stories will bring back a single soul lost to the virus around the world, or restore freedom to Hong Kong, or assuage the regret at the loss of a great jurist, or guarantee peace’s full flowering in the Middle East. None will reduce the disappointment of President Trump’s 74 million voters, or of the would-be Democratic senators who thought they would join Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) in a history-making, filibuster-ending and Supreme Court-packing congressional majority. But all four achievements are large and enduring, the sort of signposts every historian far down the road will look back and mark.

May there be many more of them, and far fewer of the terrible setbacks, across the globe in 2021.

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