Because, of course, 2020.
I believe I speak for humankind, with few exceptions, when I say we will all be overjoyed to see the back of this awful year.
It’s not as if no good things at all happened in 2020. Joe Biden was elected president, stamping a Jan. 20, 2021, expiration date on Donald Trump’s putrid presidency. Scientists developed vaccines against covid-19 in record time, marking the beginning of the end of this deadly, devastating, soul-crushing pandemic. Also, um, let me think — oh yes, there was no extinction-level asteroid strike, which is definitely a plus.
For many across the country and the world there were, of course, personal milestones and triumphs. Several of my good friends were blessed with the birth of a first grandchild. To see the joy in their faces, even via Zoom, warmed my heart.
Overall, though, we have been through a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad 12 months. It will take some time just to catalogue all the damage 2020 has done, much less begin to heal from it. As a general rule, I’ve always thought the end of the calendar year was an arbitrary and irrational date for marking some sort of generalized turning of the page. This year, however, I’m desperately hoping it proves to be just that: a bright line between what has been and what will be.
The worst thing to happen this year, by far, is the covid-19 pandemic. Just think about what life was like one year ago, and compare that to what life is like right now.
More than 318,000 Americans who were with us before — family members, friends, neighbors — have perished. Millions of workers have been unemployed since the spring, and the aid they received from the federal government has long since run out; lines at some charity food banks are miles long. Thousands of small businesses, especially restaurants, have gone belly-up; many others are barely hanging on. Most of us — sadly, still not enough of us — wear masks over our noses and mouths when we leave home, to the extent that we go out at all. Handshakes and hugs have been replaced by elbow-bumps, which, frankly, are a poor substitute.
Now that what appear to be highly effective vaccines are being deployed, we can begin to envision a time — the second half of 2021 — when life begins to return to normal. But right now we’re at the pandemic’s worst moment, with an average of more than 2,500 U.S. deaths per day making covid-19 the nation’s leading cause of death.
The pandemic hit the United States much harder than most other nations because of Trump. Officials in Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and elsewhere — and even China, where the virus originated — went all-out to contain the spread of covid-19 at the beginning, effectively strangling the pandemic in its crib. In Wuhan, where the first cases were seen, daily life is pretty much back to normal.
Trump was told in January that covid-19 would be “the biggest national security threat” of his presidency, according to author Bob Woodward, but the president chose to listen to quacks who told him otherwise — which was what he wanted to hear. With the exception of vaccine development, which he did encourage, Trump made everything about the pandemic worse. He turned mask-wearing and business closures into political wedge issues rather than necessary public health measures — and Americans died.
Trump himself was the second-biggest disaster of 2020. Potentially worse than his mishandling of covid-19 is his ongoing attempt to delegitimize the one thing that holds this diverse and fractious nation together: our democracy.
His wild claims of voter fraud have been shown, in courtroom after courtroom, to be utterly baseless. Whether or not he is delusional enough to believe his own nonsense, he continues to poison our politics — and the damage will endure. Even if the media treats him like the fringe-dwelling Twitter troll he soon will merely be, millions of his followers will still believe his lies.
Still, that’s an improvement.
In 2021, vaccines will end the pandemic. Biden, an empathetic and capable man, will be in the White House. We will be able to survey the damage, and we will begin to repair it.
I’m a few days early, but have a happy new year. Lord knows, we all deserve it.