Everyone pretty much agrees that 2020 has been the worst year we’ve ever experienced. For people of a certain age, the only year that comes close would be 1968 — nearly 17,000 U.S. military personnel killed and nearly 90,000 wounded in the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., war protests, riots in cities, including Baltimore.
In 2020, we have the coronavirus pandemic and a president whose denial of the threat, whose unwillingness to establish a clear national strategy early on — and who staged his own super-spreader events during his campaign for re-election — likely caused more illness and death, more economic losses, than we might have endured under better, wiser leadership.
Speaking of that: I received a letter from a Sun reader last week who asked, with regard to the pandemic: “What would Biden have done about it any different than Trump? I want to know what the left would have done, how liberals think.”
My response: “The fact that you see this as ideological — liberal versus conservative — is what’s wrong. Addressing a potential health crisis is not a matter of ideology but strictly of competence and confidence in science. Trump had neither, wasted precious time in denying the threat and ended up spreading the disease with his events. The country right now is leaderless on COVID. I have absolute trust that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris would have met the threat head-on, informed and guided by the best science available.”
But back to the question: Is 2020 the worst year we’ve ever experienced?
The loss of life, the shock to the American system, the way each left people despondent and pessimistic — both 1968 and 2020 took a toll on millions of families and on the nation’s psyche. Recovery from the traumas of 1968 eventually took place, but the events of that year left many Americans scarred with disillusionment. I have a feeling 2020 will be with us similarly for a long time yet.
As I wrote back at the start of the pandemic, when it was evident that Trump wasn’t going to do much about it, this isn’t the country we were promised, particularly as we emerged from the 1960’s and finally got out of Vietnam. We expected, after that crucible, reflection and growth and steady progress. This was never a perfect country. Its greatness was always exaggerated, or certainly limited by the color of someone’s skin, gender or social status. And yet there was always the promise that this rich and powerful nation could also be a smart, welcoming and humane one. Maybe it was wishful thinking built on myth, maybe youthful idealism, but I held out hope for a better country.
By the time Trump came along, I had severe doubts. We don’t seem to learn lessons. We seem to settle for status quo — the unwillingness to do anything bold about climate change, gun violence, income inequality, even our infrastructure — and, when millions of Americans wanted change, they opted for Trump. Obama represented a breakthrough, but the backlash was severe. And even now, with the restorative potential of the Joe Biden presidency, we close out the year knowing that some 73 million of our fellow citizens voted for the awful Trump. Look where he has left us with the virus — more than 10 million infections, nearly 250,000 dead. Trump has fully relinquished leadership in this crisis to no one in particular, and as of this writing, he refuses to acknowledge Biden’s victory in the election.
The year 1968 was horrible, but the democracy survived.
With a few weeks left in 2020, what can we say? That we repudiated the regressive Trump regime? Not really. That we sent the plutocrats packing? No. That we punished Republican senators for enabling Trump? Not so far. That our democracy stands? It does, but remains threatened, and there’s no guarantee we’ve heard the last of Trumpism. Hopefully, the vaccines will work but, in the meantime, the pandemic is surging and a survey of American families indicates that four in 10 still plan large family gatherings for Thanksgiving, against the advice and warnings of medical experts.
President-elect Biden faces not only the pandemic but the clicking clock of climate change. The country has immense challenges that cannot be met while we are so divided. Bridging the divide will be a herculean task, given the number of ardent Trump supporters. Working around the divide — electing two Democratic senators in the Georgia runoff in early January, to give the new president’s party majorities in both houses of Congress — seems like the best way to get us out of this mess. But that looks like a tough hill, too.
We’ll be glad to bid farewell to 2020. But I have a feeling 2020 will be with us for a long time yet.