2020 Was Awful, But…

One of the enduring images of 2020

Not many people will quibble with the notion that the soon-to-depart 2020 was among the worst years in history. Certainly, 2020 was the worst year in America since 1968, that baleful 12 months of assassinations, war, civil unrest, and urban riots. 

Yet, depending on whether you are a glass half-empty or half-full type of person, you may be optimistic about the coming year. Some hopeful signs of — if not good times — at least better times emerged during and at the end of 2020. 

Topping the list is the coming change in leadership. President Donald Trump is capable of unimagined mayhem in the remaining few weeks of his presidency. But, despite his machinations, he will be gone at noon on January 20, 2021, and Joe Biden will lose the “elect” in President-elect Joe Biden. Historians and pundits may argue for decades and centuries who was the worst American president, but Trump surely will be near or at the top of the list.

Trump spent his four years in office belittling his opponents, turning his supporters into unthinking, reflexive sycophants, issuing racist and xenophobic tweets, and showing little inclination to perform the duties of his august office. Trump’s disinterest in actually governing was most obvious during the pandemic, when he declined to model appropriate behavior and take steps to mitigate the worst of the contagion. During his tenure, America became less secure as Trump withdrew the nation from or weakened alliances that have guaranteed international security for the last seven decades. Trump eroded America’s role as the indispensable nation, and he diminished America’s moral stature as he coddled dictators and autocrats while attacking democratic allies. At home, America slid into greater inequality as wealth became more concentrated following the giveaway masquerading as the 2017 tax cuts passed by Republicans and signed by Trump. The president failed to provide effective leadership as the nation plunged into economic crisis during the pandemic. Trump repealed numerous environmental regulations, allowing large corporations greater leeway to pollute the nation’s air, ground, and waterways and exacerbating climate change. Not only did Trump fail to provide moral leadership as the nation faced its racist history after the brutal murders of African Americans by police, but the president’s words and actions stoked racial animosity.

Carbon emissions declined in 2020

For the good news: Trump will be gone in three weeks and Biden will be sitting in the Oval Office. Trump may have to be forcibly removed from the White House, but removed he will be. Biden will return America to the Paris Agreement on climate, making the nation a full participant once again in the crusade to stem global warming. Not only is America returning as a full-fledged partner in the fight against climate change good news, but a seven-percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 is reason for optimism. Much of the fall off, no doubt, is due to government-imposed lockdowns and restrictions on movement around the world during the pandemic, but some of the drop is a result of the falling cost of renewable energy like wind and solar power. 

Trump’s presidency worsened race relations in America. The president is racist, and his appeals to disgruntled white voters — the majority of his base — and, as the Black Lives Matter Movement intensified, his refusal to provide moral clarity widened the racial divide that has plagued American history since the first Blacks were brought to Jamestown in 1619. But, America’s march toward diversity did not cease during Trump’s four years in office. Polls showed that two-thirds of Americans — including 60 percent of Whites — supported the Black Lives Matter movement during the summer of 2020, a period of intense protests against police brutality. The election of Kamala Harris as the nation’s first female vice president, first Black vice president, and first Asian-American vice president further signifies greater acceptance of diversity. It is too early to judge the historical significance of the Trump presidency, but future historians may see his four years as a mere pause between the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008 and the Biden-Harris victory in 2020.

Effective leadership at the top — something Trump could not or would not provide — would have lessened the severity of the coronavirus pandemic. But, Americans — and others — showed what people can do in the face of adversity. Scientists responded with unprecedented speed to develop vaccines, some of which are already being distributed. Americans — and others — witnessed the dedication of nurses, doctors, hospital employees, emergency responders, and other health workers who risked their lives to save others. Also, Americans developed greater appreciation of essential workers — many of whom are immigrants — such as truck drivers, farmworkers, grocery stockers, and others who do the often dangerous and behind-the-scenes work that keeps our economy going.

Americans voted in record numbers in 2020

And, let us not forget all of us Americans who turned out to vote in 2020 in record numbers. We voted by mail and in-person, early and on election day, in the face of a pandemic. No doubt, much of that record turnout stemmed from reaction to the incumbent, the most divisive president in modern American history. But, the numbers also demonstrated the pluck and determination of Americans in hard times, showing that our democracy is still vibrant.

The flip side of Trump’s machinations to undo the result of that record vote total is that the decades of attempts by the Republican Party to restrict the vote have been shown, once again, to be baseless. Republicans for years have used false claims of voter fraud as an excuse to roll back voting rights. Trump and his lawyers and allies trotted out similar allegations, none of which have been proven. In addition, a sizable number of Republican state and local officials in battleground states did their jobs by beating back Trump’s threats of retaliation, following the laws of their states, and certifying Biden’s victory. 

Make no mistake about it: 2020 was an awful year. We have lost more than 330,000 Americans and more than 19-million Americans have been infected by this horrendous virus, which has lasting ill-health effects for many of those who survive. But, with 2021 only a few days away, there are grounds for optimism. The pandemic will be licked as the vaccines become widely available, America will reassert its role in the world, Trump will be gone, and Biden will provide the stability and the steady hand that has been missing for the last four years.

We can all be thankful for that.

Posted December 29, 2020

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