A year is not a person. It’s not an entity at all, actually, just a collection of hours, days and months. But when so many of those hours, days and months suck, well, a year can get a bad rep. And 2020 has more than earned the title of fully awful. Good riddance, cruel year.
Alas, 2020 is gone, but not forgotten. The damage wrought during this year was staggering and a glass of sparkling rosé and an off-key rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” isn’t going to be enough to get past it. In fact, it will take years, even decades, to undo the damage. And that’s only the damage that can be undone.
Here’s a list of some of the things that got worse in 2020:
Democracy: Donald Trump was bad for democracy from day one, but in 2020 he turned up the heat on his conspiracy theories. As of this writing on Dec. 29, he still hasn’t conceded the election. Never forget that in a pandemic Republicans worked hard to make it more difficult for people to vote, claimed voting by mail was fraudulent and tried to get hundreds of thousands of votes tossed in order to hand the election to a narcissistic garbage monster.
Health: We are rapidly approaching 400,000 people dead from COVID-19 in the U.S. Under the Trump Administration, we still don’t have a national strategy to combat the virus. Trump’s strategy is to ignore it and instead focus on his tantrum over the election that he totally, 100 percent lost.
The Economy: The COVID-19 pandemic led to shutdowns and stay-at-home orders in a desperate attempt to save lives by elected officials who saw keeping people alive and stopping the spread the most important goal. Most of those leaders were Democrats. Republicans downplayed the virus and fought against mitigation efforts. This not only led to more death, but also led to deeper economic harm. So many people lost jobs, so many small businesses closed their doors for good. And yet all Republicans have offered is, “Open everything up and pretend COVID-19 doesn’t exist.” But until the virus is under control we will not have a healthy economy.
Racial Justice: Racism didn’t get worse in 2020. What changed is that the most powerful people were proud white supremacists who used the government as a weapon against anyone who wasn’t white. This inspired closet racists to come out in droves and scream the quiet parts out loud and commit violence. But this also inspired anti-racists to take to the streets and demand change and forced white Americans to more closely examine this nation’s history and acknowledge that racism isn’t a fringe ideology but a deeply systemic problem that we ignore at everyone’s peril.
The Environment: Trump, who doesn’t believe in climate change, brags about rolling back regulations during his presidency, as if regulations were simply pointless rules designed to hurt capitalism. According to the Washington Post, Trump trashed than 125 policies that protected the environment including making it easier for power plants leak waste into the water, keeping insecticide that causes brain cancer on the market, scrapping wetland protections and basically telling endangered plants and animals, “Good luck out there, suckers.” Biden has his work cut out for him as much of this sabotage will be hard to reverse.
Truth: The divisions in American society are deep and the distrust between people is not something a new administration is going to fix. Conspiracy theories have always existed on the fringe, but Trump brought them into the mainstream. This is not a bipartisan phenomenon. A majority of Republicans think COVID is overblown and that the election was stolen or rigged. A sizable number of people believe that the Democratic Party is a satanic pedophile ring, a notion Trump has only helped to perpetuate by refusing to denounce it. Trump told more lies on TV during his presidency than any other president in our history. And yet here we are in a country where millions of Americans looked at Trump and his record and still said, “Yeah, that’s the guy I want to lead us.” He may have lost the election, but his lies will live on.
Society: A strong society has strong relationships between people. The division that Trump sowed has wreaked many of those relationships while the COVID-19 pandemic has isolated many of us from our family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Our interactions with people we care about have been curtailed or ceased. We have Zoom funerals and drive-by birthday celebrations. Weddings have been canceled, vacations scrapped. I haven’t hugged my mom in almost a year. Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to wear sweatpants to work every day, but the tradeoff is far too steep.
The bar is set terribly low, so 2021 has a real chance to be better. But only if we learn from the horror show that was 2020. Happy New Year!