Adios, au revoir, addio, auf Wiedersehen and GOODBYE, you 366-day dumpster fire. Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry? Don’t let the door hit you in the ... butt. And as you — at last! — exit the brightly lit stage of human endeavor to slither off into the dank abyss of history’s septic tank, know that human kind bids you adieu with its collective middle finger raised high in defiance. Don’t get mad. Just get out. And take your wretched pandemic with you, along with the death, suffering, upheaval and grief that forever mark you as a year of abject infamy.
Certainly 2020 has been a bummer for all of Planet Earth, but let’s go full provincial and assess how the good old USA handled the incessant turbulence and misery of the past year. I’m thinking — not all that well. Actually, we kind of sucked.
Well, not all of us. Certainly not those involved in Operation Warp Speed, the project charged with developing a vaccine for COVID-19. The OWS team was comprised of an array of government agencies and private companies, most notably many from the much-maligned pharmaceutical industry (oh, the irony). Almost miraculously, these public and private entities joined forces to achieve what virtually everyone — with the notable exception of a certain orange-coiffed leader of the free world — insisted was impossible: developing, testing and bringing to market a safe and effective vaccine for a deadly virus in 10 months time; an immunological achievement that heretofore has taken years to realize.
And then there are the first responders and medical professionals who have been tasked with treating the afflicted, soothing the suffering and comforting the dying. Certainly the performance of these folks in the face of this insidious health calamity has been nothing short of heroic. These two Herculean efforts are a welcome sign of hope that, despite the insistent prattle attempting to discredit it, American exceptionalism can be fully rejuvenated when our country’s back is against the wall.
Lamentably, the rest of us schmoes have, for the most part, confronted the COVID crisis with a variety of responses, many of them unattractive as well as ineffective at easing our shared pandemic burdens. Granted, at the outset of the virus, we did achieve a short lived spirit of unity as we eagerly joined forces to hoard all manner of household paper products, anti-bacterial solvents, wipes and lotions and virtually any substance generously labeled as groceries. (Note: Scurrying across a Costco parking lot pushing a shopping cart piled high with Mega Charmin is not a good look.) We also hoarded surgical masks, which many of us then incredibly refused to wear and continue to stubbornly eschew even now — most notably a certain orange-coiffed leader of the free world.
In our defense, the national file folder marked “Not Helpful” documents that we’ve been occasionally misled or misinformed by the public health establishment. Public health officials at the federal, state and local governments, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, have all issued various COVID “guidance,” which was sometimes contradictory or ultimately revised or reversed. Throughout it all, President Trump has demonstrated a one-step-up-two-steps-back approach to managing the crisis. Early in the pandemic, his coronavirus task force briefings served, for the most part, to (pick your favorite/s): bore, confuse, flummox, discourage, exasperate and/or enrage the citizenry. His subsequent approach to the crisis vacillated between indifference and annoyance. History will be the ultimate assessor of the president’s leadership during the pandemic, but it’s doubtful that future accounts of his efforts will include “empathy” and “sympathy” unless preceded by the words “devoid of.”
Not surprisingly, although most of us were surprised, our common COVID consternation very soon mutated into vehement political and cultural partisanship. Governmental public health response to COVID quickly proved a flashpoint for clamorous public debate on virtually every component of its game plan. The incessant COVID edicts and instructional chatter from the federal government, 50 state governments and countless local governments often resulted in a cacophony of confusion. Acrimony and resentment ensued, inducing people to respond in accordance with their preconceived views on the role of government at all levels. Uh oh. Another entry for the Not Helpful file: “The citizenry is disinclined to coalesce around pandemic protocols.”
Without question, COVID alone is more than sufficient to rank 2020 among the vilest years in U.S. history. But wait, there’s more — and a lot of it: A presidential impeachment/acquittal; a series of random, unrelated police shootings of unarmed Black men in several states that inspired mass social justice protests and riots in cities across the country; a COVID-ly weird presidential primary season and a presidential election highly disputed by the defeated incumbent. Any one of these issues could, in “normal” times, rank as the news story of the year. But they are little more than adjunctive news blurbs standing in the dark, COVID-cast shadows.
Year 2020 dealt us a bad hand. We played it as best we could but ultimately poorly. May 2021 deal us better cards that will be well played.
Brent Grimes writes (and eagerly awaits vaccination) from Damascus. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org