Before talking about the epochal potentials of the fresh start year of 2021, there are few things that need to be recalled about 2020 to offset the almost unanimous sentiment that it was the worst year ever. Yes, it featured yet one more year of the worst president in U.S. history, and it featured the worst pandemic in at least a century that will claim, before it is done, almost as many U.S. citizen lives as were lost in the Civil War. Then there were all the collateral woes coming from the necessary shutting down of the economy, the mental health consequences for families forced to suffer way too much time in close quarters and at-home-only learning for the young.
None of these things should be taken lightly to be sure, but 2020 also provided three uncommon longer-term causes for hope and optimism about our species, our culture and democratic institutions.
The first was the fact that a number of effective vaccines were developed in a truly-lightening-fast manner. Consider that still, after 40 years (since the deadly HIV virus was first manifested in 1981), there is still no vaccine for the virus that causes AIDS. We are now taking it for granted that we have numerous variants of life saving vaccines that will protect the vast majority of humanity from this latest worst-case-scenario (as in airborne) deadly virus. But alas, everybody is focusing attention on difficulties getting them distributed fast enough. One would think that there would be such overwhelming gratitude that our scientists have, so almost miraculously, brought us these species-saving vaccines that folks would be toning down their griping that they’re not all getting it sooner.
The second was the steadfast commitment of most dominant cultures of the world to defend first the most vulnerable among us, and not just toss them out as useless. This has also been taken for granted, but is far from an automatic. There has been almost no objection that even with scarcity of supplies and treatments, society’s most vulnerable citizens should be at the head of the line for the best treatments possible. Only when there were simply not enough supplies did the ultimate horrors of triage arise as a potential recourse, not as an abandonment of the vulnerable, but as choices among them, The cruel policy of withholding treatment in favor of advancing a “herd immunity,” was tried only in Sweden in the early days of the pandemic, and when it was realized how this was singling out the elderly to die first was it abandoned as a very bad idea.
The third was the gargantuan achievement of the population unseating a sitting president determined to hold onto his office by any means. It was no easy achievement, indeed, and it included holding control of the House and taking control of the Senate. It cannot be overstated how difficult and monumental an achievement this was.