REFLECTIONS ON THE YEAR 2020
Today is Thursday, December 31, 2020, the last day of the year, and what it year it was. I for one plan to stay up until midnight tonight not so much to see the new year in as the see the old year out. I am sure we can all agree to shout good bye and good riddance to 2020. I can honestly say it was the worst year of the seventy-seven I have been granted so far. Yet, if you are reading this, you survived. I survived. All is not lost, far from it. Our lives have changed, but not all for the worse, not by a long shot.
The opening paragraph of Charles Dickens's classic A Tale of Two Cities is one of my favorite passages of literature: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." He was referring to the pre-French Revolutionary age. I think we can use that for 2020. It was definitely bad but it was also good. Let's start with the good.
In thinking of the good in the last year, three things jump into my mind right away. First and foremost is the arrival of vaccines against the coronavirus. In record time, several pharmaceutical companies produced vaccines for public use. This was a miracle of modern science and technology. Within the next few months, vaccines will be available to the general population. With this, the pandemic will decline and life can soon get back to "normal" whatever that may be.
The second good thing may be the most important in the long run. Faced with its greatest challenge to its integrity since the Civil War, the American constitutional democratic republic held the line. Pushed by a president who knew no bounds of law and order, the old institutions of law and order prevailed as record numbers of Americans went to the polls to reaffirm their devotion to our democratic republic. They loudly and decisively rejected a would-be autocrat and defeated his attempted coup d'état.
The year also saw a third movement that we should not forget, the re-awakening of racial justice. Following the police killings of several black people, countless thousands of ordinary American citizens in virtually every city and town spontaneously took to the streets to demand justice and equality for all people regardless of race. Along with the election, this was another way the people arose to reaffirm the basic principles of democracy in America.
Now for the bad in 2020. Here, obviously stands first the pandemic of the coronavirus, or COVID-19. This was the worst public health crisis since the great Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19. Then, 600,000 American died along with millions more around the world. In spite of the enormous progress of modern medicine, we are on track to equal this. Accord to Worldometers, as of today, 1,815,389 people in the world have died of covid. Of these, 350,845 were Americans. The U.S. has been since the first the center of this pandemic. While the U.S. has 4% of the world's population, it reported 24% of the world's cases and 19% of the world's deaths. This reflects the lack of national response to the plague. While many others countries successfully quelled the spread, the U.S. did not. In fact, the Trump administration lurched between denial, indifference, and malevolence. Worst of all, they made the pandemic into a political issue in an election year. In my view, President Trump will go down in history for two colossal moral failures, the separation of children from their parents at the border and the handling of the covid pandemic.
With the pandemic, we must consider many after effects of the health emergency. Millions of Americans lost their jobs. Unemployment is twice what it was before the pandemic. Thousands of businesses have closed. Eight million Americans slipped below the poverty line. Millions face hunger and residential evictions.
While we see that democracy held in America, the other side of that shows us that there was a very strong and residual movement in 2020 to overthrow the democratic republic. President Trump pushed the boundaries of power as far as he could. After the election, which was clear-cut against him, he tried to overturn the legal and legitimate result and keep himself in power. He failed but only because the courts blocked him. Even in view of four years of anti-democratic behavior, nearly half of the American voters (47%) voted for Trump which meant they voted for an overthrow of democracy. This is beyond shocking. And, the most disturbing point of this was the racial element. Some 60% of the whites voted for Trump while over 80% of blacks voted against him. We now have a country that is even more racially divided than it has been, at least since the 1960's. This is the legacy of Donald Trump who ran his whole campaign on racial fear.
Now that we have considered the good and the bad of 2020, we can ask ourselves: Was 2020 the worst year ever? The answer to that depends on our criteria of evaluation. These would have to rest on the measures of death and destruction as well as the trajectories into the future. I see the year 1940 as the worst, at least in modern history. It was in that year that Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy secured control of continental Europe with every hope and expectation of indefinite domination. France fell in June after only six weeks of fighting. This left only Great Britain at war with Hitler. He was planning and preparing an invasion of Britain and the British were getting ready for it. To "soften up" the British, he launched The Battle of Britain, day after day of devastating bombing raids. Britain fell on its knees, literally and figuratively. To save themselves, the British relied on their control of the seas. The Americans were "neutralized" in Neutrality Acts, much to President Roosevelt's chagrin. The Russians were not neutral, they were actually friends of Hitler having agreed in their Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 to divide up Poland. In 1940, the Soviets took over the three Baltic states. Stalin was confident he would live peacefully with Hitler. So, as 1940 came to a close, there was every reason to believe Germany, Italy, and Japan would prevail as the new world dominant powers. If they had, the world would be a profoundly different place than it is now. So, 1940 gets my vote as the worst year in recent history.
Is the COVID-19 pandemic the worst plague in history? Not by a long shot. It is no where near as devastating as the Black Death of the Fourteenth Century when some 25 million people, a third of the population of Europe, died. Survivors at the time commonly considered this to be the end of the world. It was indeed the end of the word that they knew.
Is President Trump the worst president in American history? He gets my vote. There is a long list of wrong doing but we have to look no farther than his behavior after the election to prove the point. He tried to overthrow our democratic institutions. No president had ever tried to do such a thing.
So, who should be our Person(s) of the Year for 2020? Who are our outstanding heroes who helped us get through the nightmare of 2020? My vote goes to Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx. Even under death threats, they never failed to tell us the truth, guide us on best response, and to give us hope for a better day. In my view, they are our national treasures of 2020. They were our guiding lights as we groped our way through the dark tunnel of the pandemic. They are my heroes of the hour.
As a student of history, I like to consider the big picture and try to make sense of where we are in time. Here is my view of this. We Americans are living in a moment of clash between forces of revolutionary change and forces of resistance. The Twentieth Century gave us two big legacies: that the government is responsible for the welfare of the people and that evolving democracy is the best political system. Starting in the 1950's, American began moving toward effectuating these two guiding principles. Blacks, women, homosexuals and many other maginalized/ignored social elements found the benefits of this Great Democratic Revolution. However, the traditional power structure, the white man, arose to resist this revolution which would displace him from control of the various power structures of America. Donald Trump became the pinnacle of the white man's backlash to the evolving multi-cultural democracy in America. He was more than a dog whistle to white racists. He brought together the elements of anti-democratic resistance. He came close, but ultimately failed to stop the GDR. Democracy won but just barely and there will remain a very strong anti-democratic resistance for the foreseeable future. I expect this resistance actually to strengthen as it becomes clearer and clearer that white people will become a minority of American society. Demographic trends show this happen within a generation whether white people like it or not. White people have shown they will not "surrender" "their" country easily to the non-whites. I suspect there is much more trouble and violence ahead on this front. Trump did not cause racism in America. He was just the most recent politician to capitalize on it and just because he failed we cannot say the problem has gone away. Not at all. Racism is the original sin of America and until we come to terms with it we will continue to be dangerously divided as a nation.
Finally, what about the schism in South Carolina? What did the year 2020 mean for that? The former members of the Diocese of South Carolina who left the Episcopal Church started a legal war almost eight years ago when they sued the Episcopal Church for possession of the property they knew belonged to the Church under church law. Along the way in the last eight years, the state courts have been on both sides. The SC supreme court ruled for the Episcopal Church but before and after that the local circuit courts ruled in favor of the breakaways. We are now awaiting a judgment of the SCSC. The basic issue there is whether the justices will uphold the SCSC decision of 2017 or overturn it. Unlike the state courts, the federal courts have been clear on the side of the Episcopal Church. The federal district judge in Charleston recognized TEC as hierarchical and the Episcopal diocese as the one and only legal heir of the old diocese. His decision is on appeal with the U.S. appeals court. There is little chance the appeals court will change anything. So, after eight years and at least ten million dollars, we still do not have resolution of the legal war. However, we are much closer now than ever and I expect there is a very good chance both state and federal courts will issue final judgments in the year 2021. Even if they do, this may not be the end of the story as the breakaways have proven clearly that they will deny, delay, and sue until there is absolutely no possibility of legal action left. So, alas, even if the courts rule in 2021 that may not be the end of the sad history of the schism.
My best wishes to you and yours as we move into a new year. A new day is coming. It has to be better that what we are leaving behind. I am confident it will be. At any rate, remember we are here for the living of this hour, with whatever that may entail. Peace.