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A terrible year exits, the challenges of a new one begin

Collectively, the nation has never been happier to see a year done with than the year just passed — 2020.

Of course, even while the nation as a whole suffered through a pandemic, the accompanying economic damage, again confronted the ugliness of racial bias and watched a president put on trial in the Senate, there were personal milestones. Babies were born, anniversaries observed, soldiers returned home, seniors retired, toddlers took first steps, people fell in love.

Life went on. But it was not normal life.

Graduation ceremonies were canceled or conducted in memorable if odd fashion — graduates and families seated in cars or spread far apart in football stands. Weddings were postponed or dramatically downsized. Funerals featured only a few family members. And the list went on.

Tragically, awfully, the victims of COVID-19 usually died without loved ones nearby. It was too dangerous. Some got to say goodbyes via Zoom and facetime interactions, but not all.

The white-collar folk vacated their offices and worked from home, reminded at virtual Zoom meetings to turn on their mic — or leave it off if the kids, home for their own remote learning, were making a racket in the background.

Bars and restaurants, even casinos, closed. Entertainment ceased, except for what we could stream into our living rooms. Domestic violence, opioid abuse and suicides rose with the increased, suffocating isolation.

It was an awful year, 2020.

Essential workers kept making sure we had food and the products we needed. The dedication of health care professionals was never more appreciated, their courage never more evident.

The nation had bad years before. Those still living experienced some of them. The Great Depression brought a series of them, but those who lived through those days are dwindling with each passing day.

In 1941 and again in 2001 the U.S. was shocked by surprise attacks. The first, by Japan naval forces, brought the country into World War II as 1942 dawned. The second, with Islamic terrorists using passenger airliners as missiles, killed about 3,000 civilians and begat the war on terror, which continues two decades later.

But, in both instances, the United States was a nation unified in purpose. That was not the case in confronting the pandemic of 2020.

Instead, the political fractures that divided the country played out in its response, or lack of it. From the political right, gubernatorial executive orders to shutdown commerce to discourage the viral spread were attacked as impingements on liberty. Republican governors were often reluctant to shut down commerce at all and, if they did, more likely to open prematurely, allowing the virus to reignite.

Ignoring the science, anti-maskers decried mandates to wear their masks in public as yet another attack on personal freedom, rather than seeing mask-wearing as a small self-sacrifice to protect others.

We remain convinced that had President Donald Trump tried to rally the nation, if he squarely supported the governors in their efforts to control the disease and called for Americans to accept sustained shutdowns and universal mask-wearing as acts of patriotism, the viral spread could have been significantly curtailed and tens of thousands of lives saved. It would have left states better positioned to partially reopen their economies.

With better crisis leadership, Trump may well have won reelection.

Instead, the number of documented COVID-19 cases approached 20 million and related deaths surpassed 340,000 as the year ended.

But this is a new year, bringing new hope, but hope that should be tempered by reality.

Vaccines that showed promising success in preventing COVID-19 in clinical trials are being distributed, but the rollout has been disappointingly slow. Meanwhile, the country confronts a reportedly faster-spreading mutation of the coronavirus that causes the disease.

The economic damage has been profound, masked to a degree by a series of federal relief bills. But to avoid depression, Congress has amassed deficits not seen since the last world war.

Politically, the divide has only grown deeper. President Trump recklessly, and without evidence, has led his supporters to believe President-elect Joe Biden won fraudulently. He absolutely did not.

The challenges confronting the new Biden administration — and Americans collectively — remain immense. Yet the nation has the chance to make 2021, if not a great year, at least a year of recovery. But we won’t say it has to be better than 2020. That it could not possibly be worse. No, that would be tempting fate.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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