Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, and with it comes the inevitable comments about the coming year. This year is no exception, and I have already encountered my fair share of posts about how 2021 will be a better year- “after all how could it get worse.” I, like so many others have been touched deeply during the events of 2020 (though in my mind less harshly than many). As I sit and reflect on the year that was, I, along with so many others, long for less stress in the coming year. And though I try not to be overly pessimistic on this blog, I am left wondering why would 2021 be any better?
Some will tell me that because Mr. Trump is no longer president our country will heal. More point out the economy is recovering and that will make things better, and most look to the reality of COVID vaccines and how the pandemic will soon be waning. Except none of these is entirely accurate. Our country has done nothing to heal the political or racial divides which plagued us in 2020; while the stock market is recovering that is not the same as a robust economy with numerous well-paying jobs; and even though COVID vaccines have reached distribution, experts warn other potential pandemic are just on the horizon. In other words, the issues which made 2020 so stressful for so many are still real factors in our society, and so long as that is the case 2020 is always a potential reality.
In one of my earliest posts on the pandemic I said, “We have the opportunity to re-evaluate our society and to address issues in its foundation.” [here]. As I wrote those words I had no idea the level of civil unrest we would witness in the coming months. Now, publishing this nine months to the day since I wrote those words I feel sadly prophetic. We have seen the cracks in the foundations of our society and the cracks have expanded. As I write this, my mind keeps turning to the loss of life which has impacted my community recently. I take time to think of health care workers overwhelmed by the medical need (almost 50% of the beds in our local hospital are filled with COVID patients). I said in March that we have an opportunity to correct our flaws. We have an opportunity to create a better society, one where children can feel safe on the streets, where neighbors look out for one another, companies build on employees not money. We have had the opportunity work on building this society for nine months and have failed.
For nine months I have heard people complain about wanting to return to the society which triggered the pandemic- “I can’t wait to get back to normal.”. My entire life I have heard people complain about the fact that communities do not care for one another the way they did when my grandparents were kids; yet when given the chance to create a caring community we have said no thanks. We have witnessed the rise of civil unrest and we have poured gasoline on the fire, rather than seeking to bring healing. Now that a vaccine is on the way, now that we have a new political regime, we have, in large degree missed our shot for real change. We will skate along until the vaccine eliminates the threat to our lifestyle (probably grumbling and complaining); then historians will write about how civilization weathered the storm. But the reality is we could have not simply weathered the storm, our communities could have learned from the storm and been reinforced for the next one.
Where is the change which will prevent 2020 from happening again? Even if we can blame President Trump for the mess in Washington and the civil unrest, what has changed to prevent another (worse) president from ascending to the White House? What steps have been taken to prevent a second pandemic? How has America’s economic footing changed so that we are not choosing between human lives and dollars?
Obviously, nothing has changed. Professional athletes are tested for COVID far more than health care workers. Employers have laid off tens of thousands. The travel and urban sprawl which hastened the pandemic continue. The political radicals (on both sides of the aisle) have not changed and are not likely to change. (Not to mention the environmental issues which produced the Australian wildfires which lead to the toilet paper shortage). The racial issues which sparked such tension over the summer have not been healed. Even the Church is not immune, with Joel Osteen taking a government loan instead of doing the right things and giving up some of his wealth. In other words, none of the cracks in the societal foundation which lead to 2020 have been addressed.
Time will eventually paint over these cracks with a thin veneer and it is possible they never open at once as they did this year, but the cracks remain. We still have the potential to see the chaos and destruction of another year like this one. We can address the cracks in the foundation to make this society thrive, but it will be difficult now that we lack any immediate threat; we will grow comfortable as things “return to normal”.I know that I have been extremely pessimistic, but I want people to recognize we need to change our society and we need to do it soon. The Band-aids we are using to cover up the wounds are not working, we need real healing. We need to begin working to find real answers. This begins with listening to true experts, criticizing those we support and not our opponents, helping our neighbors, holding the wealthy and elite to high standards in helping the poor, listening to people who have different opinions instead of trying to correct them, and simply showing genuine concern for others. These are hard steps , they will require dedicated effort; but the end is a society which will see many happy new year’s.