Beat it, 2020. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Actually, do let it hit you. Hard.
Has any year, ever, been as awful as you? You are a corpulent pustule upon history’s calendar. No, that’s too kind. You are the Martin Shkreli of years.
Your special miseries spared no corner of the planet. A pandemic sweeps the world, killing some 1.8 million people so far, pitching many millions more into seas of grief, while denying them hugs and last words of love. Here, in the richest country on earth, we’ve lost at least 339,000 souls — and more will perish, thanks to the negligence of the federal government, flagrant disregard by the president, and the short-sightedness of the many somehow inspired by his preening masklessness.
In your last days, millions more are going hungry, and unhoused, as jobs evaporate and bread lines lengthen. One party’s leaders are determined to do as little as they can get away with when it comes to easing the pain. And as you showed, you sly cur of a year, they can get away with doing very little, indeed.
Kids have lost months of schooling, parents have lost sleep, and a good third of the country has fled reality for an ugly, heavily fortified fantasy world where facts and science cannot penetrate.
George Floyd was but the latest in a long list of men and women killed by police officers in this country, but his was finally one death too many, and so Black Americans and others who care rose up against brutality across the country. And some police proved the protesters’ case, treating them with the very brutality that brought them into the streets in the first place. The GOP piled salt into the great wounds exposed on those streets, and used Black pain and the specter of Black anger to make millions of Republican voters more afraid, and so more reliable.
Though, to be fair, the injustice laid bare in the summer was always there, accumulating over the hundreds of years that came before you — years many Americans thought of as good ones, blind as they were to the pain that filled those years for others. Black citizens were killed by police before this summer, and they are being killed still, just because they are Black. We’ve barely begun our reckoning with that.
For millions of unlucky Americans, and tens of millions around the world, the worst year ever has been a year like any other. Still, you managed to stand out, didn’t you, 2020? Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Lewis? Chadwick Boseman and John Prine? Every year takes heroes from this world, but cruel timing and surprise made this year’s losses hurt more.
You hit us with a double-whammy: Enormous crises, plus threats to the institutions that are supposed to protect us from them. Democracy continued its retreat around the world and faded further in this country, which is supposed to be its paragon. We see it falling away even now, as we approach your last day, as many Republicans still refuse to accept the results of a free election, afraid to cross an unhinged president and his enablers, even when they talk of martial law.
We cried uncle months ago, but you kept going. That late-breaking news of the massive and ongoing cyberattack on our government and corporations was a nice touch. More Russian fun, experts think — though not Trump, Putin’s most reliable apologist. They got into the digital innards of the Department of Energy, which oversees the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, and the Treasury, among thousands of other agencies and companies. Well, it’ll probably be fine!
Sure, you’ll end on Dec. 31, but we both know you’re not really going anywhere. Switching that zero for a one at midnight will be the equivalent of trying to disguise yourself with a fake mustache. You’ll still be with us, like some tin pot autocrat clinging to the Resolute desk.
You’ll still be with us, because you are us. And we’ll all be here on New Year’s Day.
The horrible things that happened this year, the things we’d like to leave behind, will still define us in January, and beyond. There is hope in the coronavirus vaccine, but yet more months of death and suffering and hardship lie between here and back-to-normal. Those who abandoned democracy, and reality, will be sticking around, even though we will have a new president who talks of healing. Those who refuse to reckon with the injustice the summer made undeniable aren’t going anywhere. The debts to our children and deficits of decency we racked up this year will keep building in the next.
Unless more of us resolve to do something about them.
There is no magic in the flip of a calendar page. Our decisions determine what 2021 will be. Next year can only be better if we make it so.