I’m not a Debbie Downer. Far from it. I’m usually an optimist who pushes for hope in the most dire of circumstances. However, when I hear friends talk about how the new year and Joe Biden’s presidency will answer our collective prayers and cleanse our collective palate from 2020’s unrelenting onslaught of pain and misery, I can’t help but feel skeptical.
“What makes you think 2021 will be any better?” I ask them.
Like many, I would love an instant catharsis, a release from this enduring tragedy. I want us all to be able to interact without wearing masks, to hug our loved ones and to sleep peacefully knowing a president isn’t rage-tweeting while watching Fox News. But despite all the talk about how bad this year has been, life will not return to normal at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Chaos and crises don’t follow a calendar. Most of the underlying problems and challenges that made 2020 feel like a horror story will roll along with us into the new year.
It’s true that 2020 was unusually bad, right from the start. It began with the eruption of the Taal Volcano in the Philippines that temporarily forced more than 135,000 people into shelters. We also learned about the worst outbreak of desert locusts in 70 years in Kenya, with hundreds of millions of locusts swarming the country. To cap off the month of January, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the coronavirus a global health emergency.
Since then, more than 300,000 Americans have died, more deaths than in any other nation. The United States is the pity of the world, recently recording its most Covid-19 deaths in a week, and state governors have warned of overwhelmed hospitals.
We had the most named storms of any year on record, and devastating fires burned over four million acres in my home state, California. I haven’t even talked about all the floods and earthquakes. We lost precious time to combat climate change, while President Trump dismissed it as a “hoax.”
We lost Kobe Bryant, Chadwick Boseman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sean Connery and Alex Trebek.
It’s obvious that we’ll say goodbye to more beloved public figures in 2021 — that’s the cycle of life. But, all of the other problems and fissures that made 2020 tough will remain and deepen, too.
Our country’s disregard for basic precautions against the transmission of the coronavirus, and Mr. Trump’s failure to lead, could result in some 502,000 Covid-19 deaths by April 1, according to a projection from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. We have to keep social distancing and wearing masks but also continue aggressively educating a misinformed population about the enduring risks of the coronavirus.
Thanks in part to disinformation that circulates on Facebook and Twitter, vaccine hesitancy, which is a top-10 global health threat according to the W.H.O., is on the rise. Even if a coronavirus vaccine is made available to all, we’ll have to convince people to get it — even those who flout social distancing, insist the virus threat isn’t real and believe that the vaccine is created by Bill Gates and the “deep state” as a means of mind control.
Jan. 1 will officially usher in the new year, and along with it a potential wave of evictions across the country if the moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is lifted. Billionaires have gotten richer, but gross domestic product growth is expected to slow significantly in the first quarter of 2021. Where will Americans who don’t have homes, savings, daily wages or health insurance go during the middle of a pandemic? Elementary school students who were forced to study remotely earlier this year lost the equivalent of some three months’ progress in math and fell a month and a half behind historical averages in reading, according to a report from McKinsey & Company.
Republicans will do what they can to limit a Biden agenda, and the Republican-controlled Senate has held a relief package hostage.
Instead of helping Americans, many Republicans are promoting lies about election fraud to stroke the ego of a narcissist vulgarian who is riling his base to the tune of millions. A Reuters/Ipsos poll last month found that nearly 70 percent of Republicans say the election was rigged.
If we want 2021 to be better, we will have to make it better ourselves.
One way to start: elect Democrats in Georgia’s two Senate runoffs on Jan. 5. Those seats will ensure that Democrats regain control of the Senate, allowing them to give relief to millions of Americans, and protect democracy and the rule of law.
The rest of us must confront the brutal realities head-on. Let’s resolve to be patient and steadfast. Let’s resolve to spend 2021 fighting for science, facts, democracy and compassion and repairing all that was lost in 2020. After a full year of that, maybe — just maybe — 2022 will be better.
Mr. Ali is a contributing Opinion writer who regularly covers family, religion and politics.
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