Like Charlie Brown being duped into trying to kick a football only to have Lucy take it away every time, I approach January with the optimism that it will herald a much better year than 2020. This past year was so astonishingly awful, 2021 has got to be better. Then again, such sentiments might have prevailed at the beginning of the second year of the Thirty Years’ War, so humility and wariness of Lucy are in order.
So let’s think about everything we want to be new or improved in 2021.
As this article is being written, new unemployment claims are once again rising. In a normal year, businesses hire lots of extra people to handle the holiday increases in business in the retail, delivery, and mall Santa industries. We’re going in the opposite direction as December kicks off. It wasn’t too long ago when a study found that most Americans could not handle a $400 emergency; and then in 2020 they lost their jobs or had their hours cut back drastically, and some of them had hideous new health care costs when a loved one caught Covid-19. That pain isn’t going to go away until Americans finally get serious about fighting the pandemic. Speaking of which . . .
Barely a week goes by now without promising new vaccine news, and some of the news is even better than had been hoped. Early projections for vaccine effectiveness were in the range of 50 percent. But at least two major vaccines went through their late trial stages and announced efficacy rates around 95 percent, and more vaccines are reaching the end of their trials.
With efficacy rates that high, it greatly expands the likelihood that the coronavirus plague can be tamped down to a rotten disease that won’t require the shutdown of society. Children can return to schools, houses of worship can welcome their flocks, and you will have no excuse to avoid that smothering embrace and kiss from Aunt Edith.
Whenever we discuss the elected leader of the oldest ongoing democracy on the planet, it is important that we remember that the current president is a fan of a Houston physician who believes that doctors use alien DNA in experiments and that women get sick as a result of having sex with demons while they sleep.
On Jan. 20, Joe Biden will become our 46th president. The cabinet he is assembling is chock full of smart, competent people, refreshingly none of whom has a connection to white supremacist movements.
President Biden is the reason I’m Charlie Browning about 2021. In traditional, boring, fact-based reality politics, elected officials confront problems and try to come up with solutions to them. Germany’s Angela Merkel is the epitome of this type of leader. Just by having competent people around him and actually trying to work for the common good, Biden will be able to get things going in the right direction again. He’s not a virologist, but a good part of my optimism comes from the fact that when it comes to making recommendations about how to deal with the pandemic, President Biden will not be consulting the My Pillow guy.
Here in San Francisco, we’re reliving the 1970s, and not in an acid-flashback sort of way. We’re seeing some crimes go down, others skyrocket, growing police-resident distrust, and a light-on-crime approach that will create its own backlash at the ballot box.
The optimist in me — Lucy won’t really pull away the ball every time, will she? — would like to see us strike a balance in our approaches to fighting crime and to punishing perpetrators. California is a binge state, swinging between three-strikes harshness and bleeding-heart permissiveness. Each creates its own overreaction. I would like to see more reason and less emotion in this debate (and in policy) in 2020. It’s unlikely, but Charlie Brown likes football.
I periodically receive press release emails from a local politician that are fringe-adjacent enough that Trump would probably retweet them. One recent email claimed that left-wing groups like Black Lives Matter and Antifa were planning to come into San Francisco and cause violence. Such an occurrence did not take place, shocking no one.
That’s because for the majority of Americans who aren’t getting their “news” from low-rent conspiracy outlets, the idea that Black lives should be taken seriously is readily accepted. One doesn’t have to agree with all of the lefty ideas espoused by the founders of the BLM movement to believe that we should create a society that is as just as possible. In fact, that’s a central idea to most major religions and secular philosophies.
In 2020, this will be an interesting issue to observe. Too many people on the far Left only talk to other people on the far Left, so they don’t know how to communicate with people who haven’t drunk the same ideological Kool-aid. It’s the same problem the Left has complained about for years on the Right.
The longer-term question about whether the center can reestablish itself in this country is still open. But hey, looky here: This country just voted into office for the first time ever a female vice president of Black and Indian descent. Married to a Jewish man. And only its second Roman Catholic president. Just as the election of Barack Obama didn’t send the bigots scuttling toward their caves, the election of Kamala Harris won’t solve our race problems, either. But it shows that for many tens of millions of people, race and ethnicity is not an impediment to being taken seriously as our leader.
Several years ago, a conservative intellectual named Tom Nichols wrote a book called The Death of Expertise. He complained about the way people ignore the real experts and instead rely on people who were objectively nonexperts or even just on their own internet “research.” That some people should not trust their own judgment should go without saying, but it doesn’t.
Nichols recounted the story of a Washington Post map showing the area from the Caspian Sea all the way to the Pacific Ocean. “It’s all covered with pink dots, from Australia to Azerbaijan up to Siberia,” Nichols said. “Every pink dot represented the guess of an adult American respondent about where North Korea is. . . . What struck me was how many people got it on the Korean peninsula, had a 50/50 chance of putting it on the north side of a line, and got it wrong. And it’s in the name: North Korea.”
Well, those people are still allowed to vote, to drive, to comment on Facebook, to share Twitter outrages, and all around bring down the quality of any conversation they’re in. I would like to nominate them as the poster children of 2020. This was the year in which millions of people believed that the coronavirus was a hoax (even as hospitals filled to overflowing with Covid-19 patients), or that Democrats somehow rigged the presidential election (but apparently forgot to rig the votes for those House and Senate races they needed — how embarrassing!).
The big social media companies Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter finally, belatedly began annotating some of the worst of the lies and misinformation or even banning people who shared them. They still haven’t come to grips with their role as enablers of the death of expertise and the rise of mass manipulation via social media, but one hopes this is the first step of a long walk to maturity they are beginning.
We will still be challenged in 2021 by many of the things that confronted us in 2020, but there is reason to hope that better leadership from above and wiser choices from below will result in a much better year all around.
Tee it up, Lucy.