If you have ever survived a natural disaster then you are sure to treat the next impending event with utmost respect and caution. There are many of us who have survived fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, even volcanoes. Almost none of us has survived a pandemic though, as the last one occurred 100 years ago. America in its naive youth as a nation has scarcely enough wars under its belt to be considered a veteran of global conflict let alone a fountainhead of history and wisdom. At the beginning of the 20th century America is among the world superpowers and highly influential in economic, military and cultural appeal. An immediate side effect of this influence is an entitled arrogance of our citizens to not only consider themselves among our world’s elite, but even going so far as to believe that our opinions and behavior ranks above that of others. This phenomenon is exaggerated in the current atmosphere of political polarization, pitting conservative elites against liberals. 2020 provided the perfect storm for Americans to view their culture in the mirror and it has seldom appeared more ugly in recent years.
Time, unlike human experience, has no memory. It marches forward in its own measured regularity with staid indifference to the events of organisms or even geological processes. When we refer to a year as a “good year” or a “bad year” this is our emotional response to things that affected us as beings with memories. Time does not have a memory, 2019, 2020, 2021 are just equal spans measured by celestial movements. To humanity, 2020 will most certainly be remembered as a bad year.
Election years have long been known to bring out the worst in both sides; democracy can be a sloppy process. Recent years have seen the country politically divided on different terms as the battlefield has expanded from mass media to new sources available through social media and global information networks. Reinforcement has expanded beyond simple group socialization and identification to clandestine affirmation through anonymous online groups and secretive cells of conspiracy theorist supporters. Naturally, along with political division, Covid-19 found fertile ground for these same battles to be drawn as well. The pandemic itself became fodder for the same type of outrage and disbelief that accompanies political siding. The primary difference being that viruses don’t abide to political differences or opinions. They have one goal: survival at our expense.
The stage was set in the winter of 2019, news from China and Eastern Europe forbode the coming of a global pandemic that could potentially infect thousands if not millions. Very few took the initial warnings seriously, least of whom was U.S. President Donald Trump, fresh off an acquittal and focused on the upcoming election year. The west scoffed at the warnings as cases began to increase in Wuhan, then across Europe. By February entire cities in Asia were reporting total lockdown with many European countries considering the same measures. The U.S. remained skeptical and the President vowed to keep the country open as he criticized China’s efforts to contain the growing contagion. By the time March arrived it was clear that it was no ruse as cities throughout Asia and much of Europe announced lockdown orders with tens of thousands of reported cases and mounting deaths. Still, most states in America flouted these measures with many even expressing resent at the notion of the economic impact shutting down businesses and other forms of commerce would have. President Trump echoed this opinion and mocked those who believed that measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing could slow the spread of the virus and allow for a more swift recovery. The results of American opinion on the surging epidemic, now identified as the Coronavirus, could be as evenly predicted as that of political opinion. Liberals were more likely to take it more seriously while conservatives were more likely to ignore the warnings. The virus had now been politicized and there was no going back.
By Memorial Day, the United States was desperately straddling the balance of maintaining ordinary business practices and imposing lockdown orders in order to slow the spread of the virus. Most public schools and universities had already been forced to close their doors and conduct the rest of the semester through distance learning. With summer on the horizon antsy parents and starving businesses were filled with anxiety. This meant nothing to the pandemic. America now possessed the fastest growing rate of confirmed cases and was also approaching the same for fatalities. Despite the grim daily statistics the need for distraction only seemed to increase and professional sports leagues resumed their schedules, albeit in isolated locations with strict measures for controlling exposure. From the beginning of the summer season to the July 4th holiday reports and images on social media documented large groups of social gatherings, many of which resulted in elevated exposure rates and state to state explosions in tests with confirmed cases.
Was the “first wave” of this pandemic over? Experts warned that it was not. White House Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, repeatedly warned about the hazards of letting up on efforts to contain the spread of the virus. Unfortunately his recommendations were constantly met with denial or falsehoods, often propagated by the President himself. Donald Trump repeatedly made appearances at campaign rallies with little or no face protection and denied requiring his followers to do so either. Then, in October, Donald and Melania Trump were diagnosed with Covid-19. Summer was over, treatment for the pandemic was still months away, and the most dubious public official in the country now had the virus that he had continued to regard in an almost flippant manner. The U.S. election was also a month away.
A Fitting End?
As autumn began in the northern hemisphere, countries and communities emerged from conditions that varied from isolation to devastation. 2020 was so far a year of not only the global pandemic, but of record hurricanes, typhoons and wildfires. Many of the western states in the U.S. were still burning from the largest fires in their histories. The east and gulf coast had seen the highest recorded number of tropical storms and were still counting. And the U.S. was thoroughly locked in as the country with the highest exposure and death rate in the world for Covid-19. Several states ranked 2nd and 3rd below America itself and above any other foreign countries. The administration and leadership of the country had failed at educating and slowing the spread, additionally the discord that had been generated through social media and direct criticism of Dr. Fauci’s instructions continued to deepen the divide of public trust in government institutions and healthcare officials. This was truly a crisis that was set to only worsen in following months. With the flu season looming and the holidays approaching, how would the public be convinced to practice safe methods for slowing the spread of Covid?
The elections came and went and did little to assuage anxiety over the pandemic or the situation of American leadership. Unlike normal elections, the results would take weeks to tally and politically polarized citizens would take to the streets day after day to propagate their opinions on the results, election process and what it meant. After more than a week of waiting, it was announced that Joe Biden would become the 46th President elect of the United States of America. He will inherit the responsibility of reigning in a 100 year pandemic and nearly unprecedented financial, bureaucratic and public insecurity. With a vaccine finally scheduled for release, the world faces it’s second wave of the virus and a most certain treacherous winter.
2020 is lurching towards a welcome conclusion. It has no doubt changed the lives of millions, and history, in ways never imagined. However, this is far from the end of the pandemic. In fact, it is just getting started. The long winter months and current attitude of doubt are sure to result in spikes in major population centers as people disregard public warnings and defy common sense. Additionally, the promise of a vaccine offers false hope to many who will not be eligible to receive it until late spring or summer of the next year. Unlike the pandemics of the past, the 21st century will treat this event differently. Polio was a deadly and cruel affliction that resulted in its treatment being offered for free. Public compassion saw that so many were affected for the rest of their lives by its crippling effects that governments saw fit to see to it that no other generations would suffer the degenerative disease. Today’s modern societies, particularly in the west, are driven by money and power. Lives are indeed disposable and valued more highly in this pernicious system of materialism. 2021 will bring little relief other than it will not read the same on a calendar. America and the world will once again suffer the collective fate that their societies have chosen to steer themselves towards. There is no reason that the next year of the pandemic will be any less painful than the past year.
Take pride United States of America, you are #1 and truly deserved it!