The year 2020 has been called many things, but the name that will stick is probably “The Plague Year.” Most of us are happy just to call it “History.”
Still, a few good things happened in 2020. Let’s note three of them before we say goodbye, forever, to 2020. They may provide reasons for hope as we move into 2021:
First: It was a 150-year struggle, but in 2020 we may finally have put an end to the so-called Confederate States of America. I grew up in the South. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were heroes on the same plane with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Every town in some way memorialized its Confederate dead. Schools and streets were named after the heroes of the Old South, and statues were erected.
The public murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, may have been the tipping point that nudged our national understanding of these “heroes” in the right direction. They may have been brave and determined, but their “Lost Cause” was a devotion to white supremacy so powerful that it drove them to disloyalty to America.
This struggle isn’t entirely over. A statue honoring Confederate soldiers still stands, amid considerable controversy, in a prominent place on the courthouse square in my Texas hometown. And in December, President Donald Trump vetoed the defense spending bill, in part because it makes provisions for renaming the 10 military bases currently named to honor Confederate soldiers.
But the tide has turned on the Confederacy: Congress overturned Trump’s veto of the defense spending bill. After 2020, no military base, school or street is likely to be named ever again after Confederates. And we’re certainly done erecting new statues in their honor.
Second: Pandemic 2020 is the catastrophe that gave 2020 a bad name. Searching for a silver lining is an unlikely undertaking.
Some optimists might say that facing this crisis united our nation: “We’re all in this together.” Until we’re not. Many citizens observed the essential health guidance diligently, but many others did not. Some dismissed the pandemic as a hoax from the beginning, and others minimized it. We began to claim “pandemic fatigue,” as though it were a real disorder as opposed to just getting tired of doing the right thing. When Thanksgiving and Christmas came around, we wanted to travel; so we traveled, including some of our most prominent politicians and health experts, who decided not to be “in this together” with the rest of us.
Our national response to the pandemic hasn’t been much to be proud of. Did anything good come from it?
In college I was an English major, which means spending a lot of time reading stories, poems and novels built around this pervasive theme: “Memento mori," Latin for “Remember that you will die.”
Supposedly the term derives from the ancient Romans. When a triumphant general paraded through the streets basking in the glories of victory, the Romans positioned a servant behind him to whisper in his ear: “Memento mori”: Remember that you will die.
Pandemic 2020 whispered this sobering sentiment in our national ear. It’s not a bad thing to keep in mind. May we preserve our awareness of it for a while, even after the threat of the pandemic recedes. And may remembering that we will die help us do a better job of living.
Finally, for all its faults, 2020 contained within it the date Nov. 3, when the nation loudly and clearly rejected President Donald Trump, whom history will remember as one of the worst presidents ever.
Of course, this is an assertion with which more than 70 million voters disagree, some emphatically. But more than 80 million voters have had enough of Trump’s arrogance, vulgarity and incompetence, and they have said, just as emphatically, that it must end.
So, few will shed tears over the expiration of 2020. But: The end of the Confederacy? The beginning of the end of Pandemic 2020? The beginning of the end of Trump?
2020 was an ordeal. But it wasn’t all bad.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at email@example.com.