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Has 2020 Been Our “Annus Horribilis?”

By Steve Smith

To say it’s been a challenging year would be the mother of all understatements. 

We’ve had natural disasters in the form of fires and floods. The coronavirus pandemic has devastated American families and local economies. New revelations about infiltration by Russian hackers could have national security implications for years to come. Hate crimes have risen, motivated by race/ethnicity/ancestry bias. A year that began with great promise now shudders to an end amid the realization of the very dark winter that lies ahead.

One statistic that I find impossible to ignore is that, although the United Sates has only 4 percent of the world’s population, we’ve had 20 percent of the coronavirus cases and resulting deaths. How does that make me feel as a proud American, considering this has occurred in a wealthy, technologically advanced country with a sophisticated healthcare delivery system… perplexed? Disappointed? Dismayed? Defeated?

And have we become our own worst enemy? Among the more than 311,000 dead are healthcare workers – those “front line heroes” we all respect and admire. How must they feel when they see hyper-partisanship and denial of basic science obstruct our pathway out of this mess? How do they keep from screaming when they see the continued irresponsible social behaviors that have enabled the virus’ spread?

A few decades ago, Queen Elizabeth II used the Latin term annus horribilis – a “horrible year” – to describe 1992, during which a series of misfortunes befell the British Royal Family, culminating in the late November fire that destroyed Windsor Castle.

As this year draws to a close and we begin to see some hope, in the form of a coronavirus vaccine and a new administration taking office next month, it’s natural to feel some optimism, no matter how cautious. But it’s also understandable to share concern for the thousands – if not millions – of Americans who face this new reality.

Many will almost certainly find themselves homeless if a moratorium on evictions set to expire at the end of the month is not extended. Working people who’ve always managed to pay the rent may find themselves standing bewildered on the sidewalk, the furniture and belongings that once comprised their very “normal” lives strewn about like trash.

Some, to whom the term “food insecure” has until recently been a casual reference to “poor people” now find themselves waiting in line at the local food bank. As they sit idling, some behind the wheel of a new or almost-new SUV they can no longer afford, what could be going through their minds?

And will 2021 become their annus horribilis?

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