The Best and Worst of 2021 | David Thornton

Lately, it seems like each year follows the conventional wisdom about the weather in Florida. If you don’t like the weather in the Sunshine State, just wait and minute and it will change. Or so the oldtimers say.

In recent memory, it seems to be the same way with each successive year. If you don’t like what is happening at the time, just wait – and brace yourself – because it could always get worse and probably will. Have we hit rock bottom with 2021, a true stinker of a year? Who can say?

When pressed to think about the worst of 2021, the continuing pandemic is the most obvious choice. Actually, it’s maybe not that obvious to a lot of us because a great many of us have been ignoring it for a while. Not long after I was vaccinated I put aside my masks and have only used them when requested for most of the past nine months or so.

In recent weeks, as Omicron has surged, I‘ve seen more and more people masking again. I’ve started wearing them occasionally myself when I know I’m going to be in crowded areas. Even though I’ve had my booster and realize that Omicron seems a lot milder than previous variants, I’d rather not deal with the hassle of getting sick and having to isolate (again) and rearrange my work schedule (again). I definitely don’t want to be responsible for spreading the virus to someone who might be more vulnerable.

Even though the pandemic seems to be winding down (thanks in part to vaccines and in part to Omicron), the Delta surge over the summer and fall shattered notions of a quick end to the pandemic. Vaccine resistance from a large minority also contributed to the continued spread of the virus and the rising death toll. As I write this, the global death toll stands at 5.4 million worldwide and 819,000 in the US.

The pandemic also ranks high on the list of the worst of 2021 because it contributed to so many other problems. The slow economic recovery, rising inflation, political discontent, rising crime rates, and a general malaise (to use a word that Jimmy Carter did not) can all be traced at least in part to the lingering pandemic.

Running a close second to the pandemic on my “worst of” list is the insurrection of January 6. The attack on the Capitol is not placed in its proper significance by a large number of Americans who want to minimize it and sweep it under the rug.

The US Capitol has been attacked on several occasions, including bombings in 1915, 1971, and 1983, but it has not been occupied by a hostile force since 1812. The Trumpist attack on the Capitol stands starkly alone in American history as a moment in which Americans attacked the seat of their own government. Not even Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army was able to accomplish what the Trumpist mob did in overwhelming the Capitol’s defenses and ransacking Congress.

What makes this all even worse is that the rioters thought themselves to be acting in defense of the Constitution when their political puppetmasters were really using them in an attempt to subvert the constitutional process. Many rioters were deluded by claims of stolen elections, but that doesn’t make their actions any less criminal as many have since realized. Hundreds of insurrectionists will be ringing in the new year in jail.

The third item on my list is also obvious even if it is almost forgotten now. The loss of Afghanistan was the worst moment of US foreign policy since… I don’t know, the fall of Vietnam? The loss of China in the Truman Administration? Anyway, it was bad. Very bad.

As I wrote at the time, we lost Afghanistan because both parties decided to stop fighting and lose the war. Donald Trump negotiated the pullout and started the withdrawal, but it’s fair to blame Joe Biden because he continued the same policy and followed through on it. The buck stops in the Oval Office.

What isn’t fair is to say that it would have been very different if Donald Trump had still been behind the Resolute Desk. Not only was Trump the architect of the withdrawal, but he also had a more aggressive timetable to leave.

And new information supports the notion that the withdrawal would have been just as disastrous under Trump. America and the world were surprised at the rapid collapse of the Afghan government, but a Wall Street Journal report from November detailed how Taliban moles had infiltrated all levels of the government. When the time came, Afghan cities weren’t attacked by invading armies from outside, they were seized from within. One harsh truth here is that it seems unlikely that the US would have prevailed even if we had elected to stay given how completely the Afghan government was riddled with Taliban spies.

Afghanistan was a disaster for Joe Biden, but that doesn’t make it a triumph for Republicans. No one came out of this looking good. No one, that is except the courageous Americans on the ground in Kabul and the dedicated US Air Force crews who rescued more than 124,000 people in the Afghan airlift.

It’s a little harder to come up with three good things about 2021. At least it’s difficult to list three things that aren’t personal because my life was pretty good in 2021 despite the national and global upheaval. My family has been healthy and happy. We’ve been blessed where so many others have had heartaches of many varieties. I’m deeply grateful for that.

Hands down, the best thing about 2021 was the widespread availability of the COVID vaccines. Vaccinations allowed us to start getting back to normal safely. A wealth of data is now available to show that vaccines greatly reduce the probability of becoming infected with COVID-19 as well as the probability of having a severe case that results in hospitalization and/or death.

I don’t agree with Donald Trump very often, but I do wholeheartedly agree with his recent statements that the rapid development of the COVID vaccines was a historical triumph. Countless lives have been saved around the world by these miracles of modern medicine.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I’m going to go back to the insurrection for a second positive from 2021. Yes, we had a coup attempt and an attack on the Constitution, but we also survived it. And we did so with minimal violence and loss of life.

As bad as the insurrection was, it could have morphed into more widespread violence or a civil war. It is a testament to the professionalism of the Capitol Police that they didn’t just open fire on the rioters swarming their defenses. January 6 could have been much, much worse.

Finally, as a lifelong Braves fan, I’m going to invoke the World Series victory of the Atlanta Braves for item number three. The Braves hadn’t won a World Series since 1995. Prior to that, it had been an even longer drought with the franchise’s only two other previous championships dating back to 1914 in Boston and 1957 in Milwaukee.

The Braves have been known for years as “America’s Team.” A championship for America’s Team is a good omen for the country, right? Hopefully so.

We only have a few more days of 2021 left. God willing, 2022 will break our slump and turn out to be an improvement over the past few years. Things have to start getting better at some point, don’t they?

I’m tempted to say “good riddance” to 2021, but I’m reminded of “Click,” one of Adam Sandler’s lesser-known films. In the movie, Sandler’s character uses a remote to fast-forward to the “good” parts of his life. As a result, he finds that he has missed a lot.

The message of the movie is one that is relevant to us all, namely that no matter what is going on in our lives at the time, it is important to make the most of our time and spend our lives wisely. It’s the only one you get.

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