Six months ago, we thought things would be better by now. Many of us hoped for the end of the Trump presidency and the social unrest that rocked America last summer. All of us hoped for an end to the pandemic. Unfortunately, as January nears its end, hopes for a return to normalcy are not looking good. In short, 2021 is shaping up to be another challenging year.
The new year has, if anything, more problems than the one that just ended.
New strains of the pandemic, more contagious and deadly than the strain we have been fighting, are being reported. Will the vaccines now being distributed work against these new strains? Will the coronavirus continue to evolve?
The distribution of the vaccine has been frustrating. We are fortunate that two different vaccines are being distributed with more on the way from other manufacturers. The distribution of the vaccines, however, has been anything but smooth. National reports indicate that many are unable to get a reservation for the vaccine. We spend many hours online or dialing the phone to reach a distribution center. Did it have to be this hard? Will governments and commercial entities charged with distribution improve the process to receive the virus?
The economy remains precarious. It appears increasingly likely that the economic devastation caused by the virus will continue for at least most of 2021. What if it lasts longer than that? How long can small businesses, especially restaurants and other enterprises dependent on in-person customer traffic, survive?
Political strife continues. Hopes that the acrimony of the last four years would end with the exit of Trump appear to be unrealistic. Notwithstanding evidence that the now ex-president may have played a significant role in the assault on the Capitol on January 6, Trumpism is not yet dead. That is unfortunate because it means attempts by the new administration to address the pandemic will be undermined.
Social justice issues remain unresolved. President Biden has announced an initiative to promote racial equity, justice, and healing. Will it be enough to move the country past social unrest? I fear other police shootings or similar events will trigger more protests, especially after the weather gets warmer.
White nationalists and Nazis remain at large. The ugliest parts of America were on display on January 6. Since then, we haven’t heard much from the Proud Boys, Boogaloo and the host of militias that seek to destroy democracy. I’m worried that these terrorists are planning a comeback. That’s why it is so utterly important to bring the ones involved in the events of January 6 to justice.
The disruption to all levels of education caused by the pandemic cannot be overstated. My guess is that educational achievements for many students have stagnated or declined because of the pandemic.
I’m certain that I left a few issues off this list. Climate change comes to mind, to name just one. But what good does it do to produce lists of problems? The answer is that we cannot meet the challenges without recognizing them. And we cannot solve the problems unless we work together.
In 1961, John F. Kennedy implored us, “Ask not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” If we take Kennedy’s words to heart, we will recognize that we are in a crisis that is worse, in many ways, than a war and more difficult to win. I hope that all of us will rise to the challenge before us, contribute however we can, and redouble our efforts to return to normalcy.
It won’t be easy, but we don’t have an alternative.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. For more than 30 years, he advised clients on federal education and social service policy.