This year has taken a toll on all of us. From living like hobbits for over nine months (and counting) to the presidential election, we have faced a culmination of tragedies over this one long, tiresome year. Thankfully, 2020 is almost over. Most are elated to see an end in sight after months of living in a nightmare. But will a new year solve our woes? Without changing our attitudes toward one another and accepting the circumstances that brought us here, our 2020 horror story is destined to be relived.
There is no definite point at which the mayhem started. Since the beginning of the year, over 1.5 million people have died worldwide from COVID-19, hospitals have been overwhelmed with patients and 10.7 million Americans were unemployed as of November. The consequences of the virus have been deadly and traumatic and will only worsen if people keep blatantly disregarding policies and regulations to prevent further spread.
While battling the tragic losses of loved ones to the coronavirus, we also lost beloved public figures including actor Chadwick Boseman, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jeopardy! Host Alex Trebek, Rep. John Lewis and NBA giant Kobe Bryant. Though death is inevitable, the ongoing pandemic coinciding with these losses has only amplified our melancholy and desperation for an end.
As if the pandemic has not completely upturned our lives, Donald Trump’s presidency exhibited disastrous judgment calls with concerning ramifications. To mention a few, he ordered a drone strike that killed revered Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, which spirals tension between U.S. and Iran, disregarded the severity of the coronavirus, and publicly backed white supremacists and conspiracy groups, such as the Proud Boys.
All eyes were on the U.S. in the months leading up to November. Though Biden might not be the ideal candidate for many Democrats, his victory should still be celebrated. Groundbreaking progress does not come overnight, but our cynicism for the government reached new heights when people promoted the “Settle for Biden” mentality, recognizing that, though Biden is not the ideal choice, he is better than Trump’s version of America. Despite the lack of faith in our political institutions, we cannot discount the record-breaking number of registered voters this year. Hopefully, with more people exercising their right to vote, it will become the first step in restoring some sense of political order, justice and equality in 2021.
The killing of George Floyd in May spurred protests and social upheaval around the world, calling for structural reforms to combat racism and police brutality. Though our heightened social awareness for these systemic problems seems long overdue, Floyd’s death catalyzed new waves of social justice. The fight for human rights is far from over, but this year resulted in significant progress.
Apart from social issues, natural disasters — like forest fires and storms — have wreaked havoc around the world. During Australia’s bushfire season, over 46 million acres of land burned and three billion animals were injured and displaced. There were so many storms and hurricanes that meteorologists ran out of prepared names and resorted to the Greek Alphabet. Extreme climate changes surpassed previous records from 2016, by .04 degrees Fahrenheit, with this past January being the hottest in the last 141 years. Halfway across the world, East Africa saw its worst locust invasion in over 70 years – the outbreaks of locusts are destroying crops and affecting millions of livelihoods. Among Trump’s plethora of poor decisions was his choice to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords, despite the mounting, undeniable evidence of global warming and climate change. The nonchalance of our government regarding the environment is unacceptable — not only is it aggravating climate issues but also allowing us to take the world we live in for granted.
The list isn’t exhaustive. In fact, it is a mere fraction of 2020’s tumultuous events. Despite all sorts of disasters coming at us like arrows raining from the sky, it has not been the worst year ever. It was just a culmination of unresolved, boiling tensions that finally exploded. To a certain extent, this is the perfect moment for hope and positivity — both in a shift to the new year and our mentality — but I cannot share the optimism that somehow the onslaught of our collective suffering will be left behind once the clock ticks midnight. I am skeptical of any substantial changes that will improve our livelihood unless we honestly reflect on what went wrong in 2020.
Soon, we will usher in a new year. This transition is a turning point, akin to the shift from a novel’s climax to the falling action, during which everything eventually resolves. However, problems won’t just go away on New Year’s Day; they will be solved when we address underlying causes. For instance, believing herd immunity will come right after the vaccine becomes more widely available is naive — we must acknowledge the time it takes for such immunity to happen and the people unwilling to get vaccinated. Likewise, dismantling bigotry isn’t just about heated arguments and “canceling” others — it requires empathy and constant self-awareness. Ignoring climate change is taking our planet for granted, which will only lead to more dire consequences in the future. It is time to fact-check the media, internet and people around us, it is time to think critically.
We must not approach 2021 with a sense of elation and a sigh of relief. Instead, we should see it as an opportunity to restart and approach our problems differently. Future problems will inevitably evolve in severe and novel ways that we cannot predict, and 2020 was the somber wake-up call we needed.
Sophia Ling (24C) is from Carmel, Indiana.