Tribune Editorial: Salvaging a bit of 2020

There are some lessons we can take from this horrible year.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jaime Ortega films a video as he puts his ballot in a drop box at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

As the 1970s neared their end, “Doonesbury” character Zonker Harris toasted farewell to what he called “a kidney stone of a decade.”

He hadn’t seen anything yet.

The end of this arbitrary division of infinity, 2020, cannot come soon enough.

A global pandemic. People who denied the global pandemic and refused to take steps to slow its spread. Dysfunctional government at so many levels. Social media disinformation. Overt racism, armed gangs in the streets and police brutality. Growing inequality and homelessness.

And, in Salt Lake City, an earthquake. And a freak windstorm.

But among all this horse poop, we should be able to find a few ponies to ride into the new year.

First on the list of successes is the fact that medical science, building on work that was done years ago to deal with SARS and other viruses that didn’t spread across the world, invented a vaccine for COVID-19 in record time. Actually, there are at least three vaccines available now or soon to be.

And we saw how heroic our health care workers can be, holding the fort, even when not fully appreciated, while waiting for this rescue to arrive.

Distribution is slower than we might like. But it has begun, rightly starting with health care workers and residents of nursing facilities, and there is reason to hope it will be widely available in a matter of months. People will need to stick to the personally responsible behaviors of hygiene and masks for some time to come, though, so more of us can live to see normal life return.

Also, despite some well-founded fears to the contrary, the United States in 2020 held itself a free and fair election. With record turnout. In the midst of a pandemic. In a nation awash in propaganda. With racist barriers to full participation clumsily erected in many states.

Whether your candidate won or not, that was a significant accomplishment. An accomplishment made greater by the fact that so many elected and appointed officials, in so many states and communities, of both parties, stuck to their duty and ignored groundless, but loud, cries of fraud and fixes.

We also learned as a nation something that Utahns have known for years. Voting by mail works. There ought to be a lot more of it.

There are still a few — and a few is too many — dead-enders who continue to look for ways to overturn the results of a democratic election and maintain the current chief executive in power. We cannot totally let down our guard until noon Eastern Time on Jan. 20. But it looks likely that the people will prevail.

And, despite both hundreds of years of inertia holding us back and a once-in-a-lifetime disease distracting us, a great many Americans have decided it is way past time to face the level of systemic racism alive in our culture. Institutions as diverse as the National Basketball Association and local police departments are displaying Black Lives Matter banners and taking a knee in solidarity with those who have too long been the victims of a nation that so harshly fails to live up to its principles.

We have also been somewhat bluntly reminded of the importance of education in our communities, the crucial roles played by teachers and by parents.

With luck, we go forward with the benefit of some hard-won lessons about how to make life better for all of us.

Happy New Year.