December 18, 2020

COVID-19 and Political Divisions Make for an Incredibly Demoralizing Christmas

snow covered trees in winter

The last time I can remember enjoying Christmas as a holiday anybody might recognize as Christmas rather than just a day I didn't have to go to work was over 15 years ago. The last time I can remember feeling excited for Christmas to come around was well before that. While there are some things I like about what many refer to as the holiday season, Christmas itself hasn't meant much to me in a very long time. Whatever "magic" it might have had when I was a child is long-gone. I treat it like any other day because I don't particularly enjoy it and not because of anything to do with my being an atheist. I have no issue with atheists celebrating Christmas, and I am aware that many do so. For those who enjoy it, more power to them.

Christmas does have a different feel to it this year. Public health experts warned us what would happen if we ignored the recommendations they issued before Thanksgiving, but many ignored them anyway. Their predictions are now coming true in the form of increased COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Those of us who wondered whether the desire to participate in traditional Thanksgiving gatherings would lead people to put their lives and the lives of their extended families at risk have our answer.

Sorry Johnny, but Grandma won't be joining us for Christmas this year. Our reckless disregard for public health killed her. But wasn't that a good turkey?

The different feel isn't all about COVID-19 either. It is becoming increasingly difficult to argue that the U.S. political system isn't broken. Yes, we may have a new president in January, but we've made no progress in reducing the deep divisions that exist among voters. If anything, they've become worse. And something as simple as providing meaningful assistance to people impacted by the pandemic cannot get through Congress even though it has widespread support among the people who elect members of Congress. Despite rising needs, Americans are about to receive a pittance of $600 and told to be grateful for it. Nobody aware of how much the U.S. spends on our military can reasonably claim we cannot afford more. Is this lump of coal in our stocking really all our elected officials think of us?

In all my years as an adult, I cannot recall a Christmas I have looked forward to less than this one. Last year was rough because I was in pain, in a cast, and on crutches for the first time in my life. I was unable to do any of the things I usually enjoy doing in late December or early January. This year might be better but probably not by much. I still won't be able to do many of the things I usually enjoy because of the pandemic. Something as simple as driving somewhere when I don't absolutely have to is out because it isn't fair to the first responders, because there aren't any ICU beds around here, and because I'd put myself at risk for catching the virus when I arrived at whatever my destination might be.

I'm sure I will try to find some things for which I can be hopeful as 2020 draws to a close, but I don't expect it to be easy. The vaccine is still a long way off for us ordinary folk. Even with it, I don't expect the need for face masks, social distancing, and excessive hand-washing to go away anytime soon. Having a new president is positive (assuming he is permitted to take office), but I hold out little hope that Mitch McConnell will allow him to govern. That means he will be able to accomplish only a small portion of what those of us who elected him want to see. As much as I'd like to be wrong, I'm not one of those who thinks everything is magically going to be better once we hit 2021. We will continue to face many challenges, and it is not clear to me that many of us will be any more up for it than we are now.

If I had to pick one word to describe what Christmas of 2020 feels like to me, my choice would be demoralizing. There are many other good candidates, but that is the one I'd settle on. It feels demoralizing. I suppose that doesn't mean much more than to say that I feel demoralized, but I won't argue with that. And if I had to provide the simplest possible explanation for why I feel that way, I would be to note that 2020 has eroded much of my hope in the future of humanity. I have shifted from thinking that we'd collectively stumble and fall periodically but could dust ourselves off and pull together when confronted with the big challenges we had to solve. I no longer believe this. I am no longer confident that we are willing to come together for much of anything, and I question whether we can solve big problems without coming together. As we near the end of 2020, the image I have in my head is that of a once great civilization circling the drain.

I'm not sure where this leaves us, aside from demoralized. I don't know whether we are past the point of no return and have done enough irreparable harm to ourselves that we just need to watch the end of the movie. If we can turn things around, I'm not sure how. I see many people across the political spectrum who have made it clear that they are not interested in doing anything that might heal our divisions, and that leaves me without much hope. It is one thing to want something and be uncertain how to obtain it; it is a very different matter when most people don't seem to want it in the first place. I think my New Year's resolution had better be focused on trying to find a shred of hope to which I can cling.