I keep seeing people anxious for the end of 2020, as if January 1st was a Rubicon that the shit-storm of 2020 won’t follow us across.
Let me disabuse you of any such notion.
Really, what do you expect to change in 2021?
- Will global warming be solved?
- Will corporate concentration disappear?
- Will income inequality be solved?
- Will structural racism vanish overnight?
- Do you expect the GOP to suddenly disavow Trump, back away from fascism, and relinquish Q-Anon?
I do hope you said “No” to each of the above, because that’s the only rational answer.
We might make incremental progress on each of them over 2021, but that won’t mean much in the short term. Well except for the GOP, they’re a lost cause and will only sink deeper and deeper into conspiracy theories and violence.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a quick tour of what made 2020 such a shit-storm.
Yes, we have, at this moment, two vaccines for Covid, and more on the way. But we are still months away from returning to anything representing normal. You can look at the 600,000 people that got the Pfizer vaccine in the first week it was available, which is a tremendous accomplishment, but at that rate it would take over 8 years to inoculate 250 million Americans, never mind the rest of the world. I fully expect the rate of vaccination to increase, but it could be a while before enough people are vaccinated to trigger herd immunity. So we can expect Covid to be with us for a while longer, and even if we do get it under control, there’s always a chance we could see it mutate, or a new virus could emerge.
Also, we have no idea the long term personal and economic costs of long haulers, people who have symptoms from Covid that linger for months or longer. Since the condition is so new we don’t know if it may be a lifetime affliction for some of the people suffering from it. As of today there are 19 million total cases of Covid in the US, and around 10% of those will become long-haulers, so were looking at close to two million people suffering for months, if not for the rest of their lives, and the number will only grow until we get the virus under control.
Finally, we don’t know the true economic damage Covid has wrought, we can hope that once we are past the virus that the economy will spring back quickly, but if the number of restaurants that have gone under is any indication, it will take time to fully recover.
Global warming won’t get any better in 2021. Yes, with the election of Joe Biden we can hopefully move beyond the denial of its existence as the policy of the executive branch of the federal government, but no matter how swiftly we act today, temperatures will continue to rise for decades. So as bad as 2020 was, just consider the fires in Australia and California as one example, we know that 2021 will only be worse.
Remember: 2020 was the coldest year on record for the next 100 years.
The same will be true for 2021.
I fully expect Trump, unconstrained by the people that surround him in the White House today, to become even more unhinged and try to inspire even more violent acts of terrorism. But even if Trump’s influence withers, his base won’t take the current sea change in the US lying down. The country has obviously started to tilt back to the left; Democrats control the House and the White House (The Senate is still up for grabs as I write this), neo-liberalism is dead, monopolies are finally coming back under scrutiny, gay marriage is legal in all 50 states, and a vast majority of people believe Black Lives Matter.
They waged a culture war and lost.
But why do I think this will turn to violence? History.
Here’s a little bit of history that a lot of people seem to have forgotten, how many bombings were there in the 70s?
It turns out, a lot:
In a single eighteen-month period during 1971 and 1972 the FBI counted an amazing 2,500 bombings on American soil, almost five a day.
And the majority of these were from leftist groups, in an age when the country had started to take a turn to the right. My theory is that the political violence is a reaction from people that know the popular opinion has turned against them; it was leftists during the 70s and it will be right-wingers, nee Trumpists, in the 2020s.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to be unhappy about, middle class wages have stagnated for fifty years, and the poor have actually gotten poorer in that time. The grand neo-liberal experiment was to let markets run wild, a light hand on regulation and unconstrained free trade with other countries and that was supposed to magically fix all of our woes from poverty to racial discrimination.
It was all just wishful thinking and we now need to backtrack: get monopolies and oligopolies under control, move back to a more protectionist stance on global trade, undo 50 years of tax cuts for the rich, and go back to protecting workers rights. But those changes take time to enact, and will take even longer to reach Main Street, so don’t hold your breath that popular immiseration will go away in 2021, and thus there’ll be more than enough fuel for the fire of violence.
So, yeah, in summary, 2021 probably won’t be better than 2020, and in fact there’s good reason to expect things to be worse for next four or five years.
Happy New Year!