In 1978 the historian Barbara W. Tuchman published “A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century.”
This awful century, Tuchman wrote, was one of “plague, war, taxes, brigandage, bad government, insurrection, and schism in the [Catholic] Church — a violent, tormented, bewildered, suffering and disintegrating age.”
Though there is no schism in the Church today (that we know of) those of us who are alive in 2020 suffer instead from the effects of climate change: a largely man-made catastrophe that threatens to destroy this planet and every living thing on it.
That 2020 is a plague year there is no question. There are still wars going on in Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen (among others) and Armenia and Azerbaijan are currently going at it over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Taxes keep going up (except for those who can avoid it); violent murder (by brigands and others) continues to rise, especially against minorities. This has been a veritable annus horribilis for trans people, especially trans women of color, with at least 37 murders (so far) in the U.S.
Bad government is as prevalent as ever, especially in governments led by self-proclaimed, populist autocrats. America’s systemic racism was laid bare by the police murders of African American men and women like Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Daniel Prude and Breonna Taylor.
Government-sanctioned violence, here and abroad, led to a series of spirited, sometimes violent insurrections which increased public consciousness but which, alas, were as successful as the ones in Tuchman’s 14th Century. And don’t get me started about the (non-COVID) natural disasters of 2020: The most hurricanes and tropical storms in history; wildfires in Australia and the western U.S.; floods in Indonesia; earthquakes everywhere — all caused in large part by climate change.
Of course, not everything that happened in 2020 was bad. For one thing, we are still alive. Though COVID-19 continues to plague humanity, 95% of effective vaccines are being developed by Pfizer, Moderna and other pharmaceutical companies. Immunization might be available next year if we do not make foolish choices in the meantime. Enforcing lockdowns to fight the pandemic, though economically and socially disastrous, has had some ecological benefits, like allowing other species to move more freely (coyotes in Tamarac?).
And American voters elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, putting an end to a 4-year reign of terror that only made everything (including COVID) worse. On the other hand, Donald Trump refuses to concede, his supporters kept a majority of the Senate and won seats in the House of Representatives and in statewide races, and Florida cemented its status as the most Trumpian of all states.
Unlike Trump, who ignored COVID-19 to look out for Number One, President Biden might decree a new (pre-vaccine) lockdown to bring down the newly increased casualty figures. Meanwhile, many of us are grabbing as much toilet paper as we can find and once again retreating to our homes.
Characteristically, 2020’s holiday season will be a bleak one. Meanwhile, I want to end this article on a positive note by thanking those who made this year tolerable for me: Zoom, Facebook, PBS, Congregation Etz Chaim, my family and friends and, most of all, Ron Farago. May 2021 be a better year.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and journalist. He has been an active member of South Florida's LGBT community for more than four decades and has served in various community organizations.