Grinding through the first few months of 2021, I presume nearly everyone wants to shut the door on 2020. After all, the tragic COVID-19 pandemic and—at least in the United States—chaotic election drama left millions exhausted, overwhelmed, and just plain traumatized. As a person with over three decades in recovery, I still recall the old-timers talking about a 1940s movie called The Lost Weekend, one of the first films about alcoholism. 2020 wasn’t a lost weekend; it was a lost year.
For myself, unlike so many of my fellow artists who are constantly looking ahead, backward glances are inevitable. Not that I live in the past—far from it. But my very nature is one of thinking about certain people and things as they once were, whether that was last year or thirty years ago. It happens in my dreams in particular. Last week they featured my ex-wife, my mother as she was when I was a child, and former colleagues I haven’t seen in ages. So the continuation of the 2020 pandemic narrative, and other aspects of last year, feels natural to me.
Looking Vs. Seeing
I don’t suppose it’s a great bit of originality to think about 2020 and at the same time think of 20/20, long the standard considered “perfect” visual acuity by optometrists and ophthalmologists. My years in medical writing still lead me toward thinking in those terms, and a quick Google search reveals plenty of eye care pros who used the pun back in late 2019 to market their practices.
But today I want to talk about something else.
I believe we can all look at things without really seeing them. Clearly seeing your relatives, your friends and neighbors, even your country itself, isn’t always easy. And today it can be downright painful.
If you’d asked me ten years ago, I’d have said the United States is a center-right country. In fact, I got that concept from watching since-disgraced pundit Chris Matthews on MSNBC. I used to like Matthews: he had a snarky sense of humor, pushed back against the right-wing almost as hard as I wanted him to, and displayed an obvious love of America’s hurly-burly diversity that went all the way back to the Kennedys.
In 2016, however, I saw how tribalism and the thorough brainwashing administered by propaganda outlets like Fox had created a kind of American devolution, with pockets of far-right lunacy much wider and deeper than I’d ever imagined. Social contract? Broken. (“I don’t want lazy poor people getting my tax dollars.”) A military-industrial complex more out of control than Eisenhower ever could have imagined. (“Democrats are weak on defense.”) The list could go on endlessly.
Politics & Professionalism
Yet, in spite of all that, I wanted to think of 2016 as a kind of anomaly, an over-correction in the opposite direction. Eight years of a slightly liberal Democrat, an African-American with a life of public service under his belt, yielded to an ignorant grifter with no political experience (or knowledge, evidently), who managed to hoodwink half the country into voting for him over an unpopular opponent. By 2020, I innocently thought, most of them will have recognized their own error, admitted it, maybe even tried to make amends.
How wrong I was. Even in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, which this obnoxious, arrogant jackass bungled more than I could ever have imagined, people doubled down. Ordinary citizens treated a simple precautionary measure like wearing a mask in public as if their AR-15s were being ripped from their cold, white fingers. Every day brought more tragic news, more moronic statements—even blatant racism like Kung-Flu and China virus, as I mentioned a week ago—yet still they doubled down.
Thankfully, that hotly contested (but really not even close) election prevented the country from falling to some previously unseen version of right-wing authoritarianism. But it should never have gone that far.
Well, at least we now have something closer to 20/20 vision. Now we really know who our neighbors, relatives and friends are. They have shown themselves, their cute little hand signals, their intractable insanity on the 2nd amendment, their outrage about even legal immigrants coming here. And we won’t forget.
I saw a post on social media recently declaring that it’s always a bad idea for a business entity to take sides politically. Really? So it’s okay for Delta Airlines to publicly support Georgia’s horrendous new anti-voter law, but not for me to state outright that I’ll never support a right-wing cause or candidate?
If that’ll prevent me from making a sale, let me put it on the record: I don’t want that person’s business anyway. There’s my line in the sand.