2021 started out with such promise. Vaccines to help us get past a worldwide pandemic were just starting to be deployed. As their availability widened, they promised at least a partial, if not total return to normalcy until being inoculated (the responsible thing for a person to do) was attacked and made into a political battle. Still, those doing their part by getting their shots when they became eligible were hopeful.
We were edging toward a changing of the guard in Washington after a nasty general election just two months before. All seemed set to move in a better direction until just six days into the new year. On that fateful January day which should have included a mostly ceremonial counting of the certified electoral ballots, we experienced an event that was unprecedented in U.S. history. We watched an attempted coup at the sitting president’s urging unfold on live television. I wrote a previous commentary about the horror of watching January 6, 2021 unfold. Since then, investigations and political infighting hasn’t let up although as we approach the one year anniversary of that day, the full story is spilling out. For those of us alive and aware that is now a day that will undoubtedly overshadow all others, and yes, will be the day that shall live in infamy from the early 21st Century.
I wrote another commentary about the preparations for the Biden Inauguration taking place just two weeks after the unthinkable. Although security concerns were many, and the pandemic limited attendance, the event was a joyous one. And under the new administration, the democratic leadership was able to show that the government can actually work for ordinary Americans again. Despite a lot of negative reporting and antagonism by those seeking to make things worse, a lot of really good things happened over the course of the year. A few of the highlights follow.
- The Biden Administration used the Defense Production Act to produce more vaccines and mobilized the federal government to help get them into arms across the nation.
- Congress (without a single GOP vote) passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to jump-start the economic recovery by putting money into the pockets of ordinary Americans. Beyond helping millions of individuals and businesses survive, this bill helped cut child poverty in half and expanded the Affordable Care Act enabling more than 4.6 million previously uninsured Americans to get healthcare coverage.
- The economic boost supported industry. As a result, the U.S. jobless rate fell from 6.2% when President Biden took office to 4.2% by December through job creation. More jobs were created in 2021 than during the 12 years of the Trump and George W. Bush administrations combined.
- Congress passed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill to repair roads and bridges and bring high speed internet to all areas of the country.
- Economic output for 2021 grew about 6% overall and is expected to grow about 4% in 2022 leading the world’s economic recovery.
- The Biden administration brought the U.S. back into the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accord to work with the rest of the world to help rather than hurt global health and environmental efforts.
- The Biden administration worked with other world leaders to help democratic efforts to combat authoritarianism and corruption and protect human rights.
- Despite the negative reports, the Biden Administration went forward to honor the Trump Administration’s agreement to withdraw from Afghanistan ending U.S. participation in the “forever war” and conducted the largest airlift in U.S. history.
Even with the good being done, crises continued, and the news highlighted the bad over the good keeping people anxious.
In California, a specious gubernatorial recall election ran its course and was soundly defeated.
Underlying it all, the pandemic was never out of mind, but by April 19, 2021, all adults were eligible to be vaccinated in the U.S. While many took advantage of the opportunity, not everyone did. There was still a political fight along with racial and economic inequality in the distribution. There was also a strong pushback against safeguards beyond vaccination such as wearing masks in public that allowed COVID-19 to spike in parts of the country at various times throughout the year. During the summer, the delta variant surged affecting mostly the unvaccinated, and now through the current holiday period, the omicron variant is raging worldwide putting even the vaccinated at risk of infection. The good news though is that the vaccinated, and especially those who’ve also received a booster beyond their initial vaccination series, are far less likely to suffer severe illness from this new, much more transmissible COVID-19 variant. Masks are again very important in addition to being vaccinated to get through this current surge.
On a personal level, while still mostly isolated throughout the year only connecting with friends and family via phone or Zoom, I very carefully made a few exceptions. Early in the summer, I shared a pizza outside with a friend whom I hadn’t seen since mid-2019. The biggest event though was when I renewed my connection with my brother after not having seen him in person for over 50 years. We only reestablished contact remotely within the last decade, but in summer of 2021 after we all were fully vaccinated, we got to break bread and catch up in a way that was both unexpected and gratifying. I also got to meet my sister-in-law and my nephew for the first time.
Later this fall, while the delta variant was still present and omicron was just starting to hit the news, I gathered with a very few, fully vaccinated and healthy friends for a short visit. We all were fully masked and distanced so it wasn’t quite like old times, but it was friendly and festive. Still, the fear of infection hung in the back of my mind. Fortunately, we all remained healthy after our short visit.
Although I haven’t resumed any large in-person gatherings, the arts started to come back in some areas, and by fall, live performances had resumed in much of the country. I was asked to play for a fall run of a show that had been postponed since spring of 2020. Not being comfortable with crowds at all, I found a replacement for myself and bowed out of the show. In December, I skipped the return of a scaled back edition of San Jose’s Saxophone Christmas where around 150 players got together to serenade the public with lively holiday music. I instead caught the SaxMas replay on YouTube.
Schools widely reopened in the fall, but with the delta variant still surging, infections rose. Now with omicron cases rising rapidly nationwide, we are seeing more restrictions reemerge along with political yowls against any safeguards in some regions.
And so it goes. 2021 began in hope, erupted in crises, recovered to some degree, and ended with the pandemic again wreaking havoc as we head into 2022. This upcoming year promises to be interesting, and again hope springs eternal to make greater strides to live together and thrive. Happy New Year!