Mean Old World (2021)


As I write this end-of-the-year column, I’m reminded of the classic blues lyric: “This is a mean old world to have to live in by yourself.” My hope is that this holiday season you will be surrounded by loved ones; that you weren’t forced to live through 2021 by yourself.

2021 was a mean old year. I’m going to recap some of the low-lights and then end on a positive note.

1.The Pandemic: The 2021 good news was that there was widespread distribution of vaccines to inoculate against the worst effects of Covid-19.  The bad news was that some folks refused to get vaccinated.  And, at the end of the year, there was a new Coronavirus variant, Omicron, that forced us to go back on alert.

Here in West Sonoma County — where 100 percent of my age cohort have been fully vaccinated — we are less concerned about the medical threat of Coronavirus and more concerned with the social threat: families ripped apart because some members refuse to be vaccinated.  I have a good memory but I cannot recall anything comparable.  The United States has been inflicted by a simultaneous public health crisis (Coronavirus) and a mental health crisis (fear of vaccination).

We’ve taken to wearing masks everywhere.  My beloved choir did give a live winter concert.  We limited attendance to facilitate social distancing and everyone wore masks (and was required to be fully vaccinated.)  Amazingly, we sounded great!

2. Climate Change: The 2021 good news was the widespread acknowledgment of the seriousness of climate change.  A recent AP/NORC/EPIC poll  (https://apnews.com/article/climate-joe-biden-science-environment-and-nature-only-on-ap-1e48e3315d2e0b618ccaa4a8d466e057) found that “59% of Americans said the Earth’s warming is very or extremely important to them… 55% of Americans want Congress to pass a bill to ensure that more of the nation’s electricity comes from clean energy and less from climate-damaging coal and natural gas.”  The bad news is that 2021 saw a series of devastating climate-related events.  Here in California we had drought and devastating firestorms.

In Sonoma County, the 2021 good news was that we didn’t have any firestorms, although we did have anticipatory power outages.  And we had drought — the Russian River almost dried up.   Then the rains came with a vengeance; we learned about “atmospheric rivers.”  In one October weekend we had 13 inches of rain!

3. The Uncivil War: By nature an optimist, when the year started I expected Republicans to get over Trump and start the arduous task of rebuilding our democracy.  This hasn’t happened.  A recent poll (https://news.yahoo.com/poll-two-thirds-of-republicans-still-think-the-2020-election-was-rigged-165934695.html ) found that “66 percent of Republicans continue to insist that the election was rigged and stolen from Trump.”

This sad reality has many consequences.  On January 6th, Trump devotees attacked the US capitol.  Congressional Republicans have done nothing to help Biden deal with these tumultuous times.  Many GOP politicians fight common-sense public health actions to deal with the pandemic.  They are aggressively hostile to non-Trump believers.

Trump followers are possessed by a disturbing delusion: that our democracy should be eviscerated and replaced with Trump-based theocracy.  The only slightly good news is that they don’t want to get vaccinated and, as a consequence, many will be stricken.

Because I live in an overwhelmingly Democratic County, I seldom come into contact with Trump cultists.  However, this summer I manned a “Vote No On the Recall” table at our local Farmers’ Market and occasionally would converse with Trump addicts.  As far as I could determine, they wanted to recall Governor Newsom because they didn’t like the Covid-19 public health measures (masks, social distancing, and vaccination).  By the way, the final recount vote was 38 percent yes, 62 percent no.

4. The Economy:  One of the realities of living in a “mean old world” is that money cushions you from pain.  If you are fortunate enough to have a steady job, own a house, and have savings, then 2021 probably was an okay year.  If you had marginal employment, rented, and have little or no savings, then 2021 was a bad year.

Because of the pandemic, the US inflation rate has increased to greater than 6 percent.  At the same time, the stock market (DJIA) has increased by 16 percent.  Therefore, if you were struggling at the beginning of the year, you’re likely to be hurting right now.  (When I manned the “Vote No on the Recall” table, some of the pro-recall voters indicated they were suffering financially — they wanted to recall the Governor because they blamed him for their economic malaise.)

California is an expensive (but gorgeous) place to live.  These days we are losing a few residents, primarily because of the high cost of housing.  Because of the consequences of climate change, more folks are moving close to the coast making those houses particularly expensive.  Here in Sonoma County, we are trying to build more affordable housing and, at the same time, struggling with water issues.  There’s no simple solution but to continue to promote the progressive value of economic justice.

5. 2022 Midterms: Given that Republicans haven’t gotten over Trump and, in fact, believe the 2020 election was stolen from him, Democrats are concerned that the 2022 midterm elections will see them lose control of one or both wings of Congress – the Senate has a 50-50 split and the House favors Democrats by a 9-vote margin.  It’s difficult to predict what will happen on November 8, 2022.  Here are some considerations:

Trump, and the January-6 insurrection leaders, will most likely be indicted early in 2022.  This won’t phase Trump devotees but it will harden the resolve of other voters to not support a mob boss.  Devotion to Trump will play well in deep-red districts, but not so well in others.

The economy will improve in 2022.  President Biden and Congressional Democrats can take credit for the “American Rescue  Plan” and the Infrastructure Bill.  I believe that early in 2022, Joe Biden and Joe Manchin will strike a deal and Senate Democrats will pass “Build Back Better.”  (Many economists believe that BBB is an essential element of the economic recovery.

Democrats will not capitulate to the forces of evil.  They will fight for every winnable House and Senate seat.  There are 30 House seats “in play.”  (At this writing, the COOK REPORT declared that as the result of California redistricting, six Republican house seats are in “toss up” status.)  There are 9 Senate seats in play; four Democrat and five Republican.  (Adios, Marco Rubio.)

Republicans have resorted to extreme gerrymandering and voter-restriction measures.  Many of these will be blocked in the courts.

Summary:  This has been a very hard year.  It’s disturbing to see US Democracy threatened by the forces of evil; it’s unsettling to see so many Republicans go over to the dark side.

This holiday season, I am comforted by the presence of family and friends.  I am comforted by the knowledge that so many good people continue to fight for peace and justice.

Here’s my challenge to all of you: commit now to fight evil in 2022.  In the words of Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night; rage, rage against the dying of the light.”  We are at an existential moment; we cannot permit the Trump madness to continue; we cannot permit the light of democracy to be extinguished.

May God bless you and your loved ones.