January is named for Janus, the Roman god of exits and entrances who had one face gazing forward and one face looking backward. January of 2021 brought sighs of relief to millions of Americans who are glad to see the year 2020 in their rear view mirrors. The past 12 months have been trying times when a pandemic, protests and politics mixed into a strange brew of fear and uncertainty across this nation and around the world.
After bruising battles in primary elections, Joe Biden emerged as the Democratic standard bearer who went on to beat incumbent President Donald Trump in the November general election. Even Georgia turned blue for Biden as the Democratic ticket won the Peach State for the first time since 1992. The Trump team mounted a series of recounts in Georgia, while Georgia’s Republican governor and election officials were threatened and excoriated by Trump and his angry supporters, who howled of a “stolen election” because the opposition got more votes.
Trump’s failure to achieve an election victory angered and surprised the president and his hard-core cult of enthusiasts, who simply could not believe that Trump had become a lame-duck loser in 2020 after his stunning victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016. For four years, Trump had tried to play tough guy John Wayne on the presidential stage. Biden seemed happy just playing a reassuring Hopalong Cassidy role, and he outgunned his opponent in both the electoral and the popular vote tallies. Trump will vacate the White House on Jan. 20, when Biden is inaugurated in the nation’s capital, but don’t expect Trump to be a graceful loser.
Meanwhile, as 2020 ended and the new year began, the eyes of the nation remained focused on Georgia’s Senate races that, after Flagpole’s print deadline, decided whether or not Democrats will have a narrow majority in the U.S. Senate. Record amounts of money and advertising were used by both parties in the Georgia senate races ahead of the Jan. 5 election.
Even a national election was upstaged by the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19. As the year ended, the death toll from the disease in America was rocketing toward the 400,000 mark. Vaccines are being administered, but there may never be a cure for the economic losses, mental angst and cultural decline brought on by the pandemic. Here in Athens, a citywide shutdown of bars, theaters, concert venues, restaurants and other gathering places gave the Classic City the look of a ghost town last spring. With the university closed and food and drink venues shuttered or only doing takeout, people were homebound in Athens and across America during what I called the “patiopocalypse.”
The pandemic could not stop the protests that erupted across the United States and abroad when Minneapolis police killed an African-American man named George Floyd on May 25. In New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Atlanta and more than 150 cities and college towns from coast to coast, police were out in force using clubs, tear gas, flash grenades, pepper spray and rubber bullets during protests and urban riots. Here in the often politically somnolent city of Athens, where protests usually are small and muted affairs, large and peaceful crowds packed downtown’s College Square during a spirited Black Lives Matter rally on May 31. That night, police and National Guard troops used tear gas against protesters near the entrance to the university campus. It was the first time that tear gas had been used against protesters in Athens since the tempestuous times of dissent during the Vietnam War nearly 50 years ago.
2020 was a horrible year that was punctuated by the good news of civic involvement in the streets and at the voting places. The pandemic is still with us, and sore-loser Trumpster tricksters will continue to bemoan the toppling of their demigod demagogue by legions of voters. Fear and chaos still stalk this nation, but the landscape also is dotted with signs of hope. This new year of 2021 will have its own triumphs and tragedies, but for now, America and the world should be glad that 2020 is gone. It will never be forgotten.
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