My Turn: New year, old worries     

  • mactrunk

Published: 1/26/2022 2:14:01 PM
Modified: 1/26/2022 2:12:44 PM

This one is for Robert. It’s a new year. The first month is nearly over. It’s been gray and extra cold; while we might long for brightening days shining on clean snow or a slowly reawakening earth, we face re-runs of last year’s worries.

We are awash in details of the Jan. 6 insurrection that attempted to overthrow our government; it’s clear now that the breach of the Capitol was not the result of an overexcited mob in a heated moment, but the result of weeks, maybe months, of careful planning to gather the firewood, set the tinder, add the accelerant and strike the match.

We also passed Jan. 20, the day when President-elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris led a somber commemoration of over 400,000 lives lost to COVID. A year later, double that number — 850,000 people — have been lost, more than any other nation on earth. More will come as people continue to risk their lives, and their neighbors’ lives, by refusing to mask or vaccinate.

We have watched Congress fail to meet the needs of our new year starting with failure to protect the right to vote for every citizen. Millions of citizens still need health care access, housing, child care, job training and investment to recover from the pandemic. And every one of us needs our government to throw the throttle into high gear to address global warming.

Tired old labels like “socialism,” “communism,” anti-competition,” “job-killing” have been thrown at the Build Back Better legislation designed to support families and to launch a more rapid transition from the death-dealing petroleum economy. Legislators have cowered behind false rhetoric and procedural blockades to thwart bills supported by millions of Americans.

By almost any measure the first year of President Biden’s term has been a resounding success. 4.1 million jobs created (more than all 12 years of the Bush and Trump terms); a jobless rate down from 6.2% to 3.9%; 15% US company profit margins (highest since 1950); 50% reduction in child poverty; 4.6 more Americans gaining health care coverage; economic output up 7%; a reduced budget deficit (down 33%!); a growth rate of 6%, projected for 4% in 2022 — the highest in the world. Even drone strikes are down (four for Biden compared to 1,600 in Trump’s first 11 months).

Still much hasn’t gotten done. Continued misinformation about masks and vaccinations has stalled out efforts to reach vaccination levels that could more certainly reduce the damage by COVID. Distrust in government has been stoked by lies about election integrity. Serious climate action has been stymied by obfuscation and outright falsehoods about what we face in the next few years if we don’t act.

I believe government is our invention to help us do what is too big, too costly, or too complicated for us to achieve on our own. Without a shared belief in the purpose of government and in our ability to direct government toward the greater good, we are left with confusion, at the mercy of big oil, big pharma, big tech, all the endless examples of how private business cannot ever manage to overcome its own imperatives of profit and control to meet the public need. We know from repeated experience that there is always an unscrupulous person or company ready to exploit any loophole, any crack or uncertainty, any anxiety or lack of preparedness.

The especially dark month of January has made it hard to keep isolated spirits up. I am especially bewildered and disheartened by the people who vehemently resist something as simple as masks that support the greater goods of health, education, essential commerce. To these people I say: I don’t want you to die. I don’t care who you voted for. I don’t want you or your families to be sick or scared or hungry or threatened by climate change. I want you to live — fully and with dignity. I want us to find a community of mutual concern in which we respect our neighbors, despite inevitable differences. And where we look out for each other even if, sometimes, we are not sure how to do it.

When I recently shared my deep discouragement about our frayed community, Robert spoke up, despite his shyness. Keep looking for ways to communicate, he said; each of us has something we can contribute to community and building connections no matter how small.

Like the lengthening late January days, each additional minute of light reminds us of the possibilities, one second at a time.

Judy Wagner lives in Northfield.


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