The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
This is a time of unparalleled division in America, yet there is one thing that virtually every single person you meet will agree on: 2020 has been the most miserable year ever.
And how could you disagree, really? Look around our country, and the world at large, and the news has been grim.
Right out of the gate, America had to deal with the lingering cloud of President Donald Trump’s impeachment, which started 2020 off on a politically bitter note. Of course, we also had major international events, like the continuing protests over the Chinese crackdown on Hong Kong, or the massive Australian wildfires (remember those?)
But everything obviously pales in comparison to COVID-19. What began in China spread to the rest of the world, resulting in massive crackdowns of traditionally protected constitutional guarantees in the United States, and of course now more than 260,000 deaths.
In just a single day, March 16, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 2,997.10 points, the single largest one-day decline of all time. The unemployment rate in the United States went from only 3.5 percent in February to 14.7 percent in April, forcing tens of millions of Americans into government assistance almost overnight. An astounding number of businesses — 100,000 or more — shut down permanently in the wake of COVID.
The government, in trying to respond to the crisis, has both acted swiftly, and then become completely paralyzed. When they did act, they simply spent money indiscriminately, adding more than $3 trillion to our national debt in just a single year, leaving us with a debt that will now be larger than the entire American economy.
But obviously the impact on the country has not been just financial. School children have been forced to “learn” at home via Zoom calls and recorded lessons. Their parents were forced to try to find a way to be home with them, and then become a teacher themselves.
The effect of all this on society has been unbelievable. Here in Maine, deaths from opioid abuse have increased by a staggering 27 percent, with increases seen all across the country. Suicides, too, are up significantly, and among young adults the effect is most terrifying. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of young adults who had thought seriously about committing suicide in the last 30 days has skyrocketed to 25.5 percent, which is almost three times the rate from 2018.
In fact, mental health issues are now front and center for much of the country. By May, the use of prescription medication to treat anxiety had spiked by 34 percent, while antidepressant use went up by 18.6 percent.
Of course, watching the news every day is enough to send anyone into a depression. The death of George Floyd, for instance, sent off a wave of outrage, protests and civil unrest that persisted for months.
And of course, most recently we have had a return of political turmoil.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg died this year, giving conservatives a six-to-three advantage on the Supreme Court, which will likely be maintained by a generation. On top of that for liberals, the dreams of a Senate majority are almost certainly gone.
If you are conservative, President Donald Trump was unable to win his re-election, his court challenges have failed to make any headway, and the General Services Administration has now begun the formal process of preparing the incoming Biden administration.
This has even been a miserable year for the rich and famous, and celebrities we all know. In addition to Ginsburg, 2020 has also seen the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, actor Chadwick Boseman of “Black Panther” fame, Sean Connery, and even beloved television host Alex Trebek.
So what is to be thankful for this year?
Odd as it may sound, I’m actually thankful for the misery.
Don’t get me wrong, I would never ask for any of this, and never want to repeat it. We’ve all lost a lot, and much of it will never be recovered, especially in the people no longer with us.
Yet this year has also taught us a lot that I hope will remain with us when all of this is over. Will we ever again be ungrateful for our freedoms? Will we take seeing our family and friends for granted anymore? Will we be as cavalier about our health as we used to? Will we value our jobs and our financial security more?
I don’t know what your answers to those questions are, but I certainly know mine. And that added perspective is something I will be truly, genuinely thankful for this year.
Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.