Constable: Emerging from ashes of 2020 with hope for 2021
It's a wonder Father Time still has enough energy to hand over the reins to Baby New Year, considering everything that happened under his watch in 2020. And that old man should forget about getting his damage deposit back.
Americans were still nursing hangovers from New Year's Eve when 2020 got off on the wrong foot with apocalyptic brush fires ravaging Australia. Newspapers were filled with stories about a "blast furnace," "catastrophic fires," the "Armageddon," "dystopian wasteland," the deaths of "hundreds of millions of animals," and the frantic efforts to make mittens for koalas with burned paws.
OK. Rough start. But the rest of 2020 can only get better, right?
Before the first week of 2020 was over, Julián Castro, the only Latino candidate among the dozens and dozens of Democrats vying to take on President Donald Trump in 2020, bowed out of the race; Puerto Rico got hit by earthquakes; all 176 people on board were killed when a Ukranian commercial airplane was shot down; Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, announced that they were leaving the British royal family; and Pier One started closing stores across the suburbs and nation.
Two weeks later, the nation was embroiled in a divisive impeachment drama that eventually ended with the House making Donald J. Trump the third president in history to be impeached (Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson were the others). Then the Senate acquitted Trump, and both sides went back to being angry and accusatory. We could take comfort in thinking the worst parts of 2020 were over.
On Jan. 21, the state of Washington announced the first U.S. case of something called the coronavirus. "We have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China. It's going to be just fine," our president assured us in the first of many statements about how the virus was under control and would "miraculously" go away.
But we didn't have the virus under control and it didn't disappear. COVID-19 spread to Illinois and the suburbs with the first local case on Jan. 24, a woman who recovered at AMITA St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates. In the following weeks, more cases showed up at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights.
Still, we went about our business as usual, watching Billie Eilish sweep the Grammy Awards, "Parasite" become the first foreign film to win the Best Picture Oscar, a standard poodle named Siba win Best in Show Award at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and the Kansas City Chiefs win the Super Bowl on Groundhog Day behind MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, whom the Bears passed on to grab Mitchell Trubisky. Thanks to Illinois legalizing marijuana and gambling, fans could bet on the Super Bowl while stoned and look forward to the biggest gambling event, the NCAA's basketball tournament.
But the virus ran amok, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker declared it a public health emergency on March 9. Two days later, the NBA suspended its season after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the coronavirus. That struck many as a little extreme. Until it didn't. The Cubs and White Sox canceled spring training games and the MLB said the season would be delayed by a couple of weeks. The NHL, NBA, MLB, NASCAR and other professional sports eventually hosted competitions before a small, select group of spectators, while the Olympics were wiped out for 2020.
Suburbanites responded by buying all the toilet paper we could find, and by the middle of March, restaurants, bars and schools were forced to figure out how to operate without the usual gatherings. Proms, graduations, weddings, vacations and funerals were canceled by the virus. Assisted living facilities and hospitals allowed online visitors, forcing people to learn about the world of Zoom. We began to squabble about safety and freedom and the medical experts' suggestion that we all wear masks.
May 25 ignited another simmering issue of racial injustice when George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man suspected of using a $20 counterfeit bill to buy cigarettes, died as a white Minneapolis police officer named Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for more than 8 minutes, even as Floyd repeatedly said, "I can't breathe." While protests across the suburbs decrying police brutality, and some in support of officers, were mostly peaceful, some parts of the nation, including Kenosha, Wisconsin, were home to violent protests and deaths.
NASCAR banned Confederate battle flags, the TV show "Cops" was canceled after 31 years, Chicago removed a couple of Christopher Columbus statues, Washington's NFL team dropped its nickname, and HBO Max stopped streaming "Gone With The Wind" because of "ethnic and racial prejudices."
While this human drama played out on the streets, and some people spewed hate, lies and conspiracy theories across social media, nature sent us so many hurricanes that we ran out of names, and wildfires ravaged the West Coast and Colorado.
The Nov. 3 elections saw Democratic candidates succeed in the suburbs and Democrat Joe Biden win the popular and Electoral College vote with historic running mate Kamala Harris to defeat the incumbent Trump. Public opinion, courts and law enforcement support that result, but Trump and his backers continue to say the election was fraudulent.
What else can we expect in a year that has recorded more than 335,000 U.S. deaths from the coronavirus and refuses to go quietly into the night? A year that saw the deaths of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Alex Trebek, Eddie Van Halen, Gale Sayers, Chadwick Boseman, John Lewis, Carl Reiner, Little Richard, Chuck Yeager, John Prine, Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna? A year with record unemployment? And yes, a year that ends with Australia still fighting raging wildfires?
As bad as it was, 2020 still taught us how to prioritize our values, appreciate friends and families, and even focus on the hope for a better 2021. A vaccine is here, people continue to bring new babies into this world, and the Bears still have a shot at winning the Super Bowl.
But we can't close the book on the year yet. President Trump has until Jan. 20 to pardon 2020.