Comment: 2020 was a year; still, there’s reason for gratitude

As bad as things have been for the country, however, the bad allows one to appreciate the good.

By Daniel W. Drezner / Special To The Washington Post

My family was supposed to host Thanksgiving this year, but the worsening pandemic ensured that my extended family will not be congregating this Thursday. In other words, it’s 2020.

On social media, the hashtag #2020 is generally attached to events that are horrible in one form or another. In most ways, that is how this year has felt in the United States. The year began with an impeachment trial, transformed with a pandemic, worsened with the bungled federal response to the pandemic, segued into the largest economic contraction in American history, confronted the worst social unrest in a half-century, suffered through hurricanes and wildfires and murder hornets and probably a few other plagues, endured a presidential campaign in which one side refused to abide by the results or commit to a peaceful transfer of power, and is only just recovering from a post-election interregnum in which the losing candidate has refused to concede and browbeat almost everyone in his party into going along with his temper tantrum.

It’s been a year.

As bad as things have been for the country, however, the bad allows one to perceive the good and not take it for granted like in years past. There are still many reasons to give thanks on the fourth Thursday of November. So, as my nuclear family assembles for Turkey Day, here is what I will be thankful for about 2020:

• I am thankful that my family has largely avoided catching the coronavirus. I live in a state and city that took the pandemic seriously from March onward, and my family was good about wearing masks and avoiding potential superspreader events.

• I am thankful that my wife imparted sufficient amounts of good sense into my children so that last bullet point could be written.

• I am also thankful to my wife for continuing to make me laugh after nine months of being housebound together with almost no travel. Note: The rest of this list could consist solely of encomiums to my spouse but in the interest of variety, I’m going to move on.

• I am thankful to my neighbors for their good cheer, their concern for others and their excellent taste in dogs.

• I am thankful to my friends from high school, who decided it would be a good idea to get together remotely once a week because of the pandemic.

• I am thankful to combination of fortuna and fortitude that landed me a job at the Fletcher School that I could do remotely if necessary. I’m grateful to the school administrators for having the good sense to announce fall 2020 plans in the spring, making it easier for us teachers to prepare our classes. I’m particularly grateful to the Fletcher students; for all the talk of cancel culture, they continue to tolerate me making fun of them on a regular basis.

• I am thankful to Zoom for making my job conceivable during a “work from home” environment, and for being able to scale up so well inside of two weeks.

• I am thankful to Michael Schur, Greg Daniels, Dan Harmon and Dan Levy for creating respectively “Parks and Recreation,” “The Good Place,” “Upload,” “Community” and “Schitt’s Creek.” In a year when binge-watching was a thing to do, I had a delightful set of choices on offer.

• I am thankful for the election officials and poll workers who facilitated a general election during a pandemic. I am also thankful that more Americans than ever decided that it was worth casting a ballot.

• I am thankful that the warnings about election and post-election violence mostly proved to be unfounded, but in no small part due to folks being prepared for worst-case contingencies.

• I am thankful that as close as the United States came to the large-scale use of federal officers and troops on our own soil, cooler and saner heads prevailed.

• I am thankful to Donald Trump for providing enough immaturity for a peer-reviewed journal article and a university press book. I am also thankful that his attempts to override the election results were so ham-handed that they failed. I am further thankful that he lost the election by more than 6 million votes, which will liberate some head space for more important matters in 2021.

• I am thankful to the array of biomedical researchers, universities and pharmaceutical companies that will have combined to produce not one, not two, but three working vaccines less than a year after SARS-CoV-2 was initially discovered, suggesting that next year’s Thanksgiving will not look like this one.

• Finally, I am thankful for the coronavirus itself; wait, hear me out. As viruses go, it was highly infectious but not particularly life-threatening for children and working-age adults. In other words, it was well-suited to be a wake-up call for the United States. It is highly likely that in my lifetime the country will face renewed epidemiological and environmental challenges. If the novel coronavirus proves to be a harbinger of even more serious challenges to come, then we will be better prepared for them because of our current challenges.

Happy Thanksgiving to all the readers of Spoiler Alerts!

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University

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