Studio portrait by Sid Salter. (Photo by Beth Wynn / © Mississippi State University)
By: Sid Salter
The pandemic, the presidential election, the constant discord and meanness of social media, and the endless blame game for all facets of the above issues – aren’t you tired of it?
The Christmas holidays will be heavily impacted by COVID-19, even as promising news emerges in the field of vaccines. People torment themselves over decisions about visiting elderly relatives, young children, and other loved ones.
Most families held outdoor Thanksgiving gatherings to ease their fears with the facade of added distancing. With the waves caused by Thanksgiving travel, the rules have tightened again and the demons of loneliness and separation threaten Christmas, our most sacred religious holiday.
The New Year celebration approach is divided between those who want to fight for their right to party and those who realize that such gatherings can be fatal this time around. We whistle through the rhetorical cemeteries to overcome the struggles of 2020 – and quietly state that COVID will plague us for at least six months to a year.
Even the promise of effective COVID vaccines shares us. Conspiracy theories abound. The same ankles that refuse to protect themselves and others by simply wearing masks give us the same old “freedom and freedom” that we have about taking the vaccine.
And of course they are pervertedly right. In America, we value our right to be dead wrong just because we can. Nobody will tell me what to do, they say with a glimmer in their eyes.
We speak of 2020 as the worst year ever and the problems we have faced this year as “unprecedented”. Is not it. Our parents and grandparents survived the first major influenza pandemic, the Great Depression, two world wars, yellow fever, polio, and the other signs of dire rural poverty in the deep south with no Netflix or Amazon shipments.
The families of the dead and those suffering in intensive care units face real problems that deserve our compassion, respect and support. The doctors and nurses, the researchers, the public transport staff, the person checking your groceries and filling out your prescriptions are heroes who volunteer to endure real trouble.
The rest of us are honestly just bored and molested. When reading social media, quite a few of us get upset and angry about it and itchy to find someone to blame. If this guilt fits our party political agendas, all the better.
Our nation is as divided as at any time in our history, fair enough. But more divided than ever before in our history, no. And we don’t have to go back to civil war to illustrate that fact.
Take a look at 1968. North Vietnam launched the Tet Offensive. Assassins murdered both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.
The struggle for civil rights and the opposition to the continuation of the Vietnam War sparked violent, deadly protests in major cities and on university campuses across the country. More than half a century before the Black Lives Matter movement, black American Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their gloved fists on the exam stand in Mexico City.
Republican Richard Nixon won a slim majority in the referendum, but won the electoral college by a landslide in the 1968 presidential campaign. The youth of the nation despised Nixon as many young people loathe President Trump today.
Incidentally, Trump was 21 years old in 1968 and was aiming for a degree in the Ivy League. President-elect Joe Biden was 25 that year and graduated from Syracuse University with a law degree.
The division in our country as we watch Christmas 2020 is more toxic and dangerous than the virus in many ways. Neither political party is currently high on the minds of American voters.
History teaches us that the virus is cured. That’s not our biggest problem. Mistrust, racism, class struggle and the systematic exclusion of a fair shot at the same point on the starting line of opportunities – these are problems that can tear a nation apart.
The new Biden administration will soon have the problems that plague the Trump administration on a daily basis. If our country cannot heal itself and work together as Americans, we will certainly drag the 2020 ball and chain well into our common future.
Our children and grandchildren deserve better. May you and your friends find the joy of Christmas.