Inigo: You know, it’s very strange. I’ve been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.
Westley: Have you ever considered piracy? You’d make a wonderful dread pirate Roberts.
Fans of The Princess Bride will recognize this exchange after Inigo Montoya, following a 20-year quest, has at long last found and killed the 6- fingered man who murdered his father. While most of us have never been in the revenge business, I do wonder what many of us, including me, will do with the rest of our lives now that we, just possibly, are on a road back to a more normal, less politically-eventful, less angst-ridden existence. One not dominated by the current administration. One in which we do not have to wonder each morning if our democracy is still intact and what pernicious acts may have been committed overnight.
It has been a miserable year. Millions sick and hundreds of thousands dead due to a virus that is in no way contained; tens of millions unemployed and without health insurance; an out-of-touch, tone-deaf and woefully inefficient administration; food lines stretching for miles; lines to vote nearly as long. Empty theaters, sports venues, schools, stores, restaurants and bars. Earlier, the western United States and Colorado were on fire. There were more hurricanes than we had proper names for. We witnessed devastating tornadoes. An impeachment. The Proud Boys.
New expressions and new terms were foisted upon us in 2020: shelter in place, social distancing, mask up, flatten the curve, hand sanitizer, PPE, N-95, in the bubble, hydroxychloroquine. ‘Spike’ and ‘surge’ took on new ominous meaning. Overnight, millions of parents added ‘teacher’ to their long list of duties as their children were forced to learn from home.
Three signs of the time: Andrew Cuomo, television sensation. Dr. Anthony Fauci, our leading pandemic expert and cult hero to many, throwing the first pitch at a Yankees-Nationals baseball game. Trump rallies, packed shoulder-to-shoulder with maskless, adoring fans.
The murders of Ahmaud Arbery (while jogging), Breonna Taylor (while sleeping), George Floyd (while living) and Rayshard Brooks (while in a Wendy’s parking lot) brought the Black Lives Matter movement to prime time and drove hundreds of thousands into the street. The names of those murdered and BLM-related slogans adorned players’ jerseys and signage in football stadia and basketball arenas. The commissioner of professional football admitted on television that he should have listened more closely to Colin Kaepernick. The Washington football team and the Cleveland baseball team began the process of changing their names. It was only a beginning, but it was a start.
We were polarized by talk of expunging the names and images of Confederate generals from town squares and military bases. We grappled with the fate of presidents and founding fathers who owned other humans. We began a conversation, long overdue, about admitting to and dealing with the institutional racism that has been part of our country since its beginning. While doing so, NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from all of its events. Mississippi dropped use of the Confederate emblem in its state flag.
We watched as states took specific steps to make it more difficult for people of color to vote. We watched as supporters of the administration attempted to overturn the presidential election in court. We watched as they went 1 for 60. We watched as 19 state attorneys general and 126 House Republicans signed onto a Supreme Court suit brought by the attorney general of Texas to invalidate the votes of millions in four battleground states — none with the name ‘Texas’ — the president believed he should have won.¹ We watched as the administration blocked the smooth transition of power, a hallmark of our republic. On January 6, we may watch as upwards of 12 Republicans in the Senate, 140 in the House and, just possibly, the Vice President vote to invalidate millions of ballots in their attempt to overturn the presidential election results.² This is more than a publicity stunt; this is an act of sedition. Is the formation of a new political party and/or a new nation in our future?
And in the first weekend of the new year, the president badgered the Georgia secretary of state during an hour-long phone call “to find 11,780 votes…because we won the state.”³ That it happened at all, much less that it was recorded and published in its entirety, is astounding. Mr. President, there’s your voter fraud.
Since the election, we watched the president retreat daily to the golf course, demonstrating little if any concern for a bombing in Nashville or the COVID deaths of nearly 350,000 in the U.S. alone. The president has yet to concede, likely because there is big money in it for him by continuing his irresponsible, baseless fight against his windmill, election fraud. Where ‘big money’ is more than $300 million raised from his supporters for his personal use. It is the con of the century.⁴
Meanwhile, his crack staff held a press conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia, somehow mistaking it for a Four Seasons hotel. ‘Make America Rake Again!’ and ‘Lawn & Order’ t-shirts became the rage.⁵
A perfect encapsulation of 2020: a soaring, record-breaking stock market while tens of millions are unemployed, without healthcare, fearing eviction and hungry.
We were not alone in having a difficult year. Last week, the United Kingdom officially parted ways with the European Union, an event likely to undermine the fiscal and social health of the country and continent for decades.
We lost so much last year, far more than Zoom could ever replace. We lost the ability to touch, to hug, to hold — to even be in the same room with friends and loved ones, including those dying of the coronavirus. We lost graduations, birthdays, weddings, July 4th, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas. We lost New Years. We lost brunch. We lost births and deaths. We lost the ability to fulfill the basic human need to be social, to come together at times of joy and heartache.
We lost Johnny Nash, Regis Philbin, RBG, John Lewis, Terrence McNally, Max von Sydow, Brian Dennehy, Jerry Stiller, Fred Willard, Carl Reiner, Buck Henry, Charlie Pride, Charlie Daniels, Kenny Rogers, Mac Davis, Helen Reddy, John le Carré, Chuck Yeager, Diana Rigg, Sean Connery, Kirk Douglas, Little Richard, Eddie Van Halen, Bill Withers, Diego Maradona, Gale Sayers, Kobe Bryant, Joe Morgan, Whitey Ford, Phil Niekro, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, K.C. Jones, John Thompson, Don Shula, David Stern, Chadwick Boseman, Hugh Downs, Alex Trebek, Robert Conrad, Jim Lehrer.
To define just how miserable the year was, we counted ourselves fortunate if we could buy toilet paper, paper towels or hand sanitizer. Buying all three in one store on one outing was an event to write home about. And we did.
The Houston Astros, possibly the only true beneficiaries of empty ball parks, played an abbreviated season with no one in the stands to deride the team in person following the revelation early last year that they had cheated their way to two World Series, including a championship in 2017. One can only hope that our memories are long and strong, as the players — none of whom were punished for their crime — have earned our fury. If only cardboard cutouts could jeer and bang garbage cans.
It was a difficult year for fans of San Francisco Bay Area teams. The Kansas City Chiefs beat the 49ers in the Super Bowl, and the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Dodgers, both long-time Bay Area arch rivals, won their sport’s championship.
On the positive and optimistic side, Operation Warp Speed was a success, producing in record time a number of viable vaccines to combat the coronavirus. Too bad the administration does not have a reliable way to get the vaccines to us. Of the 20 million doses produced to date, at least 10 million are unused.⁶
On the Once-in-a-Lifetime Events list, just last month we witnessed the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. An amazing, awe-inspiring sight nearly 800 years in the making. It was one of the rare times in 2020 we could, together, find a moment of bliss.
Thankfully, 2020 is finally behind us. It only took a year, but seemed like a lifetime.
What now? Assuming the new administration is inaugurated on January 20 — which, sadly, is not a sure thing — and assuming that the incoming president is a less volatile showman than the incumbent — very much a sure thing — what do we do with the angst, the frustration, the powerlessness, the fear that grew in many of us during the four years of the administration’s reign? What do we do with the time and energy we had devoted to the president’s every move? What do we do with our obsession?
Let’s face it, the guy sucked the life out of this country, stealing truth, decency and honor along the way. He played to and stoked our most ignoble beliefs about gender, race, ethnicity, and religion. He purposefully and quite effectively pitted us against each other, turning half the country into an enemy. He caused millions of Americans to mistrust our elections and, in the process, worked hard to delegitimize the incoming administration. He rallied a significant portion of the Republican Party to incite rebellion against democracy, for the entire world to see. He has led a campaign to overthrow the election, a campaign that is decidedly anti-Constitution, anti-American. And millions have followed him.
Give the president credit: he is a brilliant, charismatic manipulator. He played us, all of us, like puppets. And he is not done.
Like Inigo, many of us have been tormented by this administration. It has consumed us. It has been like a drug, a truly insidious, highly-addictive, destructive, soul-crushing narcotic. Like crack, but far worse. I am not sure I remember what life was like in the time Before Trump (soon to be known as B.T.). But now that his tenure is soon to end, and we no longer find ourselves obsessing — needing to read an array of major newspapers daily, watching at least three cable news networks from morning to night and incessantly checking online to see if anything has happened in the last 15 minutes — how do we return to ‘normal’? How do we recover? What do we do now with our new-found time? Relax? Read? Take a walk? Paint? Listen to music? Go into piracy?
The answer is any damn thing we want. We have survived. It is behind us. We have wounds that are still raw, but they will heal. It is time to loosen our grip on our obsession, let it evaporate, float away and allow ourselves to feel safe. It is time to dismantle the wall that was built to divide us, that forced us into warring camps. It is time to reconnect, to begin a real conversation about how we can overcome our differences and find common ground. It is time to return to caring for each other, to being concerned for each other’s well-being. Despite what we have been told, we are not enemies. Unlike the seditious Republicans in the Senate and the House and the guy soon to vacate the White House, we believe in this country and what it can be.
As we enter A.T., let us come together and make our first priority beating COVID. Start by wearing a mask. It’s easy. No complicated instructions or training are needed. Just be sure it covers your nose and mouth and wear it whenever you are outside. Donning a mask shows you care. It communicates instantly that you have compassion, that you have heart. That you are a warm, thoughtful human being. The sooner we all wear them, the sooner we won’t need them.
It is our time again. Let’s make the most of it.