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Kamis, 31 Desember 2020

Americans have long been talking like things would get better in 2021, but things still look bleak - ABC News

At some point, 2020 stopped being merely a measurement of time and became a euphemism for suffering.

"I can't wait for 2020 to be over," Americans said, again and again and again, because it was easier than listing out the compounding crises or addressing the specific causes at their core.

In repeating the phrase, we postponed catharsis, subconsciously pinning our hopes for feeling better to the arrival of 2021.

Yet when Americans wake up on New Year's Day, time will have passed, but without bringing solace for their suffering.

The crises the country is facing will remain.

The year began and finished with political division

The year started off in crisis, or what the pundits said was one. In hindsight, the stakes feel laughably low.

The impeachment trial of US President Donald J Trump began on January 16, and though there was little suspense about the outcome in a Republican-controlled Senate, anyone watching the event could've sensed a bit of foreshadowing.

Donald Trump winking at the camera
Donald Trump was acquitted on two articles of impeachment.(Reuters: Leah Millis)

Two sides of the country looked at the same transcript of a phone call and came to two totally opposing conclusions about what was best for democracy.

Republicans and Democrats don't just have different political beliefs, they're living in two different realities. None of that changed with the way the year played out.

A poll taken shortly after the November election revealed that 81 per cent of Republicans and 77 per cent of Democrats said they had less respect for the opposing party than they did four years ago.

The election itself felt so consequential to the country that it drew the highest-ever turnout, but it also contained the smallest number of split-ticket voters in at least two decades.

It was a sign there's no interchange of ideas between the two sides.

A Pew Research Center poll taken in October found that 9 in 10 supporters of both Trump and President-elect Joe Biden believed there'd be "lasting harm" to the US if their candidate lost.

Trump is leaving office, but the vote was hardly the reassurance that the Democrats had been hoping for.

Biden's power will be hamstrung by a shrunken Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, and, possibly a Republican Senate majority (with a run-off election next week in Georgia to decide the last two seats).

But maybe more pressing, Biden's power will be seen as illegitimate by tens of millions of Americans — nearly 9 in 10 Trump supporters according to one poll.

Every big and small democratic institution imaginable — media biased both ways, congressional leaders of both parties, state officials of all stripes, the conservative-leaning US Supreme Court, the Trump-appointed US Attorney-General — have all said the President's claims of widespread voter fraud are unfounded.

And yet the alternate narrative remains. 2021 won't change it.

The US New Year is marked by the biggest coronavirus surge yet

Since the US first went into lockdown in March, the US has registered nearly 20 million known COVID-19 cases.

A woman in a mask kneels in a field of US flags
American flags have been used to represent some of the lives lost in the United States in the coronavirus pandemic.(Reuters: Joshua Roberts)

US deaths account for more than 345,000 of the 1.8 million Johns Hopkins University has tracked around the world — 19 per cent of the world's deaths coming from a country with 4 per cent of the population.

By every indication, the virus will only spread faster and further in the early months of 2021.

Hospitals are at least 90 per cent occupied in 126 counties, according to CDC data released Monday.

And this is before the US has seen the full consequences of Christmas travel, which brought the most single-day airport visitors since the country closed down in March.

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One projection from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation suggests the increased mobility could lead to as many as 502,000 US COVID deaths by April 1.

It'd be an oversimplification to say that division led America's coronavirus outbreak to become the worst in the world, but it's impossible to discuss Americans' attitudes towards the outbreak without it.

Masks are still a political symbol, and vaccine injections are shaping up to be the next one.

A study published in the scientific journal Nature found partisanship to be the strongest indicator of one's willingness to practice social distancing — even more than proximity to COVID deaths.

If 2021 brought another lockdown, only 49 per cent of Americans say they'd stay home, driven largely by Republicans. The group fell from 74 per cent willing to stay home in late spring, even with anti-lockdown protests spurring up in April.

A protester holding a sign reading "Honk if you question coronavirus"
Small groups of protesters gathered in US states earlier this year, demanding businesses reopen and questioning coronavirus containment measures.(Reuters: Lindsey Wasson)

April was when the unemployment rate jumped to 14.7 per cent, the highest level since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Since the peak, unemployment has fallen back to 6.7 per cent in November but some 23 million Americans are still out of jobs, spending New Year's Eve anxiously waiting for the final bit of a stimulus bill that has been held up by Congress for months.

Most recently, direct aid to Americans has been delayed largely because the Republican party itself was divided, unsure of whether to send Americans cheques for $US600 or $US2,000 ($780 or $2,600).

It's a bit like letting a bushfire continue to rage because you can't decide whether to fight it with a squirt gun or a water balloon.

America still faces existential threats like climate change

Of course the year brought glimmers of hope, too — moments of shared joy and collective relief in a troubled country.

November's tense wait for election results ended without political violence, contrary to expert predictions.

A crowd of people marching in the streets, holding signs saying "the people have spoken" and "voters decide".
People celebrated in the streets after Democrat Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump.(AP: Rebecca Blackwell)

December brought approval of not just one but two vaccines, which have started rolling out around the country, albeit slower than promised.

And all throughout the year, feats of generosity, kindness, and ingenuity happened too frequently, sometimes too personally, to summarise in a single sentence.

Still, the moments of hope that come to mind feel specific to this year's challenges. America made dismal steps on looming threats of an existential variety.

While 2020 was marching forward, climate change contributed to the most active US hurricane season on record. Four million acres burned in California.

Misinformation continued to spread without interference from trustworthy media sites or a functioning education system. A fifth of Americans believe that a group of Satan-worshipping elites and politicians are running a child sex ring out of a DC pizza parlour.

The biggest protest event in US history brought an estimated 26 million Americans to the streets this summer, but, in the end, it raised more questions about racial justice than it answered. No national legislation on policing reform has been passed.

A woman in a face mask holding her hands up with red paint on her palms
Black Lives Matter is now nearly seven years old, and the founders say they won't stop until African Americans stop dying at the hands of police.(ABC News: Niall Lenihan)

We couldn't have known all that 2020 would bring (nor how or why or when).

But maybe, in hindsight, we should've expected that when those events hit, they'd hit the US differently, morphing with a unique shape and magnitude, warped by the country's unique brand of division.

America's crises won't be fixed just because time is passing. The year 2021 will bring more crises, unexpected ones, because crises don't follow a calendar.

So much depends on whether the country can come together to solve them.

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https://news.google.com/__i/rss/rd/articles/CBMibmh0dHBzOi8vd3d3LmFiYy5uZXQuYXUvbmV3cy8yMDIxLTAxLTAxL2FtZXJpY2FzLXdpbGRseS1iYWQteWVhci1pcy1vdmVyLWJ1dC1pdHMtYmlnZ2VzdC1jcmlzZXMtcmVtYWluLzEzMDI0MzMw0gEnaHR0cHM6Ly9hbXAuYWJjLm5ldC5hdS9hcnRpY2xlLzEzMDI0MzMw?oc=5

2021-01-01 01:51:00Z
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