What 2020 revealed about America’s religion, politics, economy, and healthcare
(RNS) – “Annus horribilis” was how Queen Elizabeth II described the year 1992. The Latin phrase meaning “horrible year” captured how the British monarch felt about 12 months of embarrassment and loss for his family.
This year 2020 has been an annus horribilis for the whole world. We have been struck by a global pandemic, an economic collapse, not to mention political chaos. It really has been a horrible year.
Such a year tests the soul of a people. Pope Francis says that a crisis makes us better or worse; it is impossible to stay the same. In a crisis, writes the Pope, “you reveal your own heart: how strong it is, how merciful it is, great or small”.
What has 2020 revealed about America? What can we learn from this year about the heart of America as revealed in its healthcare system, economy, political system, and religion?
Most Americans think we have the best health care system in the world. We have highly qualified specialists and our medical technology is unmatched. The courageous and enduring dedication of our doctors and nurses was something we could celebrate in these dark times.
However, even though we spend twice as much on health care as other developed countries, we were ill-prepared for a pandemic. Emergency medical stocks were insufficient. Likewise, public health services were overwhelmed and underfunded.
Hospitals had wonderful machines, but not enough, and lacked basic necessities like personal protective equipment. They pushed up prices by competing for limited supplies because there was no cooperative system.
The crisis has also shown how our health care system is designed to benefit the rich and the insured more than the poor and the uninsured. Without Obamacare, the situation would have been much worse. It would have been better if all states had extended Medicaid as permitted by the Affordable Care Act. Due to Republican opposition, 12 states have not extended Medicare, which particularly helps the poor.
More importantly, large numbers of Americans have ignored advice from healthcare experts to reduce the spread of the pandemic by wearing face masks, socially distancing themselves and washing their hands. Even before the pandemic, Americans were reluctant to change their behavior (eating habits and exercise) to protect their health, so it’s no surprise that they ignored the experts here.
When it comes to health, Americans trust technology, not personal behavior. As a result, for all our wealth and expertise, our system has failed miserably compared to many other countries.
Very early on, many authorities made a false choice between public health and the economy. The economy cannot recover until workers and consumers are safe from infection. Flattening the curve was not the solution; the curve had to be bent down.
The pandemic has revealed how essential many low-paid workers are. These men and women who go out every day to care for others and feed us all have also made the economy work.
It is a scandal that these workers, mostly people of color, risk their lives for low wages as the rich continue to get richer on the stock market. Raising the minimum wage, especially in industries that thrived during the pandemic, should be a priority. Those who benefited from it would also have to pay more taxes to pay for the economic aid.
President Donald Trump has been blamed for the mismanagement of the pandemic and his disregard for democratic norms and institutions. But too many of our leaders have been complicit in his offenses rather than being courageous profiles. Congress, meanwhile, has shown a shocking reluctance to decree relief for those devastated by the virus and the economy.
But it wasn’t just the government. Our emphasis on individualism and personal autonomy has failed us in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, which has called for solidarity and a common effort that only government can provide. The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the murder of George Floyd proved that we can act together for a higher purpose, but otherwise our reluctance to sacrifice ourselves for the common good has not served us.
What we call Trumpism is a disease at the heart of America, with a history stretching back to slavery, segregation, the Ku Klux Klan, the Know Nothing Party, and McCarthyism. Conspiracy theories are not new to America. Too often Americans have been seduced by leaders who appeal to their lowest instincts with hatred towards one another.
Some liberal elites have also failed to help with words and actions that much of America sees as disrespectful of American values and traditions. People are not won over by someone who talks down to them.
Conservatives believe their opponents are corrupt and wicked; the Liberals think their opponents are stupid. Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that people are both corrupt and stupid. We call this original sin. But Christianity also teaches us to be compassionate and forgiving. We are supposed to love each other, even our enemies.
The performance of religion during this year has not been stellar. Many evangelical leaders have been more interested in supporting Trump’s re-election than in preaching the gospel. Too many people have also ignored health guidelines and put their congregations at risk of infection.
Catholic leaders have done better by following health guidelines, but a few have taken legal action when local governments restricted the number of people who can gather in their churches.
Restrictions on congregational meetings have shown churches how important human contact and community are to religion. For Catholics this is especially true, because we are a church not only of the Word, but also of the sacraments. It would be tragic if Catholics did not return when the restrictions were lifted as they did not really feel the absence of community and have learned to live without it.
This has been a horrible year, but we should learn from it as we move forward. We cannot go back to normal. We have to get better or we will be worse.
More stories from America:
-‘O God, may 2020 go to hell. ‘ A raging New Year’s prayer
-2020 in review: Some of the best movies you should see a surreal year for cinema