What do Americans need to consider as the new year approaches?
Forget about us having serious conversations about the important issues dividing us. Do you really think after the hate that dominated our political speech over the past four years and the anxiety coronavius spawned over the past nine months that Americans will be ready to discuss police reform, the environment, immigration, social unrest, entitlement programs, military spending and more?
Exactly. There’s a cavernous divide between whether we should discuss them and whether we will.
Our priorities for 2021 have to be, shall we say, lowered.
Perhaps the most important — and vexing — challenge: Understanding what the new normal will look like once enough of us are vaccinated and we can start living free from coronavirus restrictions. (And there’s a huge presumption in that previous statement: I’m guessing the overwhelmingly positive results from the vaccines will continue; if they don’t, uh oh.) Will work-from-home policies, however imperfect they might seem to many people, become more amenable to us? What happens if substantial numbers of businesses accept there isn’t need for a signature footprint somewhere in the downtowns of our largest cities? What will the so-called dress code look like when a majority of people who can work at the office opt to do so? Let’s be honest, over the past nine months we’ve become less strict in our wardrobe choices, and a whole lot of us feel more relaxed because of it.
Next, what do we plan to do in order to get our most vulnerable citizens on firmer footing? Coronavirus has sent far too many Americans into unemployment, and worse. Americans across the country need a good job, and a fair number of them also need a place to live. A sizable percentage of us fall into the “send some organization some money and we’re done” camp. Another sizable percentage of us don’t want the government to engage more directly in people’s lives. And yet another sizable percentage believe the time has come to more fully infuse federal policies into everyday life. How those coalitions, for lack of a better word, coalesce into altering federal programs will determine how well the poor and the needy enjoy more economic freedom in the new year.
Third, how quickly will Americans feel comfortable and confident returning to air or train travel? Will you be among the “I’m the first in line” crowd, or are you more likely to be the “I think I can wait another few weeks” group? The airlines and Amtrak want far more of the former. But will there be enough of us quickly choosing to go elsewhere via air or rail? And what will the costs of those tickets look like? On the local front, how quickly will we return to the sports stadiums and cultural buildings?
Fourth, will far too many Americans return to their elitist and dangerously indifferent to the people around them ways? People refusing to wear masks and those who insist they can continue to live as they wish during the pandemic highlighted how arrogant too many of us can be. But for the rest of us, will we return to whatever normal is in our lives with a humility and grace, or will we become disrespectful once our spending power can be unleashed?
We’re a nation of close to 340 million people. The last few years has seen more and more of us move into camps of “people like me.” A new year affords us a great opportunity to remember “us” is stronger than “me.”