It was that kind of year.
It has been a long, dispiriting plod through a thicket of uncertainty; months of choosing between bad and worse.
Ensnared in a global pandemic that coincided with corrosive political strife, a teetering economy, a racial uprising against police violence and the disastrous consequences of global warming: Who knew what to do?
Shut down bars and restaurants? Save lives but wreck the businesses that power South Florida’s tourist economy?
Keep the kids at home, stuck in front of computer, struggling with remote learning? Or send them back to their classrooms to become potential carriers who could expose parents and grandparents to COVID-19? (Maybe killing a few teachers, school bus drivers and cafeteria workers along the way.)
Do you shelter in place, enduring the loneliness of social isolation? Or venture out and help your favorite restaurant stave off bankruptcy at a time when “a cozy little hole-in-the-wall” describes both a charming eatery and a coronavirus danger zone?
Do you opt for safety rather than the extended-family gatherings at Thanksgiving or Christmas or Hanukkah? If so, which relatives do you tell to stay away?
Do you forgo visits with frail elderly shut-ins, knowing they might not survive another year, COVID or not?
How do you respond when your wife’s maskless, well-armed, MAGA-capped cousin visits, muttering that COVID is a hoax? (And, oh yeah, Trump won the election.)
Who do you believe: The CDC? Dr. Fauci? Or a Florida governor who, as a Sun-Sentinel investigative team reported Dec. 18, “engaged in a pattern of spin and concealment that misled the public on the gravest health threat the state has ever faced” and who “worked to cast doubt on their own COVID-19 death count, second-guessing doctors on the front lines of the pandemic and mirroring Donald Trump’s messaging that the toll wasn’t as bad as it looked.”
The answer to that particular riddle might seem obvious to me, but judging by the Nov. 3 election results in Florida, more than half the state’s population resides in an alternative universe. How does society mend such a malignant breach?
How do doctors triage 300 million Americans and decide who should receive the first vaccinations? Nursing home residents? Health care workers? Soldiers? First responders? Teachers? Political leaders?
What’s our moral obligation to prisoners residing in the most disease-ridden death traps in America?
Should elected officials like Florida’s 49-year-old U.S. senator, the apparently essential Marco Rubio, be among the first recipients? (Rubio, cameras rolling, was vaccinated on Monday.) But juxtapose that infuriating optic against the surging insanity of the anti-vaxxer movement. Maybe we need political leaders to set an example. Sorry about the theoretical oldster whose vaccination went into Rubio’s arm, but like I said: There’s no good answer.
The 2020 paradoxes keep coming. Do we applaud the desperately needed $900 billion federal stimulus package passed Monday, knowing that the same legislation also revives (at Trump’s behest) the old three-martini-lunch tax deduction? (Not exactly an economic game-changer for Trump’s legion of lunch-pail-toting supporters.)
How can you support the Black Lives Matter movement while rejecting its politically inane defund the police sideshow? (I know. I know. “Defund” doesn’t quite mean defund. But if your cause’s slogan requires an asterisk and a droning explanation, it ain’t workin’.)
The pandemic has left state and local governments, schools, colleges, hospitals and community clinics with profound budget shortfalls. What’s the fix? What services must be cut? What classes discontinued? Which bus drivers, police officers, firefighters, professors, nurses, doctors or teachers shall be laid off? Can taxes be raised during an economic downturn? There are simply no painless fixes.
The miseries brought on by 2020 only exacerbated our perennial dilemmas, like how much sacrifice will Americans tolerate to slow global warming? How much flooding will seaside South Floridians endure before abandoning their patch of paradise? How can righteous demonstrators for racial justice be distinguished from looting opportunists? How do we undo the political influence of the neo-Nazis? How can we sort out conspiracy theories spreading through social media without impinging on free speech?
National party leaders, meanwhile, have been forced to wrangle with intraparty quandaries with no easy solutions. Joe Biden Democrats wonder how to appease the party’s energized left wing without abandoning the moderate politics that got him elected. Traditional Republicans struggle to untether their party from the MAGA fringe without enraging a vindictive outgoing president.
At least, Trump ought to be outgoing. Sadly, 2020 ends with a presidential transition that, like so many other answers to this year’s questions, is answered with, “Who the hell knows?”
Fred Grimm, a longtime resident of Fort Lauderdale, has worked as a journalist in South Florida since 1976. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @grimm_fred.