Tradition has it that we celebrate the new year with gaiety, wishing ourselves and others good luck, prosperity, good fortune and good health in the months ahead. Looking forward to the promise of a new year is a sign of a healthy frame of mind. Oftentimes the accompanying resolutions are reflective of good intentions, but not necessarily realistic.
Nevertheless, it’s the time of year when we attempt to take stock of where we are, where we want to be, and what obstacles we might have to overcome to realize our intentions.
Try as I might to feel celebratory about the oncoming year, certain stark realities keep getting in the way of my feelings of good cheer. But, as Yoda might say, “Killjoy I am not.” Instead, I’m seriously concerned about what we’re likely to be facing as we saddle-up for 2022. Some may say this is a distinction without a difference. If so, call me a killjoy, or just a new year’s curmudgeon. Four things trouble me the most.
First, of course, is the pandemic. From the standpoint of our mental and physical health, our education systems and our employment circumstances, another year like the past two could have devastating consequences nationally and globally. Since the virus has an evolutionary mind of its own, we as a nation need to be better prepared for whatever mutations may be headed our way. Better prepared over the coming year means stockpiling sufficient supplies of rapid tests, faster response times for the more accurate PCR tests, sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment, better data tracking of positivity rates, better logistics when it comes to the distribution of medicines, vaccines and necessary equipment, and more effective incentives or mandates to get people vaccinated.
Vaccinations are the only way to neutralize the coronavirus pathogen. In short, our public health systems need to match up with the challenges pandemics present. According to a recent PBS report, more people died from COVID-19 in 2021 than died from the virus in 2020.
Second, “alarmist I am not,” when I say we are dangerously close to some kind of regional, if not global wartime situation. Vladimir Putin gets the attention he seeks by prodding and goading us and our NATO allies over Ukraine and more specifically over the Donetsk region, which has become a tinderbox ready for conflagration. The situation is complicated because Ukraine, formerly a part of the Soviet Union, is not a member of NATO subject to NATO defense stipulations. Ukraine is now independent and fearful of being consumed by a voracious Russian appetite for a return to a larger empire. Russia’s strategic chess game is aided by the fact that it’s a large supplier of natural gas to our European NATO allies.
But to make matters worse, if Russia marches into Ukraine in 2022, destabilizing that part of the world while consuming our attention and Europe’s, what’s to prevent China from simultaneously going after Taiwan, something they have been signaling with threatening air and naval actions during this past year. Add to this volatile stew an economically desperate North Korea liking nothing better than to add to these simultaneous conflagrations by lobbing missiles into South Korea. These are “ripe” and “hair-trigger” situations and history teaches us from earlier global and regional conflicts, that it doesn’t take much to light the tinderbox.
Third, escalating weather events are making it clear that climate change is having increasingly devastating effects on our country, to say nothing of the world at large. Tornado alley has expanded and moved east. Hurricane season has become longer and more intense. Wildfire season has grown longer and more severe. Droughts in our vital agricultural regions, especially the Imperial Valley, are threatening food supplies and water shortages in the West, especially along the Colorado River Basin in the Southwest. All these climate-change patterns, including verifiably hotter planet temperatures, are real and impossible to ignore. The year 2022 has to be a year when we as individuals and as a nation abandon indifference to the effects of climate change and start to take serious, demonstrable action.
Finally, I’m worried for our democracy. Set aside the obvious worries and effects stemming and radiating from the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Autocracy and populism are trending around the world and that’s a threat to our political and societal way of life. To be clear, it’s not just external threats by the likes of Chinese or Russian interference in our elections, or what’s happening in Venezuela, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Burma, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Hungary, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Cuba or Belarus, to name a few.
Our polarized and tribal politics in this country are having a profound effect on our ability as a democratic nation to live up to our ideals. Voter suppression, twisted and tortured gerrymandered political districts and state legislatures passing legislation allowing legislatures to override election outcomes all diminish and threaten the fundamental values that our democracy was founded upon.
At the risk of the first major understatement of the new year, let me say that social media has done more to undermine fact and truth than autocratic propaganda itself. More glaringly, the misinformation and deliberate disinformation proliferating on social media platforms today have infected the very “truths that we hold to be self-evident” in our democracy. That should frighten us all into taking action to remedy these failings and stem further leakage of these toxins that are threatening our cherished heritage. Like the Phoenix, let’s rise in the coming year from the ashes of ignorance to an enlightened year where we collectively come to recognize the truths that are self-evident before us.
How to put a positive spin over all this as we peer into the new year? I guess it would be my sincere hope for an end to the self-absorbed, “Big-Me” indifference and cynicism that permeates much of what I sense in society today.
Spinning optimistically, if the glass is half full, then in spite of the fact that 30 percent of Americans still believe that the 2020 election was stolen (PBS-NPR-Marist Poll), that means that somewhere around 70 percent believe that it was a fair election. I like that distribution of sentiment. Let’s build a new year on that kind of rational thinking.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.