My hobby is reading history and visiting historic sites. When things seem crazy in the present, it's a relief to know they were usually crazier in the past. In the books I read, most crowds weren't enlightened, most discourse wasn't nicer, most leaders weren't more noble, and on more than one occasion mob mentality ruled the day. In fact, the trend line for America has gone steadily up, as our society has generally moved away from ignorance and hate. It's not always at the pace we'd like, or that some groups deserve. But things have always been getting better.
That belief has helped me keep an even keel over the last 20 years. But I don't know what to make of 2020.
Double standards rule. So many people demanding empathy for their concerns often categorically deny empathy to those with competing concerns. Many of those demanding safety for all look the other way as a human shield of "essential" workers is placed between them and the virus. Saying no death from the virus is justified, they submit to plans that have killed and will kill thousands and thousands of people in other ways.
Our leaders flagrantly contradict themselves one week to the next, and many of those leaders are barely called to account. People shouting "follow the science" routinely ignore data they don't like, and make little effort at applying the scientifc method.
Language has broken down. John Lewis, a revered figure, will lie in state at the Capitol this week. He was known for standing up for himself, standing against racists, and standing alongside a man who earnestly asked for all people to be judged by the content of their character. As people praise John Lewis' legacy, the current belief in some circles is that racism can only be committed by one kind of person -- and the way you identify such people is the color of their skin. That definition is galling to most, but media outlets and corporate PR offices have normalized it in record time. Some people calling for an end to hate have shrugged their shoulders at a recent wave of anti-Semitic comments from athletes and entertainers. On social media, many people expressed their outrage, but tens of thousands also proudly endorsed the comments, while most news outlets yawned.
A common response to all of this is to blame the president. Well, no. He is a boor, and the country will be better when he has left the national stage. But nothing the president says or does prevents you, the individual, from being a decent, rational or empathic person.
The history of 2020 won't be about the virus, or protests, or the election. It will be a history of fear: people afraid for their health, in many instances far beyond reason; people afraid of responsibility, not wanting the blame for the consequences of something far beyond their control; too many people afraid to even politely challenge the forced reordering of their lives.