If you believe 2020 has been tough, allow me to point out a few overlooked blessings the year has given us.
First, as I write this, we still have a democracy in this country. I used to take that fact for granted. No longer.
The boy I went to high school with didn't die in Vietnam so that a future president could ignore an election and consider declaring martial law as suggested by a retired general and convicted but pardoned criminal.
For Michael Flynn to suggest something so subversive and for outgoing President Donald Trump even to give attention to the idea speaks to Trump's lack of respect for the flag he once hugged as if it were another porn star.
I didn't cast my vote so that Trump, a greedy and scared narcissist, could throw it in the trash and declare himself the next president despite what more than 81 million voters said. I also didn't vote for Trump's forever friend, Vladimir Putin. I doubt you did either.
Still, Trump seems more than a tad confused about whom he answers to: the American people or a Russian dictator and former KGB officer.
I've not kept count, but I'm confident Trump has criticized former President Barack Obama more often and more harshly than he's ever come down on Putin. Trump won't even scold Russia over the hacking of federal data despite his own secretary of state's statement that Russia was "pretty clearly" behind the cyber attack.
Second, I'm grateful for the relatively fast development of coronavirus vaccines, though they were too late to prevent more than 320,000 covid-related deaths in the United States alone. The toll is still rising.
Despite having played down the pandemic during the campaign, Vice President Mike Pence was among the first government leaders to get the vaccine.
Surely most of us agree that those in line for the presidency should get priority. So I'm glad Pence and President-elect Joe Biden got the vaccine. As for politicians who have in the past downplayed the virus and are now getting the vaccine, one can argue that they're finally setting a good example.
I'm troubled, though, that public-
school teachers don't rank high on the list of groups getting vaccination priority.
In Arkansas, these are the same state employees who risk their lives at work daily and who face discipline if they decline to take that risk. Teachers in Arkansas don't get priority on much of anything else, whether we're talking about salaries, work conditions, or respect from state politicians.
Third, I'm grateful that more Americans are finally wearing protective masks. Still, many have chosen to turn a health issue into a political protest, suggesting it's their constitutional right not to wear a mask. Surely none of these people are pro-lifers, because they clearly don't care who they might potentially expose to the deadly virus. Genuine pro-life values apply to people of all ages, not just babies. Some Arkansas politicians don't seem to grasp that fact.
There was a time when I knew no one who had this horrible illness. That has changed. A childhood playmate has died. A friend's dad has died. Another friend had to go to the emergency room twice in a few days. And there are others.
It's not a hoax. Here's what's a hoax: the conspiracy theorists who spread the lie that the virus is not real. Maybe they do so for political gain. Maybe they have some other sick motive. I don't know. I just want them to go home and self-isolate before they spread their lies any further.
Fourth, the nation's 614 billionaires should be grateful. They're thriving. (I'm not among them.)
According to a recent article prepared by 24/7 Wall Street, a content partner of USA Today, these billionaires' net worth grew by a collective $931 billion over about seven months starting in mid-March. That's when Trump declared a national emergency because of the pandemic.
Consider Jim Walton, the youngest son of Walmart founder Sam Walton. As of March 18, Jim Walton's estimated net worth totaled $54.6 billion. By Oct. 13, it was $67.7 billion. Sam Walton's oldest son Rob Walton fared OK, too. His net wealth rose from $54.1 billion to $67.3 billion. Their sister, Alice Walton, saw her net worth climb from $54.4 billion to $67.9 billion.
Fifth, I'm grateful that Congress finally approved a stimulus package, though a $600 check won't stimulate much in light of the nation's devastated economy.
A month's rent? Maybe, but only if we're talking about a one-bedroom apartment. Better yet, make that a studio apartment.
A car payment or two? Not unless the recipient is driving a fairly new car, which many of those who lost their jobs probably couldn't afford before the pandemic.
College tuition? Maybe enough for a freshman course on real-estate fences at the now-defunct Trump University.
That said, folks in the alcohol business may not need much stimulating, especially in states where liquor stores were deemed essential businesses that could stay open even as many businesses had to shut down.
One perhaps legitimate argument for keeping liquor stores open was that their sudden closure might lead to many alcohol-dependent people going into withdrawal when hospitals were already overwhelmed.
In September, NPR reported that total alcohol sales outside of bars and restaurants had risen roughly 24 percent during the pandemic. NPR, which cited Nielsen's market data, also reported that sales of spirits with higher alcohol content rose even faster, by more than 27 percent from last year.
The resulting problem is obvious: Stress and alcohol don't mix well.
Sixth, except for those who chose to be super-spreaders, most Americans have likely developed a better appreciation or disdain for the concept of solitude. Still, depending on your taste, solitude can mean more time for drinking, reading, praying, or streaming just about anything from "Schitt's Creek" to "The Queen's Gambit."
For me, it will mean a two-day Zoom class aimed in part at motivating me to write more and procrastinate less. If the class works, or if I heed what I'm taught, I should soon be rid of all those still-packed boxes from my move a year ago.
And maybe 2021 will be better for me and for you.
Debra Hale-Shelton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @nottalking.