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While sleeping unusually well, even peacefully, I began dreaming.

I was driving when I suddenly realized I had struck a pedestrian. I stopped the car and walked to the front of it. There lay not one body but three.

I woke up without knowing whether the three were alive or dead, or whether I’d be jailed for life or applauded by the president as just another “very fine” person.

Call the dream a nightmare if you want. I’ll call it a metaphor for the year 2020. Things get bad, then worse. Each time we think 2020 can’t get worse it does; it has.

I won’t begin to enumerate everything that’s gone amiss this year and, because of my naturally sunny disposition, I’ll try to end on a note of hope.

Leading the parade of horrors have been the coronavirus pandemic and the federal government’s atrocious response to it. By Feb. 7, President Donald Trump was telling journalist Bob Woodward that the virus was “deadly stuff” transmitted by air.

By Feb. 27, Trump declared, “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle. It will disappear.”

It didn’t. As of last week, the coronavirus death toll in this country had reached over 216,000. In Arkansas, nearly 1,500 had died.

Even if you and your family have avoided the illness, you may be among those who lost jobs or businesses because of the pandemic. Or you might be one of the many teachers who have had to resign or retire early rather than risk their and their families’ lives by being forced into physical rather than virtual classrooms.

The virus has changed everything from the ways Christians partake of communion to the ways politicians campaign (except for Trump), from funeral services to travel restrictions. Mexico has turned the wall—sorry, make that table—on Americans and would like for us to stay put rather than cross the border and endanger that country’s residents. Europe isn’t begging for us to visit either.

The virus has forced the cancellations of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, the Arkansas State Fair, the Tony Awards, the annual SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. Even the Rolling Stones’ already rescheduled North American No Filter tour got postponed. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, not to mention their fans, may not have that much more time, so this postponement was a big deal to baby boomers.

As if the virus weren’t bad enough, Trump has worked hard to ensure that masks would become yet another source of political division. In most countries, protective masks are viewed as simple ways to prevent spreading disease—like covering your mouth when you cough, not spitting on your neighbor, and washing your hands after going to the bathroom.

But in Trump’s America, too many people seem to get angrier about wearing masks than they do about folks having to stand in line to vote for six or seven hours.

Some people worry more about masks than they do about the man who can’t afford to go to the doctor, the woman who can’t afford to feed her children, the person who lives in fear because of the bigotry Trump has promoted against Democrats, Blacks, Hispanics and Asians.

Some Americans even fret more over masks than they do over lobbyist-beholding legislators who pass laws that pamper the wealthy with corporate welfare and tax breaks while they decry food stamps and free school meals that might save a child’s life or make it more tolerable.

The year 2020 also brought increased scrutiny of deaths of Black people at the hands of police. We need increased prosecutorial scrutiny after all such deaths, no matter the victim’s race. We need laws banning certain arrest tactics, laws providing better police training and, in many places, laws providing better pay for officers.

Until recently, neither the government nor the news media seemed to scrutinize most police accounts of such deaths as much as they should have. That said, I want to believe most officers are good and deserve respect. But for everyone’s sake, we must rid our cities of those officers who act carelessly or improperly.

This year also has seen horrible wildfires in California and other western states and brush fires in Australia that, by one estimate, killed more than 500 million animals. Reminiscent of Old Testament days, India and Africa have reported huge swarms of locusts. And Murder hornets were headed to the United States, but I’m not sure where they went. Maybe they’re looking for my hummingbird feeders.

And 2020 saw the deaths of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion of women’s rights, and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat. Lewis, a civil-rights pioneer, preached nonviolence even after a state trooper cracked his skull with a billy club as Lewis and other protesters were crossing a bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965.

We need more political leaders

of all races with the courage and integrity of Lewis and the candor and legal fairness of Ginsburg. We need more political leaders who reflect the electorate—not just the wealthy and not overwhelmingly white or male.

Yes, Ginsburg was a liberal judge. She was also Jewish and a mother. She did not try to force her religious beliefs on you or me. Had she tried, we can be sure there would have been plenty of objections citing the constitutional separation of church and state.

If confirmed as Ginsburg’s successor, Amy Coney Barrett likewise should follow the Constitution rather than even try to force her own religious views, whether of the charismatic People of Praise or of Catholicism, on Americans. She has every right to those personal beliefs as do my Baptist, atheist, Pentecostal and Muslim friends.

The next justice—whether it’s Barrett or someone else—can make 2020 a better year, simply by honoring that constitutional separation, by treating women as the equals we should be under the law, and by not expecting us to share her religious views any more than we may share Donald Trump’s views on masks or morality.

Debra Hale-Shelton can be reached at . Follow her on Twitter at @nottalking.

Print Headline: A year that needs to get better


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