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Opinion: What 2020 exposed about America

Protest in Huntington Beach
In Huntington Beach in May, people protest state and local guidelines meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.
(Los Angeles Times)

Happy New Year. It is Jan. 2, 2021, and more than 10,000 people in Los Angeles County who were alive at the start of 2020 are now dead because of COVID-19. With heavy hearts and some hope for 2021, let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Already it might be unseemly now to reflect on the year that preceded us. But 2020 was such a calamitous 12 months that 2021 will almost certainly be remembered by how different or similar it was to 2020. It is entirely appropriate then, at a time typically teeming with hope for the future, for us to look back on the death, dysfunction and destruction that have already seared themselves into our collective memory.

In arguably its most sobering read in months, The Times Editorial Board looks back with “2020 vision” at the events that defined the year, that traumatized the world and that taught us a few things about who we are as Americans. Going into the year, the world saw us as the the nation best prepared to respond to a pandemic; that reputation didn’t survive into 2021. The death of a Black Minnesota man beneath the knee of a white Minneapolis cop further exposed racial injustice that too many of us refused to believe existed. The strength of our democracy was put to test by a president who refuses to acknowledge the will of the voters; whether it passes this test may or may not be determined in 2021.

This isn’t to foreclose any possibility of improvement this year, says the editorial board: “A new year is a time of renewal nonetheless, and if it brings with it some measure of American disillusionment, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A clearer vision of ourselves and the chasm between who we are and what we aspire to be is necessary to any improvement. If we can name our shortcomings, surely we can fix them. The least we can do is try.”

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There were a lot of books in 2020 about President Trump, so UC Irvine historian Jon Wiener divvies them up into “best of” categories based on his “highly personal assessment.” Most notable, in my view, is his citation of President Obama’s latest memoir, which tells of an instance in 2010 in which Trump, then a private citizen, offered to plug the oil well in the Deepwater Horizon spill and build a “beautiful” White House ballroom. Obama declined both offers, and weeks later Trump started tweeting racist “birther” conspiracy theories. L.A. Times

Punish vaccine line-jumpers. Supplies of both COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use are scarce, and there are already tales of wealthy patients offering to pay thousands of dollars for a dose and other efforts to get ahead of front-line healthcare workers in the inoculation line. The editorial board welcomes Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call for penalties for such behavior, but it cautions that this effort needs something that past safety guidelines have failed to include: mechanisms for enforcement. L.A. Times

The view of our climate-change disaster from space: In a year of grim superlatives, it may be easy to forget that 2020 was, by far, the worst year for wildfires in California and other parts of the world. In September, satellites captured images of much of the western U.S. smothered by wildfire smoke, with plumes extending thousands of miles over the Pacific Ocean. In a year of pandemic, these views of raging wildfires remind us that when it comes to our host the Earth and the sickness of climate change, we humans are the virus. New York Times

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Dear Mike Pence: Your loyalty is to the Constitution, not to Trump. The vice president’s role in presiding over Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s electoral college victory on Jan. 6 will be largely ceremonial, but hardline Trumpists in the Republican Party are leaning on Pence to engage in a last-ditch effort to install Trump in the White House for four more years. The editorial board advises Pence: “The vice president needs to make it clear, right now, that he acknowledges Biden’s victory and has no intention of using his position to try to undermine it. Pence’s first loyalty is to the law and the Constitution, not to Donald Trump or his crazed followers.” L.A. Times

Press on, George Gascón. Los Angeles County’s new district attorney is getting blowback from some of his own staff after proceeding with the criminal sentencing reforms on which he campaigned. Those reforms, which include doing away with almost all enhancements that add years to prison terms, are an important part of efforts to bring sanity to sentencing and end overcrowding in jails and prisons, says the editorial board. L.A. Times

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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