Will 2021 really be better?

Mike Bebernes
·Editor
·5 min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

By any measure, 2020 was one of the most difficult years in modern U.S. history.

The coronavirus pandemic created a once-in-a-generation health crisis that has caused more than 330,000 deaths nationwide and continues to rage. A corresponding economic crisis forced millions into poverty. Millions more had sparse contact with friends and family under lockdown. The country endured a contentious presidential election that threatened to tear American democracy apart. A massive protest movement for racial equality was marred at times by violence. Climate change fueled a record-breaking hurricane season and unprecedented wildfires.

After a year like that, it’s no surprise that a majority of Americans expect 2021 to be better.

Why there’s debate

There is ample reason to believe that life will improve dramatically over the next 12 months. The development of multiple vaccines for the coronavirus has put a realistic end of the pandemic — the greatest source of destruction and isolation this year — in sight. Defeating the virus may also bring a historic economic recovery as pent-up demand flows into reopened businesses. President-elect Joe Biden is likely to bring a measure of steadiness to Washington after four years of Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency.

For all of 2021’s promise, however, some argue that it’s naive to assume things will suddenly improve once the calendar flips to a new year. The darkest days of the pandemic are likely still ahead as case numbers surge across the country. The effort to vaccinate hundreds of millions of Americans could take much longer than expected as logistical challenges and vaccine skepticism slow the process. Some economists fear the post-pandemic recovery will be a slow upward grind rather than a speedy return to normalcy. Our deeply divided nation can’t be healed simply by changing presidents, some argue.

Others say it’s a mistake to try to put any year into discrete categories of good and bad. 2020 certainly had its dark spots, but it also had many positives. The same will almost certainly be true for 2021, they argue.

Perspectives

Optimists

Ending the pandemic will improve life for everyone

“Unfortunately, the pandemic will not magically end when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. … But there is some good news. Reasons for hope. Promise that an end is in sight.” — Erika Edwards, NBC News

The depths of 2020 created an opportunity to build a better world

“Under the blitz of worrying headlines a whole series of positive shifts are under way. Like all periods of immense turmoil, exciting new possibilities have emerged — possibilities which could make 2021 not only a year of recovery, but a year in which we start to find better ways to live.” — Adam Forrest, Independent

Biden will bring calm to our chaotic politics

“Biden, an empathetic and capable man, will be in the White House. We will be able to survey the damage, and we will begin to repair it.” — Eugene Robinson, Washington Post

A booming economy will lift people out of poverty

“True, jobs or businesses destroyed during the pandemic’s darkest days are gone forever — and there are more dark days to come. But a rapid recovery next year offers hope that many unemployed will avoid the trap of long-term joblessness and new businesses will soon rise from the ashes of the old.” — Greg Ip, Wall Street Journal

We’re more prepared for the challenges of 2021

“The toughest challenges are the unexpected ones. Last March and April were the most painful; going forward, we just continue the daily grind we’ve lived with since.” — Jon Gabriel, Arizona Republic

For all its challenges, the world actually got incrementally better in 2020

“Even before COVID-19 existed, humans had an unmistakable and scientifically pinpointed tendency to believe the world is poorer, angrier and more unsettled than it really is. … Put simply, we think the world is a bad place that’s getting worse — a sense that undoubtedly grew in the last 12 months. The only problem? We’re wrong.” — Rob Picheta, CNN

Skeptics

The problems of 2020 will still be with us in 2021

“Despite all the talk about how bad this year has been, life will not return to normal at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Chaos and crises don’t follow a calendar. Most of the underlying problems and challenges that made 2020 feel like a horror story will roll along with us into the new year.” — Wajahat Ali, New York Times

The pandemic is going to get worse before it gets better

“2021 could be worse, quite honestly ― the pandemic is not just going to stop because it’s Dec. 31 and then Jan. 1. The virus is going to be here until we stomp down, and that’s going to take collective, concerted effort — but it can be done.” — Epidemiologist Susan Hassig to HuffPost

The economic recovery will be slow

“Even if a vaccine is successfully deployed, the damage from the pandemic will linger.” — Jon Talton, Seattle Times

The broader economy may bounce back, but many will still be left behind

“After all of these changes we’ve seen in the economy in terms of businesses that have closed and jobs that no longer are viable, it would be naïve to think none of these are going to stick. Post-vaccine, there will be winners and losers in the new economy. Some sectors, firms and households will say, ‘The economy’s back.’ And others will say, ‘Not for me.’” — Economist Andrew Butters to USA Today

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images