It would be a cliche to say that 2020 was a horrible year. Almost everyone has been affected negatively by the Covid-19 pandemic in one way or another. For me, the most demoralizing, dispiriting, and discouraging events during 2020 were governments’ authoritarian policies imposed in response to the pandemic, Biden’s victory, and the widespread destruction of historical statues and monuments by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. In this blog post I will discuss how these events affected me personally and how I hope to move forward in 2021.
I’ve written at length about authoritarian coronavirus restrictions. The fact that they have been implemented almost universally by governments around the world and embraced without question by the vast majority of people is beyond dismaying. Because I’ve already written about this topic dozens of times, I won’t go into it in any more detail in this post.
The election of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States was another demoralizing event. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that the reaction of Biden’s supporters was more demoralizing and upsetting than the election result itself. In every election, one side ends up happy, and the other heartbroken. But the meanness, nastiness, viciousness, and brutality that Biden’s supporters demonstrated was surprisingly irrational and inappropriate.
Social media was flooded with post after post after post expressing joy, relief, gratitude, the feeling of a weight being, lifted et cetera et cetera. Even when posting pictures of sunsets, cityscapes, pets, and babies, far too many people were unable to resist alluding to Biden’s victory as the reason for their happiness. One (now former) Facebook friend shared a meme urging people to start working on “dismantling white supremacy” now that Biden has won the presidency. Another shared a tweet ridiculing Trump supporters and calling them “weirdos” for wearing hats and flying flags with his name on them. Another opined that a vote for Trump was the same as a vote for racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny. Preposterously, people described Biden’s election as a “new birth of freedom” and posted videos of and lyrics to the song “Battle Cry of Freedom” (how, pray tell, does it constitute a new birth of freedom to elect a president who believes in giving people less freedom in their day-to-day lives than his predecessor?). Worst of all, numerous people have expressed the idea that one should not “go easy on” Trump supporters but should, in the words of one (former) friend, “focus on the harm caused.” This is based on a false premise, namely that Trump supporters have somehow done something wrong for which we deserve to be punished. Refraining from personally attacking and insulting people who have done nothing wrong is not “going easy.” It is a basic requirement of being a morally decent person. Trump supporters did not cause any harm; the only harm is that caused by the intolerant bullies who have been contaminating the internet with their vile personal attacks on anyone whose views differ from theirs.
Furthermore, the degree of happiness among Biden supporters is disproportionate to his actual margin of victory. Obviously, it makes sense that someone would be happy that their preferred candidate won, but many people acted as if Biden had won by a huge margin when in reality he barely squeaked by. Prior to the election, articles predicted that Biden might win in a landslide. But the mere fact that it took until the Saturday after the election to arrive at a result demonstrates that this was not the case. (This article by FactCheck.org explains how Biden’s victory was not a landslide but rather a “relatively close win for Biden by historical comparison of Electoral College margins of victory.”) Biden’s win brings to mind a horse race that I watched last year in which Authentic, who would go on to win the Kentucky Derby, won the Haskell Invitational by the tiniest possible margin. Despite being the overwhelming favorite, he barely held on to beat a hard-charging gray horse named NY Traffic, who was a huge longshot. After the race, a reporter congratulated Authentic’s owners but the tone of voice of all involved in the post-race interview made it clear that it was a disappointing performance. A commentator remarked during the broadcast that it was the most subdued victory that he had ever witnessed. This is the way that Biden’s supporters should logically have reacted to the 2020 election. But instead of Authentic in the Haskell, they acted as if they had just witnessed Secretariat in the Belmont.
The fact that the rules were changed to expand early voting and to allow voting by mail further casts a shadow over the legitimacy of the results. These decisions clearly favored Biden, as his supporters are more likely to be worried about the coronavirus pandemic and therefore more reluctant to do anything that requires leaving the house. In any contest, there is going to be debate about the fairest system, the fairest way of judging, and the fairest set of rules, and Trump has a legitimate beef with the rules that were chosen. To use another sports analogy, in the 2010 Olympics, Evan Lysacek won the gold medal in men’s figure skating with a score of 257.67 points, and Evgeni Plushenko won the silver with a score of 256.36 points. Whenever the results are close in a judged sport, there are going to be claims that the judges, or whoever designed the scoring system, got it wrong. Plushenko and his supporters argued that his quadruple jumps were not valued highly enough, while Lysacek’s defenders argued that he deserved the win because of his superior artistry. But some people countered that Plushenko was just as artistic as Lysacek and questioned how artistry can even be accurately measured using a numeric scoring system. In both Olympics and elections, it’s debatable whether it is preferable to be a winner whom many people consider undeserving or a loser who many people claim should have won. In this election, as in the 2010 Olympics, the results were essentially indeterminate, and both sides have more or less equally legitimate claims of deserving victory.
With Trump’s presidency coming to an end, it is difficult to have anything but dread and apprehension about the direction the world will take. In addition to favoring more Covid-19 restrictions, more gun control, and more government control over people’s lives overall, Biden is far less of an advocate for historical statues and monuments than Trump was. This brings me to the third, and worst, atrocity of 2020: the destruction of statues by members of the Black Lives Matter movement. I recently coined the term “statue genocide” to refer to this practice, and it is impossible to overstate how morally wrong it is. The words sickening, infuriating, and heartbreaking don’t even begin to cover it. As someone on the autism spectrum whose passion is historical figures, seeing videos and pictures of statues being removed, vandalized, and torn down is just as painful to me as it would be for a parent to see their child being murdered before their eyes. Once a historical statue is destroyed, it is gone forever, never to be replaced. What makes this tragedy even worse is society’s seeming unwillingness to fight back against it. The movement that is carrying out the statue genocide has been endorsed by all major sports leagues and countless businesses and celebrities. Only rarely have perpetrators faced any legal consequences for their actions. Most political leaders have failed to explicitly condemn these despicable acts, and most of the time state and local governments have actually rewarded the perpetrators by removing the victimized statues and pledging to replace them with statues that the perpetrators find less objectionable. The rights and feelings of people like me, who love the statues and admire the historical figures that they represent, are being trampled on and disregarded.
The atrocity that I have been the most personally affected by is the destruction of the Christopher Columbus statue in Boston. Before the pandemic, I worked in Boston and walked by this statue almost every day. Living and working as a person with a hidden disability is difficult, and when I was having a stressful day at work, walking through Christopher Columbus Park and being in the presence of the beautiful statue made my day a little bit better. But in June, motivated by an intolerant political ideology, someone decided to violently separate his head from his body. It is devastating and incomprehensible that a beautiful work of art that made my life better simply by existing was brutally and deliberately destroyed. And it is surreal to glimpse photos on social media of acquaintances enjoying the park with their dogs, and of the park’s trellis adorned with blue lights for Christmas, all with a pathetic, empty pedestal in the background. How can people have such apathy about the barbaric act that was perpetrated against this poor statue? How can they enjoy the park as if nothing is wrong, when its namesake has been symbolically murdered?
The failure of the mayor, the police, and even the organization that maintains the park, to take any action to address this injustice has made me feel powerless, frustrated, and unwelcome in the city of Boston. Ever since I was old enough to ride the train by myself, I have enjoyed exploring Boston and photographing its neighborhoods, buildings, and landmarks. I have loved the city of Boston and felt pride in being a Bostonian. But no more. Boston has demonstrated that it does not care about people like me and is not willing to provide us with equal protection under the law. Without Columbus, Boston has lost a crucial and irreplaceable part of its uniqueness, diversity, and character. There are still statues of Paul Revere, George Washington, John Singleton Copley, George Patton, Abigail Adams, Sam Adams, and numerous other historical figures. But as long as intolerant hypocrites have the power to decide which statues are allowed to exist and which are not, the collection will forever be incomplete and, in a sense, worthless. Statues give places their identity. Without statues of the historical figures that I love, not only Boston but the state of Massachusetts, the United States, and to some extent the entire world are ruined for me.
The combination of the war on statues, the war on individual rights in the name of public health, and the war on Trump supporters has shaken, and perhaps permanently destroyed, my belief that the world is a fundamentally good place, or at least a place with enough good in it to be worth fighting for. How ironic that so much suffering has been inflicted by a movement whose stated aims include tolerance and inclusivity. I have struggled to determine the best way to continue existing in a world where so much good has been permanently destroyed. My grief about the statue genocide, and my rage towards its perpetrators, are so strong that there do not seem to be any words or actions capable of fully expressing these feelings. I wish I lived in a time period where duels were legal and socially acceptable. I’m not proud to admit it, but when I’m at my worst, I have had desires (not acted upon) to steal Biden/Harris yard signs and throw them in a dumpster, or even to vandalize statues of historical figures that the BLM movement admires.
On a less destructive note, blogging is a way of processing my thoughts and fighting back in a small way against these injustices, as is expressing my views on social media. Some days, however, the horrible things going on in the world are just too overwhelming, both in severity and quantity. The brutal destruction of historical statues is often too heartbreaking to read about and the tsunami of offensive and just plain wrong opinion pieces, editorials, articles, blog posts, comments, social media posts, and statements made by politicians, is often just too vast to process, let alone respond to. This sense of futility is compounded by the tendency of many people to use their ideological opponents’ words as evidence that they are “sore losers,” or worse, white supremacists. Another challenge of voicing opinions online is the need to reconcile maintaining social relationships with living in a way that is true to one’s values. As someone with numerous friends and family members whose views are the opposite of mine, I struggle to determine how much (if at all) to censor myself, how much (if at all) to tone down my rhetoric to avoid making people mad, and which platforms to use for which purposes. I have un-friended several people due to finding their political ideologies particularly reprehensible and have had battles with family members and fellow bloggers. The interpersonal nastiness and information overload of social media have made me consider stopping the use of these technologies altogether.
Fortunately, there are also more creative and positive ways of processing recent events. I love art, and it provides me with some comfort to draw and paint the historical figures that have been under attack by the BLM movement. I have also placed photos of them on my walls, begun collecting miniature statues of them, and am in the early stages of creating a website honoring them as well. I am also working on a fantasy/science fiction book series that incorporates these historical figures in a way that I hope will be uplifting and inspirational. When I am feeling particularly beaten down, it is difficult to summon the motivation to work on any of these projects, but when I am having a relatively good day, they provide me with some means of healing and fighting back against the injustices that surround me. I will never forgive the perpetrators of the statue genocide or any of the other injustices that have characterized the year 2020, but my hope is that eventually I will be able to focus on my love of historical figures more than my hatred of their attackers. I hope that 2021 will bring continued resistance to authoritarianism, intolerance, and bullying and some measure of healing and justice for all those who have been trampled upon.