By Angelo Lynn
With the New Year upon us, let’s look for silver linings.
Nine months into this pandemic, for instance, we have fine-tuned the art of looking at bleakness and coming up with ways to smile. We’ve turned panic of the unknown into a calm resignation of semi-isolation. We are learning how to infuse those longer stretches of isolation — particularly from family and close friends — with outdoor activities, masked up and social distanced, accepting close proximity in abeyance of hugs. We gladly accept bike rides, runs, hiking in the woods with friends instead of a beer-laden barbecue in a neighbor’s backyard.
Vermonters have learned the art of socially distanced engagement well. And, bless this little state for its good nature, Vermonters have been among the most diligent at safeguarding those around them; their friends and neighbors, their town’s folk — who, even if they don’t know them personally, still care enough to be respectful of their health. These are small sacrifices for big returns.
And it has been so refreshing to watch as most Vermonters reject the insensitive idea that it was their right to inflict harm on their neighbors in order to protect their own warped vision of individual freedoms and rights.
A year ago that would not seem like such a huge distinction, but in light of this past year, it is.
The silver lining is realizing how special this Vermont community truly is. When times are tough, Vermonters have each other’s backs simply because they care about their neighbors, and they intuitively know that’s far more important than this nation’s politics when it’s caught up in a stormy web of deceit, unhinged egos and personal fortunes.
The fog on the national scale is not always easy to see through. Priorities get confused, messages are easily twisted and contorted; the allure of rhetorical frenzy can be mesmerizing. Lemmings can follow leaders in dangerous directions — including off the proverbial cliff.
Politically, this is a year in which we have truly seen the good, the bad and the ugly.
Trump and many of his supporters were in rare form all year — first in denying the virus, rejecting science and common sense, and insisting on individual freedoms that caused deadly harm to friends and neighbors. That same kind of destructive ignorance was later manifested in their refusal to believe election results, swearing allegiance to a would-be tyrant with shouts of 12 more years, ranting at court decisions and Republicans state officials who wouldn’t overturn what those in office knew was the correct election outcome. It was ugly.
Too frequently those caught up in the thrall of righteousness showed their hatefulness and spite toward other Americans, yelling, ranting, harassing and spreading false information as if it were their own gospel to the darker side of the human spirit.
In that darkness, Trump’s lies, conspiracies and temptations captured the souls of 70 million Americans, each fueled by a willingness to believe in false promise, and for those in leadership, a willingness to bear false witness.
But in every good morality tale, from darkness comes light. More Americans stayed positive and focused. More saw through the fog. More listened to the saner voices around them and sought wiser sources to read, trust and believe.
Not unlike the pandemic, while there were and are many stories of ill-will and disappointment, there are more stories of hope, goodwill, generosity, tolerance and perseverance.
The silver lining in all of this is the opportunity to see how close we came to ruin, and the steps that led down that torturous path. It is easy to blame others, to despise others for their differences, to take grievance of others’ good fortune. It’s much harder to be generous, to feel the pain of others, to understand and practice tolerance. But that is the way to strength and power as a community, as a state and as a nation.
Will we learn to see that?
It’s hard to say.
But the next four years will see a different influence coming from the White House that will appeal to our better angels. That influence is basic American goodness — not nastiness, not arrogance, not greed — and it will serve as the example to follow, just as Trump’s self-serving politics of grievance shaped the nation in his image.
Our hunch and New Year’s wish is that this goodness will find fertile ground in a nation starved for decency, truthfulness and personal honor and, with a bit of divine good fortune, a keener sense of justice will seep into the American consciousness.
Let’s vow to make this a truly happy New Year for all.