A year to end all years

Marina Salandy-Brown -
Marina Salandy-Brown -

To most of us living in the developed west, in the years since WWII the world has felt pretty safe, notwithstanding the Cold War, which got very heated and threatened peace in the Caribbean region.

It was 1962, unforgettable for us especially because it ushered in independent TT and the realisation that nationhood was no small matter.

Things were frigid between the Russians and Americans, but the post-war balance of terror was working well enough.

Then Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), planted nuclear weapons in Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida, and provoked President John Kennedy into a seemingly interminable fortnight of terrifying brinkmanship during which we all thought we might end up as cinders.

The Russians blinked first and the US followed up by promising not to attack Cuba. The world sighed in huge relief when finally, a year later, the USSR, US and Great Britain signed a nuclear test ban treaty. World War III had been postponed.

That was probably the greatest global threat we experienced here until inexplicable diseases such as HIV began radically reducing the world’s population, undeterred, and leaving nowhere untouched. Now that HIV can be treated, the existential threat it posed to all of us, not just some, is less worrisome. but the fear it originally engendered was not too dissimilar from what we experienced earlier in 2020 when covid19 struck, but with a force more sudden, more virulent, more indiscriminate and far-reaching.

Most people alive in the Americas today have not before experienced such a limitation to their personal freedom and sense of well-being. The uncertainty we live with daily and the knowledge that we have no idea when it will end, despite vaccines and sensible prescribed behaviour, the deaths, the assault on health systems, the long-term destruction of economies, have all left us with a lingering sense of hopelessness.

Now, the global sigh of relief at the coming of a vaccine has been drowned out by the evolution of a new strain of coronavirus in the UK.

Yet covid19 was not the worst thing to happen to those like our Venezuelan neighbours, the Syrians and Afghanis, the Iraqis and citizens of numerous African countries who intensified their efforts to escape social and economic hardship, kidnappings, endless warfare, only to face worse fates, including watery graves. The Palestinian people seeing their ancestral land disappearing daily at increased pace under illegal Israeli settlements, concrete jungles where olive groves and orange trees once blossomed, their plight not entirely forgotten but stomped upon by the worst affliction of 2020 – the outgoing US president.

The presidency of Donald Trump has probably been as damaging as the pandemic. It has been as ugly and base as a bad film script could imagine. Trump promised to shake up Washington and he shook us all up too. He showed us how fragile democracy really is without the will to safeguard it. The experience should have driven the message home to half-made countries, such as ours, of the need for rock-solid institutions, able to kick back when attacked. The destroyer randomly and resolutely took apart critical elements of the State meant to keep its people safe in the world’s exemplary democracy, an action which rendered it defenceless in the face of a clandestine cyber attack and utterly unprepared to respond to the biggest global threat since 1962, the novel coronavirus.

The narcissistic Trump wilfully led over 320,000 people to their death from covid19, also through his propaganda against good advice on health protocols, all the while sowing hatred and division and readying the US for his shameless quest to stay in the White House regardless of the election results.

But his audacious plan to exploit the complexities of the US electoral system and guarantee an outcome by packing the Supreme Court with sycophants was defeated by the ultimate strength of the US judiciary.

Trump exemplified how frighteningly easy it is to lead grown men to do wrong, not by breaking the law but by preying on their base instincts.

That inadvertent US experiment showed how important the will of the people really is in a democracy and that for all its flaws, democracy remains the best of political systems. It is an abject lesson taught to us by this dying year of mayhem.

And in the midst of all the chaos, we learned too that not all our established modes of operation are sacrosanct, that we can live differently and as a concomitant begin to change the perilous path we were on to destroying our global natural habitats.

In 2020, as some businesses disappeared. new ones began sprouting, the gross monopolies of the big tech companies were laid bare and their role in shaping the current troubling status quo was exposed.

We have been forced to make difficult decisions to jettison everything outmoded and to readjust our value and educational systems. Whether or not we exploit the lessons and advantage will determine how the next decade shapes up.


"A year to end all years"

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