Annus Horribilis ~ The Sequel

In December 2017 as the first year of the Trump presidency neared an end, I published a commentary entitled America’s Annus Horribilis in which I referred to the way Queen Elizabeth II described her experiences during 1992.   The Queen said: “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis.”  She was recalling the various tragedies, scandals and misfortunes that had befallen the Royal Family during that year. 

My description of 2017 as an American Annus Horribilis seemed fitting given that we were ending a year of shameful and divisive language, hostile and racially motivated acts, misdirected economic and social policies, and dangerous rhetoric and threats on the world stage by the first President to be so widely characterized as wholly unfit for office.  For the next two years these and other behaviors by our President just reinforced what a horrible period we were living through.

But then came 2020.  A year like no other in modern history.  If President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was correct when he called December 7, 1941 as “a date which will live in infamy” then surely 2020 will be a year which will live in disgrace and ignominy.

So bad was 2020 that TIME Magazine’s Olivia B. Waxman writes:

TIME’s Dec. 14 cover crosses out the bane of a year that is 2020 with a big red “X.” It is the latest in a long tradition saved for some of the worst foes humanity has faced in the magazine’s history.

TIME has used a red “X” to cross out various things on its cover only four other times. The first time was 75 years ago, in 1945, to mark the death of Adolf Hitler (and later that year, a black “X” over Japan’s rising sun marked the end of the war in the Pacific theater).

The second use of the “X” came in 2003. This time it crossed out Saddam Hussein at the beginning of the Iraq war. The third “X” on TIME’s cover happened in 2006, when U.S. forces killed Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The most recent usage of the “X” was in 2011, for the killing of Osama bin Laden.

TIME used the X to symbolize “the end of a long struggle,” from World War II to milestones in the war on terrorism, and in 2020, the world battles the COVID-19 virus. Just as TIME acknowledged that bin Laden’s May 2, 2011, death was “the end of an era in some ways, but not the end of our struggle against terrorism,” so TIME’s use of the red X in Dec. 2020 marks the end of a historic year, but not the end of the battle to curb the spread of this deadly virus.

The impact of 2020 remains to be seen and certainly much more attention will be paid to how this historic year will shape future generations.

Every year has noteworthy events that shake us to our core.  But few years have contained so much pain, loss, and challenge as have been experienced in 2020.

  • The worst health pandemic in 100 years has caused the death of one third of a million of our fellow citizens and the loss of economic stability by millions of hard-working Americans and the permanent closure of countless small privately owned businesses. 
  • Lines at food banks not seen since the soup kitchens of the Great Depression.
  • Foreclosures and evictions are leaving families unsheltered and homeless. 
  • The continued caging of young children separated permanently from their immigrant or asylum-seeking parents. 
  • Relentless racism, misogyny, homophobia and corruption by those elected to lead.
  • The unforgiveable and contemptable murders under “color of law” of innocent black and brown Americans at the hands of law enforcement brought us to a tipping point in the fight to deal with systemic and institutional racism and our quest for racial reckoning.
  • Attempts by political leaders to overturn the will of the people by unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud and abuse in seditious and traitorous acts which have been the greatest internal threat to our democracy in 244 years.

As we flip the pages of our calendar and ready ourselves for 2021 there is certainly reason to be hopeful. 

  • The development of coronavirus vaccines may bring an end to the catastrophic death, disease and economic devastation that has virtually brought our country to its knees. 
  • The end of a despotic and lawless presidency and the beginning of the restoration of the soul of America under a new President who is decent, empathetic, inclusive and prepared for office like few others have ever been. 
  • The return of the United States on the world stage as a respected partner. 
  • The attention of the new government to the needs of the least among us.  Fairness, justice and equality in the way all Americans are treated.

The embers and memories of what was the worst of 2020 cannot be extinguished by the simple act of turning the page of a calendar.  It is critically important that we never lose sight of what made the past few years, and 2020 in particular so horrible.  As Winston Churchill said, “those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

For more commentaries by Stu Turgel go to:


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